|New International Version|
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
|New International Version|
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
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Read all of Jeremiah 29
New International Version
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Read all of Romans 8
NOVEMBER 8, 1998
The Perils of Disapproving God
Paul’s teaching about why a society degenerates into unrestrained, debauched, destructive evil is unlike any analysis you would read today. One of the reasons for this is that when a society is sinking into moral decay, one of the traits of that decay is the inability to see what is happening. The social mind becomes so defective in the moral decadence that it doesn’t have the categories or the framework to recognize evil for what it really is.
We do live in such a day. The inability to render sound moral judgments is evident almost wherever you look. Which makes this passage of Scripture one of the most relevant and needed texts in all the Bible for our day — precisely because it seems so foreign. Today, if something doesn’t seem spiritually or morally foreign, it is probably part of the blind and decadent atmosphere we breathe, and therefore of no real use to us, no matter how good it makes us feel.
What we need is a word from outside our defective world and our depraved thinking. We need a word from God. And we may certainly expect such a word to be very strange, because we have become strangers to the reality of God in a very self-absorbed age.
What we have in today’s text is a list of twenty-one ways of sinning or twenty-one kinds of evil. And what I think we should do is notice, first, why Paul gives us this list and where such evil comes from. Then we should look at the list itself and ask why it’s here. Then we should ask what the solution is to these kinds of things.
So, first, where do the evils listed in verses Romans 1:29–31 come from? It all started back in verse 18 where Paul gave the reason for why the gospel of the gift of God’s righteousness is so desperately needed. You recall that he said in verse 16 that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Why? Verse 17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous shall live by faith.’” In other words: The gospel is the power of God to save believers because in it God gives us what we need and could never produce on our own, namely, his own righteousness. The righteousness that he demands from us he freely gives to us, if we will trust him. This is the great biblical truth of justification by faith.
Then in verse 18, he tells us why this gospel of the gift of God’s righteousness is so desperately needed: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” We need the righteousness of God because it is the only thing that can protect us from the wrath of God. And we need to be protected from the wrath of God because we are unrighteous by nature and suppress the truth of God. By nature we don’t like God and we don’t want him in our lives. I tremble just to say it.
So what Paul does in the following verses is describe for us the effects of suppressing the truth of God. He wants us to see all the evil of the world as a river that flows from this spring. Reject God, suppress God, distort God, recreate God in your own image to your own liking, and the effect is worse than we expect. And the thing that is worse than we expect is that God joins our crusade against God, as it were, and delivers us into the debasing effects of our own rebellion against him.
We’ve seen it three times. In verse 23, we exchange the glory of God for images, and verse 24 says, “Therefore God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts.” In verse 25, we exchange the truth about God for a lie, and verse 26 says, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions.” And today in verse 28 we see it again: “They did not see fit to acknowledge God (or literally: they did not approve to have God in their knowledge), [therefore] God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”
This is what Paul means by the wrath of God being revealed (verse 18): God’s wrath is being revealed against the world, as human beings all over the world set their affections on other things more than on God. God’s response to this worldwide disloyalty and treason against our Creator is not, first, to send us to hell, but to see that we sink into the swamp we have chosen.
This is what I was referring to at the beginning when I said that Paul’s teaching about why societies often degenerate into unrestrained, debauched, destructive evil is unlike any analysis you would read today. Today you might hear someone say: “Okay, America, you have built your bed of secular, God-belittling relativism and amorality, so now sleep in it.” But that is not what Paul says here.
He says something far more horrifying about God’s wrath. He gives us his analysis of our situation in four steps. Just take verse 28 from today’s text to see all four. First, he says that the root problem is that we don’t like having God in our knowledge. “They did not see fit to acknowledge God.” That is the fundamental problem in the world. That is the essence of the human condition. We don’t want God. We want self-determination and self-exaltation. That was the first sin in the garden. And that is the root of all evil today. We do not want to know God or have him in our lives.
The second step of God’s analysis is that God, in an act of judgment (recall the revealing of “wrath” in verse 18), withdraws his common restraints on our rebellion and gives us over to sink in the swamp we have chosen. This is what you will not hear in any social analysis today. Who today has the God-centered realism to say: The depth of our sin does not just deserve divine judgment, it is divine judgment? That is what Paul says. You can’t really understand America (or any other country) today without this revealed truth. Even if we tried to boast over God that at least we have our self-determination in rebelling against God, God would answer, “You think so? Think again.”
