Everyone Is Lost in Sin

| Romans 1:18-25,28-32; 3:9-10

Life Impact: This lesson will help you discover that people are not naturally good and thus right with God. It will help you see that our human standards of right and wrong are twisted and perverted. And it will help you understand why some people delight in doing evil and encourage others in it.

People Suppress the Truth That God Exists:  Romans 1:18-20.

[18]  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.    [NASU]

[18-20]  In verses 16-20, Paul develops an argument of sustained logic. He refers successively to the power of God [16], the righteousness of God [17], the wrath of God [18] and the glory of God in creation [19-20]. Moreover, each statement he makes is linked to the preceding one by for. One can speak of a fourfold self-revelation of God in these verses. Working backwards, first, God reveals His glory (His eternal power and divine nature) in His creation [20]. Secondly, He reveals His wrath against the sin of those who suppress their knowledge of the Creator [18]. Thirdly, He reveals His righteousness (His righteous way of putting sinners right with Himself) in the gospel [17]. Fourthly, He reveals His power in believers by saving them [16]. Reflection on the wrath of God [18] raises three questions about its nature, objects and outworking. (1) What is the wrath of God? Human anger, although there is such a thing as righteous indignation, is mostly very unrighteous. It is an irrational and uncontrollable emotion, containing much vanity, animosity, malice and the desire for revenge. It should go without saying that God’s anger is absolutely free of all such poisonous ingredients. Wrath is God’s deeply personal abhorrence of evil. The alternative to ‘wrath’ is not ‘love’ but ‘neutrality’ in the moral conflict. And God is not neutral. On the contrary, His wrath is His holy hostility to evil, His refusal to condone it or come to terms with it, His just judgment upon it. (2) Against what is God’s wrath revealed? In general, the wrath of God is directed against evil alone. Scripture is quite clear that the essence of sin is godlessness. It is the attempt to get rid of God and, since that is impossible, the determination to live as though one had succeeded in doing so. God’s wrath is directed against the godlessness and wickedness of those people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. What truth has Paul in mind? He tells us in verses 19-20. It is that knowledge of God which is available to us through the natural order. What Paul says here is that through general revelation people can know God’s power, deity and glory (not His saving grace through Christ), and that this knowledge is enough not to save them but rather to condemn them, because they do not live up to it. Instead, they suppress the truth by their wickedness [18], so that they are without excuse [20]. It is against this willful human rebellion that God’s wrath is revealed. (3) How is God’s wrath revealed? It is being revealed from heaven now, he says [18], and he goes on to explain it by his terrible threefold refrain God gave them over [24,26,28]. God’s wrath operates not by his intervention but precisely by his not intervening, by letting men and women go their own way. God abandons stubborn sinners to their willful self-centeredness, and the resulting process of moral and spiritual degeneration is to be understood as a judicial act of God.

People Prefer Their Own Gods: Romans 1:21-25.

[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.    [NASU]

[21]  The first part of 21 is connected to the last clause of 20 and gives the reason why those concerned are without excuse. The cognitive perception elicited from the manifestation of God’s glory in the visible creation is spoken of as ‘knowing God’. To honor God as God is not to augment God’s glory or add to it. It means simply to ascribe to God the glory that belongs to Him as God, to give to Him in thought, affection, and devotion the place that belongs to Him in virtue of the perfections which the visible creation itself makes known. This glory they failed to ascribe to Him and they were destitute of that gratitude which the knowledge possessed should have elicited and which ought to have expressed itself in thanksgiving. Heathenism is the result of a falling away from the known original revelation of the true God in His works. The mind of man is never a religious vacuum; if there is the absence of the true, there is always the presence of the false. The thought is that the heart as the seat of feeling, intellect, and will, already destitute of understanding, was darkened.

[22,23]  These verses are a further description of this degenerate state and of the religious degradation in which it resulted. They exchanged the glory of God as the object of adoration and worship for something else. The glory of God is the sum of those perfections, referred to in the preceding context, as made manifest in God’s visible creation [19,20]. The monstrosity appears in the fact that not only did they worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator but that for the glory of God they substituted the likeness of an image of corruptible man.

[24] Here Paul deals with the divine retribution upon the apostasy of verses 21-23. Therefore indicates that the retribution finds its ground in the antecedent sin and is a just infliction for the sin committed. The retribution consists in giving up to uncleanness. It needs to be noted that the penalty inflicted belongs to the moral sphere as distinguished from the religious. Religious degeneracy is penalized by abandonment to immorality; sin in the religious realm is punished by sin in the moral sphere. The main question in this verse is that involved in the giving up. The term God gave them over implies that they were consigned by God to this retribution. There is undoubtedly a natural law of consequence operative in sin; it intensifies and aggravates itself when there is no restraint placed upon it. This cycle or sequence is part of sin’s retribution. God’s displeasure is expressed in his abandonment of the persons concerned to more intensified and aggravated cultivation of the lusts of their own hearts with the result that they reap for themselves a correspondingly greater toll of retribution.

