Romans 1:18-2:16: What’s wrong with the world?

What’s wrong with the world? Everyone’s got an opinion. I googled that question and got more than 1.84 BILLION hits! All sorts of opinions about COVID, about suffering, or religion, or the environment, or the bad behaviour of kids today, or the high price of groceries, or people pushing-in in queues.

What’s wrong with the world? The English author GK Chesterton wrote a book with that title in the early part of the 20th century. And to be honest, I haven’t read it. But by the look of the contents page, he’s got a lot to say on the subject.

But what GK Chesterton is BEST known for/ is something he wrote to the London Times. The paper invited a number of leading British authors to submit FEATURE ARTICLES addressing that very question. What’s wrong with the world?

And Chesterton’s contribution took the form of a letter. You’d expect something fairly profound from someone who’d written A WHOLE BOOK on the subject. Are you ready for what he wrote?

Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours GK Chesterton

Concise, clear, devastatingly brutal, and completely CORRECT. I hope he didn’t get paid by the word. What’s wrong with the world? I am. And so are you. We ALL are.

And that’s PAUL’S answer to the question as well. What’s wrong with the world? US. WE’RE what’s wrong with the world. Not just THEM. (SOMEONE ELSE). But ALL OF US. HUMANITY is what’s wrong. US and THEM. True in Paul’s day, true in Chesterton’s day, and just as true in OURS.

Rescued from what?

We’re starting, today, from v18 of Ch 1. Last week we finished with the Paul’s declaration that he’s NOT ASHAMED of the gospel. Because it’s God’s power to SAVE people. To RESCUE people.

But rescue from WHAT? A message of rescue is only good news if you see THE NEED TO BE RESCUED. So Paul shows the DANGER we need RESCUING FROM. (What the gospel SAVES us FROM). V18.

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,

God’s anger – his JUDGMENT- is the danger we’re facing. But not only on JUDGMENT DAY. It’s ALREADY BEING REVEALED. Right now. In this life. And God’s angry at GODLESSNESS AND WICKEDNESS. SIN is the topic all the way from v18 of Ch 1 all the way to v20 of chapter 3. And the point of the whole section is EVERYONE’S guilty before God of SIN. And NO ONE escapes.

Remember there were TWO MAIN GROUPS who made up the church in Rome – the Jews, and the NON-Jews, or the Gentiles. And the Gentiles are Paul’s FIRST target. From v18 all the way to the end of Ch 1. GENTILES are guilty. And then he turns his attention to the JEWS, from the start of ch 2 to ch 3 v8. And JEWS are guilty TOO!

Gentiles are guilty

And the first thing he wants to say about the Gentiles is that they’re GUILTY. And that IGNORANCE is NO EXCUSE. God is RIGHT to be angry with them (v19)

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

It’s no good saying to the policeman who pulls you over for speeding, “But I didn’t KNOW it was a school zone!” The signs were THERE, it’s YOUR FAULT if you didn’t SEE them. It’s RIGHT that you get fined. You’re WITHOUT EXCUSE.

Same thing with GOD. The signs of God are THERE for everyone to see. He’s PUT them there DELIBERATELY. So we’d RECOGNISE the Creator from his creation. See it there at the end of v19 “Because God has made it plain to them.”

His fingerprints are all over his creation. On the enormity of the night sky. On the intricate design of unicellular organisms, or flowers or snowflakes. And they’re on the mind-boggling complexity of the human body, or the perfect balance of the water cycle or food chains.

But instead of RECOGNISING and HONOURING the Creator, v18 says people SUPPRESS that truth by their wickedness.

Or v21. 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.

The signs were THERE, people just choose to IGNORE them. They make a CONSCIOUS CHOICE NOT to glorify God or thank him for his world, and what they have. So it’s no good someone saying, “It’s not fair, God can’t JUDGE me. No one ever TOLD me about him. I didn’t see the signs.” Instead of worshipping GOD, people choose to worship CREATED things. There from v22. Idols and statues of birds or reptiles or animals. Or gods that looked like men.

V21 says it’s FUTILE thinking. POINTLESS. And FOOLISH. Carving a crocodile out of a lump of stone with your own hands. And then BOWING DOWN TO IT. ASKING ADVICE of it. Ludicrous! But is it any different TODAY? People bowing down before sportsmen, or singers, or social influencers. Or building their careers, or their homes, or their bank balances, or their boats, then WORSHIPPING them. Devoting their LIVES to them. Only to LOSE them. Rusted, betrayed, devalued, dismissed, malignant, inoperable, decaying, destroyed, DEAD. It’s FUTILE THINKING.

