THE 21 COUNT INDICTMENT
Devolution Not Evolution — Lesson Three of Three Lessons
The cross of Jesus Christ is also the ultimate example of God’s love. Jesus loved us so much He was willing to pay just that price to fix our problem.
Robert Reich was the U.S. Secretary of Labor in the administration of President Bill Clinton. Before joining the administration, he was a faculty member at Harvard University. In 2004 Reich published Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America. Reich wrote:
“Once we allow … anyone else to decide how we should conduct our private sex lives, where would it end? If we accept the idea that one religion’s view about proper morality should be the law of the land, how do we decide whose religious views should prevail?”1
The question on the surface seems almost fair and innocent, but it is neither. Reich’s primary target, of course, is Jesus Christ and the moral values of Christianity revealed in the Bible. If it is not appropriate for the Bible to define “how we should conduct our private sex lives,” then secular humanists like Dr. Reich have no right to advocate for their own standards either. Indeed, Reich’s benchmark, fairly applied, rules out not just the Bible, but all religions and all philosophical worldviews, leaving in its wake a very subjective “anything goes” view of morality in which every man does “what is right in his own eyes.” But a big problem still remains: when it comes to morality, having no plan is still a plan. Hence, we can again ask Dr. Reich’s question, “Where will it all end?” And we answer, at the bottom of the muddy, slippery slope identified by the word devolution. People who support same-sex marriage, for example, are more likely to accept pornography, cohabitation, bigamy, hook-ups, adultery, polyamory (more than one openly sexual relationship at a time), abortion, and the list goes on.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we stand on an objective, written standard, the sixty-six books of the Bible, the Holy Scriptures. This includes the Ten Commandments that are 3,500 years old, and the Sermon on the Mount that is 2,000 years old. The Bible, in fact, has been foundational in the development of Western Civilization. In addition, the Sacred Canon also served as a major factor in the birth and development of the United States.
Yes, it is important to know what we believe, and why. With this in mind, we now turn to God’s third response to the choice to suppress the knowledge of God and chart one’s own course.
28 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.
The phrase, “did not think it worthwhile…” carries the idea that ancient people and ethnic groups put God to the test and examined Him. Their conclusion was Jehovah God did not meet their requirements, because, with Jehovah, they could not do what they wanted to do. Hence, “they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God.” This was a conscious decision. The verdict was to walk away from God. But again, decisions have consequences. God’s response was to give “them up to do everything their evil minds could think of” (Romans 1:28, TLB).
The term “depraved” in verse 28 describes a person with a very evil way of behaving. It routinely includes sinking into a life of moral evil that includes sexual sin at its worst. This depravity of mind happens when a person reaches a point of habitually practicing a lifestyle that does not think it “worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God.” It also means he has rejected the voice of his conscience time and again until his sensitivity is seared and his conscience is no longer his moral guide. At this stage of devolution a person does not even honor the civil law when it “limits” his quest to pursue the pleasures the gods of his own making give him the “right” to “enjoy.”
When a person or nation rebels against God at this deep level, the people live in the dissipation that slowly but surely destroys them mind, soul and body. Part of the tragedy of this way of life is that dissipation is like addiction. A person has to go deeper into dissipation tomorrow to get today’s momentary thrill. When this depravity of lifestyle becomes widespread in a culture, the same judgment applies to a nation. But choices do indeed have consequences. Paul was speaking for God when he wrote:
“They were fully aware of God’s death penalty for these crimes, yet they went right ahead and did them anyway and encouraged others to do them, too” (Romans 1:28, 32,TLB)
It is important again to assert not every person slides to the very bottom of the slippery slope of devolution. But make no mistake, all people anywhere in the world who do not come in faith and repentance to Jesus Christ are caught somewhere in this ugly and deadly mudslide.
And this brings us to the twenty-one count indictment that applies to all people who are subpoenaed to appear in the courtroom of eternal justice. The summons includes every person who is not covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
29-31 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, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
- “Filled with every kind of wickedness” – a person who has chosen to go whole hog into immorality, and chosen to live cram full of the moral unrighteousness of the heathen.
