By Frank G. Tunstall

ParthenonThe cross of Jesus Christ is the supreme example of how bad man’s sinful condition really is, because it took the Lord’s death by crucifixion to provide our salvation.

The cross of Jesus Christ is also the ultimate example of God’s love, because He loved the world so much He was willing to give His only begotten Son to pay just that price to provide our salvation.

        In the face of the gross immorality in America today, it is essential that we rediscover the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Consider just the following:

  1. Planned Parenthood was outed recently for its hideous practice of abortion that in the process of killing babies in the womb actually manipulates delivery of babies. The goal is to be able to end a life in a way that preserves the infant’s most valuable body parts. These limbs and organs are then harvested and sold like beef or pork, so that Planned Parenthood can rake in even more money from their bloody business. Josh McDowell, speaking in Oklahoma City July 24 said 58,000,000 babies have now been aborted in America.
  2. Chuck Swindoll believes pornography is the greatest cancer in the church today.
  3. The Supreme Court has now handed down a ruling making same-sex marriage a constitutional right in the United States.

Paul grew up in the Roman Empire of the first century, in a Jewish home in the Greek city of Tarsus located in Asia Minor (now Turkey). From childhood he was taught the value system produced by the Ten Commandments. The clash of values would have been huge, because he lived surrounded by what to a Jew would have been the nauseating immorality of a culture wholly given over to idolatry.

Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road and dedicated his life to following his resurrected Lord. After serving Jesus some twenty-five years, he wrote a letter, similar in form to an ancient legal brief, to the Christians in Rome. His stated purpose was to defend the righteousness of God made known by Jesus Christ when He provided the plan of salvation for all people. Paul expressed it: “in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:17; see also Habakkuk 2:4).

Jesus went to Calvary and died in our place to achieve our redemption (Ephesians 2:8). We experience this amazing grace when we bow in faith and confess our sins with a broken heart (Matthew 4:17; Acts 2:38; 3:19).

The first major division of Paul’s letter following the introduction is Romans 1:18 – 3:26. In it Paul begins his defense of God’s righteousness by diagnosing the sinfulness of all mankind. Paul makes the case no one, based on his own personal merit, can claim to be righteous before God. The situation of the whole human family is just this bad; so serious, in fact, not even one person can be found anywhere in the world who can improve on Jesus’ sacrifice. No man or woman in God’s courtroom will be able to say to the heavenly Father, Your Son did not need to die because I had a better plan, so I deserve eternal life. In His pure holiness the testimony of Jesus’ death and resurrection, with the nail scars still in His hands, will testify against any would be claimant and leave him with no defense (John 8:46). The verdict every time will be guilty as charged.

This lesson and the two to follow in the next two weeks, will address Romans 1:18-32.

        Paul’s goal as he opens this first division is to show the moral decline common to all people that no one can cure by his own effort. The key interpretive word here is devolution. When applied to theology, devolution describes the downward moral spiral of man into deeper and deeper forms of rebellion against God. In contrast, evolution suggests the false notion people can bypass Jesus’ atoning death and still move upward morally, getting better and better. Paul taught mankind’s relationship with God is broken and people can do nothing to improve their standing. It is worthy of repeating: not one son of Adam has ever devised a plan that will heal the human family’s broken relationship with God.

1:18: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…

       In verse 17 it is the righteousness of God that is revealed. In verse 18 it is the wrath of God. Paul understood all people have knowledge of the existence of the righteous God and of His wrath against wrongdoing. Yes, Paul was not reluctant to use the word “wrath,” because he knew the heart of God includes the character trait of judgment.

We should talk about God’s wrath with tears in our eyes, however because “God doesn’t want anyone lost” (2 Peter 3:9 Msg). With broken hearts we must affirm to this generation the great danger of rejecting God’s supreme act of love, which is the voluntary death of His Son on the cross. Think about it: Jesus died in our place, “the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:8). To reject that great gift is to make God’s wrath altogether appropriate.

Said another way, God’s willingness to pass sentence is undergirded by “the great love wherewith he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4). In fact, God has never performed a single act that was not grounded in His love, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Even His wrath against the persistently wicked flows out of His great love (John 3:16; Psalm 9:17). God is never stirred to wrath by an out of control temper or bitter anger. This alone should motivate us all-the-more to respond positively to the heavenly Father’s selfless love even in the hour when we are the object of His discipline (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6).

It is in this sense that God’s wrath describes just how offensive our sins really are. They are also so very damaging to us. And, no one can claim ignorance, asserting he did not know better.

Saul of Tarsus (Paul is his Greek name) grew up into young manhood amid the raw immorality of the heathen world. Based on his study of the Old Testament Scriptures and his experience with the heathen, he reasoned even the heathen have consciousness of God. Hence, in his ministry the great apostle was fixed in his understanding that every person anywhere in the world has a measure of light, although some will have more light than others. The indictment, therefore, is that men “suppress,” or hold down and reject the truth they do possess. They want to live their own way, which is a lifestyle of rebellion against God. We must never forget Jesus’ own words: “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24).