The third step in Paul’s analysis (in verse 28) is that the effect of God’s giving us over and removing his common restraints (see Genesis 20:6) is that we are imprisoned by a “depraved mind.” “God gave them over to a depraved mind.” Our minds become more and more defective in sin. Not only do we use them to sin, but we can’t even think clearly about sin. We can’t recognize it. It’s as if we turned away from God and fell in love with the African black fly that carries the roundworm that causes river blindness, and then God gave us over to the fly and the worm — and the blindness — so that all we can do now is fondle the fly (of sin!) and keep trying to convince ourselves that it’s a precious tuft of velvet.
The fourth step of the analysis (in verse 28) is that our defective mind produces all kinds of evils. Paul goes on to list twenty-one of them as samples. So now we have our answer to the first question, namely, where does such evil come from? It comes from: (1) our desire not to have God in our knowledge; and (2) from God’s judgment on mankind to give us over to sink in the swamp we love; and (3) from the depraved or defective mind that we sink into.
So now we can ask the question: What is this list of evils? What are we to make of this long list and why is it here? Let’s read it again. Verse Romans 1:28–31:
God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.
Of course, a person could raise an objection against Paul here: This is not the way all unbelievers are. Some are very conscientious, law-abiding, philanthropic, courteous, decent people. Yes, that’s true, and Paul knew it was true. He was quite aware, for example, of the Stoics of his own day — people like Seneca and later, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, who prided themselves in not being like this list of evils, and yet, who were not Christians.
No, the point of this list is not to say that every society that refuses to love the true God will look just like this. We know this because, in verses 26–27, Paul says that homosexual desire is also a result of not loving God above other things, and being handed over by God, and yet Paul clearly does not think that every unbeliever has homosexual desires.
Similarly, here in verse 28–31, when he says that all these sins are the result of refusing to acknowledge God, and he doesn’t mean that every unbeliever, or group of unbelievers, has all these sins or in the same measure. Instead, these are samples. They are the sort of thing that comes from rejecting God, and the more God gives a people up to their own unrestrained depravity, the more their society will have these sins in greater and greater measure.
So what’s the point of listing all these sins? The point, I think, is to give us enough examples to show that virtually every form of evil has to do with God and comes from failing to know him and approve him and love him above all things. In other words, he gives us a sweeping array of evils to awaken us to the fact that the ruin of any area of life is owing to the abandonment of God. Verse 28: they did not want God in their knowledge, therefore . . . and then he gives his list of evils.
In other words, the point of the list is to connect God with every sin in the world. And we’ve seen that the connection is twofold: every sin is rooted in our preferring something else to God; and every sin gets worse as God takes away his restraints and gives us up to sink in the swamp we have chosen.
If America has the highest murder rate in the western world, it has to do with God. If our executives are greedy, it has to do with God. If our politicians are deceitful, it has to do with God. If we gossip about each other behind the back, it has to do with God. If our talk show hosts are insolent and boastful, it has to do with God. If our children are disobedient to parents, it has to do with God. If we are untrustworthy and don’t keep our marriage vows, it has to do with God. If we are blind to obvious wrongs and are unloving and unmerciful, it has to do with God.
That’s the point of this list. Wherever we are sinking in sin, it is because we have jumped off the rock of the glory of God.
Which brings us finally to the third and last question: What is the solution? How shall we battle back against these destructive evils in our own lives and in our culture? The answer is what the whole book of Romans is about. But let’s close by looking at three great reversals.
- We need the reversal of God’s wrath against our unrighteousness.
- We need the reversal of God’s handing us over to a depraved mind.
- We need the reversal of our mind’s moral decay so that it can be renewed for right and proper use in God’s service.
The good news is that God has provided every one of those reversals. You do not have to sink any further if you will embrace God and his provision. The key verse for the reversal of God’s wrath against us is Romans 1:17: In the gospel of Christ, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
In other words, the righteousness that God demands from us, he freely gives to us, if we will turn back to him and trust him to be our greatest Good. And if you have the righteousness of God, you are not under the wrath of God anymore — a very happy reversal!
The key verse for the reversal of God’s handing us over to a depraved mind is Romans 6:17: “Thanks be to God that, though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were handed over [same word as Romans 1:28].”
This is the exact reversal of the handover in Romans 1:28. Here it is to a form of teaching that is true and holy, not false and dirty. And notice that it is God who does it. “Thanks be to God,” Paul says, that you became obedient to this teaching. God gives us over to truth and righteousness as much as he once gave us over to sin.
Finally, the key verse for reversing the defectiveness of our minds is Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
When God has given us his righteousness by faith in Jesus, and when he has handed us over to a new teaching of truth and begun to make us obedient to it, then, little by little, we are transformed in the renewing of our minds and the long list of sins in Romans 1:29–31 becomes shorter and weaker to the glory of God.
