(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 8/12/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Turn to Romans 1 again, and let's read verses 26 through 32:
Romans 1:(26) Because of this, God gave them up to dishonorable passions, for even their females changed the natural use to that contrary to nature. (27) And likewise, the males also forsaking the natural use of the female burned in their lust toward one another, males with males working out shamefulness, and receiving back within themselves the reward which was fitting for their error. (28) And even as they did not think fit to have God in [their] knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do the things not right, (29) having been filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, iniquity, covetousness, malice, [being] full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, evil habits, [becoming] whisperers, (30) slanderers, God-haters, insolent, proud, braggarts, devisers of evil things, disobedient to parents, (31) without discernment, covenant breakers, without natural affection, unforgiving, unmerciful, (32) who knowing the righteous order of God, that those practicing such things are worthy of death, not only do them, but also approve those practicing [them].
Last week, we saw that the heathen idolaters got what they deserved when God delivered them over to dishonorable passions, specifically, the vile, abominable sexual passions toward those of the same sex. God uses homosexuality as the prime example, or the most vile example, of immorality. He separates it from the rest of the sins that I'll be talking about today, the Lord willing. This shows just how low people can go in their behavior and how low God can put people. But while we read these things, we always need to keep in mind that immorality is not the main evidence of total depravity. We will see this as we go further through Romans, the Lord willing. In naming some of the sins of immorality, Paul's intention was NOT to show that only immoral people are totally depraved. It was to show some of the outward manifestations of some of those who are totally depraved as part of an entire argument that goes through several chapters. So we need to always keep in mind that all immoral people are totally depraved, but not all who are totally depraved are immoral. Romans 10:1-3 shows that even those who have a zeal for God, who are moral and dedicated, but who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, are totally depraved.
Now let's get to the passage at hand, which is verses 29 through 32. The fact that not all totally depraved people are immoral does not minimize the heinousness of immorality. And, as I said last week, God lists these sins for a reason. The antinomians would like to just breeze on by these verses and just pass them off as the immorality that everyone commits, and go on to talk about other things. But this list is here for our benefit. God lists these sins - these SPECIFIC sins - for the good of His people. We had better take these things seriously, and we had better study them.
The first thing we see in this passage are the words "having been filled with." These are important words. They show that these immoral acts are a way of life for these people. These people are CHARACTERIZED by these immoral acts. So don't let the false preachers tell you that the list here describes everyone, including people who have been saved. This list is NOT describing saved people. Saved people are NOT characterized by such sins. This is NOT how saved people live. Now are saved people perfectly moral? No. None of us meet up to the standard of perfect righteousness. If we were to be judged based on our morality, we would be damned, because God demands perfection. The only way we are acceptable to God is through the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Our morality plays no part in our ground of acceptance before God. Having said that, it is also true that Christians are NOT immoral people. Christians love God's Law and desire to keep God's Law out of love and thankfulness to the God who saved us based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone, our works of the law totally excluded. So when we come to a passage like this, where specific sins are named, we, as God's people, hate and abhor such sin and walk in the OPPOSITE of such sin. May this study be useful for us. And if anyone listening to this sermon is characterized by such sins, may God use this to show His unregenerate elect that they are in rebellion against God and are in need of a righteousness they cannot produce, and may God be pleased to cause them to believe in the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone.
