God Gave Them Up
Romans is a letter that Paul carefully thought through before writing. Other letters from Paul are much more spontaneous, speaking from his passionate heart to minister to his hearers. Philippians is a great example, where he bubbles over with joy for his walk in Christ and the fellowship he relishes with beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. But Romans seems to be one of his most carefully written books.
As we go through Romans, we need to keep in mind that Paul has carefully planned this letter. It is designed to be a thorough, summary of the Substance, Strength and Scope of our Christian faith. What we read is there by design.
- Substance – All of the essential doctrines of our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation are clearly elaborated.
- Strength – God’s provision for the Holy Spirit’s enablement in us to live our new life in Christ is explained.
- Scope – Paul finishes the letter by thinking through our life walk and mission, how we are to demonstrate to the world our new life in Christ…
We have an example here in this early part of the book – as Paul finishes his opening comments and expresses his life commitment to the Gospel, he anchors his letter in the strategic truth that “the just shall live by faith.” We will rely on that cornerstone of truth throughout this study as well as throughout our life.
- Take Notes… Check out Galatians 3 10-14 to get some more of Paul’s perspective on this important statement.
In verse 18, Paul proceeds to set the stage for the first major segment of the letter (1:18-3:31) which deals with the utter hopelessness of our lost condition because of our sin. Look at the dramatic shift from 1:17 to 18! Faith and Righteousness are the essential elements of our salvation, now placed up against the wrath of God and ungodliness. Paul is very effective at getting our attention!
- Take Notes… Take a few minutes to review Romans 1:18-32 to see the theme Paul sets.
Note in 1:24 that man has been so perverted and obstinate in his rebellion that God… gave them up! He has turned man loose to chase after to his sinful passions, and the result is that man spirals deeper and deeper into his sinful mind and behavior.
- Take Notes… Look through the next several verses to find this same phrase “God gave them up” repeated. Can you see relationship between each of the verses that have this phrase?
So as man has pursued his uncontrolled lusts, from these verses in 1:18-32, what has he found to do? He creates idols! Isn’t that amazing? He screamed and chaffed at having an obligation to God’s holy principles of living, until God let him go. And once he was free, what did he do? Create a representation of a greater power for him to somehow worship and be obligated to! Amazing!
Note the descriptive references to various idols – images of man, birds, beasts, the immoral worship of the body. Do we have idols today that man worships the same way?
- Take Notes… Think carefully: Are idols and idol worship all around you in the region you live in? What idols have you allowed into your life? Do you worship them?
Note then what “comes out” of man as a result – a long list of very bad things! Do we see these behaviors today in our society? We certainly do. And we interact every day with people who are saturated with these behaviors, and they continue in their presumptuous railing against God and carrying on in their pleasure. A very sad picture indeed.
Just the sound of the word “presumptuous” tells you that something isn’t right. To presume is to come to conclusion without adequate evidence, to take liberties with the truth, or to force your own bias on the facts. One who is presumptuous proceeds with their own course of action without consideration of verifiable facts and what the impact his actions will have on others.
When the Jews read Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:18-32, they likely were emboldened, thinking “go get ’em Paul!”, confident that “those other people” were deep in sin while their own Jewish people stood high in righteousness. In 1:18-32, Paul was preaching to “them”. However, in chapter 2, Paul addresses his words to “you”, his fellow Jewish countrymen (see 2:17), and he is going to make it clear to them that they have been trusting temporary actions with no lasting value to accomplish their righteousness. They were in reality being presumptuous about God’s offering of His righteousness to the individual, assuming they had some “inside edge” on God’s favor and blessing!
The best way to see what Paul was trying to get across to the Jewish reader in 2:1-16 is to read vv. 17-21… You (Jews) who are so confident… “…do you teach yourself?” He knows (and they know) that they don’t apply what they teach in their own lives.
In verses 1-16, Paul establishes the principles of divine judgment that the Jew is condemned along with all the rebellious humanity condemned in chapter 1, but he doesn’t name, he just sets the trap. Then in verses 17-32, the trap snaps shut. The bottom line: Every individual must either determine to accomplish his own righteousness, or they fall the mercy of God and accept His free gift of salvation through Christ.