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Paul’s Prosecution of the Gentiles

socialmedia@cityrise.org February 8, 2021 sermons, cityrise, cityrise missouri city, Crosspoint Church - Bellaire, Good News, Roger Patterson, romans, West U Baptist,

The following is a manuscript of the sermon presented by Roger Patterson on Sunday February 7, 2021 at our Crosspoint Church – Bellaire campus and in our Online Experience. To view the sermon in full, please visit our YouTubpage. To listen to the message, check out our podcast page.

My daughter likes to play a video game called “Among Us” with her friends.  It’s a game that won numerous “Game of the Year” awards in 2020. If you haven’t played, the game’s premise is that most people are good and helpful crewmates, but a few people have the role of “imposter” on your spaceship.

While the crewmates have to complete different tasks around the ship in different rooms in order to keep the ship operational, the imposter’s goal is to sneakily kill all the other players without being detected and sabotage the ship. If you think someone is suspicious or you find a dead crewmate, you can call a meeting and vote someone off the ship. Sometimes you vote off an imposter and sometimes you vote off a fellow crewmate who was completely innocent. The whole point of the game is that there are some “impurities” among us on the ship, and we have to root them out in order to keep the ship going. It is frustrating to not know who the bad guys are, knowing you could be next.

 

Paul writes similarly of the impurities that have crept in among us. God is building his kingdom and we all have a role to play, but instead we’ve all chosen to sabotage the ship.

As it’s been said…

“Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” [1]

Paul’s summarization of humanity here is dark, depressing, and discouraging. But thanks to be God that this is not the end of the story.

Now, this week, is part 2 of the prosecution of the Gentiles. As I said last week, “It’s the bad news.  But understanding the bad news will help us grasp the good news even more.”

Let me review a few qualifiers with you, just to refresh your memory, if you were with us last week. And if you weren’t, to ask you to consider what Paul is doing as he begins to lay out his message of the gospel.

First, let’s look once again at the flow of Paul’s prosecution.  Remember, he is like a prosecutor in a court room levying charges. In doing so, he will use the next few chapters to indite all of us…all of humanity.  Here is the flow of that prosecution.

Paul as Prosecutor

  • Romans 1:18-32 – Paul prosecutes God’s case against the Gentiles
  • Romans 2:1-3:8 – Paul prosecutes God’s case against the Jews
  • Romans 3:9-20 – Summation of his argument

 

And here is the big take-a-way: All are without excuse!  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

This is the message Paul will logically and carefully establish.

Second, here are a few things you we need to see as we continue to study this portion of Scripture:

 

  1. Paul’s conviction and worldview (and it’s mine as well) is that God is the source, establisher and arbiter of truth.

 

A few things to note…

  • God is the source, establisher and arbiter of truth.

 

  1. Throughout history, mankind has exchanged the truth of God for lies.

 

A few things to note…

  • God is the source, establisher and arbiter of truth.
  • Throughout history, mankind has exchanged the truth of God for lies.

 

  1. Paul’s core conviction is that all of mankind are idolaters. For the Gentile world, this idolatry leads to all sorts of impurity and immorality. For the Jewish population, their idolatry is expressed in terms of their self-righteousness. This leads to a pride, arrogance and judgmentalism that keeps them from seeing their own need for salvation.

 

A few things to note…

  • God is the source, establisher and arbiter of truth.
  • Throughout history, mankind has exchanged the truth of God for lies.
  • Paul’s core conviction is that all of mankind are idolaters.

 

  1. This section is crucial for us to understand the good news. It is the bad news. It will offend some of you. It is going to be hard to study. But, it will lead us to see the gracious, loving heart of God and the riches of the gift of Jesus Christ to our lives. But, even though it’s hard, let’s do the work. Don’t walk away from it prematurely.  Let’s listen for our Lord’s heart and voice. Let’s see what ails us all and how we can find his great love.

 

A few things to note…

  • God is the source, establisher and arbiter of truth.
  • Throughout history, mankind has exchanged the truth of God for lies.
  • Paul’s core conviction is that all of mankind are idolaters.
  • This section is crucial for us to understand the good news.