A heart condition

But Paul wants to point out it’s not a matter of INTELLECT. As if it’s only people with a low IQ who fall into this sort of thinking. It’s not a matter of brain power. Or education. Or culture. It’s to do with THE HEART. Every one of us has a HEART CONDITION when it comes to God. When the Bible talks about your heart, it means your BASIC IDENTITY. (Your NATURAL ORIENTATION. The essence of what makes you YOU). And at the end of v21 Paul says, “Their foolish HEARTS were darkened.” And again, in v24, the sinful desires of THEIR HEARTS.”

Our basic nature – our HEART – is to IGNORE God, and make our own decisions. To be boss of our lives. That’s what sin is. Choosing OUR way over GOD’S. It’s AN ATTITUDE. And all the sinful ACTIONS/ FLOW from that. All the law-breaking, and selfishness. All the idolatry and immorality and injustice. Wickedness and disobedience. They’re all SYMPTOMS of the HEART CONDITION. THAT’S what’s wrong with the world. SINFUL HEARTS.

And so, God GIVES PEOPLE OVER to the sinful desires of their hearts. He allows them to live out the consequences of their sinful orientation. Three times to the end of Ch 1 we get the same phrase. V24. Therefore God GAVE THEM OVER in the sinful desires of their hearts. V26. Because of this, God GAVE THEM OVER to shameful lusts. And again in v28.

It’s how his wrath is being revealed. It’s judgment NOW. Before the FINAL judgment. In that sense, it’s GRACIOUS judgment. It’s God ALLOWING people to live out the horror of their heart-desires. To see their consequences. The pain they cause. The broken-ness and ugliness. To see where they lead. All before it’s too late. So they might RECOGNISE their foolishness and futility. And turn back to God.

God’s wrath is being revealed. Against people’s sin and godlessness. Handing them over to its consequences. That’s what’s wrong with the world!

Jews are guilty

That’s the Gentiles. (Those WITHOUT God’s law.) You can imagine the Jews in the Roman church sitting there comfortably and smugly as that first part is read. “We’re not like THAT! We know God. We know what he wants. We’ve got THE LAW.” Well, now Paul turns his attention to the JEWS. Ch 2.

2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because YOU WHO PASS JUDGMENT DO THE SAME THINGS.

Don’t be so quick to point the finger, says Paul. Until you take a good look in the mirror first. Don’t judge OTHERS when YOU’RE GUILTY TOO.

Knowledge is no excuse

If IGNORANCE is no excuse for the GENTILES, then the second point Paul makes is that KNOWLEDGE is no excuse for the JEWS. Just KNOWING the law doesn’t give you a free pass to escape judgment. Jump down to v12.

All who sin APART from the law (Gentiles) will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law (Jews) will be judged by the law.

If you KNOW the law and BREAK it. You’ll be JUDGED by the law. He makes the same point down in v17, finally naming the Jews as the ones he’s speaking to.

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18 if you KNOW his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law…

(now jump down to v21) — 21 you, then, who teach others, DO YOU NOT TEACH YOURSELF? You who preach against stealing, DO YOU STEAL?

Simply KNOWING the law means NOTHING! You’ve got to KEEP it. Which the Jews DIDN’T do. COULDN’T do! The problem isn’t knowing or not knowing the law. It’s something DEEPER.

A heart condition

And for the Jew, the same problem for is the same as for the Gentile. THE JEW has A HEART CONDITION TOO. Back up in v5 of ch 2. But because of your stubbornness and YOUR UNREPENTANT HEART, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath,

For the Gentile, it was a FOOLISH heart. (A heart with SINFUL desires. That chose to suppress the TRUTH.) But the JEWISH heart is STUBBORN AND UNREPENTANT. It KNOWS God’s standard, and stubbornly refuses to KEEP it. Consciously moves in the other direction. And refuses to turn around. Which in lots of ways is WORSE. Different SYMPTOM, same DISEASE. The lifestyle of the Jew would have looked QUITE DIFFERENT from the Gentile described in chapter 1. But the ROOT CAUSE is the same. They BOTH have a HEART condition. A stubborn or foolish HEART. Both have a sinful nature.

And because it’s the same DISEASE, God is JUST when he treats both groups THE SAME. V6. God’s righteous judgment.

6 God “will give to EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO WHAT HE HAS DONE.”  7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for EVERY human being who does evil: FIRST for the Jew, THEN for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for EVERYONE who does good: FIRST for the Jew, THEN for the Gentile. 11 FOR GOD DOES NOT SHOW FAVORITISM.

No pushing in, no jumping the queue, no special favours with God on the basis of what you know. Or DON’T know. God doesn’t have favourites.

