But For the Grace of God – Lenten Season 2019
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (Romans 1:18 NIV)
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen” (Romans 1:24,25 NIV)
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts” (Romans 1:26 NIV).
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity” (Romans 1:28,29a NIV).
“They invent ways of doing evil” (Romans 1:30b NIV)
“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32 NIV).
The Roman Road – Day 23 “But for the Grace of God”
Evil is relational, progressive and has eternal consequences.
We don’t take sin seriously enough (even in the church). We justify ourselves when we have no excuse. We rationalize our mistakes (and call them mistakes instead of sin). We acknowledge that the world has problems but believe the fantasy that science and technology (our modern gods) can solve the problem because we refuse to recognize that the problem is within.
If we are religious, we look for ways to please God in order to get benefits from him. Offensive to say the least. Even my wife would never put up with that.
If we are not religious, we simply ignore God and do what we please. Perhaps we have some moral limits instilled into us by our parents or society at large, but the truth is, that if there were no consequences (or if our justification was strong enough) who knows where we would end up?
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
Do we really believe that? Are we really aware of the fact that, left to our own resources, we are capable of horrendous things?
I remember watching the TV Series called CRIMINAL MINDS. The head of the team often has to remind the others that “all of us are capable of horrible things under the right circumstances.”
And it’s true isn’t it?
There are restraints on us instilled by our parents and society and the law and the threat of punishment. We like to think that we are good people and not capable of great evil (only small evil). But that is not so.
On the one hand, all evil is unlove and comes from a broken relationship with God (and therefore with our fellow man). Therefore all evil (big or small) has the same nature and comes from the same source.
But, in addition, in humility, we need to recognize that it isn’t ourselves and our sterling character that keeps us from committing greater evil. We can’t take the credit. Some people would at least credit their upbringing to some extent, which is a start. Others would credit their education, their religious training, their family context.
But the disturbing thing about the evil within, is that it needs to be restrained at all. Whatever the source of that restraint. Left on our own, we are all capable of great evil. That is the truth.
It is common to see the story of evil as a consequence of great trauma or rejection or mental illness or injustice or a bad upbringing but those are all excuses (even if true). We are responsible for our actions. Evil in the human heart is not something to be trifled with.
The fact that there are reasons for our evil behaviour does not excuse us. Others who have gone through similiar situations, made different decisions not to do evil. Our decisions define us. Too often those decisions are selfish and dangerous to those around us.
So with that in mind, that we are all capable of great evil and prove it with the evil we already are committing, let us take a closer look at these verses from Paul where he describes “wickedness” in more detail.
There are a number of passages in the Bible, especially in Paul’s letters, that give a list of evils for us to consider. The amazing thing is that Paul includes homosexuality together with gossip, murder with boasting, depravity with disobeying your parents.
What is going on?
Apparently, Paul is putting them all in the same boat. It isn’t just that the consequences of each action is different but rather that the evil is the same. It comes from the same place of brokenness and is a example of “unlove.”
The point is that you and I cannot escape. It is easy to think that the “bigger” sins do not apply to us, but then Paul also includes the “smaller” sins. Then we realize that Paul never classified them as “bigger” or “smaller” but lumps them all together into one list.
He does that consistently in all of his letters.
Certainly some things you and I may not participate in but we would be hard pressed, if we were honest, not to find ourselves in this list somewhere. Certainly when we were not yet saved (but still struggling with some of them).
Did you notice that Paul also returns to the two types of people that he had been talking to in the previous section? The non-relgious types and the relgious types.
In vs. 25 he is talking to the religious types. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”
In vs. 28 he is talking to the non-religious types. “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God….”
Paul lumps them together as well.
Did you notice that for the religious types, the issue is truth (or belief)? And for the non-religious types, the issue is value? Interesting. It pretty well covers everybody, doesn’t it?
So when you are talking to people about the gospel, you need to recognize where they are coming from. Are they religious types that simply believe a lie rather than the truth? That is the focus of your efforts when you explain the gospel. Truth corresponds to reality. Reality is full of evidence for the existence of God and the presence of evil. Start there.
