Those who practice such things
Romans 1:18-32 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of 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 over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
Many people today would prefer to avoid this portion of scripture or at least argue that these are Paul’s words and not the words of Jesus. After all Jesus was a friend of sinners and outcasts. In Matthew 7:1-5 He says: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” When Christians focus on the portion of Paul’s message which speaks of immorality and sexual sins without acknowledging what he says about other sins: 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, indeed as Jesus says and the world agrees, they are hypocrites, who will be judged by their own standard.
It’s not though, that Jesus condones sin, it’s just that He condemns judgment. Just a few verses after saying we should not judge, in Matthew 7: 13-14 He says: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” It’s pretty clear, according to Jesus words that there is a path both to life and destruction. Again a few verses later, 21-23 Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” There is a key word in what Jesus says. The ones He says He does not know, the ones He says should depart from Him are the ones who “practice lawlessness.” There is a difference between committing a sin or sins and practicing them. As Paul says later in his letter to the Romans, in Romans 3:23: All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Everyone has committed sin and everyone, even the most good and righteous person will commit sin again. There is a difference though for those who practice sin. To practice something is to do it repetitively, so as to become better or more proficient at doing it. Those who practice sin and lawlessness, do it intentionally, with a desire to get better at sin.
One of the greatest challenges our society and culture faces is that we have become so polarized on nearly everything that we only see and focus on our differences. The church, rather than being a light to our culture, has itself become polarized, disagreeing on many of these same issues. There may be no more polarizing issues in our society, our culture and the church today than the issues of morality and sexuality. In society the buzzwords which drive the debate are tolerance, inclusiveness, identify. Although these same terms are used within the church, the real debate there is whether to default to grace or adhere to the law. The problem is the more we are polarized, the farther apart we become. In truth it should not be either or, rather it is both. Jesus didn’t say we should not help to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. He says we first must remove the log from our own so that we can see clearly. In Romans 7:15-25 Paul says: What I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate… For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good… Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! It is only through Jesus, by grace that any of us can overcome the sin we commit. When we view others we must then also view them through eyes cleared by grace. Grace though does not do away with righteousness. Grace does not make lawlessness righteousness. By grace sinners, not sin, are redeemed. Jesus Himself says in Matthew 5:17-20: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The church needs to resist the ideology of tolerance and inclusion while maintaining grace. The only identity that can overcome sin is the identity with Christ. He fulfills the law and in Him, by grace we are made righteous. Look carefully at the first line of today’s text. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The wrath of God is not against men, but rather against all ungodliness and unrighteousness; against the suppression of truth in unrighteousness. God’s wrath is not against sinners, it is against sin. God’s love and grace, not wrath, are revealed to sinners through Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the law of righteousness. The church needs to hold fast to both grace and righteousness so that it can be a light to the world, leading to the narrow way of life. The narrow way is not found on the side that is focused only on the law and righteousness. Neither is the narrow way found on the side of grace for sin. The narrow way is found between grace and righteousness. It is both. The narrow way is found in Christ.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for the grace to overcome and not practice sin. Thank You that Your wrath is against sin and not sinners. Thank You that because of the grace I have received, I can see others through eyes of grace. Holy Spirit help me, like You to love people, to love sinners, yet hate sin. Help me to walk in the narrow way of grace and righteousness. Help me to walk in Christ. In His name I pray. Amen.