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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 19

Meditation Title: Given over by God


Rom 1:24 . Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.


So often in life there are two ways of looking at things and this is no more true than in the spiritual realm. Over the past thirty or forty years in the West we have seen a loosening up of sexual morals, heralded by some as a great freedom. That is how they see it, but in reality it is something completely different. It is the disciplinary judgment of God. Now back in Meditation 15 we observed that when God brings discipline or judgement, it is a form of remedial action. It is either to stop permanently a course of action by removing the person who God sees will not change whatever they say or do, or it is corrective in the way it stops a person following the course they are following so that they follow a new path that is not hurtful, harming or destructive.

The story or parable of the Prodigal Son told by Jesus is a classic illustration of this. The son wanted to leave home and do his own thing. Now the father could have stopped him and given him nothing to prevent him going but he didn't. Instead he gave him his share of the inheritance and let the son go away and do whatever he wanted. As we hear the parable unwind, we hear of the son going away, spending all he has and ending up feeding pigs who he considers better off than himself. It is that at this point that he comes to his senses and goes back to his father who welcomes him with open arms.

What people have not realised is that God does restrain us, does restrain society, probably by speaking quietly into our hearts and pointing out the folly of our thoughts, but when God sees that our hearts are strongly turning away from Him and desiring to go into wilful disobedience, He stops any restraining activity and gives them over to the behaviour that they have thought about. In other words He removes any restrictions and allows Satan to encourage them into their folly so that, like the prodigal son, they will go to the depths in their folly until they come to themselves and realise their stupidity and return to God. Of course not everyone does but through this strategy God gives them every help towards coming to their senses, and so they can never say He didn't warn them!

But note in our verse today the starting word, “Therefore.” This links the verse with what has gone before. It is God's response to what has gone before, i.e. because people had turned away from God and gone into futile thinking, the Lord stepped back and gave them over to, or simply allowed them to go into all of the weird things their minds could dream up. Of course we are sensual beings and so sexual desire is perhaps the most obvious way their thoughts will turn – why can't we do that? It was because they were turning their minds to the ways of futility, that God allowed their desires to rise up under the power of sin to do things that would become self-destructive.

But what did God give them over to? “God gave them over …. to sexual impurity.” At this stage Paul is speaking in generalities. To understand “sexual impurity” it might be easier, first of all, to consider what sexual purity might mean. Surely God ‘designed' sex for both procreation and for pleasure and, within the confines of the teaching of the Bible, it is within a stable, committed relationship as an expression of love between a man and a woman. That would be ‘pure' sexual activity. ‘Impure' would thus be any sexual activity outside of a stable, committed relationship and which does not flow from love between a man and a woman, hence some versions translate it as ‘sexual immorality' indicating sexual activity outside of such a relationship.

Modern TV in the West at least, trivializes sexual activity and makes it no more than another physical activity like, say, eating and drinking. If you feel like it and you have someone else who feels like it, then do it. This demeans it or as Paul puts it, ‘degrades' it. It is no longer an expression of love but of pure personal self-gratification. Bizarrely it has made the forming of real and meaningful relationships more difficult. That has been one of the negative aspects of ignoring the divine design.

Of course it has also led to the breakdown of committed relationships through adultery which is common today. The hurt, pain and rejection and hostility that so often follows, are simply spin-offs of the inability to exercise self-control. It is also, surely, no coincidence that teenage pregnancies are at an all-time high, as are STDs. The fruits of this casual approach to sexual activity are clear and obvious in the twenty-first century. Our society is certainly demeaning or degrading itself, in the name of freedom, while all the time it does not realise that it is the work of God allowing this unrestrained ‘freedom' to wreak the fruits of this folly to bring people to their senses. This is a subtle form of disciplinary-judgment that will eventually bring destruction if not heeded, but which gives every opportunity for repentance to come as people see the folly of this godless lifestyle. May we understand this!







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 20

Meditation Title: Shameful Lusts


Rom 1:25-27 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.


Jewish writing in the Bible often uses parallelism, which is repeating the same thing but in a slightly different way. When we come to verse 25 we find Paul simply repeating what he has said in verse 23: “and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” He is reminding us again just why it is that God now acts like He does. He is responding to the foolishness of man who has turned from his Creator to the worship of man-made things. We need to keep that before us. It is because of what has already happened that God now acts in this way. Now because this tends to be a contentious subject we need to, from the outset, state that what we write is in no way an attack on any group of people, but simply an exposition of what Paul says. That is the important thing to observe.

