Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Day 2: The Bad News

Romans 1:1-18 - 3:20

In this next section of Romans (1:18 to 3:20), Paul goes to great lengths to explore the topics of man's sin, his deserving of punishment for that sin, and how without Jesus men are hopeless to find righteousness.

What might make you uncomfortable:

We are without excuse for sin and its consequences. 

Another thing that might make readers uncomfortable is the length of today's devotional! Because of the heaviness of Paul's topics today this devotional will be longer than others in our series.

Today's Devotional:

When you receive a phone call from your doctor's office, from your child's school principal, or your local bank, it's probably bad news. Our doctor rarely calls us to say, "Way to go...your blood pressure went down!" and our bank rarely calls just to inform us of our overwhelming prosperity.

We may not like bad news, but we must not ignore it! The higher cost and inconvenience is ignoring bad news. For example, a health problem un-checked can become serious if ignored.

In yesterday's devotional, "In Your Face!,"  Paul challenges readers to be bold with the good news of Jesus. In today's reading, Paul is bold with the bad news.

What's the bad news? It can be summarized in the first verse of today's passage:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them (Romans 1:18-19).
Wrath?... From Heaven?

Readers, if you are feeling uncomfortable you are not alone. Theologians, pastors, and historians have grappled with the uncomfortable nature of this truth that Paul describes as the "wrath of God."

Explaining further, today's reading explains some bad news: we are all accountable for our sin, and because sin is evil, we deserve wrath.

Paul's main points today are as follows:
  1. Accountability: Men are accountable to God's universal moral code
  2. Entropy: Men ignore this moral code and act on their own accord
  3. Guilty: Man's willful choice to ignore God makes him guilty of his sin, deserving wrath
Let's explore Paul's points as we search the Scriptures for understanding:

1. Accountability: Romans 1:20-22
Paul first explains that all men are accountable to God.
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 (Romans 1:20-22).
Humans seem to have an innate desire to believe in the Almighty. Creation itself is a signpost to turn humans to its Creator, and the complexity and beauty of nature has spurred belief in God in many. There is a reason that we must be taught to disbelieve through faulty logic and scientists' hypotheses.

God has made Himself know and his attributes plain through the work of creation. Psalm 19:1 shares how the heavens "declare the glory of God" and the skies "proclaim the work of his hands." There is a supernatural awe of God that falls upon people as they look at creation. We are responsible to worship God in response to His Creation.

We  are accountable to God through the revelation of creation and our God-given conscience convicts us of wrong-doing (see Romans 2:12-16 for a more detailed discussion). Every person seems to have an innate sense of right-and-wrong and our conscience provides us with that information. Therefore, we are not only accountable to worship God but we are also accountable to God for our wicked acts.

Reader, has there every been a time in your life when you willfully acted against your conscience, knowing something was wrong or evil and yet doing it anyway? Every person has!

All people are accountable to God. He has revealed himself to us in creation and we have willingly acted against His moral code, doing wrong and violated the conscience.

Romans 1:21 says "although they knew God." We have known about God in our hearts, yet rejected Him and gone our own way. In short, there are no "desert island" people who are un-accountable to God. Every person on the earth is accountable for their willful sin and their revelation of God through creation.

Is it fair that all people are accountable to God? This is certainly an uncomfortable question. In Jeremiah 29:13 the Lord says that "if you seek me you will find me, when you seek me will all your heart." Hebrews 11:6 says that God "rewards those who earnestly seek Him." God's Father Heart is for no one to receive His wrath, but for every person to be in relationship with Him. To those that are looking for Him earnestly, He promises to reveal Himself.

God's promises are true and if someone seeks for Him, He promises they will find Him. The only problem is that when we are left to ourselves, we don't seek God (Romans 3:11). This is why we experience the entropy of sin.

2. Entropy: Romans 1:23-31
Entropy can be defined as a gradual decline into disorder. Paul first describes why all men are accountable for sin and next he describes the results of sin, the de-evolution of our world and society into evil and chaos.

Although God wants us to worship Him, humans many times reject God and instead worship the creation rather than the Creator (1:25). We have chosen to use the world to fulfill our sinful desires rather than our desire to worship God (1:24).

God is never one to violate the free-will of man, and Romans 1 describes how He has given us over to our sinful passions. It can be a dangerous thing to get what we want. Our choice to indulge in our sinful nature rather than follow God's law allowed for the entropy of sin.

When we are turned over to our sin, the natural order God established slowly disintegrates. Using homosexuality as an example, (1:26-27), Paul describes how sin alters our way of thinking and causes us to drift from God's original plan. Our minds become depraved (1:28) and we go our own way without God. The result is entropy, the falling apart of God's natural order.

We have come a long way from the Garden of Eden. Like the Prodigal Son of Luke 15, we squandered the gift that God gave us and are now hungry and alone. Many of us hope to get a little bit of pig slop to make it through. This is what sin does to us, it debases our minds and distorts our worldview.

Paul ends this section on entropy with a long list of sins, the longest list of its kind in the New Testament. As one theologian writes: 
His purpose is to show the scope of social evils that result when God hands people over to a depraved mind after they refuse to acknowledge Him. - Thomas Constable. Notes on Romans. Page 23.
This is the entropy of sin... a spiritual "virus" that affects our culture, our bodies, God's creation, and our minds. This is bad news.

3. Guilty: Romans 1:32
Paul's final point is that because we are accountable to God and because we have chosen the destructive path of sin, we are guilty of God's wrath.

Now before getting all hot-and-bothered about the concept of God's wrath, consider this: we can all agree that there are some people on the earth that deserve wrath and judgement. No one would disagree that the abuser, the pornographer, the murderer, the dictator who commits genocide, the sex trafficker, the pimp, or the adulterer who cheats on his wife and abandons his family deserve God's wrath.

In the end, don't we all want God to judge unrighteousness and set things right on the earth? What kind of a God would He be if He let evil go off "scot-free?" In family terms, think of it this way: would not a good father protect his children from physical harm by fighting off an intruder? In the same way, God uses wrath and force to execute judgment and protect those He loves. 

If some are truly guilty and deserving of God's wrath, what about us? 

Consider this, "as a man thinks in his heart, so he is" (Proverbs 23:7). 

Have you ever had an evil thought? Jesus addressed the topic, setting the standard for holiness much higher than we could imagine. He preached that a lustful thought carries the same weight as adultery and an angry word can do damage equal to a murder (Matthew 5). Although you may have never committed murder, adultery, genocide, or abuse, Jesus taught that even if your thought life reflected these sins that you remain guilty before God.

The wrath of God stems from the love of God and His desire to protect the world from evil. Unfortunately, that evil lies in the hearts of men. We are therefore guilty of sin and deserving of the wrath of God.

In summary, we all stand guilty before God. Whether raised in a Christian church or living alone on a deserted island, we are accountable to God due to the revelation of creation. We have all sinned willfully and rejected the conscience God gave us. This is bad news.

Feeling desperate and uncomfortable? That's the Holy Spirit's goal through today's reading. The Holy Spirit will often convict of our unrighteousness in order to prepare us to receive a free gift of God's grace (John 16:8). Don't worry - good news is on the way!

Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner (Luke 18) - The Jesus Prayer


  • Rather than having an attitude of judgment towards those you feel deserve God's wrath... remember today that you deserve God's wrath for the evil things you have thought and done. In order to reflect on the mercy of God you may want to pray the "Jesus Prayer" above throughout your day, thanking God for His mercy and humbly asking Him for grace.
  • Is it hard for you to believe that God would judge unrighteousness? Read the entire first section of Romans 1:18-3:20 to see this topic its entirety. 

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