In this remarkable passage Paul explains how people walk away from God. He lays out the tragic sequence of steps that carry us away from our Creator. And the main point of Pauls blunt analysis is clear: God didnt move away from us, we moved away from Him. He didnt reject us, we rejected Him because we wanted a different god, one we could control, one who wouldnt demand that we live holy lives. We discover that humans arent innocent victims whove been helplessly enslaved by the devil, but rather rebels willing to lie to ourselves and others in order to break free from Gods authority.
No one can accuse Paul of flattering us. He does nothing to spare us from the ugly truth. But the reason he does so is not to leave us condemned and ashamed, but rather to show us how to come back to God. He wants us to understand that we cant come home apart from deep repentance and grace. He doesnt want us fooling ourselves into believing we are essentially good people in need of just a little correction. No, to come back to God we must retrace the rebellious steps that led us away. We must recognize our rebellion and surrender at last to the Father who will insist that we become holy and pure like His Son. And thankfully, when we do we find He is able to bring even hardened rebels like us back to Himself.
In these verses Paul lists at least six steps that lead us away from God. We see, how sin progressively warps the sinners thinking.
1) (vs 18-22, 25) I lie to myself about God, refusing to see the truth because I dont want a holy God telling me what I can and cant do.
2) (v 23) I create new gods I can control and who will let me do what I want to do.
3) (v 24) In my attempt to free myself from God I find myself increasingly controlled by my body.
4) (vs 26, 27) I become enslaved by my appetites, especially in my sexual behavior, which become progressively distorted from their original purpose until they no longer resemble the reason for which God created them.
5) (vs 28-31) I change my moral values to relieve the tension between my conscience and my behavior. This removes any restriction to antisocial behavior. Its not just my sexuality thats affected.
6) (v 32) Still, I can never fully escape my conscience, but in order to silence its voice even further I encourage others to follow my example. This way I wont be alone in my behavior (Mt 18:7-9 stumbling blocks).
Why we reject God
In this passage Paul shows us that it isnt that God rejects us, but that we reject God. Here are three reasons I think we do this:
1) His standards (holiness) run counter to the impulses of our flesh.
Eat, drink and be merry vs. Crucify the flesh
Obeying God involves a great deal of self-denial
2) His authority and the threat of accountability offends our sense of independence.
Where does God get off thinking He has the right to tell us what to do?
The notion that we will stand before Him and be judged just makes us mad.
Will I repent and submit?
3) His rewards lay primarily in the distant future requiring us to wait patiently for a lifetime.
Im forced to live by faith that He will do what He says (Heb 11:6, 7; Noah)
Its not religion that offends people, its the holiness of God. So in order to escape we exchange the true God for one (or more) that we invent: gods we can control by doing religious works and who let us behave the way we want to.
The greatest damage
As I walk the road away from God the greatest damage I do is to myself. I convince myself that the truth is the opposite of what God says it is. I silence my own conscience and then aggressively work to undermine the convictions of others because I find that those who adhere to the old standards unsettle me. I want to be surrounded by people who agree with me. To some degree, I become an evangelist for my new religion.
God gave them over
Its possible to so damage my integrity that even God stops trying. My conscience goes nearly silent.
1) Have you ever given up on someone? Why? Was it because you stopped caring or because you stopped hoping that change was possible?
2) It might sound something like this: I finally realize you know whats right. The problem isnt ignorance or even weakness. Whether or not youll honestly admit it, youve chosen the path youre on and intend to continue.
3) Generally someone lies or misleads us for so long that we finally realize they are not really the person we thought they were. We realize we need to stop trying to change them.
4) We have to face the question: Can I continue in this relationship now knowing who you really are? Can I embrace a future of more of the same?
5) Genesis 6:5-8
every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
There comes a point where theres nothing left to reach to because the person is stubbornly set on doing what theyre doing or has convinced themselves that what they are doing is right or necessary. Maybe their perspective will change in the future but for now further discussion is pointless.
No one is so deaf as him who will not hear. No one is so blind as him who will not see.
Are we beyond hope?
If we have brought ourselves to this condition, are we then beyond hope? It would appear so but God is able to use crises to make us desperate, and when were desperate we get honest, and in those wonderful/terrible moments/seasons God reaches out in His mercy to invite the broken rebel to come home.
The road home (Lk 15:11-32)
1) (v 17) Stop lying to yourself. Admit the mess youve made.
2) Recognize it was you who rejected Him, not vice versa.
3) Understand returning means submission to a holy God who will insist that you change and become like His Son.
4) Accept the limitations God places on you in His Word and by the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit.
5) Expect to find a merciful Father who will cover the shame of your past (robe), immediately give you full spiritual authority (ring), and welcome you into His family (sandals).
The part God cant do for us, the part no one can do for us is repent, which essentially means surrendering and letting Him be God.
Review the steps
1) Repentance covers the root cause of the first three steps (Ro 1:18-24)
2) Faith in Christ covers the guilt accumulated by practicing the second three steps (Ro 1:26-32).
The Holy Spirit is then given to dwell in us to empower us to be free of the old enslaving forces. Thats what Paul will tell us in upcoming chapters of Romans.
So, are there any rebels here today whove grown desperate enough to be honest:
1) To admit that you know that God is there and that you must submit to Him and let Jesus be the Lord of your life?
2) To admit that your rebellion has unleashed terrible forces that have taken control of you and are destroying you and that you have been a bad influence on others?
3) To remove your rebellion and trust the death of Gods Son as the only payment big enough to cover your sin?
4) To run to God, not away from Him, confident that in His mercy He will welcome you, cover you with the robe of righteousness, put the ring of His Sons authority on your finger and the sandals of full membership in His family on your feet?
5) To quit lying to yourself and come home?
1) Was there a fear in you that if you really surrendered your life to God He would make you change in some way you didnt want to or do something that would make you miserable? If youre willing, tell us what that was.
2) If you have now fully surrendered, how has your life changed? Did Gods will make you miserable or blessed? If blessed, describe a few things that have changed.