So what does God do? “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.” (v.26) which is a parallel repeat of verse 24: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity.” Twice he has said that “God gave them over” or God let them loose to do what was in their hearts. The first time it was to ‘sexual impurity' and now it is to ‘shameful lusts'. Now before we move on to the descriptions of these, it is important to note the words just used. ‘Lusts' refer to powerful sensual desires. Not merely wants but powerful sensual desires.

But now comes the important word: “shameful”! These desires bring shame or disgrace. They are not the normal and acceptable desires of human experience. We desire food and we desire drink. A husband may desire his wife. Those are all acceptable desires, for they are part of God's design for us, but what Paul is going on to speak about is shameful or disgraceful; it shouldn't be. When someone does something that is disgraceful it is something that shouldn't have been done! When someone exclaims, “It's a disgrace!” you know they are denouncing that behaviour and implying it should never have happened.

Now why am I making this point so forcibly? It is because in the midst of the propaganda that has come in the past twenty to thirty years, there has been an argument that says homosexual behaviour is all right and that the Bible does not decry it. (Please observe a distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual behaviour). Paul is about to go on to decry homosexual behaviour and the reason I say he decries it is because of his description here of it: “shameful lusts.” Now if you see the parallelism you will see that in verse 24 he described them as “sinful desires”. From verse 24 he speaks of ‘desires' and in case you weren't clear about what he meant, he now in verse 26 uses the word for ‘lusts'. In verse 24 he spoke of ‘sinful desires' but in case you didn't catch the strength of that, he now speaks of them as ‘shameful lusts'. Sinful and shameful do not speak of acceptable behaviour.

Now consider what he is working towards: “Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Observe the language: “natural” and “unnatural” Remember this is God giving them over to do what they want to do, wrong things that will eventually bring such a bad harvest that it will drive them back to God – that is what we have seen previously. Now he describes this as people moving from ‘natural relations' or ‘natural relationships' to ‘unnatural' ones. Natural means ‘according to God's design', and ‘unnatural' means contrary to God's design. This is the big issue: what is God's design? He laid it out in Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24). That is the clear Biblical teaching and what is contrary to that design is ‘unnatural', simply by definition. This is not a moral condemnation; simply a logical definition. (Note in passing that Biblical teaching decries any sexual activity outside of marriage as less than God's design, and therefore general sexual promiscuity in any form is spoken against, not merely that involving homosexuals!)

There may be reasons, which psychologists in the past dared to suggest, why a person seems unable to find their natural inclinations towards the opposite sex, but even that is not the issue. The issue according to Paul is that these people who are godless, futile in their thinking and confused, have had the restraint lifted off their desires so that now they are inflamed with lust” which means they are driven by sexual desires for the same sex. Relationships with the same sex are not the issue. You can be good friends and even love someone (e.g. more likely a father or brother) – that is never the problem – the problem is when it turns into sexual desire; that is ‘the bridge too far' that Paul is speaking about. That, says Paul, is ‘perversion' (v.27), i.e. that is abnormal, and contrary to God's design.

We may be defensive about this subject but be quite clear about Paul's teaching here which is part of the canon of scripture and therefore part of that which he himself speaks of as “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16). The argument thus becomes, how do you value Paul's letter to the Romans? Is it in the same light as this verse? On what grounds do you reject it? It cannot be on the grounds of intellectual integrity; it must be on personal preference, and that cannot be good. We need to be honest with what he says.






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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 21

Meditation Title: Depraved Minds


Rom 1:28-29 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.


We commented in the previous meditation on the use of parallelism in the Scriptures, the repeating the verse but in a slightly different way. We have that again here. Previously Paul had said, “they … exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images,” (v.23) and “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (v.25). Thus Paul has spoken about ‘the glory of God', the ‘truth of God' and now simply the ‘knowledge of God.' Twice he has said they swapped it for something else and now he says they simply failed to ‘retain' it. They have let it go and taken on board something else, something completely different.

Note two things in passing: first Paul assumes that these three expressions about God are obvious to all people and, second, it has been an act of will on behalf of each person that has brought the change. They gave up their belief in God and took on some other belief. In fact here in these verses above he speaks about the sinful human attitude that brings this all about: “they did not think it worthwhile to…” That refers to the process in the human mind of thinking about something and coming to a judgment about it and the ‘it' in question is the knowledge of God. Now we may wonder how a person who has a knowledge of God can turn away from it but it is something we all do in our lives. Paul maintains that the truth of God is obvious from the wonder of His world but rather than let the wonder of His world point us to Him, we turn away from that and move into a life of self-centred, godless existence. That is what sin in us does, and we give way to it.