 

Now, last week, I only made it through one of my three points.  So, I am going to pick up in point two today and then walk you through point three.  But, once again, as a refresher, here is the outline I shared with you.

To understand the good news about Jesus, we must…

  1. Begin with God.
  2. Be persuaded of our rebellion.
  3. Be compelled to put down our idols and worship Jesus.

 

We are going to look at the second and third points of this outline for the very intent of understanding the good news.

Now, as I told you last week, we need to buckle in.  We need to see that Paul is levying charges against the Gentiles here. It’s a hard word. It’s a difficult word. It’s a challenging word. But it’s one we need to hear.

So, let’s pick up our outline with principle #2.

To understand the good news about Jesus, we must…

  1. Begin with God.
  2. Be persuaded of our rebellion.
  3. Be compelled to put down our idols and worship Jesus.

 

To understand the good news about Jesus, we must…

II. Be persuaded of our rebellion

Remember, we need to understand the bad News in order to get to the good news. Paul’s core charge here is that the human race has rebelled against his and her creator. In this rebellion, we have suppressed the truth. That’s the first accusation that Paul makes.

Slide: Romans 1:18

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

How has mankind suppressed the truth?

We saw last week that Paul begins with God.  And that God has revealed himself to all of mankind. We saw that God has illumined himself—shined a light on his eternal power and divine nature. We see that mankind is without excuse. But again, how does mankind suppress the truth?

Look at Romans 1:21 and 22 for this answer.

Romans 1:21-22

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

Two accusations come in verse 21.  What are they?

  • No honor
  • No thanks

 

  • They did not honor God – they did not worship God, as God. They did not bow their knee to his Lordship.
  • They did not give thanks. They did not recognize from where all of their provision had come.

Acts 14:17 makes a similar accusation.

Slide: Acts 14:17

“Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

God’s provision is evidence of his existence, yet mankind suppresses the truth.

So, there are three failures of mankind that we see listed here.

  1. We suppress the truth about God
  2. We refuse to worship him
  3. We have forgotten to be thankful

Why do we do that?  Why do we rebel against God?

James Boice suggests that we reject the things God has revealed because we do not like the God to which the truth about God leads us.

Quote: Boice states…

We do not like him for his sovereignty; God’s sovereignty negates our autonomy. We do not like him for his holiness; God’s holiness opposes and condemns our sin. We do not like him for his omniscience, as his omniscience terrifies us because we fear exposure. We do not like God for his immutability, because immutability means that God will never be other than he is in all his other attributes. We cannot stand these truths. So, we repress them, denying their existence. It is obvious that if we do this, we are not going to praise God for these same characteristics.”

But notice what happens to us as we suppress the truth about God.

Romans 1:22

 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools…

In many ways, this is reminiscent of Adam and Eve’s account. You see, what Satan did was an attempt to replace God’s truth with a different truth, and it ended up destroying them. Instead of becoming wise as the serpent promised, Adam proved himself the fool, and his heart was darkened.

You see, Adam wanted to make his own rules, he wanted to say what was to be true and what was to be false. He wanted to be like God…or his own god, determining for himself that which is true and false, right and wrong.

It sounds a lot like the world and culture we live in today. You get to pick your truth the culture says. You get to choose what’s true for you and I’ll choose what is true for me. And yet, in his rebelling against God, Adam became anything but wise or sovereign. Instead, he became the opposite, losing what strength and wisdom he had.

Instead of becoming more like God, which Satan promised the woman, Adam became like Satan. Thus, Adam began a process in which he and the human race after him, turned from the truth of God to lies.

Let’s make a point of application here for us all, because we are living in a very challenging day where wickedness is flaunted; where what God calls wrong, as a nation we declare to be right.

  • We have revolutionized sex.
  • We have taken God out of the classroom
  • We kill our unborn in the womb
  • We have redefined marriage
  • We are redefining gender

And if you speak up or speak out against any of these things, you are muted…silenced…This is the day that we are living in.

But here is also what is important to grasp: There is nothing new under the sun. This was written 2000 years ago. And its commentary of history from the time of Adam and Even to today.

