The Gospel Has the Power to Break the Downward Spiral of Sin
In this passage Paul speaks of three “revelations.”
God reveals His power in the gospel to save all people.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
God reveals His righteousness in an act of grace and mercy, providing forgiveness of sin by faith—an ongoing faith.
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
God reveals His wrath toward mankind because, in their ungodliness and unrighteousness, they suppress the truth.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [suppress] the truth in unrighteousness.”
The Contextual Setting
Paul was writing to the churches at Rome, the capital city of the nation that ruled the known world. It contained one of the most sophisticated cultures in the world, and at the same time, one of the most depraved.
The sinful situation in the Western world today seems similar. Many people are surprised at the rapidity with which Western civilizations are departing from standards of biblical morality. The passage before us helps us understand why this is happening and also gives us God’s solution to stop the downward spiral of sin.
Romans 1:18-32 begins with the fact and focus of God’s wrath on sin, and then explains the reasons for, and the results of, His wrath.
1. The FACT of God’s wrath
”For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Rom. 1:18a).
God’s wrath is not like human wrath. God does not suspend His love, compassion, mercy, or kindness in the exercise of His wrath. Rather, His wrath toward the willful, persistent, and unrepentant sinner is a reflection of His settled and steadfast disposition of hating evil.
In reality, God’s wrath is an expression of His love and holiness. As John Murray comments, God’s wrath involves “the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of His holiness.”
Please do not misunderstand God’s wrath. Paul tells us that God graciously acts toward sinners with
“goodness and forbearance and longsuffering” (Rom. 2:4).
God’s love, kindness, and mercy is bestowed upon sinners to help them see their spiritual need and to lead them to repentance. But when sinners reject God’s kindness and refuse to repent, Paul warns them,
”You are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5).
In other words, wherever you find deliberate, persistent, unrepentant sinners, you eventually see God’s wrath poured out.
2. The FOCUS of God’s wrath
”…against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18b).
It is essential to understand the significance of these two words. Ungodliness (asebeia) is expressed by denying God His rightful place of Lordship in any area of our life.
Ungodliness always produces unrighteousness (adikian)—a lack of conformity to God’s Law. It is termed “unrighteous” because it is an act that violates God’s biblical standards of right conduct. He demands that people be holy (obedient) in every area of life (1 Pet. 1:15-16).
3. The REASONS for God’s wrath
Paul lists two fruits that immediately result from ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18c-23).
a. People SUPPRESS the Revelation of God
“hold [suppress] the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18b-20).
Although God is angry with all sinners (Psa. 7:11; 11:4-5), He is especially angry with people who, because they love their sin, deliberately and intentionally suppress the very truth He shows them.
For example, they suppress, ignore, or deny the revelation God gives of Himself through natural creation. Paul explains:
“Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them;
for God hath shewed it unto them.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead;
so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).
God’s self-disclosure through creation is visible (God shows it to them), it is clear (it is clearly seen), it reveals specific content about Him (He is eternal, powerful and the Creator).
In light of this revelation, God expects humans to seek to know Him and to keep their conscience clear (Rom. 2:14-15). When humans fail to walk in the light of what they can know about God, and fail to keep their consciences clear, God pronounces judgment upon them:
“they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
God does not expect us to guess whether or not He exists. It is as if He is providing billboards, street signs, flashing marquees, signs on buses, bumper stickers, and airplanes pulling message banners—
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psa. 19:1).
That is how plainly God has made knowledge of Himself available to the human race.
b. People STOPPED glorifying God as God and ceased being thankful
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful” (Rom 1:21a).
Paul describes the steps of the downward spiral of sin.
- First, God reveals Himself through His created universe.
- Second, mankind chooses to purposely ignore this revealed truth.
- Third, they consequently stop glorifying God as God and stop giving Him thanks. Mankind’s choice to embrace ungodliness and unrighteousness invariably affects the spiritual perception.
- Fourth, mankind becomes “vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21b-22).
And what do spiritual fools do? Because humans are designed by God to be worshippers, they continue to worship, but instead of worshipping God, they worship other things. They give other things the place He rightfully deserves and these things become their IDOLS (Rom. 1:23).
Today, wherever you find a deliberate, persistent, unrepentant sinner, you find an idol worshipper. Most do not bow down and worship sticks or stones. But idols come in many forms. Sometimes they roll down the highway, or float on a lake, or even fly in the air. Sometimes they may come in the form of checkbooks, stocks, or mutual funds.
Anytime people give to something else the time, the priority, and the place in their life God rightfully deserves, God calls it “idolatry.”
4. The RESULTS of God’s wrath
“God gave them up” (Rom. 1:24-32).
Paul now lists the specific sins that characterize the lives of those who suppress the truth about God, stop glorifying God as God, stop giving Him thanks, and exchange His glory for the glory of something else.
As we look at the catalog of sins Paul lists, it becomes obvious that what began as a willful choice in the realm of the spirit and mind ultimately manifests itself in the body as well.
Three times we have the statement, “God gave them over” (Rom. 1:24,26,28). At a minimum, when God gives deliberate, persistent, unrepentant sinners over to their sin, it means God removes His gracious roadblocks which hindered their progress in sin. To those who refuse to say to Him, “Thy will be done,” God says to them, “Your will be done,” and allows mankind to pursue unimpeded a course of sinful self-destructiveness.
In Romans 1:24-32, we have the description of three different pathways upon which a persistent, unrepentant sinner may walk.
1. The pathway of sinful self-indulgence (Rom. 1:24-25).
This expresses itself in the attitude, “I want what I want because I like it,” and leads to sensual enslavement (Rom. 1:24: “the lusts of their own hearts”) and spiritual blindness (Rom. 1:25: “exchanged truth for lies”). Paul does not tell us what type of immorality is involved because of their lusts, but he does tell us it leads to the dishonoring of their own bodies between themselves” (Rom. 1:24).
2. The pathway of sinful sexual perversion (Rom. 1:26-27).
This pathway can lead to women becoming lesbians and men becoming homosexuals. Sadly, truth rejecters seem to come to a place where they have inner peace about the lies they embrace.
3. The pathway of the reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28-32).
This pathway is probably the primary pathway that deliberate, persistent, unrepentant sinners take. In simplest terms, a reprobate mind is a spiritually “color-blind” mind. Their own thoughts and opinions guide their choices, and they no longer embrace the moral and ethical standards of God’s Word. Paul lists 23 sins that are caused by a “reprobate” (depraved) mind. And tragically, the list ends with the statement,
“Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:32).
There is a company of committed companions on the pathway to the reprobate mind. No doubt many of these people consider themselves religious, and perhaps many consider themselves saved. However, their thinking is twisted by spiritual blindness and self-centered willfulness.
Dr. Allan P. Brown teaches such courses as Christian Beliefs, Doctrine of Holiness, Wisdom Literature, Hebrew, Preaching Holiness, Romans and Galatians, and Letters to the Hebrews.
He has been on faculty at GBSC since 1996 and is the author of several books and articles.
Dr. Brown also speaks at churches, camp meetings, revivals and more.