The Immeasurable Difference – Romans 1:22-23

 
It is so far back in my memory, that I can’t remember if I was the subject or if it was my sister. For the sake of the story, let’s say that it was me. Some time after our family moved from Calgary to Omaha, Nebraska, we were in a store, and I wanted to buy something. I was old enough to know the cost, and I knew that I had the cash to make the purchase. So as mother watched, I reached into my wallet & pulled out a couple of dollars, handing them to the clerk. She laughed and said something like, “Honey, we can’t accept play money for purchases like this.” I was hurt, confused and embarrassed, until my mother came to my rescue. She hadn’t noticed that all I had were a couple of Canadian dollar bills in my wallet. If that clerk had just known that the Canadian dollar would one day be more valuable than the U.S. dollar she might have been a little more helpful.

Obviously, play money doesn’t have the same value as good, old fashioned, U.S. federal reserve notes. Or is that really obvious???? There seems to be a measurable difference between the two. Similarly, most people, if they had a choice, would much prefer grandmother to a picture of grandmother. And to a really hungry person on a diet, a tiny bowl of cottage cheese with a few sprinkles of sunflower seeds on top is not as exciting as a great big banana split. These illustrations make perfect sense to just about all of us. It doesn’t take a great deal of intelligence to understand them. We don’t have to be theologians to grasp these principles; we don’t have to have college educations. Even the most depraved, degraded, desperate remnant of humanity can understand these things.

Why then does man in his fallen and depraved condition prefer a fake god to the real one? Obviously, it is because he is fallen and in a depraved condition. Money, loved ones and food are all things which fall in and around our universal human condition. We can understand these things, and we know the difference between the real thing and the imitation. But when we reach from humanity to deity, we are talking about things as different as gravel and grapes. To compare God and man is not like apples and oranges, but lead and diamonds, or life and death. And yet, despite knowing the difference we almost always choose the fake.

Verse 23 reminds us just a little about the immeasurable difference that there is between God and man. I suppose that we could examine that difference in a thousand or even a million ways. But I will try to confine myself to part of what is suggested here. Let’s lay aside the reference to birds, beasts and bugs, and think about man’s favorite false god – himself. Jehovah is incorruptible, but man is not only corruptible, he is already corrupted and corrupt.

How is man corruptible?

The words “corruptible” and “uncorruptible” are clearly opposite to one another. One is “phthartos” (fthar-tos’) and the other “aphthartos” (af’-thar-tos). I surprised myself the other day when I looked up all the references to “phthartos” (fthar-tos’). Usually when I do that I come up with a few important verses along with some more obscure ones. But in this case all six uses of the word are significant – they are all potential memory verses. I Corinthians 9:25 says, “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a CORRUPTIBLE crown; but we an INCORRUPTIBLE.” Paul was using contemporary sports as an illustration of Christian service. And in some Greek games, the winners received nothing more than a wreath woven with ivy or some other plant which quickly faded, dried and fell apart. But Christians serve an incorruptible God who rewards proper service with incorruptible glories. I Corinthians 15 says, “For this CORRUPTIBLE must put on INCORRUPTION, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this CORRUPTIBLE shall have put on INCORRUPTION, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” Here Paul is saying that we currently live in dying, inferior bodies, but soon we shall be given bodies more in tune with God’s eternal being and purpose – incorruptible. I Peter 1:18 and 23 “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with CORRUPTIBLE things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers. “Being born again, not of CORRUPTIBLE seed, but of INCORRUPTIBLE, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” Salvation from sin has nothing to do with any earthly, tangible, changeable, deteriorating substances. Even the most precious things on earth are not to be compared to the things of God and Heaven. If these six scriptures say anything at all, it is that there is a huge difference between the things of earth and the things of God. What we possess and sometimes enjoy here on earth are crumbling in our hands, but what God holds and gives is as eternal and unchangeable as He is.

And do I need to point out ways in which man himself is corruptible? I shouldn’t have to, but this wouldn’t be much of a sermon if I didn’t. Man is corruptible in the sense that from the moment he is born he has to struggle to keep from crumbling. I was looking at our grand-daughter’s new-born hospital pictures, and I see huge changes after 6 weeks. But she is putting every moment of the day and every ounce of her energy into making that progress. And then I look at the other smaller children in our church, and I see even more progress. But all too quickly we seem to reach a point where we can’t rest enough, eat enough and devote time enough to progress, and as a result decline commences. Sahalie’s skin is so soft, so delicate, so sensitive, but then there is mine. She is covered with hair so soft and fine that it’s more like spider’s silk than hair. And then there is our hair. If yours isn’t falling out faster than it’s growing in, it will be soon. Sahalie doesn’t have to wear glasses, but many of us do, and most of us will eventually. About two months ago, I had to change part of my exercise program, when I went back to it this week, after that short period of time, I was barely able to do it, my muscles had so quickly atrophied. On and on, I could go talking about the weaknesses of my corruptible body – and then we could move on to yours.