The questions we must ask ourselves then are these: 

  • Are we suppressing the truth about God because of the culture around us?
  • Are we capitulating to the culture’s whims so that we might be accepted?
  • Are we a people who wants to simply go along to get along, thus anything goes, or are we willing to come out from them and be separate?

If so, our hearts will be darkened as well.  Our strength will turn to weakness.

And this leads me to a third principle that I want to convey today.

To understand the good news about Jesus, we must…

  1. Begin with God.
  2. Be persuaded of our rebellion.
  3. Be compelled to put down our idols and worship Jesus.

To understand the Good News of Jesus, we must…

III. Be compelled to put down our idols and worship Jesus.

Look at verses 22-23

Romans 1:22-23

22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Paul’s core charge here is idolatry. It will be the core charge he levies against the Jews as well. Remember, he is first prosecuting the Gentiles – the Greeks and Barbarians. In chapter 2, he will prosecute the Jews for their idolatry of self-righteousness. But this core charge of idolatry is vital to grasp.

You see, this charge is going to make sense, because the Roman world was the world of idols.

What is idolatry?

If you walked the Roman Roads in the early days of Christianity, you had no problem identifying idolatry.  When we think of idols, we think of statues and objects, crafted by human hands, that are given power and worshipped for what they can bring to our lives.

Illus: If you’ve ever been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as you make your way through the various quadrants of the kingdom, you will find areas devoted to certain nations and cultures.  One of the ways that those cultures are defined and recreated for us is through the presence of idols.  I remember commenting on Disney’s Animal Kingdom to one of my friends when we returned.  I said something like, “Wow!  That is a spiritual place with all sorts of idols on display.”

When we think of idols, we also may think of the Greek gods such as Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite and Diana.  Today, as you travel to areas such as Athens, you can see the Parthenon, the temple to Athena, the patron of Athens.  These high places were the center of worship and the hope of people’s lives.  Their thinking was, “If I could just please the goddess, my life will be better.”  Just a few hundred yards downhill is the place called Mars Hill, where there was on display the various idols who signified the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman world.

Today, we live in a post-Christian, secular society.  At least, that is what most believe.  We believe that because we don’t have high places, temples to various gods like the Parthenon, or idols in most of our homes, idolatry is not an issue for us.  Additionally, as Christians, because we worship and follow Jesus, we don’t believe that we are susceptible to idolatry.

But idolatry isn’t just an external sin that we can identify.  Idolatry is primarily internalIdolatry is a sin of the heart.

Ezekiel 14:3 states…

Ezekiel 14:3

Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts…”

As a matter of fact, two Jewish scholars, Halbertal and Margalit, in their work, Idolatry, argue that, “The central…principle of the Bible is the rejection of idolatry.”

Definition of an Idol:

Tim Keller, in his very important work, Counterfeit Gods, says:

What is an idol?  Anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you only what God can give you.”

Now, when we think of idols, we often envision scary creatures of another world.  But the idols we are most susceptible to, are actually good things and here in lies the trap—the greater the good, the more likely we are to believe it can fulfill our deepest longings.

Keller says,

“The human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things.  Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them…Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.”

When we believe this mythology, we always end up disappointed.  But more than that, Paul tells us here that this God exchange leads us on a downward trajectory of our lives and our cultures.

Look at the downward spiral…

Romans 1:24-32

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Verses 24, 26, and 28 repeat the refrain that God “gave them up” or “gave them over” to their desires.

C.S. Lewis illustrates this idea well in The Problem of Pain when he says of the lost that they “enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.”[2]

Similarly, Oscar Wilde once said, “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”

Regarding this idea of God’s giving us up, we understand this to mean that our punishment is being abandoned by God.

Quote: But, as James Boice points out,

“This is precisely what man has been fighting for ever since Adam’s first rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Man has wanted to get rid of God, to push him out of his life.”

And there is a digression in our lives when we are given over to our sinful choices.  Let’s look at it. It’s so important to see. It’s so important to understand.

