Romans 1:19-32

Man’s Guiltiness Established
Romans 1:18 – 3:20
The subject of the first eight chapters of Romans is God’s righteousness in justifying believers. However, before Paul speaks of the cross (the means by which God can save guilty man and still remain just) he must first establish the fact that there is no righteousness in man. He establishes the guiltiness of man by surveying three great classes of Adam’s race, beginning with the least responsible and ending with the most responsible. Then he shows how all three are guilty, and are under the judgment of God.
¶ 18 For there is revealed wrath of God from heaven upon all impiety, and unrighteousness of men holding the truth in unrighteousness. v.18 The Wrath of God Revealed from Heaven. Why men need to believe the gospel. We all must bear the judgment for our own sins if we do not receive Christ. Note: it doesn’t say “in the gospel is revealed…” as in v.16. The gospel doesn’t reveal the wrath of God. Rather, at the same time as the gospel goes forth, divine wrath is revealed. It is on account of the “bad” news (v.18) that we feel our need of “good” news. The wrath of God was revealed in a limited way in the Old Testament, such as in the flood, at Sodom and Gomorrah, at the Red Sea, and with the captivity of Israel. However, those were providential judgments, where God was moving nations or the forces of nature to governmentally punish evildoers. After the cross, the wrath of God was revealed in a new way, as directly from heaven against “all” deserving, not just on certain nations. The reason for this “wrath” is precisely what Paul explains in Rom. 1:19 – 3:20. The wrath of God is against: (1) “all impiety”, or evil actions wherever man inhabits the earth, and also (2) against “unrighteousness of men holding the truth in unrighteousness”, which would include those who have some measure of truth but live hypocritically. The first corresponds to the heathen (Rom. 1:19-32), and the second to the Jew (Rom. 2:17 – 3:8).1 We have God’s righteousness contrasted with man’s unrighteousness. God’s consistency contrasted with man’s inconsistency.
Three witnesses. The wrath of God is revealed against all deserving men, but there are varying degrees. Paul looks at three broad sectors of the human race, which have had varying degrees of light, and thus varying degrees of responsibility. The uneducated man has the witness of creation (Rom. 1:20). The educated man has the witness of creation and the witness of an enlightened conscience (Rom. 2:15). The Jew has the witness of creation, the witness of conscience, and the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures (Rom. 3:2). Man still has these three witnesses today, and they make him responsible to believe the gospel.
Class #1: The Uneducated Gentile
Romans 1:19-32
Two great reasons why the heathen are under condemnation:
  1. For ignoring the witness of God in creation (vv.19-20)
  2. For perverting God’s glory by turning to idolatry (vv.21-25)
The Conscience in Romans 1-3. It is important to understand the role of conscience in the first three chapters of Romans. The uneducated man (Rom. 1:19-32) has a conscience, but because he lives in such moral and spiritual darkness his conscience does not work very well. The conscience is like a tape measure; it simply measures performance to a standard or datum. The more light a person has, the more accurate their conscience will function. The question is, what standard are you measuring against? The issue with the heathen man is that his standard is almost non-existent! Why? because his culture is so degraded that very little light shines in. However, this fact does not absolve the heathen man of his responsibility. The shortcoming of conscience is that it is easily twisted to serve our own needs. As we see in the next section (Rom. 2:1-16), the educated man has more light than the heathen, but he appeases his conscience by comparing himself with others whom he considers to be “worse than I”. This is like using the tape measure incorrectly. The standard becomes our fellow man, rather than an absolute (unmoving) standard, which we have by Divine revelation. “But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12). When we come to the third class (Rom. 2:17 – 3:8), we find that the conscience is correctly calibrated in the Jew, because he has the Word of God. In spite of having the Word of God, the Jew is in reality no better than the Gentile. How has the religious man managed to appease his enlightened conscience? He has muffled its voice through carrying on with outward religious forms. This is like choosing to read the tape measure wrong. In conclusion, we can see the utility of the conscience. It is a useful warning system, but a poor guide.
A history of the human race from God’s perspective. These verses describe the moral history of man without a special call from God. Therefore it describes the unenlightened heathen at any time, and aptly the entire period from Noah to the call of Abraham, seen in the marked fruits of idolatry and immorality. With Abraham you get a man called out of idolatry (Josh 24, Gen 12). It was when things had dropped to their lowest point, that God called out a man, a family, and later a nation – for His name.