It all gets back to the ROOT of the problem. The LAW won’t fix ANYTHING. Because it’s EXTERNAL. Like band aids and antiseptic won’t do ANYTHING when the infection’s ON THE INSIDE. And the solution to our sin has to be something that deals with OUR HEART CONDITION. Our NATURE.

What we need is HEART SURGERY. Jump down to v28. He’s talking to the Jew who’s confident before God simply because he’s a Jew. Because he’s been circumcised. But circumcision, because it’s part of the LAW, can’t save ANYONE.

Paul wants to say is that what REALLY works is circumcision OF THE HEART. That’s God fixing up your sinful HEART. (Spiritual heart surgery. Making it new by his Spirit.) And that’s something God can do WHATEVER your nationality.

28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one OUTWARDLY, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one INWARDLY; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, BY THE SPIRIT, not by the written code.

GOD’S got to do it. We’re POWERLESS. That’s what his RESCUE is about. The rescue from his wrath and judgment. The salvation the gospel describes. Only GOD can do spiritual heart transplants.

Everyone NEEDS it. (That heart surgery). Because everyone’s got the same PROBLEM. Jump down to Ch 3 v9 Paul’s conclusion. The same point he’s been hammering all along.

9 What shall we conclude then? Are we (Jews) any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that JEWS AND GENTILES ALIKE ARE ALL UNDER SIN.

Male and female. Educated and uneducated. Rich and poor. Married and single. Young and old.

Busy and bored. Babies and businessmen. Black and beige. Beautiful and bland.

All under sin. All having a sinful, foolish, wicked, stubborn, unrepentant heart. All needing a NEW heart. One only GOD can give. A new heart that gives a new desire, a new orientation, a new power and motivation to live God’s way. All NEED it, but none DESERVE it.

And we’ll see more next week about how we can GET it.

But, as we finish, a few points of application.

What’s wrong with the world? I am. YOU are. You and I are what’s wrong with the world. There are no innocent parties. We’re all guilty. We all deserve judgment.

It’s one of the main reasons Paul is making this theological argument. About how everyone is guilty before God. Because the Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church aren’t getting along. They’re judging one another. And taking sides.

And the application of the theology of universal sin, guilt and judgment/ is that we should be quick to forgive. And show mercy. And be humble. And slow to judge.

What’s wrong with our CHURCH? I am. YOU are. You and I are what’s wrong with our church. So how about showing a little more HUMILITY, and a little less ARROGANCE? How about being A LITTLE QUICKER TO FORGIVE and show MERCY. And a little slower to JUDGE?

And when you feel church isn’t as good as it could be. Don’t be too hasty to point the finger at other people. Have a good look in the mirror FIRST. What can YOU change about what you do here at church? (How you treat people? What priority you make things?) Change YOURSELF. YOU’RE what’s wrong with church.

Same thing in OTHER areas of life. What’s wrong with your FAMILY? Or your MARRIAGE? YOU are. Don’t be too hasty to judge or accuse. Have a good look in the mirror FIRST. What can YOU change? I’m not saying other people are blameless. Of COURSE they’re not. But the only person you’re RESPONSIBLE for is YOU. The only person you can really work on changing is YOU.

Here’s another point of application. If you’re what’s wrong with the world, it means ACCEPTING OTHERS. Not just theoretically, but PRACTICALLY. REALISTICALLY. Have an ACCEPTING, tolerant and compassionate ATTITUDE. Then SHOW that in your ACTIONS and WORDS.

Church is a hospital for sick people. We don’t have it all together. I’m not better than you. We ALL need grace. Let’s ACCEPT each other. Forgive each other.

And when it comes to OTHERS. (To NON-Christians. Those who haven’t received the same information or opportunities). Remember we’re no better than them. Let’s not judge their lifestyles, or behaviour. Let’s humbly and lovingly point them to the One who graciously saved US, and offers the same TO THEM. One beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.

Grace, acceptance, and love. It’s what God’s offering YOU.

We’ve focussed on the DANGER of God’s judgment. But just listen to ch 2 v4. The POSITIVE side of God’s character. We skipped over it before, but it’s a great place to finish. When we judge others, we show contempt for what God’s given us. What’s he given us? Ch 2 v4.

The riches of God’s kindness, tolerance and patience. God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

That’s the God who offers you RESCUE. Who offers you a NEW HEART in place of your broken one. A God who’s KIND and TOLERANT and PATIENT. And who leads you to REPENTANCE. You don’t deserve ANY of it. So give him the glory. Give HIM the thanks. Humbly follow and obey HIM.

 

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