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Why we can't make heaven on earth - Romans 1:18-32

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 16th September 2018.

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~~Why we can’t make heaven on earth
Romans 1:18-32

You may have heard of the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? The optimist is the person who believes that this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist is the one who sadly believes he is right. Of course we have never been short of optimists, those who genuinely think we can make something of a heaven on earth. Back 1516 Thomas More, of ‘Man for All Seasons’ fame, actually wrote a book called ‘Utopia’- which could be translated ‘good place’ or ‘dream place’. It depicted an island with 54 well designed towns, each with 6,000 communities, Spartan in their values and war hating in their attitudes. There were gardens for every house and even euthanasia for the old and decrepit.

And the ideals of Utopia are not restricted to works of fiction. Here is part of the second Humanist Manifesto: ‘By using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, modify human behaviour, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development and provide humankind with an unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.’ However, when attempts have been made to translate this into practice Utopia- a ‘dream place’, soon becomes Dystopia - a ‘nightmare place’. You see this in the 5 year plans of Stalin in Russia, the Cultural Revolution of Mao in China, and the madness of Pol Pot in Cambodia in which countless millions perished

But those of us living in the West are not in exactly in a position to claim that our social experiments in the pursuit of hedonistic happiness have been all that successful. Family breakdown continues at an alarming rate, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide amongst young people continues to steadily climb and studies show that on the whole as a society we are less happy than we were in the 1950’s. Throw into the mix the growth in global terrorism and utopia seems further away than ever.

But how are we to account for this human failure to deliver on our dreams? The passage we are looking at this morning gives a very simple, albeit initially an unpalatable answer- God is angry. There it is in verse 18, ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven’. The reason there is not heaven on earth is because God’s anger is coming down from heaven to earth.

In fact there is another word which should be at the beginning of our verse which is missed out in our translation, the word ‘For’, ‘For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven.’ This connects what Paul is about to unpack with what has just gone before in verses 16-17 where he talks about the Gospel being the power of God which ‘brings salvation to everyone who believes it.’ Unless we understand the bad news of our situation we shall neither see the need for or fully appreciate what the Bible calls the good news. Paul speaks about the message of the Good news (which is what ‘Gospel’ means) as bringing ‘salvation’- rescue. That raises the question: rescue from what? Here is Paul’s answer- rescue from God’s anger. Paul also tells us that by believing this message people who are in the wrong with God can be made in the right - which is what ‘righteousness’ means, and Paul is about to show us just how in the wrong we all are. The apostle is going to paint the world scene in darkest hues for it is only against that backdrop that the Christian message of God’s saving love shines all the more brightly.

First, we have the evoking of God’s anger- vv 18-25

Straight away Paul lays out what God is angry about, ‘all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by (in) their wickedness.’ This is why God is angry-because of our godlessness- our failure as religious people and our wickedness or ‘unrighteousness’- our failure as moral people, distorting the truth to suit our own ends. The two are of course integrally related- as we defy God, we end up trying to take his place- for who else is going to decide what is right or wrong, convenient or inconvenient, who should be heard and who should be silenced if not ourselves? But we do this minus God’s wisdom, righteousness and goodness. The result is carnage. Also we tend to be selective concerning what we will get angry about and with whom we will be angry- not so God- he is angry with all people because all people fall into these two categories for they spurn his love, offends his justice and renders toxic the good creation he has made.

