Romans 1 diagrams a downward progression into depravity. What does it mean? And is this really all about “those people?” Any scripture passage needs to be taken in context of the whole Bible, but at the very least we need to consider the context of the entire book or epistle. So let’s not be too eager to say, “Yeah! That’s the way they are!” Otherwise chapter 2 could be a bit of a shock.
My first studies of Romans 1 begin here. Below, I’ll share my paraphrase of verses 18-32:
God’s anger from heaven is being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. By their unrighteousness, they suppress and hold down the truth — because what may be known of God is revealed among them, for God has shown and demonstrated it to them. For the unseen things are revealed by the visible things of creation — creation shows us who He is; His eternal power and divinity — so that they should have no excuse.
Because though they recognized and came to know God, they did not glorify Him as God or thank Him. Rather they were made barren and without fruit in their reasonings. Their undiscerning heart/spirit/mind was darkened.
Claiming to be wise, they became foolish. They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image of an image of a corruptible man and of birds and four-footed beasts and reptiles.
Because of this, God gave them up in the covetousness of their hearts unto impurity, so as to be dishonoring their bodies among them, who truly traded the truth of God for the lie, and gave worship and service to the created, rather than to the Creator who is blessed unto the ages. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them up unto dishonorable passions — for even their females traded off the natural use for that which is against nature. In the same way even the males, forsaking the natural use of the female, flared out in their eager desire for one another — males committing indecency with males, receiving within themselves the necessary recompense of their error, as is due them.
And even as they did not approve of acknowledging God, God turned them over to a disapproved mind, to be doing unbecoming things — filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, baseness — full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil disposition — whisperers, detractors, God haters, insolent, arrogant, vain boasters, inventors of vices, unyielding to parents, without discernment, having no regard for covenants, no natural affection, merciless —
Who indeed having acknowledged the righteous sentence of God that the people who do this sort of thing deserve to die, not only do the same things themselves, but also delight in the company of others who do them!
Ouch! Does that hit a little too close or what? So where does this all start?
According to the passage above, the whole thing begins with something we’ve all done; ignoring God. We fail to discern God in His creation. We fail to judge Him righteously (see Righteousness and Justice: What Are They?) and we fail to be grateful to Him and to thank Him. Instead, we see ourselves as our source. That amounts to eating from the wrong tree — trusting in ourselves rather than in God as our guide, our mentor, our Father.
Have your children ever done this to you? Did it make you angry? Treating God this way shows disrespect for the relationship we have (or ought to have) with Him. It also leads us into all sorts of foolishness. We take for granted all the good things He provides for us from Himself. Human beings are sufficiently advanced to see and understand and know God. But we choose to remain in the natural state (as opposed to the spiritually awakened state of acknowledging Him). As a result, all these evils come upon us. We regress instead of growing into the fullness of the image of God. We are His children; we’re meant to look like Him. Instead, we become marred and dwarfed and degraded. And it all starts with blind, selfish ingratitude!
We behave dishonorably toward God and toward our fellow humans, and this unrighteous behavior suppresses the truth. God reveals Himself to us in countless pictures in the natural world, but we choose to worship nature (including ourselves). The paintings are meant to tell us about our God, not to be worshiped for their own perceived merit. Not to be presented AS God. When we insist (against our better judgment) that the material world is “all there is,” we end up calling nature our “creator.” But nature is non-rational and we are meant to be rational. How can rational, thinking beings be deceived into thinking we are the children of a non-rational system? This happens as a result of our pride and repugnance at the thought of being icons — image bearers — for the ultimate rational being: God. It isn’t enough for us that we are God’s children. We want to be the God of our own lives (and often, of the lives of others also).
What does God do about all this? Well, He’s done a lot, but the first thing He does is to give us our way. We pull on the reigns; He gives us our head and lets us run where we will. For our own good, we need to see the end results of our wilfulness. The cup of God’s wrath is just this: that He turns us over to all the things we have desired for ourselves and allows us to eat the fruit of those things.
And the fruit of those things is death.