The first word used to characterize these people is UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. This is the same word that was used in verse 18, when it was said that God's wrath is revealed from heaven on all ungodliness and UNRIGHTEOUSNESS of men. We saw that unrighteousness specifically referred to immorality. So when Paul uses it here, it is as an introduction to the rest of the sins. He says that they have been filled with all unrighteousness, and then he goes on to describe this unrighteousness. So the first specific sin is FORNICATION. The Greek word is por-NAY-ah, from which we get the word "pornography." Fornication specifically refers to sexual immorality. The next sin is INIQUITY. This means mischief. Mischief is doing harm or injury to someone else. Next is COVETOUSNESS. This means greed. Greed is an unlawful desire, usually for money and riches. Next is MALICE. This means hatred, vengefulness, or ill will. Next is ENVY. This means jealousy of the good things of others that leads to despising them. Next is MURDER. Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being. Next is QUARRELS. This means strife or contention. Next is DECEIT. This means misleading by craftiness, subtlety, or guile. Next is EVIL HABITS. The Greek word for this is related to the Greek word for malice. This speaks more of the personality. It is a personality of malignity or malevolence or malcontent. This includes an evil disposition toward authority. Next is WHISPERERS. Notice how the word forms change beginning with this word. Whereas before, God describes the sins these people are full of, now God calls them names. A WHISPERER is someone who secretly spreads rumors about someone. He is a slanderer - someone who deliberately lies about a person's character or conduct. Next is GOD-HATERS. The Greek word is the-OS-too-gace, which comes from THE-os, which means "God," and STU-go, which means "to hate." A GOD-HATER is someone who despises God and His works. Next is INSOLENT. The KJV translates it "despiteful." This means haughty or contentious or brutal in behavior or language. Next is PROUD. This means arrogant or haughty, thinking more highly of oneself than one should. Next is BRAGGARTS. This means boasters. They are those who tell others how much better they are than others. Next is DEVISERS OF EVIL THINGS. These are people who invent and scheme in order to do wickedness. They plan out their evil works. Next is DISOBEDIENT TO PARENTS. This is self-explanatory. These are people who despise and rebel against the authority of their parents by disobeying them. Next is WITHOUT DISCERNMENT. This is the same word that is translated "undiscerning" in verse 21. It means without understanding, unintelligent, foolish. They cannot discern between good and evil. Next is PERFIDIOUS. The KJV translates it "covenant-breakers." This means those who do not keep their word - those who are untrustworthy or treacherous. One can never trust that they will do what they say they will do. Next is WITHOUT NATURAL AFFECTION. This means that they do not possess the affection for their family members that is natural. Next is UNFORGIVING. The KJV translates it "implacable." This means that they are not able to be pacified after being wronged. They do not honor a truce. They continue to harbor resentment and will not forgive. They refuse to reconcile. The last word God uses to describe these people is UNMERCIFUL. This means that they do not show mercy toward others. They have no desire to help others or have compassion for others. They just care about themselves.
Now, as we went through this list, does any of this describe you as what is characteristic of your life? By "characteristic of your life," I mean, is your life, your personality, your way of living, DEFINED by any of these things? Are you filled with these things? Then you have not known the grace of God. But I do not want this to put any doubt in any true Christian's mind. Christians may fall into some of these sins. They may fall into the sin of being disobedient. They may fall into the sin of greed or slander or envy or resentment. But what distinguishes them from the people described in this passage is that they do not practice them as a way of life. They may fall, but they hate these sins and repent of these sins and abhor these sins. Their life is not characterized by these sins. And the main difference, of course, is that their sins are paid for by the blood of Christ, and they have been made righteous by imputation. But we need to be careful not to make an excuse for sin when we say that our sins are paid for. I have heard over the past few years people who do just that. They say that the only difference between adulterers and Christians is NOT that Christians are not adulterers but is ONLY that their sins are not charged to them. They say that a Christian's life can be characterized by such sins, but their sins have been forgiven, so, as they are habitually committing those sins, they are not guilty or defiled, because Christ has imputed His righteousness to them. These people do not understand the Christian life. If a professing Christian says, "Yes, I'm continuing to live in fornication with a woman to whom I'm not married, but my sins are not charged to me but have been charged to Christ," that professing Christian is an imposter. In Romans 6, Paul addresses this very thing. He asks a rhetorical question in verse 2: "We who died to sin, how shall we still live in it?" The answer is, "We shall not live in it." And he goes on to explain the relationship between justification and one's personal walk.
Let's look at the last verse in Romans 1:
Romans 1:(32) who knowing the righteous order of God, that those practicing such things are worthy of death, not only do them, but also approve those practicing [them].
