In the early 1970s an Anglican Chaplaincy at a British University refused to allow a gospel tract on its premises. This tract was a straight quotation of half a chapter of the New Testament. Why was this portion of Scripture considered to be offensive? Are there insights in it which Christians would do well to grasp as we seek to understand Godís ways in godless days? As lawlessness increases we need to be those who understand the times and know how Godís people should live.
The Righteousness and the Wrath of God
The chapter concerned was Romans 1. In v16, the apostle Paul wrote of his confidence in the gospel of Christ, the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. Whilst this is a well loved Scripture, many of us fail to link it with what follows. Paul contrasted the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel with the wrath of God revealed against all ungodliness and all unrighteousness. It was Paulís description of Godís judgement upon people who reject Him which provoked the exclusion of the tract. In outlining how Godís wrath is expressed, Paul described homosexual acts between men or women as vile and shameful.
However, careful reading of the passage reveals that his intention was to alert his readers as to why this and other forms of unrighteousness arise in a society. Christians often warn that The LORD will send judgement if a nation does not turn from moral and sexual sin. By contrast Paulís message was that the rise of such sin was evidence of Godís judgement already upon that society.. Only when we grasp this understanding will we be able properly to perceive some of the signs of the times in the Western world today.
God gives people up
Three times Paul wrote that The LORD gives people up to their desires. They are given over to uncleanness (v24), to vile passions (v26), and to a debased mind (v28). It is important to understand that this is the case in every such situation. Paul describes here a principle which has always been at work. There are no exceptions. Paul makes clear that sexual deviance does not provoke Godís judgement, it is Godís judgement upon accumulated sin.
There are other signs of The LORD giving up a society. Paul listed the following: "unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful" (v29-31). Without repentance, sin in a society accumulates over the years. As the pile grows, so does the depravity. We have witnessed the later stages of this decline in the West since the 1960s. It was then when promiscuity became acceptable. This was followed by the widespread acceptance of homosexuality as "normal".. Where next? All the signs are that a comprehensive debasement of mind, where anything and everything is pursued to satisfy personal pleasure, is increasing all around us.
The Sin of Sodom
It is inevitable that Sodom and Gomorrah are linked in peoplesí minds with homosexuality. But it is Ezekiel, not Moses, who spells out for us the sin which brought judgement upon Sodom. First on the list are, "pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she help the poor and needy." (Ezek. 16:49). Sins of selfishness and plenty were the foundations for what followed, "And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit." Christians should be aware that sexual sins follow in the wake of sin which we consider less offensive - pride, plenty of food, idleness and a lack of care for the poor! Do we preach against these as strongly as we denounce all forms of immorality?
God did not judge Sodom and Gomorrah for their rampant homosexuality - that was the sign that below the surface lay many other sins. The rise in homosexuality was a final warning from The LORD as He sought to alert people to the inescapable consequences if they did not repent.
Failure to Glorify God as God
In Romans 1 Paul identified the rejection of The LORD as God as the fundamental cause of unrestrained immorality. From v18 onwards he cited people who "suppress the truth in unrighteousness". These he said know the truth, "that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them", but choose to deny it. We might ask, how is it evident to them? Paul had no doubt, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (v20). Notice Paulís emphasis on the work of God in creation. From the first, men and women have been able to know all the wonder of God through everything He made. Therefore, even though they refuse to honour Him as God, they are without excuse.
Next Paul identified that the root reason for the corruption of any society is the wilful rejection of their Creator: "although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful," (v21); "Professing to be wise, they became fools," (v22); "who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (v25). Throughout the Old Testament the common alternative to honouring The LORD as God, was to turn to a variety of idols and this is still the case for many people today. However in the Western world our refusal to serve the Creator has been based on our so-called "knowledge", that is, science. This false god does not take the form of a physical idol, but is the veneration of flawed wisdom - wisdom that is not built upon the foundation of the fear of The LORD. In the light of Romans 1 it should not surprise us that since the Western world embraced the teaching of evolution, with its inherent denial of the Creator, our societies have plunged headlong into depravity.
The Christian Response?
We see therefore that it is not enough for Christians just to stand against the moral breakdown we witness around us. We need to make clear to our families, friends and neighbours why it is happening. Many parts of the wider church are unsure how to respond to the rise in homosexual activity - few are prepared to oppose it and some have moved the landmarks in order to accommodate it. All this confusion has arisen through the loss of Biblical foundations and, in particular, faith in the God of creation. It is popular amongst evangelicals and charismatics to teach that it does not matter what Christians believe about God as Creator. Paulís teaching and the testimony of history disagree.
More terrifying than Sodom!
One episode in Biblical history severely warns of what lies ahead for the Church if we do not turn back to The LORD.. Perhaps the lowest point in Jewish history, it is recorded in the last three chapters of Judges. It began when a Leviteís concubine slept with other men and then went back to her fatherís house. The Levite goes to retrieve her but due to a lack of discipline has to seek lodgings in Gibeah of Benjamin on the way home. The men here are as bad as those in Sodom, and the Levite threw his concubine out of the house to pacify the bi-sexual crowd. She died on the doorstep. All this angered the Levite so much that he cut her body up and sent it around Israel as a call for action against Benjamin. The slaughter which followed would have wiped out the whole tribe, but for the prudence of some.
Sodom and Gomorrah warn of the dangers of a city or nation going down the path of unbelief. By contrast this incident alerts us to what The LORD will do if those who are called by His name become faithless. Neither the rest of Benjamin nor the Israelites had taken action against the sinfulness of Gibeah, even though the Law commanded them to do so. Coming at the end of Judges this event can be seen as the consequence of many years of unbelief in Israel - "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Israel had for many years failed to glorify The LORD as God. Instead they had done what seemed right to themselves and had absorbed the pagan thinking of their neighbours. Eventually, The LORD provoked them to act against the sin which had festered inside Israel.
Watchman, what of the night?
Together Romans 1, the destruction of Sodom and the end of Judges provide us with an insight into what is happening today in the West. Not only is sin increasing - laws which approve sin are being passed in many countries (c.f. Rom.1:32). All of this is the direct consequence of rejecting the God of creation. The moral collapse which many argue began in the 1960s occurred because the foundational reverence of the LORD as Creator had been undermined over the previous century. The night is approaching when it will be impossible to work (John 9:4) and we must ask if the Church is - and has been - alert and on watch? Many Christians have lowered their guard. They have lost confidence in Jesus as creator and are being led down the way of "those who call evil good, and good evil" (Is. 5:20). Benjamin had absorbed pagan thinking. In the end the consequences were dire.
It was Jesus who made the heavens and the earth. It was the Saviour who displayed His awesome eternal power when He commanded them to appear. He is also the one who made us in His image. Do you ever honour Him so in your heart? Is not this testimony life changing, and our shield against the increasing depravity we have seen in the book of Romans? Should we not be proclaiming Jesus - Creator, Saviour and Judge to a world that is in increasing darkness? These are the credentials which set Him apart as Lord of heaven and earth, God above all gods.
This article was first published in Prophecy Today magazine. Subscription information and back copies are available from www.prophecytoday.co.uk
This study is intended as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting The LORD to the writer: Email Randall Hardy
© Randall Hardy, January 2001. This paper may only be copied
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