- “Evil” – the specific sin identified here is fornication, (consenting sex among the unmarried). The term can also refer to adultery and incest. At its essence it is the practice of idolatry because it rejects God’s plan for sexuality and puts a man-made plan in its place.
- “Greed” – the malice that plots evil strategies with the goal to get what someone else has.
- “Covetousness” – people bound by the malicious greed that can lead to fraud and extortion; getting what I want at any cost.
- “Envy” – a person that begrudges with resentment what someone else has.
- “Murder” – the wrath of a person who believes another individual does not deserve to live and he is responsible to carry out the verdict.
- “Strife” – describes a person who loves to quarrel and wrangle, even with contention, to reach his goal.
- “Deceit” – the effort to beguile and entice, and then entrap, with the goal to gain some advantage.
- “Malice” – intense hatred and a strong desire to do harm, even to kill.
- “Gossips” – whisperers of untruth or a partial truth with the goal to harm a person’s reputation.
- “Slanderers” – people who spitefully backbite (behind a person’s back), or when a person is out of ear-shot.
- “Haters of God” – individuals with intense hostility and bitterness directed at God. Jesus’ enemies actually despised Him (Isaiah 53:3). The Lord also faces it today. Very few secular media news persons in America, for example, will even write or speak the lovely name, “Jesus.”
- “Insolent” – a brazen and disrespectful person who rudely causes someone pain or suffering for the sheer enjoyment of it; malicious ill will with a desire to hurt.
- “Arrogant” – the haughty desire, with evil intent, to elevate oneself above others, including their possessions.
- “Boastful” – a proud, big-headed person with a need to feel superior, who is always talking about his accomplishments and has no interest in the successes of his neighbors.
- “Inventors of evil” – people of bad influence, whose minds continually try to create ways to gratify self, including how to pull others into their schemes.
- “Disobedient to parents” – On the surface this almost seems to be out of place in this indictment of the sinfulness of all people; but it is not. If a child is permitted to grow up disobedient to his parents, it is likely he will also resist the authority of God, and he will take that disobedience into the marketplace. It will cause him to be fired from job after job, and disobedience can even put a person in prison. If unchecked, a disobedient father will pour the same poison into his children. A culture that winks at disobedience to parents will not understand the vital principles of cooperation and submission to authority that work together to achieve a greater good in a nation.
- “Senseless” – In this setting it identifies a person with a wicked lack of moral intelligence that does not understand why moral excess is evil and destructive.
- “Faithless” – people who break covenants and contracts and are not worthy of trust.
- “Heartless” – people who are so consumed with their own evil desires they lack natural affection for their own spouse or children. They can easily neglect and even morally abuse their own spouse and offspring, like leaving a small child in a locked car on a hot summer day while they go into a bar to “enjoy” themselves.
- “Ruthless” – people who are merciless and totally lacking in compassion in their quest to get what they want.
Yes, the indictment includes twenty-one counts.
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 (Romans 1:32).
The list is long but Paul’s summary that justifies the indictment is short; he reduced it to a sentence (verse 32).
- All people know God exists; no one can plead ignorance.
- Death is the fair and just penalty that we all deserve.
- Many people disregard the warnings of their conscience and of Scripture, and continue in their rebellion and disobedience.
- They also justify and approve of those with whom they sin.
So many people in the Roman Empire were indeed living in moral dissipation and depravity. Let it be underscored, however: for Paul to speak for God and record, “God gave them over,” does not say “God gave up” on the heathen Greek and Roman world.
The cross of Jesus Christ is the supreme example of how bad man’s sinful condition 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. God loved the world so much He gave His only begotten Son, who was willing to pay just that price to redeem mankind.
Instead of giving up on the heathen, the Lord’s apostles understood Jesus loved pagans too, and died for them also. How the moral transformation came about in Asia Minor, Paul’s homeland, and throughout the Empire is worthy of consideration, and it should encourage us in the struggle of the twenty-first century.
The last week of Jesus’ life before His crucifixion began with His triumphant entry into the Holy City:
“The great crowd that had come for the Feast heard Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the King of Israel!’” (John 12:12-13).