Here, Paul says that these heathen, the ones who are practicing all this lawlessness, know the righteous order of God. How can it be said that these people who have an undiscerning heart know the righteous order of God? Well, in verse 19, we saw that the thing known of God is clearly known within them, for God revealed it to them, which is the eternal power and Godhead. And now we see in this verse that God has revealed something else to them. The next phrase shows what God has revealed to them: "that those practicing such things are worthy of death." God has shown natural, depraved man that those who practice the things mentioned above are worthy of death. They still have some conscience. Look over at Romans 2:14-15:
Romans 2: (14) For when nations not having Law do by nature the things of the Law, they not having Law are a law to themselves, (15) who show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience witnessing with [them], and the thoughts between one another accusing or even excusing,
The work of the law is written on the hearts of the heathen, and the consequence of breaking the law is also written on their hearts. Again, some would call this "common grace." But it is no such thing. God is not gracious in showing the heathen that their lawlessness deserves death. The knowledge that lawlessness deserves death is not the knowledge of the gospel. Trillions or more will perish knowing that their lawlessness deserves death. There is no HOPE in this knowledge. There are some who say that when one realizes that he deserves hell and cries all night over his sins but still can't find relief, this is a sign that he is being convicted by the Holy Spirit or is even a sign that he is regenerate. This is nonsense. The Holy Spirit's conviction causes people to run to CHRIST. It is not the Holy Spirit who causes people who don't know Christ to believe that their sins deserve hell. This is something that is revealed to them in their natural, sinful state. We see people get so excited when someone who doesn't know Christ says that he believes he's a sinner and deserves to go to hell. The truth is, if he does not believe in the true Christ who came to establish a righteousness that ensures the salvation of all whom He represented, then his knowledge of what his sin deserves is nothing more than knowledge of natural, depraved man.
Now for the end of this sentence. These people, who know by nature the consequences of sin, go ahead and practice the sins anyway. They are sinning in spite of the knowledge that they deserve to be punished for those sins. They are so callous and are so driven by their wicked desires that they disregard the knowledge that they deserve to be punished. And not only do they practice the sins, but they actually APPLAUD those practicing them! The word for APPLAUD means "to be pleased with" or "to join in approving" or "to agree with." Paul shows that this is the ultimate in wickedness. This is the main focus of this verse: Paul is saying that, NOT ONLY do they practice such evil deeds, BUT WHAT'S EVEN MORE HIDEOUS, they encourage and approve and agree with OTHERS who practice such evil deeds! This is wide-open, unabashed immorality. Not only do they personally engage in it, which is bad enough, they encourage and applaud others who do the same thing. They SPEAK PEACE to those who practice such things. And all this is with the knowledge that those who practice such things are worthy of death. They are promoting the eternal death of themselves and others. We can apply this to self-righteous religionists as well. We can think of the antinomians who see a professing Christian living in open, unrepentant immorality and yet speak peace to that person. We can think of those who profess to believe the doctrines of grace who see a professing Christian confessing a false gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner and yet speak peace to that person. These people are just as vile as the heathens. They are God-haters.
So what has Paul said thus far? Paul is eager to preach the gospel, for he is not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone believing, for in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. God reveals His holy wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. These ungodly and unrighteous men did not glorify God but made idols and worship them. Because of this, God gave them over to the vileness of homosexuality, and He gave them over to a worthless, undiscerning mind, to work out and applaud all kinds of immorality. These are most certainly people who do not have a righteousness that equals the righteousness of God. Not even close. Paul takes great pains to show that they are not even close. They are vile, wicked, ungodly, immoral perverts. Even natural man knows that those who practice such things are worthy of death. But what about those who are not outwardly immoral? Since all these immoral people are lost, does that mean that all who are not immoral are saved? We will see later on, the Lord willing, that God pronounces the same condemnation on the moral, religious, zealous Jews who did not believe the gospel wherein the righteousness of God is revealed. So far, we have seen that the Gentiles - those without the law - are guilty, defiled, and under the curse of God. We will later see, the Lord willing that EVERYONE WITHOUT EXCEPTION by nature is guilty, defiled, and under the curse of God, even those who have the Law of God. And this all leads up to the precious truth that a righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the law, even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ. NOBODY can come to God with his own righteousness. Jesus Christ said that no one comes to God except through Him. The only way to God is through the righteousness of His Son. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe that His work alone makes the ONLY difference between salvation and damnation. Believe that God is just to justify the ungodly based on the work of Christ ALONE. Believe that Jesus Christ, the only God-man mediator, came to live a perfectly righteous life so His righteousness would be charged to the account of His people to make them acceptable before God. Believe that all the sins of all the elect were charged to Christ on the cross, and he paid the penalty in full for them, and God was satisfied with what Christ did, and peace between God and His people was accomplished. Believe that the atonement actually accomplished and ensured salvation for everyone He represented. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. Amen.