Election: Romans 1

Romans 1:18-32 helps to set the stage for the rest of Romans, and makes points about how God works in history that reverberate throughout the rest of the book, particularly chapters 9 – 11.

(Rom 1:18-19)  The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

We tend to think of God’s wrath as something that happens at the end of time — and it will. It certainly will. But Paul says God’s wrath is already being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness.

He also says it’s quite fair because God’s may be known.

(Rom 1:20) For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Paul argues that God may be known from what he has made — just as you know much about me from my writing and would learn a great deal from a painter by viewing his paintings. (But that’s a topic for another day … )

(Rom 1:21-23) For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Those who should know God — and even many who actually knew God — rejected him, preferring idols.

(Rom 1:24) Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

“Gave them over” is quite a controversial term, but the Greek is plain enough. Paradinomi is used elsewhere in Romans as follows:

(Rom 4:25)  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

(Rom 8:32)  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

The thought is that God allowed the world to become this way — but with that being his purpose. God didn’t crucify Jesus, but he delivered Jesus to the authorities full well knowing — and intending — that Jesus be crucified. In other words, God allows the idolaters to behave as they do because that’s the result God intends — but it’s not contrary to their will, any more than Jesus’ crucifixion was contrary to the will of the Romans and Jewish authorities.

This is what life is like without God — when God abandons you.

(Rom 1:25-27) They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Paul sees homosexual behavior as evidence of God’s giving up on these people. They became so distant from God that they left the bounds of nature.

Remember that Paul has just argued that nature reveals “what may be known about God.” Leaving God therefore means leaving nature, that is, leaving God means exceeding the boundaries he made for our own good.

(Rom 1:28-31) Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

In the next few verses, Paul explains how our moral nature should tell us that immorality is wrong. If you don’t want to be murdered, what makes you think it’s okay to murder others? If you want your children to obey you, why would you think it’s okay to disobey your parents?

The degree of the perversion is shown by a society that approves of these things. In fact, the NIV softens the message. “Approve” really means “takes pleasure.” Society not only permitted these things, it celebrated these things!

And, of course, this is a very accurate description of the Roman world. The government supported and encouraged idolatrous worship, which included prostitution, hetero- and homo-sexual, bestiality, and orgies. The world was a mess.

But Paul doesn’t say that he is speaking solely of Gentiles. Indeed, he borrows language from the Old Testament that refers to the Jews!

(Psa 106:36-42)  They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons. 38 They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood. 39 They defiled themselves by what they did; by their deeds they prostituted themselves. 40 Therefore the LORD was angry with his people and abhorred his inheritance. 41 He handed them over to the nations, and their foes ruled over them. 42 Their enemies oppressed them and subjected them to their power.

And so we see part of what Paul means by “the wrath of God is being revealed”! The Jews are already suffering the consequence of the sins they share with the Gentiles. God is punishing them first! (Also Acts 7:42.)

(Rom 2:9)  There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile … .

Take a step back and ponder this. How does God deal with sinners who reject him? Well, sometimes he withdraws from them and so allows their sin to become even greater. Sometimes, he so withdraws from them that they allow themselves to be destroyed by their sins!

Thus, as we’ll see, when the Judeans had become idolatrous, God withdrew from them, allowing them to make the foolish decisions that led to Nebuchadnezzar’s slaughter of thousands and destruction of the temple. God let it happen, and by withdrawing, allowed sin to produce sin’s natural results. But God did not prevent penitence. In fact, some did honor God.

During the time of the apostles, how do we imagine God dealt with the Jews who rejected Jesus? Did he harden their hearts so they couldn’t accept Jesus? Or did he withdraw from them so that their faithlessness — their reliance on their own hands to bring about their own salvation — would lead to its natural conclusion?

All of which produces a difficult question: How was the sin of the Jews in the First Century the moral equivalent of the sin of the Jews at the time of Nebuchadnezzar? The answer has to be that rejecting God’s Messiah is the moral equivalent of idolatry. After Jesus is God incarnate. To reject Jesus is to reject God.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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8 Responses to Election: Romans 1

  1. Adam says:

    This idea is difficult, and there is obvious disagreement and confusion on it, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

    The whole "withdrawing to let happen" concept seems to ignore the ability of God to chose to intervene. If God can intervene, and choses not to, is that not, at least in one sense, the same as actually willing the event to happen?