The Witness of Creation (1:19-20)

¶ 19 Because what is known of God is manifest among them, for God has manifested it to them,v.19 While they may not have ever read a Bible or heard of Jesus, every human of sound mind has heard what creation says about God (Psa. 19:1-3).
20a –for from the world’s creation the invisible things of him are perceived, being apprehended by the mind through the things that are made, both his eternal power and divinity,  v.20a The term “Godhead” should be translated “Divinity”. The limited revelation of God in creation does not reveal the three Persons of the Godhead, but it does reveal the existence of a supreme, supernatural Being. The word “world” is ‘cosmos’ in the Greek. It literally means “order” and it indicates that the creation has an orderly design to it. The witness of creation tells man that God exists, but also tells man certain “invisible” things about God. First, it demonstrates “His eternal power”, becuse the Creator must have infinite power. Second, creation demonstrates His eternal divinity”, because the Creator must be a divine Person, and ought to be regarded by His creatures as such; i.e. as morally and judicially superior. The emphasis in Romans is on his power and superiority to man, but from other scriptures we learn that the creation witnesses additional attributes of God. The creation testifies to God’s wisdom; that He is “infinite in understanding” (Psa. 147:5). It also speaks of God’s goodness; that He is impartial and kind to all His creatures (Acts 14:17).
20b so as to render them inexcusable. v.20b The witness of creation is limited, but it is enough to make man responsible. The point of this passage is not that people can be saved through the witness of creation, but rather that given the witness of creation, men still reject it.

Result #1: Degraded Theology (1:21-23)

vv.21-23 Man did not start out depraved; there was a process to his degradation. When the eight souls got off the ark they knew God – as a God who judges sin. What happened to that knowledge? It was gradually lost. These verses explain how man got so low.
¶ 21 Because, knowing [‘ginosko’God, (1) they glorified him not as God, (2) neither were thankful; (3) but fell into folly in their thoughts, (4) and their heart without understanding was darkened: 22 (5) professing themselves to be wise, (6) they became fools, 23 (7) and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of corruptible man and of birds and quadrupeds and reptiles. v.21 They began with a “knowledge” of God; but it was “ginosko” compared with “epi-gnosis” or full knowledge in v.28. They never knew Him inwardly. Man needs an object to worship; and so he made himself idols. Man’s thoughts of God steadily declined. The image dropped from “man” → “birds” → “quadrupeds” → “reptiles”. Initially, they make the idols like themselves; often with cruel, angry faces. Then the idols began to resemble birds, then land animals, and finally the creatures of the mud (Ezek. 7:20). There is no record of idolatry before the flood. The first recorded mention of it is in Job 31:26-27.
Seven steps downward:
  1. They refused to recognize God’s deity
  2. They were unthankful of God’s goodness
  3. They began to speculate about God
  4. They lost the little knowledge they had of God (see Eph. 4:18)
  5. They were lifted up in intellectual pride
  6. They became illogical as to their theology (see Psalm 115:4-8)
  7. They turned to idols as objects of their worship (worshiping demons, 1 Cor. 10:20).

Result #2: Degraded Morality (1:24-27)

24 Wherefore God gave them up also in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, to dishonour their bodies between themselves: v.24 This second result is part of God’s governmental judgment for turning away from the knowledge of God in creation. It refers to the sin of homosexuality. God let their fallen sin-natures have control over their sexual activities, and they degraded themselves.
Gave them up. It is very important to notice that is says “God gave them up” (v.24 + v.28) to do vile things, etc. as His governmental judgment (which always has to do with time), but He has not “given up” on them as far as eternity is concerned. The worst sinner can still be reached by the gospel of the grace of God. It isn’t apostasy like Heb. 6:4. Another point is that new birth really isn’t taken up. Romans starts with a soul who feels his or her need of salvation. In Ephesians it starts with one who is “dead in sins” but in Romans it starts with a quickened soul who is “alive in sins”
25 who changed the truth of God into falsehood, and honoured and served the creature more than him who had created it, who is blessed for ever. Amen. v.25 Showing that moral degradation is the direct result of turning away from the knowledge of God. Specifically, it is the result of (1) “changing” or turning away from “the truth of God”, and (2) “honoring/serving the creature” or turning to idolatry. At the end of v.25 we get a short doxology “God, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” It is almost like the theme is so dark that Paul must vindicate God before proceeding!
26 For this reason God gave them up to vile lusts; for both their females changed the natural use into that contrary to nature; 27 and in like manner the males also, leaving the natural use of the female, were inflamed in their lust towards one another; males with males working shame, and receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which was fit. vv.26-27

The Word of God expressly condemns homosexual behavior. Whether in the Old Testament (Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13) or the New Testament (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9), homosexual behavior is labeled by God as an abomination, a shame, and self-abuse. Under the law of Moses, it was punishable by death. The broader sin of fornication (sex outside of marriage) includes homosexual behavior, although it generally refers to heterosexual sin. Homosexual behavior is not only contrary to the Word of God, but "contrary to nature". In the west, society has turned 180 degrees on this issue, and has not only embraced but celebrated the homosexual lifestyle. The judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis stands as a witness for all time of God's view of this form of wickedness, regardless of what man says. In Romans 1 we find that homosexual behavior is a result of man's rebellion against God. It is something God "gave them up to", allowing them to pursue their lusts as a form of judgment on them. It is interesting that God never connects a person’s identity with homosexuality, only with the sin. When a person becomes characterized by the sin, God calls them “sodomites” (1 Kings 14:24), or "them that defile themselves with mankind" (1 Tim. 1:10) in the same way He calls someone characterized by drunkenness a “drunkard” (1 Cor. 5). Satan has made a successful attack (since 1860’s) of getting society to view homosexual behavior differently. By starting from the premise that our desires define us as people, society began labeling people with a certain "sexual orientation", masking homosexual activity under the label of an acceptable lifestyle. As a result, the sin of homosexual behavior was abstracted, and people were forced to identify with a certain sexual orientation. Many people, including Christians, who struggle with same-sex attraction, fall into the trap of assigning themselves a sexual orientation. This causes them to either give up on moral purity, or else use the shift in societal norms as license for sin. In reality their lusts emanate from the same sinful nature that all natural men have, which is the root of all forms of sin. What they need to hear is the truth of Romans; i.e. that God has a way of deliverance, and that our identity is not in our desires, but in the Person who has laid down His life for us! Is the tendency for same-sex attraction something that a person is born with? This question gets into things that God has not answered for us completely. David acknowledged that "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psa. 51:5). Can God be blamed for this? No. It was "by one man" that "sin entered into the world" (Rom. 5:12). "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man" (James 1:13). The tendency towards a certain sin, in and of itself, is not sin. To lust or act according to that tendency is sin. "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" (James 1:14). It is important in these matters that our moral standard be drawn from the Word of God, and nowhere else. The western world has abandoned Christian values, and lost all sense of morality. But our standard is not based on the shifting sands of culture, but on the foundation of God's Word, which is forever settled in heaven (Psa. 119:89).

 Another point is that while this catalog is for sins of unbelievers, the flesh is capable of the same things in believers; c.p. with the catalog in Galatians.
Category Sins against…  Romans Galatians
moral our bodies  Rom. 1:24-27 Gal. 5:19
spiritual God  Rom. 1:21-23 Gal. 5:20a
social fellow man  Rom. 1:28-32 Gal. 5:20b-21a
The solemn consequence of homosexual behavior is referred to here as “the recompense of their error which was fit”. When the order of nature is violated (v.25), then there is a natural consequence. Possibly this is a reference to A.I.D.S. which is prevalent among the homosexual community.

Result #3: Degraded Social Behavior (1:28-32)

28 And according as they did not think good to have God in their knowledge [‘epi-gnosis’], God gave them up to a reprobate mind to practise unseemly things; v.28 The third result of turning away from the knowledge of God in creation is that God let their fallen natures have control of their actions, resulting in sins against their fellow men, such as violence and injustice. A “reprobate mind” is a mind void of moral discernment. It isn’t that their consciences malfunctioned, but that they refused the little bit of light they did have (creation), such that the positive effect of their conscience was severely dampened. However, this word ‘epi-gnosis’ is much stronger than ‘gnosis’ (v.21). They did have an outward intellectual knowledge, but they gave up a full or personal knowledge.
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil dispositions; whisperers, vv.29-31 A listing of the deeds that depraved man is guilty of practicing. There are twenty-one in all. “Fornication” is not really in this list (a translation error) because the previous series of verses have already addressed that. These verses are dealing with anti-social sins… hurting others. Fornication is against our own bodies (1 Cor. 6:18).
30 back-biters, hateful to God, insolent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, v.30 Note that disobedience to parents is especially wicked (even compared to murder). It would indicate the beginning of a downward course.
31 void of understanding, faithless, without natural affection, unmerciful; 32 who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that they who do such things are worthy of death, not only practise them, but have fellow delight in those who do themvv.31-32 They became “void of understanding” but they still did have a conscience; which is never completely silent. The only understanding they had of God was from witnessing the righteous judgment of God”; i.e. His government executed on open sin, perhaps like v.27.
Two added facts that show the total depravity of man are given in vv.31-32:
  1. They know the consequences of these sins, but are too fascinated by them to stop. To continue is entirely illogical, but they still proceed.
  2. They take pleasure in watching others do those deeds. A man’s mind has a higher capacity than his body, so he delights in others sins. In a culture influenced by Christianity, certain deeds might be unacceptable, but Satan has provided video recordings of these deeds “for your viewing pleasure”. A virtual world has been created (video games, movies) where the laws of the land and the government of God don’t apply. People love those environments because they can be completely lawless.
  1. I understand, therefore, that verse 18 gives first the general description of human ungodliness in every phase, and then the unrighteousness which was at that time most conspicuous in the Jews who combined with practical injustice a tenacious hold or possession of the truth: the former demonstrated to the end of Romans 1; the latter (after the transition of Rom. 2:1-16.) pursued from Romans 2:17 to Romans 3:20. – Kelly, William. Notes on the Epistle of Paul, the Apostle, to the Romans: with a New Translation. Nabu Press, 2010.