Death of a Society - Romans 1:28-32

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, 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; 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 (Romans 1:28-32).

 

Before we can understand the good news of our salvation in Christ, there has to be the understanding of the bad news of our condemnation in sin. Before we can appreciate the grace of God, there has to be an awareness of the guilt before Him. This is the importance of this opening section in Romans 1:18-3:20 that focuses upon the judgment of God upon the human race. Our study in this lesson is upon Romans 1:28-32, which contains the bad news that makes the good news of justification by faith so wonderful. Here is the black velvet backdrop that makes the diamond of God’s grace shine brightly.

 

In this text, we find the warning signs of the impending death of a society. The appearance of these distinguishing marks denotes the death of any nation, culture, or empire. The graveyard of past civilizations has proven this unbreakable principle to be true. As we examine this passage, it raises the questions: Can any nation survive without God? Can any society function without the acknowledgment of God? Can any culture endure without the morality of God? Is there any hope for a collective group of people to function successfully without God in the center?

 

In these final verses of Romans chapter one, here is Paul’s analysis of any society that rejects the knowledge of God. These verses address any collective group of God-rejecting people descending morally in a death spiral. This describes the slippery slope for any society, that has turned its back on God. This moral decline goes down and down, accelerating at a rapidly increasing speed. Here is the accelerated pace of decreasing morality in which a people unravels like a cheap sweater and self-destructs.

  

The foreboding truth found in Romans 1:28-32 helps us to understand the world in which we live today. You are not going to hear this message of impending doom any place other than where the full counsel of the word of God is taught. In many ways, this teaching is totally antithetical to what the world believes. This understanding of world history and this present generation is totally counterintuitive to every other man-centered worldview. This is the eternal perspective of God that He has revealed to us.

 

I. THE REJECTION of God (1:28a)

 

Paul begins, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer” (verse 28). The word that piques my curiosity is “they.” Who is this “they?” As we look at its antecedents, we find in the previous verse, “their women acknowledge,” “their desire towards one another,” and “their error” (verse 27). Then, “For this reason God gave them over” (verse 26). “They exchanged the knowledge of God for a lie” (verse 25). “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity so that their bodies would be dishonored” (verse 24).

 

As we keep tracing this flow of thought back to the beginning of this stream of thought, we read, “They became fools” (verse 22). “Even though they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks. They became futile in their foolish speculations” (verse 21). “They are without excuse” (verse 20). “That which is known about God is evident within them for God made it evident to them” (verse 19).

 

We have to go back to verse 18 before we actually have a definitive antecedent that tells us who is the “they” of verse 28. In verse 18, Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” “They” in verse 28 are the God-rejectors in verses 18-27. This describes those who are outside the kingdom of God, who live with ungodly attitudes and unrighteous lifestyles.

 

The Collective Society

This is not intended to suggest that everyone who rejects God becomes a lesbian or a homosexual, as verses 26-27 address. The apostle is not identifying a specific “he” or “she.” Rather, Paul is using the collective plural, “they.” This represents a large group of people in a general way. Here is a God-defying society as a whole. Here is a collective society that is represented in different ways, with different people, to different degrees. This describes a society that has refused God. As they deny God His rightful place in their lives, this refusal sends them into this moral tailspin. Because they reject God, He rejects them. Paul later writes, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Due to their defiance of God, it is only right that He repays them with His wrath.

 

A Beacon of Hope

The only solution for this perilous condition of being under the wrath of God is found in the gospel, as summarized in Romans 1:1-17. The only way to come out from under this condemnation is by the power of the good news of Jesus Christ. Only saving grace can reverse this divine curse and deliver sinners from eternal destruction. No one can work their way out of this helpless state. No one can become religious enough to escape this threat to their soul. No one can become moral enough to alleviate this soul-threatening dilemma. There is no way out of this perilous danger apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Within these apostate nations and defiant cultures, God always has a remnant of godly people according to His gracious choice. God has His people in every place. They shine in the darkness of the culture as bright witnesses of the gospel of Christ. They are to testify of the grace of the gospel and call people out of the darkness of their sin and into the light of salvation. There is a stark contrast between the people of God and the people we read of in this passage.

 

A Reemphasized Truth

When Paul writes, “They did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer” (verse 28), he is re-emphasizing this ongoing theme of rejecting God that began earlier in this section concerning “men who suppress the truth” (verse 19). The truth about God is made known to them, but they choose to suppress it. They hold down the knowledge of God in order to no longer have to deal with it. Paul continues describing this rejection when he writes, “Even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God” (verse 21). He further identifies them, “They 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” (verse 23). Reinforcing this same truth, Paul adds, “They exchange the truth of God for a lie” (verse 25). This stream of thought flows until it becomes a polluted river that spills over its banks and floods a society with its corruption.

 

This is the fifth time in this section that Paul has stressed the intentional rejection of God (verses 18, 21, 23, 25, 28). He writes, “they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer” (verse 28), which means they once had the knowledge of the truth about God, but choose to reject Him. God has made Himself known to every person on the earth through general revelation (verse 19). Yet they deliberately rejected Him and suffer the devastating effects of that unbelief.

 

A Severer Punishment

It is a serious matter to reject the truth about God. There is a severe condemnation for those who reject the general revelation of God in creation. But how much severer punishment awaits those who refuse the special revelation of the gospel. This certainly describes the spiritual history of the United States of America. There has never been a nation in the history of mankind that has had so much gospel truth as this country. There have been an unprecedented number of church pulpits, Christian television, Christian radio, Christian Bible colleges, and Christian publishing houses that have proclaimed the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. There has never been a people that has had more direct exposure to the special revelation of the word of God. Yet no people have so resolutely rejected the knowledge of God.

 

There is no more serious sin than the rejection of God. The rejection of God is the tipping point for any society. God Himself is always the issue for every generation in every nation, culture, and society. What we are witnessing in our day is the aftereffect of an all-out war against God. This nation has made it clear that we do not want the truth of God in the public schools. We do not want the justice of God in the courtroom. We do not want the mind of God in the public arena. We do not want to see the name of God in the public square. We are seeing the repudiation of God in our national life that arises from the total depravity of the unconverted human heart.

 

II. THE RETRIBUTION From God (1:28b)

  

As Paul continues, he states that there is divine retribution for any society of people who reject Him. The apostle gives the inevitable result, “so God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things that are not proper” (verse 28). This is the third time in these few verses Paul has announced, “God gave them over” (verses 24, 26, 28). This threefold repetition is an intentional emphasis that comes with blood-chilling force. The verb “gave them over” (paradidomai) means ‘to be given over to judgment.’ It was used this way in Romans 4:25 and 8:32, when Jesus was given over to stand in judgment before Pilate and be condemned in our place. The word is used numerous times in the book of Acts to describe one who had been arrested and given over into prison (Acts 8:3, 12:4, 21:11, 27:1, 28:17). In every one of these instances, Christians were put in chains, locked up, and confined to jail.

 

When Paul writes, “God gave them over,” he means that God has delivered them over to divine judgment for their sin of unbelief. This announces a sentence of condemnation by God. It likewise indicates that they are imprisoned in their own sins so that they cannot escape. They are now locked up in their sin and there is no hope of escape by their own efforts.

 

In this judgment, Paul writes, “God gave them over to a depraved mind.” This is the third time they have been given over to their sin. At first, God gave them over to sexual immorality (verse 24). Then God gave them over to lesbian and homosexual activity (verse 26-27). Now God gives them over to a “depraved mind” (adokimos). This means that their thinking is no longer fit for the intended purpose for which it was made. It means that they are unable to think rationally or logically. Their mind is rendered incapable of rational thought. They make insane choices that they would have never made otherwise. They are like a drowning man being handed a heavy brick that causes him to sink even faster. He cannot be strong enough to escape death.

 

Whenever a collective society hits this point, they have sunk to new lows. They have reached the point of no return.  Their depraved mind is unable to think rationally and makes illogical decisions. This is what we have in the transgender bathroom situation. Is there anything more insane than that? You get to decide which gender you are each time you go to the bathroom. That is a depraved, reprobate mind that is incapable of sound thinking. And who knows what is next? Paul says these are things unlawful to mention in public.

 

III. THE Rottenness Without God (1:29-31)

 

The tragic result of this depraved mind is found in verses 29-31, which can be called a vice list. A similar break down is found in other places in the Bible, but this one is longer than anywhere else in the Bible. This is the most comprehensive index, even though it is not all-inclusive, but simply representative. This is merely the tip of the iceberg of a society that is abandoned by God. This catalogue of corruption is the concentrated synopsis of a godless people.

 

There are twenty-one sins listed in Romans 1:29-31 that are arranged in four sections. This collective culture is described as “being filled with” (pleroo) all kinds of evils. This is the same word, “filled,” that is used in Ephesians 5:18, where believers are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit means that one is supernaturally energized by the Spirit to do the will and work of God. Such a person is under the control of the Spirit and dominated by Him. This is what is being described except the indwelling power is the sinful flesh.

 

This Greek word (peleroo) means more than they are filled up with unrighteousness. Rather, they are in the strong grip of unrighteousness and cannot escape. They are under the dominant control of these wicked ills. They are not mere casual partakers of evils, but are under the power of them.

 

Section One: Sinfulness

The first section consists of the four initial words clustered together. If you have a New American Standard Bible, you will notice the sections by the punctuation. Though there was no punctuation in the original Greek, it is supplied in any English translation to help the reader. You will note semicolons have been placed in the New American Standard Bible to help the reader see these divisions. These designations are helpful to our study of this list.

 

Paul writes, they are “being filled with all unrighteousness.” The word “all” means unrighteousness at every level. This first description is like the topic sentence in a paragraph that describes all that follows. The word “unrighteousness” (adikia) means ‘violating a law, a departure from a standard.’ This word was used earlier in verse 18, “for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” Ungodliness is the internal attitude, unrighteousness is the external action. Ungodliness is any irreverence towards God, where unrighteousness is any lawless behavior before Him.

 

Paul next addresses “wickedness” (poneria), which means ‘evil plots and purposes.’ In other words, there is a scheming by these evil men to commit their deeds of wickedness. They do not wait for sin to come to them, but they initiate plotting to sin. Next is “greed” (pleonexia), which is ‘an evil desire for more.’ They have a total lack of contentment with what they have in life. No matter where they are in society, they are restless to grab more of this world. They must always have more. What is feeding this craving for more is envy.

 

Completing this first section is the next word “evil” (kakia), which means ‘a desire to injure others.’ They do harm others in order to get what they want. They run over people to work their way up the ladder. They step on people in order to fulfill their greed. These sins are like multiple links in one chain, each interconnected with the next, each pulling the others along.

 

Section Two: Sinful Pursuits

The second part of this list starts with “full of” (mestos), meaning that something is so full it is overflowing. It is like pouring water into a cup until it is overflowing. The idea is that the heart cannot contain the rising evil that fills it. The first evil that fills the heart is “envy” (phthonos), which means ‘jealousy and wishing ill will.’ It is desiring that others not have what they do have and, instead, wanting what they have. It is the desire to injure others in order to obtain what they have. This does not describe merely one person, but a collective society of people filled with envy. This pictures the mass chaos of a collective society, where everyone is jealous for what others have.

 

The next evil is “murder” (phonos), which indicates a person is willing to kill in order to take what others have. In many cases, a person is willing to take the life of someone else who prevents them from having what they want. Here, a mother would be willing to kill her own baby in the womb just to keep her job and make more money. Then comes “strife” (eris), which means ‘contention, quarreling, arguing, bickering.’ They will fight anyone to achieve what they want. This embattled spirit is followed by “deceit” (dolos), which means ‘trickery.’ These people are willing to lie and deceive others so that they can get what they want. The last word in this second section is “malice” (kakoetheia), which speaks of the malignant hatred that is foaming up inside of them.

 

Section Three: Sinful Practices 

The third section of this list says these God-rejectors are “gossips” (psithyristes), meaning, literally, they are whisperers. They secretly murmur in hushed tones behind the backs of others. It conveys the idea of a clandestine conspiracy being conceived in darkness. There is evil plotting and sinister scheming that is hidden behind the scenes. Nothing is out in the open, but lurks unseen. They are “slanderers” (katalalos), which are those who defame others. The root of this evil is, they are “haters of God.” These who have rejected God now hate Him. This sin is number twelve in this list of twenty-one evils, standing in the middle position. The heart of the problem is the problem of their heart.

 

Further, they are “insolent” (hybristes), which describes those who are ‘lifted up with pride.’ It portrays ‘a verbal attacker heaping insults on others.’ This prideful man looks down on others and degrades them with insults. Followed closely are the “arrogant” (hyperephanos), which are those who ‘raise yourself up above others.’ Such a person possesses an overwhelming sense of himself. He is riddled with self-entitlement, self-centeredness, and self-ego. This person is literally strutting to hell like a peacock. They are boastful, smiting their breast, and pontificating about their own greatness with no regard for the well being of others.

 

Just when we thought this list could not be any darker, these people have taken it to a new low. They are described as being “inventors of evil.” This is to say, they concoct new forms of wickedness that earlier would have been totally unimaginable. It is inconceivable by pure minds what baser evils are being devised by reprobate men. They invent new types of evil that did not previously exist. Pushing the boundaries, they invent a whole new stratosphere of sin than had been previously known.

 

Next, Paul writes they are “disobedient to parents.” This sin of rebellion was so serious in the Old Testament that it required the death penalty. They utterly have no regard for authority, and this begins in the home. Submission to authority must be learned in the home, but here it does not. When respectful obedience by children to their parents is gone, a society is set on a course of anarchy that knows no limits. Where there is no regard for one’s parents, this moral breakdown leads to no regard for the civil or criminal law. There is no respect for police officers or any institutional authority in the classroom or the workplace. They become like lawless gang members with no compliance for any authority. Here every man is doing what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25) and is willing to kill others to get their own way. 

 

Section Four: Sinful Perversions

The fourth category begins in verse 31, and each of these descriptions start with the same prefix a, which is translated as “un.” The first is “without understanding” (asynetos), meaning there is no intelligent thought concerning God or morality or any decision-making capability. They have no comprehension of God, His moral law, or any common decency. They do not understand the truth of God at the most basic level. Their consciences are seared as with a hot iron. They live in spiritual darkness.

 

The next word is “untrustworthy” (asynthetos), which literally means ‘covenant breakers.’ Their word concerning their pledge to do something no longer means anything. They break their marriage vows or a business agreement. They are the ultimate pragmatists, a people without any principle. They do whatever is most expedient to fulfill their selfish desires, regardless of what is right. Lastly, Paul writes they are “unloving” (astorgos) and “unmerciful” (aneleemon). The idea is that there is no compassion for those who are in need. Their only desire is self-gratification, while having no regard for the good of others. This is the inevitable result of their rejecting God.

 

This has been the moral decline of countless other peoples and empires, whether it be Sodom and Gomorrah or the Roman Empire. So it is happening before our eyes today in the United States. Any civilization that rejects God will not long survive. These are the telltale signs of the death of any godless society. We are living in the midst of it, up to our nostrils.

 

IV. THE rebellion against god (1:32)

 

As this section concludes, Paul reinforces the final mark of those who reject God and are abandoned by Him. The apostle reaches the bottom of the barrel as he now writes, “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” (verse 32). He reiterates the fundamental reason why they are given over by God. Although they “know the ordinance of God,” referring to the moral law of God, they continue to reject it in order to live for sin. Romans 2:14-15 says that God has written the moral law upon their heart. The conscience of every person bears witness within them concerning what is right and wrong. The conscience is like a built-in alarm that informs them of what is pleasing to God and warns them what is not pleasing to Him. It tells them when they have crossed the line established by God and entered into forbidden territory.

 

But in this case, even though they know the law of God, Their conscience no longer stops their evil. Unrestrained, they “practice such things” as a habitual lifestyle. Thus, they “are worthy of death” (verse 32). This death is eternal death in hell. Not only do they commit such sins, but they “give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Society is now so deviant that they applaud and celebrate these debaucheries. These sinful acts are no longer hidden in the closet, but strutting down main street. They are proud and defiant in their evil ways. This flagrant immorality causes television ratings to soar. To produce and promote such wickedness is good business. It sells more copy and expands their viewing audience, because this is what evil people want. It is easy for this depravity to increase, because the collective society is giving “hearty approval.”

 

This is the trajectory on which we find ourselves in this present hour. Our decaying society is on the slippery slope, descending into the flames of hell below. Our nation is nearing the bottom of immorality. There is only one hope to pull out of this death spiral. It is what Paul declared in Romans 1:16. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe.” We cannot change the culture by petitioning city hall. We cannot change the downward plunge of society by lobbying our politicians. We cannot hope to change the day by merely voting in certain people into office. We should do all we can to influence the civil process. But it is not going to change the evil hearts of people. Only the power of God through the working of the gospel can reverse this downward course.

 

Conclusion

What do we do? How shall we then live?

 

We must be sobered by this divine abandonment. We must have the realization of what is going on in our world today. We must have a Christian worldview with the mind of Christ. We cannot do everything, but what we can do we must do, and what we must do we will do. We must do all that we can to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through our churches, Bible studies, and personal witnessing, we must work through every means possible. We must give resources, books, and tracks to people in need of the Lord. We can get the word of God out however we can. This task of world evangelization is beyond any one of us. But we must do what we can do. We cannot sit back.

 

God has always desired to work through the remnant, through the few to affect the many. The only way that God gets the glory is when He works through the small remnant to change the large majority.

 

Response

I need to stop and open this up a little bit. What are your thoughts on this?

 

Audience:        I think of Bruce Jenner and the applause he received. He became the “it” of the year. They put him on ESPN, and they hold him up saying how great it is. You have commentators on television talking about how great people are when they come out of the closet. The guy that plays football for Missouri, the whole basketball arena stands up and applauds him when he comes out as homosexual. It is just unbelievable.

 

Dr. Lawson:    Yes. We are without shame. That is what Isaiah 5 said. They became a nation of unblushables that did not blush at anything anymore.

 

Audience:      It is absolutely incredible.

 

Dr. Lawson:    We have got to go to every person without Christ and reach them with the gospel. There is no other way to get them out of the prison of their sin.

 

Audience:      Briton said it last week. You said total depravity. This was us. But it is Ephesians 2:4, “But God.” I think the motivation to share the gospel with the lost is the fact that we realize that God elected us unconditionally. His grace makes it effective. It is irresistible, and it should cause us to drop to our knees because all of our hearts are desperately sick without Him. I think that the motivation behind doing this is because we are products of grace and we know what the Lord can do. “But God.”

 

Dr. Lawson:    Yes. One theologian put it this way as I was reading for this. The seeds of all of this is in every one of us. It is just that, by the grace of God, those seeds have never really germinated to this extent. With regeneration, they have passed away and new things have come. But there is a solidarity of the human race as sons of Adam, until there is regeneration.

 

Audience:      I thought about the importance of preaching precise words when you teach. Each and every one of us are shepherds because we have children. If you do not have children, you will at some point, Lord willing. As you said, everything starts at home. If you are not teaching the gospel to your children, why are you not doing it? This is an urgent matter. Their souls depend on it. So when you go to church, you need to make sure that the gospel is being taught. Because someone else’s experiences, and adventures, and stories are not going to save you from this. It is only the gospel. If you do not know the gospel, you are going to be lost like a sheep. You are going to be helpless. This is the sense of urgency. We need to know this, and we need to teach it to our kids. So even though you are not a “professional,” it is your full-time job because your family depends on this. You are the steward of that family.

 

Audience:      That is really good.

 

Dr. Lawson:    Yes. To add to that, what I said earlier is so important. Yesterday was my twin boys’ thirty-fourth birthday, so there was a lot of reflection. Teaching them to be under authority. You know, if they are under authority at home, when I drop them off at school, when they are on a football team, or a basketball team, or at church, or wherever, they have a certain influence upon them. Not that they are perfect or anything. But they respect authority. That really starts at home. When you have disobedience to parents, no society can survive that. Everybody is doing whatever they want to do when they want to do it.                                   

 

We will close here. Next time, we are moving into Romans 2. We have some great truths to cover in Romans 2. Let us pray.

 

Father, thank You for the revelation that You have given to us in Your word. We have now been taught and instructed. You have imparted Your wisdom to us, and I pray that You would help us assimilate this now, and incorporate this into our daily lives, and cause us to walk in humility. Because, there but for the grace of God, go I. Thank You, that You have saved us out of this death spiral and given to us eternal life. We pray this in Christ’s name, Amen. 

 

Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Dr. Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. Dr. Lawson hosts The Institute for Expository Preaching in cities around the world. Dr. Lawson is also a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries, where he serves on its board. Moreover, he is Professor of Preaching and oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at The Master’s Seminary, where he also serves on its board. Dr. Lawson is also Professor in Residence for Truth Remains, a work designed to promote and proclaim God’s written Word. Further, Dr. Lawson serves as the Executive Editor for Expositor Magazine published by OnePassion Ministries.