So the inclination is there within us and as we turn to it, God steps back and respects our foolishness and let's us go further and further into that way of thinking and living. It would appear from an observation of history that this happens in different seasons of history in greater or lesser measure. In the first half of the twentieth century there was a measure of restraint in the moral attitudes of the West. In the latter half of the twentieth century there was a casting off of restraint. Did God see that we had not learnt through two World Wars, and so permitted us to follow a different way whereby over the coming years we would throw off restraint, as He allowed us, until we would eventually come to a place where we recognised the awfulness of this godless, foolish way of thinking and lifestyle, and would turn back to Him in a massive revival? Time will tell. But remember, it is not merely a human reaction, this casting off of restraint; it is a divine action also, of God allowing us to go down that path, with a very specific outcome in mind, as we reminded ourselves by reference to the parable of the prodigal son previously.

Now Paul moves on from what we do with our bodies (sexual activities) to explain that it is all because of what goes on in our minds. There is a distinct link between mind and action: “he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” A depraved mind leads to wrong action. ‘Depraved' simply means morally corrupt. When we talk about a corrupted computer disk we mean it has been spoiled or damaged so it doesn't work properly. A depraved mind is one that is, yes, morally bent, but more it is one that has been spoiled, damaged and doesn't work properly! It can't think straight; it can't think clearly; it gets it wrong all the time. Having moved away from the knowledge of God, from the knowledge of the truth, it constantly lives a lie, constantly lives in deception.

The outworking of this damaged thinking is that human beings thus become “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” Wickedness is simply moral wrong. Evil is the over-arching description of all that is wrong and utterly against God and God's design. It twists, distorts and causes harm to both people and property. Greed is self-centred desire that wants more and more to satisfy self-centred sensuousness. We see it in those working in the money markets and in politicians who feather their own nests - but it is there waiting for opportunity in every one of us. Depravity, as we have said, simply refers to our overall state of being corrupted, of being spoiled or damaged so we no longer work as we were designed by God to work.

A mind that has moved away from the truth has no checks or balances to restrain it and so continues in a downward spiral with behaviour to match. We think we are so great and we think we are free, but the reality is that we are slaves to sin and we cannot break free from this way of thinking and this way of life. It is only, as we have said before, as we are ploughed by the crises of life that the Holy Spirit is able to sow the seeds of conviction that draw us back to God where we can receive His salvation through Christ. Until then we are lost, confused by a depraved mind and dragged down by ever increasing desires for more personal pleasure to cover up our emptiness and meaninglessness. These verses are an accurate and graphic description of the human condition and reveal our need for the salvation that only Christ can bring. Pray for it to come to our nation.







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 22

Meditation Title: Every kind of wickedness


Rom 1:29-31 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful;


Now a tendency in the Christian world is to get upset mostly about sexual sin and especially that between members of the same sex. Yet the Bible is equally against adultery and promiscuity which are rife in modern western society. Moreover we are about to come to a list of things that are equally bad, some of which may shock us. Paul starts out with the descriptions we have already covered: “wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” Greed is probably the one that hits nearest the Christian community sometimes, when men and women get sucked into materialistic wanting more and more and eating more and more. That is just greed by another description. So when Paul carries on the list of things that are the outworking of depraved minds (ones that have been spoiled, damaged and don't work properly), it is a list that is equally bad as anything we have considered so far in these verses. Let's consider them one by one.

Envy' is being jealous of what other people have got , whether is it possessions, position or abilities. If you look at anyone in a negative way because of what they have and you don't have, this is you! And it's just as bad as all that has gone before!

Murder' is the unlawful taking of life. We probably all accept that is wrong!

Strife' refers to the act of striving with others; being in competition with them, fighting or quarrelling, struggling in conflict with them. In how many homes does this take place? In how many businesses does it take place? Instead of living in peace and harmony this speaks of a world of conflict where self-centredness fights for self against all-comers. This is what ungodly people do and what godly people should not be doing!

Deceit' is about representing as true what is known to be false ; it's deceiving or lying, being dishonest. Again in the stress and competition of modern life how much deceit is there, in families, in schools and colleges and in businesses?

Malice' is active ill will ; it is the desire to harm another by word or deed, to do them mischief out of spite. It is evil intent. Many of these things are all about bad attitudes and take us far from the people God designed us to be!