This is the key to life. This is the message that we take to the neighborhood and to the nations. I call you and urge you to receive these three reversals from the hand of God by faith: (1) the reversal of God’s wrath through the gift of God’s righteousness; (2) the reversal of being handed over to depravity through being handed over to truth; and (3) the reversal of a depraved mind through the transformation of a renewed mind.John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.
4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
1 John 4:4
Remember this verse as we go into the next year!
May God bless all of you, as we embrace Him and each other.
If there was ever a time when we are called to show an extraordinary display of love for God and each other, it is now. I’ve been questioning what we as Christians are doing to show love during these hectic times.
Reading the following scripture, I tried to put a filter in place to determine whether modern-day Christianity actually survives the test of Jesus’ definition of love. Let’s read this together and ask the Holy Spirit to help us answer that question.
The Great Commandment
Matthew 22 (English Standard Version)
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.
35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
8 This is the great and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Along with these scriptures, we would be remiss not to read and understand God’s further definition of love.
1 John 4:20 (English Standard Version)
20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
So, let’s ask ourselves:
- Do we treat everyone with this kind of love? Does it matter whether they have the same color of skin as ours, speak with the same language that we use?
2. Are we prejudiced in any way?
3. Do we encourage hate of any person?
4. Do we support bullying?
5. Do we reach out and pick up the peaceful person that was just beaten down–by fists or guns–or words? Or do we join in?
6. Do we judge a person by whether they are poor, or not?
7. Do we act out, in any way, with disdain, judgmental thoughts or actions, or do we try to understand a person who is different from us? who may have a different religious affiliation? a different way in describing their belief system? Or do we think that we are the only people who have all the answers?
8. Do we agree that requiring servitude by anyone is ok? is loving? is the way Jesus would treat people?
I think this is a somber time in all of our lives when we should quietly sit and reflect on these questions. If we fall short of the definition of love as Jesus describes it, we have an imperative to go to Him and ask forgiveness, turn away from that wrongful attitude, and humble ourselves as we seek God’s guidance in remedying our actions. That way He will be glorified rather than being ashamed of us.
Are we really Christians?
If we don’t display the love and light from our Lord, then we should stop using His name–in vain!
Your sister in Christ,
Hebrews 13:5 KJV
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”
All we need to do in time of sorrow and loneliness is to stay our minds upon God, to trust Him, to rest in Him, to nestle in His love. We remember where John was found the night of the Lord’s last supper with His disciples, – the darkest night the world ever saw, in the deepest sorrow men ever knew, – he was leaning on Jesus’ breast. He crept into that holy shelter to find quiet.
John was kept in perfect peace during all those terrible hours. Everything appeared to have slipped away and there was nothing that seemed abiding. But John crept into the shelter of love and simply trusted, and was kept in holy peace.
A beautiful story is told of Rudyard Kipling during a serious illness a few years since. The trained nurse was sitting at his bedside on one of the anxious nights when the sick man’s condition was most critical. She was watching him intently and noticed that his lips began to move. She bent over him, and heard him whisper the words of the old familiar prayer of childhood, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” The nurse, realizing that her patient did not require her services, and that he was praying, said in apology for having intruded upon him, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Kipling; I thought you wanted something.” “I do,” faintly replied the sick man: “I want my heavenly Father. He only can care for me now.”
In his great weakness there was nothing that human help could do, and he turned to God and crept into His bosom, seeking the blessing and the care which none but God can give. That is what we need to do in every time of trial, of sorrow, – when the gentlest human love can do nothing, – creep into our heavenly Father’s bosom, saying, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” That is the way to peace. Earth has no shelter in which it can be found, but in God the feeblest may find it. —JR Miller
Pondering, letting my thoughts go upward and all around me up to HIM, I constantly Sit in Heavenly Places. It’s joy unspeakable! ~ Sharon
a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence
of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:
Zephaniah 3:17 KJV
17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice
over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
“You’re gonna regret it!” I waved away the warning without turning around. What was to regret? I took the shortcut.
I was on my way to a picnic. The tables sat on the other side of a marsh. The parks department had kindly constructed a bridge over the marsh. But who needed a bridge? I ventured in. The mud swallowed my feet. Squiggly things swam past me. I think I saw a set of eyeballs peering in my direction. I backpedaled—flip-flops sucked into the abyss. I exited, mud covered, mosquito bitten, and red faced.
I walked over and took my seat at the picnic table. It made for a miserable picnic, but it makes for an apt proverb. Life comes with voices. Voices lead to choices, and choices have consequences!
~ Max Lucado
No part of our lives is hidden from God’s grace and power.
~ Our Daily Bread