Our English word, eulogy comes from the Greek word eulogeeménos, translated as blessed in John 12:13. These exclamations were a fitting summary of the Lord’s life and mission. Their shouts were actually prophetic, giving Jesus the blessing of His eulogy before His death that very week.
Not everyone was happy, however. “The Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’” (John 12:19).
What a contrast of attitudes follows! The next scene John records is the story of some Greeks who were in Jerusalem to worship at the Passover feast. They came to Phillip and said, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
Phillip found Andrew; together they did the right thing and brought them to the Lord.
We are not told what Jesus said to these Greeks, but we do know what happened next. It was a significant moment on earth and in heaven. On earth, Jesus began to prophesy about His death, and concluded with, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’”
“Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’” The crowd that was there and heard it said [the voice] had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. (John 12:27-29, brackets added).
This audible voice of the heavenly Father was a great encouragement to the disciples, and surely was a memory these Greeks held precious for the remainder of their lives. It also was a powerful reaffirmation to Jesus that after His death and resurrection, the good news of the gospel would find a huge following in the Greek and Roman world.
Many thousands of people in the Roman Empire, from Egypt and North Africa, as well as the Middle East, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, had already realized the moral corruption and emptiness of idol worship. They were so hungry, in fact, some even became proselytes who converted to Jewish religion and accepted circumcision. Others were considered hungry “God fearers.” They wanted to find the true God who could fill the empty spot in their souls, but without circumcision.
Greeks, for example, were present in the crowd that included sixteen countries and ethnicities on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit birthed the church (Acts 2:6-12). The first city wide revival in a Gentile city was among the Greeks living in Antioch in Syria. Barnabas and Saul’s first missionary journey started in Antioch and went north into Asia Minor, where Paul (his Greek name) found a ready following and open door among Gentile proselytes and Godfearers. The two-year long revival Paul led in Ephesus on the western coast of Asia Minor was so far reaching in its influence Luke recorded: “All they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:10-11, KJV).
It took some three hundred years, but the gospel of Jesus Christ ultimately fully overcame idol worship in Asia Minor and indeed throughout the Roman world.
A great lesson is here for the American church. Yes, Bible believing followers of Jesus are in a struggle for the minds and hearts of millions who do not worship Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. They are indeed on a slippery slope of immorality. To win this struggle:
- We must get the diagnosis right by rethinking what Romans 1 teaches about man’s fallen condition and
- Agree with God that man’s sinful condition is as bad as God says it is.
- We must also agree with God that the love of God is as powerful a magnet today as in the first century of the church.
- We must ask the Lord to help us learn to preach the gospel in such a way that it speaks with God’s love to the emptiness of people on the slippery slope.
- We must rekindle our sense of responsibility to the Lord’s Great Commission by focusing anew the worldwide missionary challenge to take the gospel to those who have not heard.
- Jesus’ death and resurrection is their perfect antidote; His blood is everyone’s cure.
- God has not given up on America, and we must not either!
The apostles and Early Church Fathers faced the rawest forms of pagan sin when they went across the Empire to preach the gospel. They also met a warm response from many, but they faced opposition as well and sometimes brutal persecution. Many died a martyr’s death in defense of the gospel. The Apostle Paul himself ultimately became one of them, giving his life in Rome during the reign of Nero, probably in the early 60’s.
As we follow in their footsteps, may our gracious Lord bless the Bible believing church in America to comprehend the moral emptiness and stagnation of the millions caught in immoral heterosexual and homosexual lifestyles. We must learn to love people with whom we disagree. One day many of them will wake up to the moral emptiness of their lives. Then they will be willing to listen to the good news Jesus brought into the world. Yes, Jesus died for these twenty-first century Americans too.
May we be blessed to see what the Lord sees in this century – the fields ripe unto harvest – and yearn for the faith once delivered to the saints (John 4:35; Jude 3). This will birth a rediscovery of our first love. This is so important for the Holy Spirit to anoint pastors and evangelists, as well as apostles, prophets and teachers to do the work of the ministry and reap the harvest in our own mother-land until Jesus comes (Revelation 2:4; Proverbs 11:5; 2 Timothy 4:5).
1 Robert Reich. Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America. New York, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2004, pp. 61-62.