A significant element of American culture rejects both the absolutely righteous character of God and the exceeding sinfulness of man. With these people God is not quite perfect, and man is a good sinner. Both of these conclusions indicate belief that man can earn his way to heaven and save himself. The mantra of religious pluralism seeks to make just this point: all roads lead to God for a person with a sincere heart. But to diminish the holiness of God or to teach that man can pull himself up by his own bootstraps, is to launch a rocket toward heaven doomed to explode. Even common sense teaches it is very easy to be sincerely wrong!

So many have never understood the power of sin – or stated another way, the power of even one sin. How important to remember it was one sin, only one, that cost Adam and Eve everything, including their home in paradise, and even worse, their warm relationship with God. They experienced an immediate death in their souls, as well as physical death in its time. “In this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Yes, God takes sin seriously.

Even one sin!

19 …since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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.

        What is it that God has made plain to all people? Paul’s answer is that two of God’s divine attributes are knowable by everyone – His “eternal power and divine nature.” The ultimate source of knowledge about God is the Bible, but nature is indeed a secondary source. Even people who have never heard the name of Jesus have enough light from God to comprehend God’s eternal power and divine nature. This level of truth is revealed by “what [God] has made.” The verdict in the court of divine justice, therefore, is that all “men [even the heathen] are without excuse.” This is a true and fair verdict, and vindicates the righteousness of God, because all people rebel against the light they do have. “There is none righteous” before God, “no not one” (Psalm 14:3; 53:3; Romans 3:10, 12).

Yes, the problem of all mankind is just this bad!

Recognizing the lost condition of the heathen before God, places an awesome responsibility on Bible believing followers of Jesus in the Lord’s church to send missionaries. Please understand, dear reader, and let yourself comprehend fully, the church will be held responsible for how it raises up and sends missionaries to those who are hearing the gospel for the first time.

21 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.

        It is with this background that Paul begins to explain the process of devolution. He presents it as a downward spiral that manifests itself in five phases. Again, this is not to say every person sinks to the lowest level, but it is to say every person anywhere in the world who has not been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ will have his place somewhere on this downward spiral (1 John 1:7). Paul considered these steps to be self-evident. Hence, he asserted them without giving any effort to defend them.

The great Apostle begins with “they knew God.”

The first Step away from God occurs when people make the choice to stop giving God the glory and honor He is due.

After people cease to honor God, step two spotlights the attitude that blossoms and leads people to ingratitude. Their second step downward is to lose the desire to be thankful for the blessings of God, and especially His plan of salvation.

        Step 3 follows, in which the thinking of people becomes futile or pointless, as life loses its meaning.

        Step 4 shows people living “with darkened hearts,” trying to deal with their emptiness. At this level they start writing their own ticket, doing it engulfed in the inner darkness that obscures reality. Yet, they proceed to develop a new “fool’s wisdom.” The Greek word for fool in verse 22 was literally brought over into English as moron. Many highly intelligent people have penned their own philosophies trying to answer the great questions of life, like: Who am I? How did I get here? Where am I going? This is the sphere of man’s pride in which he persists in going his own way. Like Cain, he develops his own plan of salvation. In the 21st century, a stand-out example is Planned Parenthood that has written a whole new definition of sexuality. Its cornerstone says if a woman claims she does not want the baby she has conceived it means prima facie the life in her womb has no value and can be aborted, and then the tiny body parts can be sold.

       In the 5th step downward, people actually make the big switch exchanging the truth of God for the lie of idolatry. It is the inherent nature of all people to worship. And, if a person rejects God, he will also replace Him with another god. This meant in Paul’s day they swapped “the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand” (Romans 1:23, Msg.).

In the twenty-first century one example of the essence of idolatry is how people are rejecting God’s revealed plan in the Bible for marriage and the family, and then go about developing and living out their own plan. Planned Parenthood has institutionalized the abortion industry and done just this. So has the pornography business. The same-sex-marriage movement has done it too, along with the authorities who support them. At this level of “darkened” hearts, they have smugly made their declaration of independence from God’s revealed plan. Proudly they have “exchanged” God’s plan for their own definition of sexuality, including marriage and the value of life in the womb. Again, doing this is the essence of idolatry, as millions bow in rebellion against God at the twenty-first century shrines of America’s triplets, the big-three idols of pornography, abortion, and homosexuality. But Paul’s says theirs is the wisdom of “fools,” of morons. We conclude, therefore:

The cross of Jesus Christ is the supreme example of how bad man’s sinful condition really is, because it took the Lord’s death by crucifixion to fix our problem.

The cross of Jesus Christ is also the ultimate example of God’s love. The cross shows God loved the world so much He was willing to give His only begotten Son to pay just that price to fix our problem.

[Lesson Two, “Choices Have Consequences,” will follow next week.]

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