Now most of us might concede that we don’t always treat other people all that well, and certainly not as we would want to be treated ourselves. But surely someone can’t be blamed for being ‘godless’ if they don’t or can’t believe in God- can they? Well, yes they can says Paul, because much unbelief stems not from a search for truth but a suppression of truth, v19, ‘Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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 people are without excuse.’  Paul is claiming that everyone knows there is a God because God has made it clear that he exists. How has he done that? Well, according to verse 20, ‘from what he has made’. The word Paul uses translated ‘made’ is poiema, from which we get our word ‘poem’. Deep down, we can’t help but recognise the world as a creation, a work of divine artistry. Just as a poem shows intention, meaning, wisdom and skill, and that there is indeed a poet who has written it, so it is with the world. God through his universe is transmitting signals to us of his greatness, power, wisdom and goodness, what the sociologist Peter Berger called ‘signals of transcendence.’ And some atheists are honest enough to admit a sheltering behind atheism, not because they believe it to be the only viable intellectual option, but because of the fear that if the claims of the Bible are true, then their lifestyle would have to change. In a startling moment of candour the atheist, Aldous Huxley who wrote ‘Brave New World’, confessed, ‘For myself, no doubt, as for many of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: We could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.’ There it is!

It is not as if God has been hiding, rather, we have been busy denying, v21, ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.’

Knowledge of God should have led us to honouring and thanking God. This again is part of universal experience- sheer gratitude for being alive. But, says, Paul, that knowledge can be supressed- v18. Let me tell you something: One beautiful, sky- blue summer day, the 20th century, atheist dramatist Samuel Becket who wrote ‘Waiting for Godot’ and other nihilistic plays, was drinking beer and watching a cricket match with friends, when one of them remarked that it was the ‘sort of day that makes one glad to be alive.’ To which Becket immediately replied, ‘Oh, I don’t think I would go so far as that.’ That about says it all!

While it may appear to be clever to deny God it is in fact foolish. Rather than our minds becoming enlightened they plunge into a kind of darkness, and out of them flows all sorts of dreadful thoughts. God substitutes are sought because by nature we are worshipping beings, sometimes it is an ideology or a leader who promises a better world, or maybe some celebrity idol through whom we feel we can live the dream vicariously. But history has shown over and over again that when you get rid of God in your thinking it is not long before you get rid of man in your dealings. Real human beings become sacrificed to our idol and we become less than human, and more like animals, the kind of creatures mentioned in v23. Think of the horrors unleashed by National Socialism. In Auschwitz one poor bedraggled prisoner asked: ‘Where is God?’ His fellow inmate asked: ‘Where is man?’ That’s right, without God to whom we can refer to get our dignity and shape our morality, man too soon disappears.

We are hard wired to worship something- it should be God of course. But Paul tells us in v23 is that we sell ourselves short in a bad exchange. At the centre of the universe is this magnificent, resplendent personal Being who is the fountain of all love and joy and wisdom and in whose image we are made, showering upon us daily blessings we can’t even begin to number. And Paul says we exchange that glory for images that are made to look like images, that is, people who are the image of God. Do you not think God has a right to be angry about that, in fact a duty to be angry? As we corrupt our view of God, we corrupt our view of ourselves and slowly but surely more and more people get damaged along the way. For God not to be angry would mean he is either immoral or amoral and that cannot be.

And so we come to the expression of anger-vv26-28

Paul began this section by saying that the anger of God is being revealed. The tense he uses is significant. We often think of judgement day as being in the future, which it is, but here Paul is telling us something else about God’s judgement, that it is an ongoing present reality. So how is this judgement being shown?

Three times Paul uses an ominous phrase which captures how God shows his displeasure of our godlessness and wickedness- v 24, ‘Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts’, v 26, ‘Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts’ and v28, ‘Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so they do what ought not to be done.’ There is a judicial ‘giving over’, like a judge handing over a criminal to a jailer. God keeps the world from becoming thoroughly hellish by providing restraints, his laws, our consciences, societal taboos. And so when a society recognises behaviour which is in line with the way we are made and promotes it, that society works pretty well, but when the restraints are taken off, that is when things begin to unravel. And so God’s normal way of displaying his wrath is by handing us over to what we want to do, surrendering us to those inner forces which drive us and which get out of hand when the blocks are taken off. The word translated ‘sinful desires’ in v 24 is one word in the original, epithumia- literally ‘over desire’.  There is an over-desiring not necessarily of bad things but of good things. And one of the good things is sex. God has made us sexual beings, male and female who in the gift of marriage become one flesh and enjoy intimacy and the procreation of children. Laws in society have traditionally been in place to both protect and promote marriage. But tamper with those laws or take them away and what happens-? the good thing goes into overdrive and becomes a bad thing. That is what Paul is saying here and if this is not an accurate description of our society as well as that of Roman society of the Caligulas then I don’t know what is. When an economy overheats- it leads to boom and bust. When a car engine overheats- it will eventually break down. When desires in a society begin to overheat- chaos is just around the corner.