When you are talking to the non-religious types, you need to focus on value. They simply don’t care if God exists or not. They live their own lives on their own terms. In their case, you need to warn them that their godlessness will have consequences if God actually exists. In this case, some discussion of the existence of God and the evidence for that truth may be helpful.
Paul will go into a deeper discussion of the religious types when he talks about the Jews but for now, there are plenty of relgious types also among the gentiles.
Two other things we need to take note of about the nature of evil.
Not only is evil in all of us to one degree or another. Not only are we all incurably godless (without Christ). Not only is evil relational and progressive.
Evil is on purpose.
Maybe not at first and maybe not in all things. But you and I have all had the experience of doing what was wrong, knowing it was wrong, and stubbornly doing it anyway. That stubborness, that willfullness is in all of us to one degree or another. If we let it continue, it will only get worse.
So, yes, some of what Paul talks about is where evil ends up and maybe we aren’t there yet (or have been saved from continuing down that road) but it is still illustrative of the nature of evil.
In vs. 30b, Paul says “they invent ways of doing evil…” The thing about evil is that it is often disguised as “good” or as “freedom” or as “my right to live life on my terms.”
Hitler, I am sure, believed that what he was doing was for the good of Germany. He had no moral restraint other than his own sense of what was right for Germany. The rest of us may not agree but most people don’t do evil knowing that it is evil. They call it good. Or they justify it as their right to live the way they want to.
In that context, we often invent new evils, new ways to fulfill our own desires without thought of others (or our own) good. The world has so much of it now-a-days that our entire economic system is based on self-interest, our media entertainment has been given the freedom to explore the dark recesses of evil in the human psyche. And on and on it goes…..we are almost immune to it.
Secondly, Paul says in vs. 32, “although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
There are two things to comment on here.
The first is whether or not people really know that the consequences of their actions deserves death. And the answer is obviously yes and no. In addition, they may not think of death as “God’s righteous decree.” Perhaps Paul was only talking about the Jews or those who may know something about the Jewish religion. Perhaps.
But I think that it has to do with Paul’s earlier statement that “the eternal power and divine nature” of God is visible to everyone in creation, even if our senses have been dulled because we suppress that truth through our wickedness. An obvious connection exists between acknowledging that God is there and that we have a moral duty to him, that we are accountable to him. If that is true, then it is also obvious that God is good and that morality means that we must also be good and if we are not, there are consequences.
The moral nature of man may be dulled and even redirected somewhat, but if we take Paul’s words in chapter 2: 14,15 about the gentiles not even keeping the law within their own hearts, breaking their own integrity, their own moral code, much less the code of God, that seems to be a context that suggests that they know better. They may not think of it as “God’s righteous decree” but they know evil has consequences and that the road of evil leads to death.
Later on, Paul will point out that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) but here he is saying that we already know that.
The other thing to take note of in this last verse is again about the nature of evil.
Paul says in vs. 32b that “they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
Evil not only commits evil but also encourages evil in others. It doesn’t matter if you call it good. It doesn’t matter that you think homosexuality is fine and is a personal choice. Evil and good are not determined by you (or them). It is determined by God. God says that it is sin which means that it isn’t love which means that it isn’t good for them. But that goes the same for gossip, slander, boasting and a host of other sins as well.
Be careful what you approve of, even as Christians.
The standard isn’t the political atmosphere of the day, or the popular opinion of the masses. That doesn’t mean that we should be judgmental or treat people badly. After all, we are on the list too. In humility, we need to let God be God and accept that what he says is true. Period.
He is good and we are evil. We are not good and He is evil.
Getting this fundamental truth straight is the first step in the Roman Road.
After all, there but for the grace of God, go I.
The Desert Warrior
Lord, if it wasn’t for your grace, I would definitely be worse off than I am today. Evil is scary business. It is insiduous and it creeps in when you least expect it. Help me to recognize it, confess it and help me to repent of it. Thank you for your forgiveness and grace which I need every day. Help me to treat others with that same grace and humility. In your name I pray. Amen.