  1. God gave them over to lusts – v. 24-25.

Romans 1:24-25

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Idolatry, impurity and immorality are siblings.  When man exchanges truth for lies, he rewrites God’s moral law into self-fulfilling acceptance.  To give one over to lusts is to allow them to chase their cravings unchecked. It’s to allow them all access to that which will rule and dominate their lives. And this leads to the dishonoring of their bodies. 

Specifically, this leads to sexual sin.  This is going to be fornication, sex before marriage, adultery in the marriage relationship, addiction to pornography.

Quote: John Stott explains that the history of the world confirms that…

“idolatry tends to immorality. A false image of God leads to a false understanding of sex.” Whereas sex in marriage, as God intended, ennobles our humanness, the kind of illicit sex described here degrades our humanness.[3]

Why is this so important for us to understand?

In our culture, it’s totally accepted.  In our middle schools, the sexual education curriculum is given to teaching kids about anal sex.  The culture screams to us that we should be having sex as much as we want, as often as we want, with as many people as we want.

Q: But why is there a warning to us? 

A: Because sexual sin actually harms our bodies.

Notice what 1 Corinthians 6:18 says…

1 Corinthians 6:18

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

Here, the Apostle Paul is saying that sexual sin actually harms yourself.

Whether it be premarital sex, adultery, or viewing pornography, sexual sin alters our brain function and, when indulged in repeatedly, can lead to a seared conscience – an actual brain phenomenon that numbs us to guilt and conviction of our wrongdoing.

For example, when pornography is viewed, several things happen to the brain involving powerful hormones – two of which are Oxytocin and Vasopressin.

Often called the love hormone, oxytocin is released when we hug or kiss a loved one. It regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction, playing a role in empathy, generosity, orgasm, and human bonding.

Vasopressin is a hormone found in most mammals which is also used as a medication; it numbs the pain.

When we watch pornography and “act out,” the sexual sin releases a powerful concoction, creating a perplexing issue for the human body.

Fundamentally, these bonding hormones form a rewiring of the brain with the wrong material, that lures the individual deeper into a prison of their own making.

An intoxicating combination of hormones – intended to bring loved ones closer together and promote mental healing – are instead operating out of sinful activity, completely confusing the mind.

Quote: Dr. Doug Weiss, Executive Director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center explains:

“When [you] have a sexual experience, your brains makes these opiates which [are] four times stronger than morphine. Boom! It hits your brain, your brain lights up like a Christmas tree. This is the highest chemical reward your brain gets for anything. That’s why a lot of guys get in trouble, even in ministry. They don’t know their brain is defective.”

When the brain has been changed in this way, sexual sin takes a profound toll.

The individual knows that watching porn is a shameful act and one to be kept a secret, yet each time they view it, they find themselves trusting it more, …and feeling healed by the sexual sin; they are trapped in a destructive cycle.

There is a part of your brain that is responsible for convicting you of wrongdoing. It’s that little voice inside of you we call it our conscience.

If you continue to participate in that wrong behavior, however, eventually you become desensitized to this convicting presence. That part of your brain simply stops responding.

In effect, your conscience is seared.

As our brains transform, so does our behavior. In essence, Sexual sin becomes our god, taking place of our Lord as the thing we fear, need, and use as medication for healing our wounds.

Quote Dr. Doug Weiss states…

“[Pornography and other sexual sins] can get into a man’s heart to the place where it replaces God; it becomes an idol. And how do you know it’s an idol? When you’re in pain, you go to your idol. When you’re in need, you go to your idol. Those that hurt, you go to your idol. When you want to celebrate, you go to your idol.”

Application: Do you see how destructive sexual sin is against your own body?  My friends, are you bound in sexual sin?  There is freedom for you.  There’s still hope. We are here to help you.  Reach out to us and we will connect you with a ministry that can help you be free. It’s a ministry run by a dear friend of mind, Dr. Mark Denison. It’s called There’s Still Hope.

As if this were not enough, the Apostle Paul says that mankind has been given over to a second thing.

  1. God gave them over to degrading or dishonorable passions – v. 26-27

Romans 1:26-27

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Here’s a basic question: Who determines what is degrading or unnatural or indecent?

The CREATOR.  As I noted last week, Paul begins with God…the creator, designer, the architect.  He is the source, establisher and arbiter of all truth.