Just listen to this written in the 1940’s by C.S. Lewis and see if it rings any bells with you, ‘They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been. It has been chatted about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing it up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round….If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But of course, when people say, ‘Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,’ they mean ‘the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of’. If they mean that, I think they are wrong. There is nothing to be ashamed of enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips…..There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales resistance.’

That was in the 1940’s look at where we are now! In the States the pornography industry generates more money than all the alcohol, gambling, drugs and entertainment industries combined. You would be hard pressed to get 50,000 people on a political rally to protest against poverty, but in Hull we had 50,000 people at a so called gay pride festival. Over-desires you see. That is God’s judgement- and the bad behaviour works itself out in the life of the individual and society as a whole- v27, ‘receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.’ God gives us what we want and we pay the price. God commands men and women to be faithful to their marriage partners. The consequences of rebelling against this include emotional pain, unwanted pregnancies, diseases like Hepatitis B and AIDS. How many more flashing red lights and alarm bells do we need before we will own up that we are digging ourselves into an early grave- in some cases, quite literally?

You know, the worse thing that can happen to us when we do wrong is for God to do nothing. And of course in doing nothing, he is doing something he is expressing his anger.

So finally we turn to the extent of God’s anger- vv 28-32

The problem begins in our minds, v 28- we do not think clearly and so do not see clearly because God has been pushed out of our thinking with the result  that we do those things which we know shouldn’t be done. And so the overheated desires spew out in every direction making life less and less bearable-‘They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 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.’ That may not be an exhaustive list but it is a pretty extensive one- we are all in there somewhere.

And as people move away from God in a sense God moves away from them, there is abandonment, a giving over to our choices. And the more we move away from the Creator, the more we become out of touch with creation-reality and become more and more confused and so move further and further away, and on it goes in an endless cycle. Reality not only bites, it hurts. And it is not insignificant that Paul ends this section by rounding on those who not only do these things but those who approve and promote such self-destruction whilst wrapping it up in such PC terms as- choice, freedom, equality, ‘you can be who you want to be’- all very reminiscent of the serpent in the garden- because ultimately that is where it comes from. Those led astray will be responsible for allowing themselves to be led, but my understanding of the Bible and Jesus own teaching, is that the greater judgement will be reserved for those who have done the leading- destroying the lives of little children, taking away the hope and security of teenagers, as they build their political, academic and ecclesiastical careers on the broken backs of countless people and claiming to be so, so wise.

Is there no hope then? From the human side the short answer is: no. We can no more turn away God’s righteous anger than King Canute could turn back the tide of the sea. We live in a damned world- there is no other way of putting it.

So if we cannot turn aside God’s anger, then who can? There is only one and that is God himself. This is what Paul is steadily building towards although there are many false routes which we would try which have to be closed off first. But when we eventually get there- it is glorious. For then we will see that in this Gospel message there is the power of God to save for all who have faith. God’s anger is absorbed by himself in his Son. And sometimes a song captures a truth better than a sermon. You want to see how seriously God takes your sin and mine- then don’t stay looking at the world, look at the cross. Here is John Newton:
I saw One hanging on a tree,
 In agony and blood;
 He fixed His loving eyes on me,
 As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never to my latest breath,
 Can I forget that look;
 It seemed to charge me with His death,
 Though not a word He spoke

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
 And plunged me in despair:
 I saw my sins His blood had spilt
 And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive:
 This blood is for your ransom paid,
 I die that you may live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon, too.

