When God Gave Up – Romans 1:20-32

 
Let’s start with a sad, but totally fictitious story. There is absolutely no truth in this story whatsoever. But I have made up the names in order to protect the guilty.

Mr. and Mrs. Dog, had a new puppy born into their family. Their master was as delighted as they were. He immediately gave this new dog a name and bought it a beautiful collar with “Fido” engraved into it. Soon they went for walks together; they played together and ate together; they slept in the same room. Fido was a handsome, happy dog that got along with absolutely everyone – but he was still a dog. For example, somehow he acquired a taste for leather, cloth and plastic, and he started chewing things. He ate his master’s shoes, the kids toys and even household furniture. When he refused to be broken of this terrible habit, he was expelled to the back yard. Out there he dug up the flowers and killed the potatoes and tomatoes. He ate the sprinkler heads; he tried to tear down the fence and tried to dig under it. it. When he felt that he was being ignored, Fido would bark and howl – constantly, day or night. And when some of the neighbors tried to get him to be quiet, he decided that he didn’t like them. Whenever they walked by, he would snarl, growl and attack the fence in a very threatening manner. But he loved the kids in the neighborhood. When he grew to be big enough, he began to climb over the fence to run and play with those kids. And of course they did their very best to encourage him, laughing at seeing a dog climb a fence. But when they grew tired of playing, do you think that they would bring him back to his house? No. The fact was since, Fido thought that he wasn’t been treated fairly at home, he didn’t really want to come back anyway. Despite the fact that he was well-fed at home, he disliked the limitations there. Despite the fact that his mother and father were there, he preferred his new friends outside the yard. And despite the fact that his master maintained his health, groomed him, exerciesed him, and loved him, Fido preferred to love other things more. After climbing the fence and being picked up by the animal control officer one, two, four and six times, Fido’s master finally had enough. He just let the poor, stupid dog have his way. He ended up in the pound, and when no one claimed him or wanted him, he was finally put to sleep.

There are several disturbing subjects in the rest of Romans 1, and I have been debating about preaching them. For example, there is both male and female homosexuality, which I don’t want to ignore, but about which I’m not sure how to approach with so many small children among us. Then there is a litany of other sins, which would be difficult to make interesting without in some way glorifying them. These may be too difficult for me to handle directly or to go into too deeply. But then, maybe we need to be bored once again.

Despite these things, actually the most disturbing part of the rest of this chapter are not these sins. The most disturbing part of Romans 1 is what I’ve just illustrated in that dog story. Because it’s not really about dogs, it’s about our children and the children of our neighbors. It’s about children since the very first child ever born in this world. It’s about the Lord, and it’s about us.

There is a Greek word used in verses 24, 26 and 28 which borders on the unbelievable. It’s unbelievable because of the One to Whom it is tied. Even when the people of God’s creation knew the Lord, they glorified him not as God, “and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man.” “Wherefore God also GAVE THEM UP to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts.” And GOD GAVE THEM UP unto vile affections.” “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, GOD GAVE THEM OVER to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” What is so hard to believe is that God “GAVE UP” on these people. How can the omnipotent God, the loving God, the God of all patience “give up” on poor creatures like us?

This takes us into the heart of some of the most important doctrine in all the word of God. This attacks the heresies of thousands of so-called “Christian” churches around this country. This goes contrary to the liberal thinking and mushy hearts of so many of our neighbors and even ourselves.

Let’s begin with the period BEFORE God gave them up.

This sets the stage and makes the “giving up” that much more unbelievable. Quite properly so, Paul begins by referring to creation. In our Sunday School class for the last two months, I have been trying to prove that a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is essential Christian doctrine. For someone to say that God didn’t DIRECTLY create this universe in six days, is to sever a major artery in Christianity and begin to starve nearly ever book of the Bible of part of its life-giving flow.

In the latest issue of “Christianity Today” magazine, there was an editorial called “Answering the Atheists.” Despite having a good outline, it showed the corruption of modern Christendom – Christianity today. The author said, “Here is a Reader’s Digest version of why I am” a Christian. First point – “Creation: The universe, far from being a howling wasteland indifferent to our existence, appears to be finely tuned . . . . . . .to support life on this planet.” Amen! He quoted another man to say, “I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.” Amen! This is absolutely true, but that man destroyed his Christian credibility in his opening sentence in those dot-dot-dots that I didn’t read. “Creation: The universe, far from being a howling wasteland indifferent to our existence, appears to be finely tuned through its estimated 13.7 billion years of existence to support life on this planet.” That reference to “13.7 billion years” proves that the author either knows nothing of the Bible or else he denies the very Word of God. He isn’t supporting the Bible Christian, but encouraging the atheist in his attack upon the Word of God, by casting a shadow over the clear declarations of Genesis 1, Exodus 20 and dozens of other scriptures.

Paul starts out in Romans 1 reiterating God’s creation of the universe, but then points out that like the author of that editorial, mankind has denied the Creator almost from the beginning. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up.” Along with creating us, and the universe in which He placed us, God has fed us and maintained us. He has supplied our every need. But unfortunately, we often confuse our wants with our needs. And for this reason most of our neighbors, although pretending a November thankfulness, aren’t really thankful toward their Creator for all that they enjoy and possess.

But then, leaving the less important physical things, the Lord has been our God in Spiritual things as well. Our divine Master has been the very kindest and gracious of Masters. He has fed us though His prophets in the Holy Scriptures (verse 2). We have Genesis 1 and 2 on which to feed, if we are hungry about our origins. And we have a hundred and fifty Psalms to learn and sing and memorize. We have histories about our past, and we have prophesies of our future. The Lord has fed us well. And He has taken us to obedience school in places like Proverbs, showing us how to live from day to day and from step to step. But obedience is such a hard school, we think, and we would rather live in disobedience.