Gossips'? Isn't this the oil that lubricates the wheels of modern life? Isn't it what everybody does? A definition of a gossip is ‘ a person who chatters or repeats idle talk and rumors, esp. about the private affairs of others' . But, I suggest, it is usually more than this; it usually has an element of malice about it. Gossips usually tear apart a person's reputation, usually pull down that person. A gossip doesn't just pass on information; they do it with the desire to show that person in a bad light. That is not godly!

Slanderers'! Surely that's not me! So what is a slanderer? It is ‘speaking to others what is false about another person's character or reputation. ' It may be the expression of gossip or it may just be a straight forward pronouncement about another that is not true. How often are the media careless about checking the truth of what they say? I have spoken to a number of people who have been around a news item and rarely does anyone say it was reported accurately. American writers Rosenberg and Feldman wrote ‘No Time to Think' about the news media. The back covers declares, ‘They point out the half-truth, misconstrued truths, and outright lies that permeate the 24-hour news cycle.' It is devastating reading. It says that slander is a regular part of modern news in so many places.

God-haters,' being ‘actively hostile against God' must surely refer to the modern crusading atheists, but it must surely also include anyone who has a stake in making money immorally in the modern world, and there is a lot of that about. Such people often wouldn't like to be labeled a ‘God-hater' but if they are avidly anti-God that is what they are.

Insolent' refers to ‘language and behaviour that is disrespectful and contemptuous', and is often in respect of authority or of ethical morality. It is the abuse that you receive from those who feel threatened by your respectability, and there is a lot of it around!

Arrogant' refers to ‘the attitude that is full of haughty pride and self-importance' . It goes with brash behaviour. It is seen in those who think they are something and that you are nothing. It is delusion.

Boastful' refers to the expressions of the insolent and arrogant; it is bragging or boasting or making out they are greater of better than they actually are. It is another sign of delusion, or of a depraved mind that is not working properly.

There, we have just seen, are eleven expressions of this depraved mind that is not working properly, for that is what all these things are. They are people in whom sin twists or distorts their thinking so that these things are the outworking. There are more to come, but these are enough to be going on with for the moment. They come as a challenge to us. Oh yes, we Christians say, that's what the world does, but check out the descriptions of these things again and make sure that there is not an ounce of them in your life!







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3


Meditation No. 23

Meditation Title: Deserving Death


Rom 1:29-32 They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them


We are working through this list that Paul presents to us, that are ways a depraved mind expresses itself through the lives of the godless. In the previous meditation we had got as far as ‘boastful'. Before we continue with the list it is worth reminding ourselves that these are the outworkings of a mind, we said, “that has been spoiled, damaged and doesn't work properly.” That is what depraved means and that is the mind of every person, says the Bible, who has never come to God and surrendered their lives back to Him. Let's continue the list.

“They invent ways of doing evil” i.e. these people are ever looking for new things to do to express their hearts, they are never content with where they are, there always needs to be something more, because nothing satisfies. One level of sexual perversity is never enough, there has to be more. One level of drug taking is never enough, there has to be more.

“They disobey their parents” i.e. they reject the first level of authority that they ever encounter in the world. In God's design parents are crucial to a good life and to blessing; that is why we find in the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) which Paul himself later reiterates: “Honor your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise -- "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6:2,3). How tragic it is in so many families that the parents provoke their children to disobedience and the children end up missing out on God's blessing!

‘Senseless' means having no good sense, being stupid or foolish or having no real point or purpose in life, meaningless. The expression of the depraved mind here is that they reveal that they are aimless by the stupid things they do. If they were rational they would look at what they do and realise this.

‘Faithless' means they lack faith or do not keep faith, which suggests being dishonest, disloyal, unreliable and undependable. They lack character.

Heartless' means they are hard and pitiless, they lack kindness or feeling, they are callous. Heartless people don't mind what happens to others, and look on others' misfortunes with scorn and derision.

Ruthless' means they are absolutely without pity in their activities in life, and this is just a further stage down the path away from God's design. Ruthless people cause harm to others without concern for the consequences or for the feelings of those they hurt.

Each of these latter descriptions take us further and further away from God's design for mankind and show us people who are behaving more like vicious animals than human beings made in the image of God, and all of this is the outworking of a mind that no longer works properly.