    Imagine a parent and child walking down a country road holding hands – an analogy for God and the OT Jews. The parent sees that the child is distracted by a passing butterfly (even after warning of the dangers of walking on a curvy country road). The parent then sees a car coming, knowing that the child doesn't see it. The parent drops the childs hand and walks off the road into the grass, leaving the child in the middle of the road watching the passing butterflies.

    If a parent did the above, we would be appalled. Our legal system would place the full blame on the parent. I would think the parent would be tried for murder (the driver of the car for manslaughter).

    Thoughts?

  2. bradstanford says:

    Indeed, this the parent-child analogy is quite apropos since God declares one of His characteristics/roles as "Father". God sometimes allows us to do things to learn from them. Sometimes He prevents us from doing what we plan. Babel, Balaam, Jesus, Paul – no matter where you look, people that follow God have their own desires ("let this cup pass from me"), but God does what he wants. His children join with Him in what He does.

    Proverbs 16:9 says, "In his heart, a man plans His course, but the Lord determines his steps." Consider a parent dragging a crying child away from the playground. The child has made up his mind to return to the playground: he is facing the playground, and his feet are moving in the direction of the playground. But the parent has determined it is time to leave, and is dragging the child to the car. The end of the story – regardless of the child's choices and decisions – is that they will get in the car, and leave the playground.

    How much more God, as a perfect Father, makes sure His will gets done on the earth.

    The purpose of Romans 1-3 is to lay out the case that no one (and no religion) can save, and God is righteous in His judgment.

  3. bradstanford says:

    "During the time of the apostles, how do we imagine God dealt with the Jews who rejected Jesus? Did he harden their hearts so they couldn’t accept Jesus? Or did he withdraw from them so that their faithlessness — their reliance on their own hands to bring about their own salvation — would lead to its natural conclusion?" – Jay

    "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13"This is why I speak to them in parables:
    "Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
    " 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
    15For this people's heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
    Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
    and turn, and I would heal them.'"

    Jesus, in Matthew 13 is purposefully hiding the truth from some, but not others. Verse 12 appears to say that those who have [salvation/Jesus/Holy Spirit], will get more. But even those who have a little bit of truth, even that will be snatched away (think parable of the sower – path, thorns, rocks).

  4. Jerry Starling says:

    It seems that some people are intent on finding a way to blame God for their own sinfulness.

    My observation about the Calvinist positions is that you have to assume them to be untrue in order to do what we are told to do. For example, in order to "warn" someone lest he fall, we have to assume there is a possibility he can fall. If we are to preach and promise salvation to those who believe, we have to assume there is at least a possibility he can believe.

    If I must assume a doctrine is false in order to obey God, isn't there at least a strong probability that it is false?

  5. bradstanford says:

    Jerry:
    In all fairness, neither Calvinism nor Arminianism is as simple as that. Very intelligent men have taken up positions on both sides for very good reasons. I understand your point, but I think a conversation with a calvinist is in order for you to understand why your observation may not represent that certain viewpoint correctly.

    It's like saying, "Arminians have to reduce God's power to nothing so they can believe in an all powerful God!" That would be not quite right either.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Adam,

    At the individual level, God's power and willingness to intervene in history raises all sorts of difficult questions. I hope to get to some of them after we discern what Paul says in Rom 9 – 11. But, for now, let me take your analogy. You ask,

    Imagine a parent and child walking down a country road holding hands – an analogy for God and the OT Jews. The parent sees that the child is distracted by a passing butterfly (even after warning of the dangers of walking on a curvy country road). The parent then sees a car coming, knowing that the child doesn’t see it. The parent drops the childs hand and walks off the road into the grass, leaving the child in the middle of the road watching the passing butterflies.

    I would disagree with your analogy, as the use of a child presumes someone who is incapable of making good decisions for himself, even after instruction. Let me offer an alternative.

    A father has a son. The father deeply loves the son, but the son is rebellious. Despite constant warning and instruction and a loving home, the son becomes a drug dealer. The father can't bear to see him jailed. The father has influence, and so he repeatedly bails his son out, gets favors from the prosecutor, and the son never suffers the legitimate consequences of his bad decisions.

    Eventually, however, despite counselors, probation officers, and every resource the father has, the son continues to deal drugs, and so the father, with great pain and reluctance, disowns his son.

    Because the father is no longer in the son's life, and because the counselors are gone and there are no more favors, the son decides to go from dealing to manufacturing, and soon finds himself facing very severe penalties for his crimes, as well as becoming an addict himself.

    He runs to his father begging for favors and for protection from the natural results of his mistakes, and the father turns away. His son goes to jail for a very long time, and the father grieves.

    It's my view that we don't give God proper credit for all that his does for us. This world would be vastly more evil if God abandoned it. But some of us become sufficiently hard hearted that God really does abandon us — not because we are looking at butterflies, but because we've rebelled and have become his enemy.

    And when that happens, God sometimes lets us suffer the natural consequences of our bad decisions. But God is unspeakably patient with us. This doesn't happen quickly, easily, or irresponsibly. God is not arbitrary. Rather, God loves us and will suffer great pain to bring us to him. But his patience does have limits.

    There's another side to Rom 1. God wants us to come to him. When life is good and niceness prevails in the world, many see no need for God. A world filled with Christiainity-lite — Nice-ianity — can fool us into thinking that we are self-sufficient and have no need for our Father.

    But when this happens, we are worshiping a false god. And to allow us to see the falsity of it all, God will eventually allow us to wallow in the mire. In only a generation or two, the nice world will become a decadent world, and those who are willing to see will see that their manmade world is falling apart, that something essential is missing, and some will turn to God.

    The nice world becomes a decadent world because many individuals who rebel against God find themselves abandoned by him, and so niceness turns to selfishness and selfishness turns to misery.

    This is, I think, happening in America today — not because God is hardening people who would otherwise be saved. No, God is allowing those who rebel against him to find out what rebellion really means. It's tough love — it's one way that God tries to turn a people back toward him.

  7. Jay Guin says:

    Brad,

    Regarding Matt 13. Jesus declares that the people have a hard heart.

    For this people's heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.

    He says that Isaiah's prophecy about them has come true — not that God wants Jesus to make them misunderstand but that they will be too hard hearted to understand.

    So why the parables? Rabbis had been teaching in parables long before Jesus. It was a very Jewish, very rabbinic mode of instruction.

    But who asked for an interpretation? Who cared enough to truly understand? Only Jesus' disciples.

    15For this people's heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
    Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
    and turn, and I would heal them.'[

    16But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

    Jesus said their eyes see and ears hear BEFORE he explained the parable. Their seeing and hearing wasn't about understanding the meaning of the story. It was about being open to instruction. It was about not having calloused hearts.

    Jesus' explanation has to be consistent with the passage from Isaiah, which says that they do not understand because they have calloused hearts. Thus, Jesus is not so much hiding the truth from them, but forcing them to go to the trouble to ask questions — or at least think about his words a little. They refuse and so they show themselves to be hard hearted.

    This is remarkably parallel to Rom 9 – 11, in that Jesus is comparing the state of the Jews to their condition shortly before the Babylonian captivity (as we'll see in future posts).

  8. Zach Price says:

    There are so many things that are not only accepted, but celebrated. First the allowance of abortion and possibly the state funded abortion in the health care bill. How do we know when God is going to just let it go? Do we continue to fight or has God just given up and will let us destroy each other (or in my example before we're even given a chance). I don't really think your analogy of the drug dealing kid goes far enough. I think the father continues to bail the kid out of jail, but eventually the kid decides that he really likes jail or just doesn't care and goes off to jail for a long time. The father greaves and hopes that despite the most probable event that the kid will end up back in jail after getting out, he waits to try to help him from doing so.

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