[25]  This verse repeats the thought of verse 23 and serves three purposes: (1) it unfolds the character of the offence; (2) it reaffirms the ground upon which the judicial infliction rested; and (3) it vindicates the gravity of the infliction by emphasizing the religious perversity on account of which the penalty was imposed. The causal connection (for) points to the kind of persons they were as those who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and therefore merited the abandonment given to them. The first clause points up the extreme iniquity of exchanging the truth which they had known for that which is the contradiction of the truth, namely, the lie. In this way the ultimacy of the antithesis between truth and falsehood is exposed and the reason for God’s judicial abandonment is made more obvious. The truth of God is the truth God has made known. The second clause may well be taken as setting forth the way in which the exchange of the lie for the truth came to expression in the concrete acts of worship and religious devotion. The doxology with which verse 25 closes is a spontaneous outburst of adoration evoked by the mention of God as the Creator and in reaction against the dishonor described in the preceding clauses. The implication is that the dishonor done by men does not detract from this intrinsic and unchangeable blessedness that belongs to God.

People Delight in and Applaud Evil: Romans 1:28-32.

[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.    [NASU]

[28]  In this verse Paul shows that God’s judicial abandonment was not confined to that form of degradation mentioned in verses 27-28 and in verses 29-32 he provides us with a summary catalogue of other vices to which the nations were given over. The sin in verse 28 is described as refusing to have God in their knowledge. The thought is that they did not deem God fit to have in their knowledge. They did not cherish the knowledge of God because they did not consider God worthy of such thought and attention. The corresponding retribution is that God gave them over to a depraved mind, a mind that is rejected because deemed worthless. A reprobate mind is therefore one abandoned or rejected of God and therefore not fit for any activity worthy of approval or esteem. The judgment of God falls upon the seat of thought and action and shows that the mind as conceived of by the apostle is concerned with action as well as with thought.

[29-31]  These verses contain a catalogue of vices. We are impressed with the length of the list and with the variety of vice. But, after all, this is only a selection. Unrighteousness is a generic term and suggests that it is the genus of which the other vices are specifications. The stress falls upon the completeness with which unrighteousness had come to exercise control over its subjects. It is a picture of the utmost degeneracy. As we scan the whole list we cannot but be impressed with the apostle’s insight into the depravity of human nature as apostatized from God, the severity of his assessment of these moral conditions, and the breadth of his knowledge respecting the concrete ways in which human depravity came to expression.

[32]  This concluding verse may also be regarded as the culminating indictment against those whom the apostle has been describing. The extreme gravity of their offence consists in this that they give hearty approval to those who practice them. Notwithstanding their knowledge of God’s judgment upon these things they went on doing them and applauding the others who practiced the same. We can infer the following from what Paul says here. (1) The most degraded of men, degraded because judicially abandoned of God, are not destitute of the knowledge of God and of his righteous judgments. (2) This knowledge does not of itself prevent these same persons from indulging the sins which they know merit the judgment of God and issue in death. (3) The knowledge of God’s righteous judgment does not create any hatred of sin nor does it foster any disposition to repent of it. The most damning condition is not the practice of iniquity, however much that may evidence our abandonment of God and abandonment to sin; it is that together with the practice there is also the support and encouragement of others in the same practice.

Even Religious People Are Lost: Romans 3:9-10.

[9]  What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; [10]  as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;”      [NASU]

[9-10]  Paul appears almost to personify sin as a cruel tyrant who holds the human race imprisoned in guilt and under judgment. Sin is on top of us, weights us down, and is a crushing burden. Paul supplies a series of seven Old Testament quotations, the first probably from Ecclesiastes, then five from the Psalms and one from Isaiah, all of which bear witness in different ways to human unrighteousness. Paul follows here a common rabbinical practice of stringing passages together like pearls. Three features of this grim biblical picture stand out. First, it declares the ungodliness of sin. Scripture identifies the essence of sin as ungodliness. God’s complaint is that we do not really seek Him at all, making His glory our supreme concern, that we have not set Him before us, that there is no room for Him in our thoughts, and that we do not love Him with all our powers. Sin is the revolt of the self against God, the dethronement of God with a view to the enthronement of oneself. Ultimately, sin is self-deification, the reckless determination to occupy the throne which belongs to God alone. Secondly, this catena of Old Testament verses teaches the pervasiveness of sin. For sin affects every part of our human constitution, every faculty and function, including our mind, emotions, sexuality, conscience and will. The totality of our corruption refers to its extent (twisting and tainting every part of our humanness), not to its degree (depraving every part of us absolutely). Thirdly, the Old Testament quotations teach the universality of sin, both negatively and positively. Negatively, there is no one righteous, not even one [10]; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God [11]; there is no one who does good, not even one [12b]. Positively, all have swerved aside, all alike have become debased [12a]. The repetition hammers home the point.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Describe the logic of 1:16-20. What is the wrath of God? It has been said that the best and clearest indication of God’s wrath against sin is the Cross. Why is this true?

2.         What role does general revelation play in the universal condemnation of the sinner due to their rejection of God?

3.         In 1:21-32, Paul emphasized two points: unrighteousness always follows idolatry and there is always a progression in sin. Why are these two points true? How do you see these things happening in your own life; in the lives of others; in the world?

4.         Three times Paul describes God’s response to human sinfulness as God gave them over. What does Paul mean by this statement?


The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Intervarsity.