And what is key is that Paul says that there is another exchange here.  First, there is the truth of God for a lie. The second exchange is natural relations for those that are contrary to nature…both men and women. Paul is talking about the sin of homosexuality.

And you may say, “Pastor, you can’t say that! You can’t say that homosexuality is a sin.”

I’m just the messenger. I’m just telling you what the Scriptures say.  I’m sorry if it is offensive, but hear Paul’s logic out. I’m not picking on anybody.  Ultimately, the entirety of humanity is being indicted here.  And to say that I can’t say that actually proves the point. We have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. 

But listen for a moment.  Paul is making a point to help us see where we all are in comparison to the standard and holiness of God.

The word “Natural” is an important word here that explains why this stage is a further step along the downward moral path that Paul has been describing. This word means God’s created order. To act “against nature” means to violate the order which God has established, whereas to act “according to nature” means to behave “in accordance with the intention of the Creator.”[4]

The intention of the Creator refers to God’s original intention, which we see in Genesis, and which Jesus affirms in Matthew 19:4-6: “At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and he said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.”[5]

The third way we digress is stated in verses 28-32.

  1. God gave them over to a depraved mind

Romans 1:28-32

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Wow!  Paul just threw the kitchen sink at us all.  Keep this in mind, please.

We make the mistake of making too little of homosexuality and we also make the mistake of making too much out of homosexuality.  But here is the point: The Depraved Mind leads to what ought not to be done. 

And here, Paul is going to catalogue 21 sins.

If we were to try to classify them into groups, it might look something like this:

  • General sins that we are filled with: unrighteousness (wickedness), evil, covetousness (greed), malice (depravity).
  • Hatred of fellow man (broken human relationships): envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.
  • Sins of which pride is the center: gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful.
  • Creators of evil: inventors of evil, disobedient to parents.
  • The negatives: foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless (this list could almost be read, “Without brains, honor, love, or pity”).[6]

You see, when godly restraints are removed, man inevitably experiences self-imposed pain of poor choices accompanied by God’s judgment of willful rebellion.

But it’s not a simple ignorance.  Our excuse is, “Well, I didn’t know better.”

No, verse 32 says…

Romans 1:32

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Here, there is a TRAGIC TRIPLETthey know…they do…they approve.

This is where we are as a culture…we have depraved minds. My friends, we are living in Rome.

You may say, “Well great pastor, now I’m depressed! How do we fix it?”

That’s a great question.  You and I can’t fix another’s heart. We can’t legislate another’s heart. 

But, there is good news.  We can ourselves experience this good news, and we can share this good news.

Yes, all have sinned.  All have fallen short.  All have missed the mark.  Again, this is an indictment against all of humanity.

But here this please…

Though God gave us over, God did not give up on us.

No, instead, he sent his son, as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins.

The great summation of this indictment ends in hope.

Romans 3:23-24

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…

 

Do you see the hope here?  The gospel is the solution to what ails us. The act of God to nail his son on the cross to pay for our sins can make you right.  It can cleanse your conscience, change your mind, liberate your spirit, give you love and set you free.

My friend, the gospel is the Good News that even though God gave you over, God did not give up on you.  And he kindly waits for your repentance.  He kindly waits for your stubborn heart of stone to become a heart of flesh.  And he gives us his word to convict us. He gives us his Spirit to confront us.  He gives us truth…of his character, his nature, and our depravity to show us that we don’t have to stay stuck in our idolatry.  But we can come, humble ourselves before him and take Christ as our Savior and live lives of worship and thanksgiving unto him.

Won’t you take Jesus into your heart?  Won’t you turn from your idols that always over promise, underdeliver and keep you in bondage, and come to the Savior who can set you free?

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/746709-sin-will-take-you-farther-than-you-want-to-go#:~:text=Quote%20by%20R%20Zaccharias%3A%20%E2%80%9CSin,to%20go%2C%20…%E2%80%9D

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 115.

[3] John Stott, Romans, 76.

[4]C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans vol 1, 125.

[5] John Stott, Romans, 77-78.

[6] John Stott, Romans, 79.

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