But these godless and unrighteous people continue down this path willfully and with knowledge. They know deep down that these things are utterly wrong and that before God they deserve to die. They are damaging themselves, they are harming others and they are damaging God's world. It is a miracle of grace and mercy that they are still alive! If we were God we would almost certainly have wiped them off this beautiful world that we had made, but God's grace and mercy has other plans!

Yet these people continue down this terrible path. They don't only do all these terrible things but they approve others who do them as well. It is like any form of sensitivity has been dulled or anaesthetised and so they are utterly careless as to where this path is taking them and about the effects they are having on others. They are utterly taken up with ‘self' regardless of the consequences. This is the plight of the human race and it is only a matter of degree as to its outworking. When God's hand of restraint rests upon us, these things are limited but when, in His wisdom, He decides that people are so set in their ways that He has to act, more often than not He simply lifts His hands of restraint off so that we are free to go down this terrible downward path until we are either destroyed or we come to our senses and call to the Lord to be saved. That is the divine strategy behind all we have been seeing in the latter part of this first chapter of Romans.







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 24

Meditation Title: Passing Judgment


Rom 2:1,2 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.


It is so easy to point fingers at other people, to look down on them for their less than perfect lives. This error tends to be the prerogative of the rich and the religious. We are concerned here only with the latter. It is an amazing thing that the Jews had such a feeling of superiority over Gentiles because, as we'll see as Paul moves on, they had been the people chosen by God and they were the receivers of the divine revelation – and the Gentiles (the rest of the world) weren't! Moreover tales from around the world of the immoral behaviour of the Gentiles made the Jews feel even more superior as they kept the Law. Except the only problem was that they didn't! At least they didn't keep it completely; they never managed to keep every single item of the Law. Indeed one of Jesus' objections about them was that they were more concerned with keeping the exact standards of the written law than they were in loving people and loving God. We might also say that, looking back on their history of repetitive failure in respect of their relationship with the Lord, they really had no grounds to feel superior – but they did.

So Paul is going to address the Jews in Rome first, and it will soon become obvious that it is the Jews he is addressing. He says that if they pass judgment on others, they have no excuse and are actually condemning themselves. He's going on to explain that in more detail in a moment, which we'll see in the next meditation, but for the moment let's just note Paul's objective in this section.

He has just spoken about how the ungodly world has gone down in a spiral of sin as they have let their depraved minds carry them away – and this has all been part of God's judgment. The sins that we have considered would have mostly been ones that the Law-keeping Jews would have mostly considered scandalous – as would most Christians. Oh my goodness, we might exclaim, I wouldn't do those things! Really? Paul says to the Jews that they had no ground to pass judgment on others because they do the same things! Well, it's only a little bit of harmless gossip. No it's not; it's still gossip. Oh there's nothing wrong with a little bit of ‘retail therapy'. Is that another way of saying it's alright to fuel your greed that looks to get more and more? Oh it's all right, surely, to want to be like those who are more beautiful, handsome or gifted than me? Is that another way of excusing your envy and covering up your lack of contentment? And when we see TV pictures of refugees and make negatives comments about how these ‘Third world people' live, isn't that an expression of heartlessness? Indeed even when we hear of growing numbers of teenage pregnancies and decry their immoral behaviour, isn't that actually the same heartlessness?

But there is something worse. Paul's list is not exhaustive. I have noted something over the years and it is that when people start trying to categorise sin they find that they never quite know when to stop. That's what the Pharisees of Jesus' day did. They sought to detail and explain the Law bringing everything under the umbrella of those rules. After a while life becomes so restrictive that you find you are only focusing on failure.

The apostle John had the same thing in mind: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8). The point that is being made again and again is that none of us have grounds to point fingers at others, first of all because we ourselves are not perfect. But there is another reason that is implied in our verses above: God's judgment is based upon truth – ours is based on only partial knowledge. When we point fingers at others, we don't know the whole picture.

We don't know the truth of what we think about them and we don't know the truth of why they are acting like they are. If we knew the whole truth we might restrain our judgmental tendencies. One writer tells the tale of how he was quietly sitting in a three quarters empty underground train when at the next stop a man and two young children boarded. The children were noisy and disruptive and the father made no attempt to subdue them. When it came time for this threesome to get off, the father, obviously aware of his children's noise, apologetically said to the writer, “I'm sorry, we've just visited their mother in hospital and she's dying of cancer and has only hours to live.” Suddenly the writer felt differently about this man and his children.

God's judgment is fair and just and based on the whole truth. Ours is not, and so we have no grounds on which to judge others. The final truth? We are all in need of the salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ.