When we claim to know better than God and pursue unrighteous living, God removes his protection and gives us over to those choices. God intends great things for us, and when we pursue unrighteous living, our bodies are dishonored.
When we as humans engage in prideful living, refusing to acknowledge the order God created in nature and refusing to submit to the knowledge of right and wrong God placed within us, we incur God’s wrath. The form of wrath Paul highlights here is a form that seems to be common in the Bible: God removes His hand of protection and allows us to obtain what we desire.
Paul shows a progression of judgment in three steps: God “gave them up” to lust (1:24) “gave them up” to passions (1:26) then “gave them up” to a debased mind (1:28). In each of these instances in verses 24, 26, and 28, the Greek phrase translated “God gave them up” is exactly the same, “paredoken autous ho theos.”
God’s judgment takes other forms as well. Sometimes God heaps upon people’s head the harm they wish on others and sometimes God simply intervenes. God also built a natural order of cause and effect into the universe. For example, Paul will tell us that the consequence of sin is death in chapter 6, repeating the same biblical theme that began in the first part of Genesis.
It seems God also restrains evil and gives people time before judgment. God says He pours out judgment on the third and fourth generation, mercifully providing two or three generations for repentance. God gave 120 years for repentance prior to Noah’s flood (Genesis 6:3). 2 Thessalonians 2:6 specifically says God’s Spirit is restraining evil.
Perhaps the most personal illustration of God restraining evil is found in Job where Satan complains to God concerning Job. Satan asserts that Job, God’s prize student of just living, has special protection from God, that God has “made a hedge around him” (Job 1:10) that prevented harm from coming to him. It seems something like this is implied in Romans 1, that there is a sort of protection God removes when we pursue sin unrelentingly so that we are “given up” to the natural consequences of sin.
It is interesting that the first step in God’s judgment of giving us what we desire is to let us have what we lust for in our sin natures, things that are unclean. The result is to “dishonor” our bodies. The Greek word translated “dishonored” is atimazo. Atimazo can be translated dishonor, shame, or “treat with contempt.” We dishonor something when we treat it in a manner that is far beneath its appropriate level of dignity. God intended our bodies to do service to Him and others and to animate life. When we pursue the lust of sin and God gives us over to it, we dishonor our bodies by making them pleasure-seeking and self-absorbed with the result of self-destruction. Perhaps immorality destroys true and lasting oneness. Perhaps chemical use destroys our awareness and judgment over even our minds. Perhaps anger and dissension lead to isolation and loss of community. Whatever form it takes, sin leads to our destruction.
The seed of lust for unclean living is to discard truth and replace it with lies. God places within our heart knowledge of right and wrong, so in order to deny that knowledge, we exchange it for untruth. In Paul’s day the Gentiles were largely pagans, so they had multiple religious ceremonies and gods, but these amounted to the same end: a) a moral excuse for immoral living and b) a means to gain the illusion of control over others. Paying the priest or the idol some price in exchange for a favor demonstrates a belief that I can get what I want through my actions and influence over others. Pagan idolatry is a declaration that “I am in control” while acknowledging that there are powers greater than we. In pagan idolatry, the ceremonies and traditions support a belief that “I am controlling these powers.”
Modern man has devolved further in his prideful approach to living. The idolatry of modern man asserts a declaration that “I am in control and there is no power greater than I.” The immense pressure, stress, and simple non-reality associated with trying to live out that belief is like a blind person trying to live as though he can see perfectly; everywhere we turn we will run headlong into a painful reality that differs from what we assert.
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.
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