So the Lord built fences around us to keep evil from us and us from evil. We have Exodus 20 and the Ten Commandments. We have almost the entire Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible. In fact, the Bible is peppered with the laws of God so often that those laws are hard to miss. No wonder the average person doesn’t really like to read the Word of God. No wonder the average puppy dog wants to jump the fence, make up his own rules for life, play with the devil’s children and take his own chances in life. Sure he wants to feast from the Master’s table, but most of us are willing to forgo that pleasure, if we can enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, outside the yard.

So the Lord gave them up.

Even when the people of God’s creation knew God, they glorified him not as God, “and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man.” “Wherefore God also GAVE THEM UP to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts.” And “GOD GAVE THEM UP unto vile affections.” “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, GOD GAVE THEM OVER to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.”

How can the omnipotent and most patient God finally give up on training His creatures? It’s not an admission of divine defeat; the Lord is not throwing up His hands and shaking His head. This is one of those segments of Christian doctrine which is so hated by the natural man. The point of this point is that we are all dogs – we are sinners – with a heart naturally bent towards jumping the fence and seeking our own sinful way. We are NOT all little replicas of God: we are not all little deities, or bearing in our hearts seeds of divinity. We are all children of our first family, depraved sinners, reprobate hearts, and evil-minded rebels. When God gave up on some of us, all He was doing was withdrawing the food dish, the comfortable yard, the trips to the vet and periods of mutual joy. When God gave them up, He was letting them be the run-away dogs that their hearts said that they were.

The Greek word translated “gave them up” and “gave them over” is very common in the New Testament. It is used over a hundred times in a variety of ways. Its most common translation is “delivered” and next comes “betrayed.” Under the mercy of God, we are often kept from our true selves, our wickedness, our wretchedness. But when God gives us up, He lets that wickedness puff us up until we explode in evil behaviour. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” The reason that we don’t see more of these terrible things in ourselves, in our children and in our neighbors is due to the mercy of the Creator. And the reason that we ARE seeing more and more and more of these things in our society is due to the fact that we are nearing the last days, and God is beginning to withdraw His restraining hand. Thessalonians and Revelation teach us that in the not too distant future, that restraint will be completely removed and the world will feel wickedness in ways that only Hollywood has thus far imagined.

The Greek word translated “gave them up” is translated “delivered” over fifty times. And it is often used to talk about a criminal being delivered into the hands of a jailor or executioner. And this is still the essential meaning of the word in this passage as well. Acts 27:1 – “And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they DELIVERED Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band.” “And when we came to Rome, the centurion DELIVERED the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.” II Peter 2:4 – “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and DELIVERED them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” When God gave up these unthankful, unworshipping, unbelievers, He was merely turning them over to the judgment that they deserve for their crimes. That may not be a popular opinion, but it is a true Bible doctrine.

Consider specifically how Paul actually used this word here in Romans. Verse 24 – “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own HEARTS, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.” God gave up these fence-jumpers to do what their wicked HEARTS desired. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The human heart – soul – is not a good place, a good thing – it is a workshop of evil. Verse 26 – “For this cause God gave them up unto vile AFFECTIONS: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” The Greek word translated “affections” is “pathos” which is somewhat rare in our Bibles. But it’s a relatively common English word referring to a king of human EMOTION. When men refuse God, He often releases them to be ruled by their emotions. No wonder our world is filled with the emotions of hatred, greed, rivalry and their resultant blood-shed. In these verses we ought to be able to see the very reason our world is as it is today. Verse 28 – “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate MIND, to do those things which are not convenient.” God gave them up to follow their misguided MINDS – their corrupt MINDS – their sinful imaginations. No wonder our world so quickly has assimilated the foolishness of evolution, astrology, and atheism. These are products of the unthinking mind.

One of the most sad aspects of all this is that we aren’t talking about puppy dogs, nor are we talking about a few of the children of men. These things are true of all of us. We are all dogs, we are all sinners, with hearts yearning to jump the Lord’s fences. It’s only by the grace and mercy of God that the Lord doesn’t “give up” on all of us.

And yet, there is a bright spot in all this – actually an exceptionally brilliant light.

The theme of this message is “God’s giving up.” The word “paradidomi” (par-ad-id’-o-mee) is found in some absolutely wonderful scriptures along with the more negative ones. For example, Romans 4:24-25 teaches that there are thousands of human dogs whom the Lord delights to rescue, save from the lethal injection, and give new hearts and minds. Specifically it says that God’s righteousness “shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was DELIVERED (given up) for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” God the Father “gave up” – “delivered” His Son in order to save us from ourselves. Romans 8:28-32 says –“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. He that spared not his own Son, but DELIVERED (gave) him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” And Galatians 2:20 – “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and GAVE “paradidomi” (par-ad-id’-o-mee) himself for me.” And Ephesians 5:2 – “Christ also hath loved us, and hath GIVEN “paradidomi” (par-ad-id’-o-mee) himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”

Even though all the Lord’s dogs are fence jumpers by nature, He hasn’t given up on them all. There have been tens of thousands for whom God has gone to the dog-pound and given up himself to redeem them. The Lord Jesus Christ has paid the price to bring thousands of the sinful children of Adam home to Himself. And the price that was paid was His own precious life and blood.

All that He asks of us is to enjoy His redemption. He asks us to admit to our wicked nature – to repent before the Master. And He asks us to trust Him, love Him and go home with Him. But as long as we live in rebellion, keep jumping the fence, and refusing His blessings, we prove that we still have the heart of Gentile dogs.