O, can it be, upon a tree
 The Saviour died for me?
 My soul is thrilled, my heart is filled,
 To think He died for me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~~Why we can’t make heaven on earth
Romans 1:18-32

You may have heard of the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? The optimist is the person who believes that this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist is the one who sadly believes he is right. Of course we have never been short of optimists, those who genuinely think we can make something of a heaven on earth. Back 1516 Thomas More, of ‘Man for All Seasons’ fame, actually wrote a book called ‘Utopia’- which could be translated ‘good place’ or ‘dream place’. It depicted an island with 54 well designed towns, each with 6,000 communities, Spartan in their values and war hating in their attitudes. There were gardens for every house and even euthanasia for the old and decrepit.

And the ideals of Utopia are not restricted to works of fiction. Here is part of the second Humanist Manifesto: ‘By using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, modify human behaviour, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development and provide humankind with an unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.’ However, when attempts have been made to translate this into practice Utopia- a ‘dream place’, soon becomes Dystopia - a ‘nightmare place’. You see this in the 5 year plans of Stalin in Russia, the Cultural Revolution of Mao in China, and the madness of Pol Pot in Cambodia in which countless millions perished

But those of us living in the West are not in exactly in a position to claim that our social experiments in the pursuit of hedonistic happiness have been all that successful. Family breakdown continues at an alarming rate, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide amongst young people continues to steadily climb and studies show that on the whole as a society we are less happy than we were in the 1950’s. Throw into the mix the growth in global terrorism and utopia seems further away than ever.

But how are we to account for this human failure to deliver on our dreams? The passage we are looking at this morning gives a very simple, albeit initially an unpalatable answer- God is angry. There it is in verse 18, ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven’. The reason there is not heaven on earth is because God’s anger is coming down from heaven to earth.

In fact there is another word which should be at the beginning of our verse which is missed out in our translation, the word ‘For’, ‘For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven.’ This connects what Paul is about to unpack with what has just gone before in verses 16-17 where he talks about the Gospel being the power of God which ‘brings salvation to everyone who believes it.’ Unless we understand the bad news of our situation we shall neither see the need for or fully appreciate what the Bible calls the good news. Paul speaks about the message of the Good news (which is what ‘Gospel’ means) as bringing ‘salvation’- rescue. That raises the question: rescue from what? Here is Paul’s answer- rescue from God’s anger. Paul also tells us that by believing this message people who are in the wrong with God can be made in the right - which is what ‘righteousness’ means, and Paul is about to show us just how in the wrong we all are. The apostle is going to paint the world scene in darkest hues for it is only against that backdrop that the Christian message of God’s saving love shines all the more brightly.

First, we have the evoking of God’s anger- vv 18-25

Straight away Paul lays out what God is angry about, ‘all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by (in) their wickedness.’ This is why God is angry-because of our godlessness- our failure as religious people and our wickedness or ‘unrighteousness’- our failure as moral people, distorting the truth to suit our own ends. The two are of course integrally related- as we defy God, we end up trying to take his place- for who else is going to decide what is right or wrong, convenient or inconvenient, who should be heard and who should be silenced if not ourselves? But we do this minus God’s wisdom, righteousness and goodness. The result is carnage. Also we tend to be selective concerning what we will get angry about and with whom we will be angry- not so God- he is angry with all people because all people fall into these two categories for they spurn his love, offends his justice and renders toxic the good creation he has made.

Now most of us might concede that we don’t always treat other people all that well, and certainly not as we would want to be treated ourselves. But surely someone can’t be blamed for being ‘godless’ if they don’t or can’t believe in God- can they? Well, yes they can says Paul, because much unbelief stems not from a search for truth but a suppression of truth, v19, ‘Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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 people are without excuse.’  Paul is claiming that everyone knows there is a God because God has made it clear that he exists. How has he done that? Well, according to verse 20, ‘from what he has made’. The word Paul uses translated ‘made’ is poiema, from which we get our word ‘poem’. Deep down, we can’t help but recognise the world as a creation, a work of divine artistry. Just as a poem shows intention, meaning, wisdom and skill, and that there is indeed a poet who has written it, so it is with the world. God through his universe is transmitting signals to us of his greatness, power, wisdom and goodness, what the sociologist Peter Berger called ‘signals of transcendence.’ And some atheists are honest enough to admit a sheltering behind atheism, not because they believe it to be the only viable intellectual option, but because of the fear that if the claims of the Bible are true, then their lifestyle would have to change. In a startling moment of candour the atheist, Aldous Huxley who wrote ‘Brave New World’, confessed, ‘For myself, no doubt, as for many of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: We could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.’ There it is!

It is not as if God has been hiding, rather, we have been busy denying, v21, ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.’

Knowledge of God should have led us to honouring and thanking God. This again is part of universal experience- sheer gratitude for being alive. But, says, Paul, that knowledge can be supressed- v18. Let me tell you something: One beautiful, sky- blue summer day, the 20th century, atheist dramatist Samuel Becket who wrote ‘Waiting for Godot’ and other nihilistic plays, was drinking beer and watching a cricket match with friends, when one of them remarked that it was the ‘sort of day that makes one glad to be alive.’ To which Becket immediately replied, ‘Oh, I don’t think I would go so far as that.’ That about says it all!

While it may appear to be clever to deny God it is in fact foolish. Rather than our minds becoming enlightened they plunge into a kind of darkness, and out of them flows all sorts of dreadful thoughts. God substitutes are sought because by nature we are worshipping beings, sometimes it is an ideology or a leader who promises a better world, or maybe some celebrity idol through whom we feel we can live the dream vicariously. But history has shown over and over again that when you get rid of God in your thinking it is not long before you get rid of man in your dealings. Real human beings become sacrificed to our idol and we become less than human, and more like animals, the kind of creatures mentioned in v23. Think of the horrors unleashed by National Socialism. In Auschwitz one poor bedraggled prisoner asked: ‘Where is God?’ His fellow inmate asked: ‘Where is man?’ That’s right, without God to whom we can refer to get our dignity and shape our morality, man too soon disappears.

We are hard wired to worship something- it should be God of course. But Paul tells us in v23 is that we sell ourselves short in a bad exchange. At the centre of the universe is this magnificent, resplendent personal Being who is the fountain of all love and joy and wisdom and in whose image we are made, showering upon us daily blessings we can’t even begin to number. And Paul says we exchange that glory for images that are made to look like images, that is, people who are the image of God. Do you not think God has a right to be angry about that, in fact a duty to be angry? As we corrupt our view of God, we corrupt our view of ourselves and slowly but surely more and more people get damaged along the way. For God not to be angry would mean he is either immoral or amoral and that cannot be.

And so we come to the expression of anger-vv26-28

Paul began this section by saying that the anger of God is being revealed. The tense he uses is significant. We often think of judgement day as being in the future, which it is, but here Paul is telling us something else about God’s judgement, that it is an ongoing present reality. So how is this judgement being shown?

Three times Paul uses an ominous phrase which captures how God shows his displeasure of our godlessness and wickedness- v 24, ‘Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts’, v 26, ‘Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts’ and v28, ‘Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so they do what ought not to be done.’ There is a judicial ‘giving over’, like a judge handing over a criminal to a jailer. God keeps the world from becoming thoroughly hellish by providing restraints, his laws, our consciences, societal taboos. And so when a society recognises behaviour which is in line with the way we are made and promotes it, that society works pretty well, but when the restraints are taken off, that is when things begin to unravel. And so God’s normal way of displaying his wrath is by handing us over to what we want to do, surrendering us to those inner forces which drive us and which get out of hand when the blocks are taken off. The word translated ‘sinful desires’ in v 24 is one word in the original, epithumia- literally ‘over desire’.  There is an over-desiring not necessarily of bad things but of good things. And one of the good things is sex. God has made us sexual beings, male and female who in the gift of marriage become one flesh and enjoy intimacy and the procreation of children. Laws in society have traditionally been in place to both protect and promote marriage. But tamper with those laws or take them away and what happens-? the good thing goes into overdrive and becomes a bad thing. That is what Paul is saying here and if this is not an accurate description of our society as well as that of Roman society of the Caligulas then I don’t know what is. When an economy overheats- it leads to boom and bust. When a car engine overheats- it will eventually break down. When desires in a society begin to overheat- chaos is just around the corner.

