Last Sunday we began a new sermon series in the book of Romans. We explored the opening sentences of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. In these, he identifies the gospel as “the message of salvation”. He goes on to declare that salvation takes place in a person’s life when they believe in the gospel.
Having dispensed with the introduction, Paul now launches into the body of his letter. He begins to explain why a person would need salvation in the first place. This thorough explanation - which begins in verse 18 of chapter 1 continues well into chapter 3 - will be the subject of our sermons over the next few weeks.
One of the characteristics of a good salesman is the ability to convince their audience that they need the product being offered. Simply explaining how it works, how much it costs, and what it can do is not enough… the potential buyer has to feel that they can’t live without it. Although Paul is not trying to “sell” salvation in a literal sense, he is trying to impress upon his readers its absolute necessity. Once convinced of this, they will likely be more receptive of the extensive teaching about salvation that follows.
We will consider Paul’s presentation of “the necessity of salvation” in 4 separate messages. Today we will discuss the condition of the unrighteous. Next week we will study the condition of the self-righteous. The following week we will examine the condition of the unbelieving Jew. And a month from now, we will consider the condemnation of them all.
I. THE UNRIGHTEOUS CHOOSE TO SUPPRESS THE TRUTH (Romans 1:18-23)
A. The Wrath of God Revealed
The “wrath of God” is His vehement anger and indignation, which is “revealed” or poured out upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness. While similar and often used synonymously, these two words actually differ in meaning. Ungodliness focuses upon one’s behavior - committing actions that are ungodly (the act of sinning). Unrighteous usually refers to one’s state of being - a relationship that is not right with God (the condition of sinfulness). Speaking for myself, even though I am saved (and have be made righteous) I still sin on occasion (act ungodly). Do you see the difference?
All ungodliness incurs God’s wrath to some extent. Because of His holiness and just nature, the LORD is infuriated by all sin and will act with vengeance against those who engage in it. But His fullest wrath is reserved for the unrighteous - those who are not in a right relationship with Him. They are the primary subjects of these verses. These are people who have rejected God by “suppressing the truth”. They are sinners, and their state of separation from Him makes them the targets of His eternal wrath and fury.
B. God is Evident
God has made Himself known to all people, even to the unrighteous. His existence is “evident within us”. This inner inclination is further confirmed by creation, which declares the attributes and nature of our Creator. The reality of God is clearly seen externally and understood internally so that no person is “without excuse”. Unrighteousness is never the result of an ignorance of God, but always the result of a rejection of Him.
Every person has been given enough revelation to know that God exists. It is a fact that is intuitive with us. Although we might not be privy to all of the specifics, a general acknowledgement of God’s presence should lead us to pursue Him to the best of our abilities. As we do so, God will continually reveal more of Himself to us and our faith will be credited as righteousness. But should we chose to deny His existence, we are without excuse and will suffer the wrath of God.
C. Foolish Hearts are Darkened
While some unrighteous men completely reject the knowledge of God altogether, others pervert it by worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. These people fail to honor and give thanks to the LORD, and instead worship man-made idols which are powerless to save. Such a futile exchange is utter foolishness.
It is instinctive to our humanity to worship someone or something. People have been doing so since the earliest times of civilization. Yet many cultures and peoples have chosen to worship corruptible objects and images rather than the incorruptible God. This misplaced practice is unacceptable. The revelation of God is sufficient for us to understand the difference between truly worshiping Him versus worshiping His handiwork, idols, or even other false gods. Again, it leaves all men without excuse.
II. THE UNRIGHTEOUS ARE GIVEN OVER TO CARNALITY (Romans 1:24-31)
As a result of their suppression of the truth, the unrighteous have been given over by God to carnality and worldliness. Afterall, to reject God is to chose the world. Therefore the LORD is simply honoring the wishes of the unrighteous when He “gives them over”. This transfer can be better understood as someone being taken into custody. God is releasing the unrighteous into the captivity of sin and immorality.
This wretched condition is manifested in countless ways. The lust of our hearts consumes us, leading to a myriad of impurities. While lust is most often associated with sexual sin, it can refer to any unhealthy and sinful desire. The lust for power, for fortune, or for fame can be just as harmful as that for a beautiful woman of man.
Not only are the unrighteous subject to immoral lusts, but also to degrading and unnatural passions. The practice of homosexuality, which is widely accepted in our day as a legitimate lifestyle, has been around for centuries. And while the debate rages (even within many of our churches) over its morality, there is absolutely no question about its nature. A simple anatomy lesson drives this point home vividly. God did not design men to have sexual relationships with men, nor women with women.
These lusts - whether immoral, unnatural, or both - are indicative of a depraved mind which desires to do things which are not right or proper. The thoughts of the sinful mind lead to all sorts of wickedness and evil. Paul lists several types of sins that are committed by those who are unrighteous - greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, innovation of evil, and disobedience to parents. He further describes them as reprobates who are without understanding and are untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.
These behaviors are most symptomatic of those who have rejected God. They are specific examples of ungodliness, which are all characteristic of unrighteousness. These deeds, whether committed unwittingly by the righteous or wholeheartedly by the unrighteous, lead to penalties or consequences that are manifested in both the present life and the eternal life to come.
III. THE UNRIGHTEOUS ARE WORTHY OF DEATH (Romans 1:32)
All people “know the ordinance of God” instinctively. The fundamental truth of good and evil is self-evident. You don’t have to teach it - even little children understand the basic difference between right and wrong. Therefore, those who make a practice of sinful behavior (the unrighteous) are worthy of death. This is the just and deserved penalty for their rejection of God.
Not only do the unrighteous embrace a lifestyle of sin themselves, but they give their approval to others who do likewise. They celebrate the fallenness and depravity of other nonbelievers, finding comfort in their mutual wretchedness. Their endorsement of such evil things make them even more deserving of death.
The condition of the unrighteous is quite dire. Because they have chosen to suppress the truth of God which is evident within them, the unrighteous have been given over to their own sinful desires. They are worthy of death, and unless they repent and turn to God while there is still time, they will surely receive it.
The Bible teaches that, in our own humanity, there is none righteous - no not one. We are all partakers of a sinful nature that is contrary to and antagonist toward God. This is our default condition, and the very reason that salvation is necessary. Our depraved state makes it impossible to save ourselves. We were all unrighteous before we accepted Christ, and if you’ve never accepted Him then you are still unrighteous even at this moment.
Captivated by sin, and helpless to escape from it, we are all in need someone to rescue us. We need a Hero… we need a Savior… we need Redeemer.. we need Jesus!