Ultimately those weaknesses and that corruption will culminate in death. It is impossible to say how many billions of people have lived upon this earth since the days of Adam. But I do know that – of those who were here but who are not today – those who did not die can be counted on our fingers. Death is essentially universal because corruption is absolutely universal. The cells which make up the bodies in which you and I live, are constantly dying and are ever in need of replacement. When we can’t replace them quickly enough, then the corruption becomes apparent. Man, bird, four-footed beast and all creeping things die, because they are corrupt.

Not only that, but man is corruptible in a spiritual sense. And that was true even before the entrance of sin into the equation. Adam and Eve were not created sinners – they were created innocent. Adam and Eve were not created fallen – but they were created corruptible in the sense that they could be corrupted. Along came the Satanically empowered serpent, and along came Eve. The first human beings listened to bad counsel and chose sin over God and His righteousness. They were corruptible and became the corrupted sinners with which we are so familiar when we look into the mirror.

So here come our children and grandchildren into our lives. Products of our own bodies and of our own hearts. When Sahalie cries, Jackie doesn’t spank her, and at this point we don’t let her cry until she falls asleep. Because she doesn’t cry as a rebel; she isn’t defying our will; she isn’t behaving like a child of the Devil. Right now, she cries only because she has legitimate needs which she can’t meet herself. But even though that baby doesn’t behave like a child of the Devil, she is. It will not be long before she is susceptible to all the suggestions and temptations to which we have fallen. And the fight that hopefully she’ll wage against those temptations will never really stop until she succumbs to the ultimate corruption or until the Lord translates and glorifies her. You and I may not be plagued by the same temptations that bothered us 10 years ago, or 30, or 50, but we still have plenty of corruptibility within us.

And the reason that we still give-in to those temptations, is because we are already corrupt. That is – we are sinners, filled with a naturally growing propensity for more sin. No wonder we want to imprison the truth of God and pull out deities as corrupt as ourselves. “Professing ourselves to be wise, we have proven ourselves to be fools, changing the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to ourselves.”

When I first started coming to this area to preach and to help establish this church, many of the young people here had posters of a very good Seattle Seahawk running back. I wouldn’t accuse them of worshiping the man, but they held the man up as some sort of hero. But to be honest with you, I can’t remember the man’s name. Furthermore, I’m not sure that those young people who revered him at the time, could tell me his name either. (I won’t ask Bro. Bill, because he could probably tell me, even though he probably didn’t worship the man.) But I say that to point out the folly of worshiping men, whose natural corruptness will pull them from the spotlight and into the shadows very, very quickly. “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

And that brings us to the other side of the equation – The incorruptible God.

How is God uncorruptible? All we have to do is turn everything that I have said around, and we have the answer. I Timothy 1:17 fits my need at this point perfectly – “Now unto the King ETERNAL, IMMORTAL, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Without using the word, I have just reminded you that we are all “mortal.” In both English and Greek, or any other language, the word “mortal” means “liable to die or dying.” We have mortal – dying bodies. But “if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your MORTAL bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” On the other hand, our God, our Saviour, Jehovah, is not mortal or prone to death – he is IMMORTAL which means that He is incapable of death.

Furthermore He is ETERNAL – which takes the word “immortal” into another dimension. He is not only incapable of death, but the Lord possesses eternal life. Unlike our souls which are eternal only by the decree of God; God is eternally self-existent. And unlike ourselves who have obtained life by the will of God, He has always been. The Lord has always been, and He will always be, because He is eternal and incorruptible.

And looking at the word from the other direction, He cannot be corrupted. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” One of the essential elements of elemental theology is “impeccability.” The word comes out of Latin: “Pecc-Are” is the Latin word for “sin” and with the prefix, it talks about the impossibility of sin. I believe that Jesus Christ is impeccable – He cannot sin, and never could sin, even when he was residing on earth in a very real human body. Of course, the Holy Spirit cannot sin, because as His title suggests, He is absolutely holy. And God the Father cannot sin either. Not one of the Trinity can be successfully tempted with evil.

So Jehovah is the incorruptible God. Man is totally corrupt and further corruptible. And that corruption is the only explanation for man’s worship of anything less than God. When our forefathers knew God, “they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” And we have followed their examples. We have “changed the truth of God into a lie and worshipped and served the creature, more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” We refused even to retain God in our knowledge, so no wonder God has give us over to a reprobate mind. And despite intuitively knowing the judgment of God, that we are worthy of death for sinning against the Lord, we not only do we continue in sin, but we take pleasure in those that sin with us.

Romans 1:23 points out the immeasurable difference between God and man, and still man chooses to worship himself and other aspects of Creation before he worships the Lord. That is absolutely astounding. That is perfectly understandable when we realize how corrupt with sin that we are.