Just listen to this written in the 1940’s by C.S. Lewis and see if it rings any bells with you, ‘They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been. It has been chatted about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing it up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round….If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But of course, when people say, ‘Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,’ they mean ‘the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of’. If they mean that, I think they are wrong. There is nothing to be ashamed of enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips…..There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales resistance.’

That was in the 1940’s look at where we are now! In the States the pornography industry generates more money than all the alcohol, gambling, drugs and entertainment industries combined. You would be hard pressed to get 50,000 people on a political rally to protest against poverty, but in Hull we had 50,000 people at a so called gay pride festival. Over-desires you see. That is God’s judgement- and the bad behaviour works itself out in the life of the individual and society as a whole- v27, ‘receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.’ God gives us what we want and we pay the price. God commands men and women to be faithful to their marriage partners. The consequences of rebelling against this include emotional pain, unwanted pregnancies, diseases like Hepatitis B and AIDS. How many more flashing red lights and alarm bells do we need before we will own up that we are digging ourselves into an early grave- in some cases, quite literally?

You know, the worse thing that can happen to us when we do wrong is for God to do nothing. And of course in doing nothing, he is doing something he is expressing his anger.

So finally we turn to the extent of God’s anger- vv 28-32

The problem begins in our minds, v 28- we do not think clearly and so do not see clearly because God has been pushed out of our thinking with the result  that we do those things which we know shouldn’t be done. And so the overheated desires spew out in every direction making life less and less bearable-‘They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 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.’ That may not be an exhaustive list but it is a pretty extensive one- we are all in there somewhere.

And as people move away from God in a sense God moves away from them, there is abandonment, a giving over to our choices. And the more we move away from the Creator, the more we become out of touch with creation-reality and become more and more confused and so move further and further away, and on it goes in an endless cycle. Reality not only bites, it hurts. And it is not insignificant that Paul ends this section by rounding on those who not only do these things but those who approve and promote such self-destruction whilst wrapping it up in such PC terms as- choice, freedom, equality, ‘you can be who you want to be’- all very reminiscent of the serpent in the garden- because ultimately that is where it comes from. Those led astray will be responsible for allowing themselves to be led, but my understanding of the Bible and Jesus own teaching, is that the greater judgement will be reserved for those who have done the leading- destroying the lives of little children, taking away the hope and security of teenagers, as they build their political, academic and ecclesiastical careers on the broken backs of countless people and claiming to be so, so wise.

Is there no hope then? From the human side the short answer is: no. We can no more turn away God’s righteous anger than King Canute could turn back the tide of the sea. We live in a damned world- there is no other way of putting it.

So if we cannot turn aside God’s anger, then who can? There is only one and that is God himself. This is what Paul is steadily building towards although there are many false routes which we would try which have to be closed off first. But when we eventually get there- it is glorious. For then we will see that in this Gospel message there is the power of God to save for all who have faith. God’s anger is absorbed by himself in his Son. And sometimes a song captures a truth better than a sermon. You want to see how seriously God takes your sin and mine- then don’t stay looking at the world, look at the cross. Here is John Newton:
I saw One hanging on a tree,
 In agony and blood;
 He fixed His loving eyes on me,
 As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never to my latest breath,
 Can I forget that look;
 It seemed to charge me with His death,
 Though not a word He spoke

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
 And plunged me in despair:
 I saw my sins His blood had spilt
 And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive:
 This blood is for your ransom paid,
 I die that you may live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon, too.

O, can it be, upon a tree
 The Saviour died for me?
 My soul is thrilled, my heart is filled,
 To think He died for me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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