Sunday, September 30, 2012

Who needs the Gospel? - The Pagan World Needs the Gospel

This is part one of the sermon series:  Who Needs the Gospel?

The Pagan World needs the Gospel
Romans 1:18-32
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them." 

As powerful as the Gospel is, there is one thing that it cannot do: it cannot save any man until that man sees himself as a guilty, lost, condemned sinner. Therefore before Paul even begins to talk about God saving sinners, he takes a whole section of his letter to demonstrate that men need the Gospel. It is a universal Gospel for a universal need. If no one is sick, why send for the doctor? If no one is lost, why preach the Gospel? If the world of men is not lost, absolutely condemned, then preaching the Gospel is foolish and futile.

Is the world really lost? This is what Paul sets himself to prove in the next two chapters ending in Chapter 3:20. He says, the heathen world is lost, the moral man (world) is lost, the religious man (world) is lost and the whole world is lost. We shall today begin our study on the need of the heathen world of the Gospel. The heathen world needs the Gospel because God’s wrath is revealed over a deserving world – the heathen world deserves the revealed wrath of God and God has inflicted the wrath.

Paul says the wrath of God is revealed.

What is the wrath of God? 

The wrath of God is not a sudden outburst of temper but God’s holy aversion to all that is evil, and His purpose is to destroy it. The wrath of God might be compared to the wrath of the judge or the wrath of the law. If a man murders another man, the wrath of the law will be revealed – he will be punished for his crime. The wrath of God is like that.

Where and how is the wrath of God revealed? 

The wrath of God is revealed in three ways:

The wrath of God is revealed in His Word. In John 3:36 we read “He that believes on the Son of God has everlasting life; but he that does not believe the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.” Throughout the Bible, the wrath of God is revealed alongside the love of God. There are many who would like to omit the wrath of God, and yet keep the love of God; but the two attributes are inseparable.

The wrath of God is revealed in the Cross of Christ. There is no greater revelation of God’s wrath than is revealed in the Cross of Calvary. When Christ hangs on the Cross and cries, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46); God’s wrath against human sin is revealed. Man’s sin was imputed to Christ. Paul says about the Gospel, “For therein is revealed the righteousness of God”. The place where righteousness is revealed is the Cross. The same place where God reveals His righteousness, He also reveals His wrath, and through His revelation of wrath, He brings forth a revelation of an obtainable righteousness.

The wrath of God is revealed in the natural world. That is the greatest revelation, perhaps of the wrath of God to a man who rejects the authority of the Bible and the historicity of the Cross. An example can be found in a hospital ward where a man, because of some social sin, is being eaten up by disease. There is no need to wait until the Day of Judgment to see the wrath of God. When we break some laws of nature, we immediately receive instant judgment and punishment. Paul says, this revelation is from heaven. The Bible is from heaven; the Cross of Christ originated from heaven; and the laws of nature also came from heaven. The text says, the wrath of God is being revealed continuously. The Word of God, the Cross of Christ and the laws of nature continue everyday to reveal the wrath of God on all offenders.

What is the object of God’s wrath? 

Paul in two words has summed up all of human sin, placing it in two great divisions: Ungodliness and Unrighteousness”. Ungodliness is the sin against the being of God. Unrighteousness is the sin against the will of God. Man is not only a moral sinner (he is unrighteous), but man is a religious sinner (he is ungodly). The unrighteous man lives as if there were no will of God revealed; the ungodly man lives as if there were no God. While unrighteousness has to do with morality – our relation with our fellow man, ungodliness has to do with religion – our relation to a Sovereign God.

Some say “I am righteous; I live a moral life; I do not sin against my fellow men” Such a man – even if he were perfect in that respect, never breaking the laws of man’s relationship to men, - would still be guilty of ungodliness. It is not enough to keep the laws between man and man for the sake of morality but he must live righteously for the glory of God and that is what godliness means. This was the godliness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every righteous act that He performed, every righteous thought He thought, every righteous word He spoke – was all to the glory of God. He was both godly and also righteous!

Paul mentions ungodliness first. That is how it should be because ungodliness leads to unrighteousness. In verse 21 he says of the heathens “they did not glorify Him as God”. That is ungodliness. Later he presented them as “being filled with all unrighteousness”. This moral decline started with ungodliness. We must first of all worship God, and then our lives will line up in the realm of righteousness. In verse 18, we see their reason for ungodliness – “They hold down the truth in unrighteousness” or as we find in Verse 25; “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie”. Sin has a tendency to suppress the truth and no matter how much truth a man has, it will not manifest itself in his life as long as he continues to disobey God. There is one great thing that can hinder or hold back the operation of the truth of God: unrighteousness in the Church. It must be purged out in order that the truth of God may have full freedom to work. There must be righteousness in order that the truth may prevail.

One big question at this point is:

Does the heathen world deserve the wrath of God? Did they have the truth? 

Yes, if we must answer the second question first – the ancient civilization had some truth enough to lead the heathen world to godliness and righteousness, but they did not, so they deserved the wrath of God.

Paul in verses 19 – 23 anticipated an objection. One might say, “What about the ancient heathen world? They had no revelation of God. How can people like that be expected to honour and worship God? Do such people deserve the wrath of God?” That is an old question. Are the heathen really lost? Were they responsible? Paul’s answer is “they deserve the wrath of God.”

The key word is because in verses 19 and 21. “Because that which is known of God is manifest in them, for God manifested it unto them”(v. 19); “because that, when they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God” (v. 21)

First, “that which is known of God is manifest in them” – Paul is saying; that God showed it to them. In verse 20 he says “the invisible things of God since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things which are made, even His everlasting power and divinity, that they may be without excuse” God revealed Himself through the created universe, and every man has that revelation. His eternal power and Godhead, the fact that He is God, and has power to punish ought to be revealed to every man by looking up at the starry heavens. “They are without excuse”

That settles the question of the responsibility of those people; they had a revelation of God. Every man has the same revelation. It is the evidence of creation. When a man can look out at the created universe and fail to see the power, the Godhead, and the divinity of God, he is a man who is holding down the truth – not because he cannot see it, but because he is unrighteous. The ancient heathen world had the truth, and if they had not held down the truth, Paul says, it would have prevailed.

The second reason why they deserve the wrath of God was “because that, knowing God, they did not glorify Him as God” The revelation here, no doubt is different, from the one in verses 19 – 20. There is the revelation of creation spoken of in Psalm 19 “the heavens declare the glory of God”. The heavens tell us there is a God, a God who has power, yet the heavens can never make us know God. We can never know God in the actual sense of the word without a special revelation. Paul says in verse 21 that those not only know about God, but they know Him. God apparently revealed Himself to man back there in a special way, before the Word of God was given. We know that God specially revealed Himself to Adam and to Noah and his sons.

Paul now lists Seven downward steps of the heathen world.

- They knew God, but refused to honour Him “Knowing God, they did not glorify Him as God”

- They were not thankful for God’s goodness to them “Neither gave thanks (v.21)

- They began speculating foolishly “Became vain in their reasoning” (v.21)

- Their minds became senseless and darkened “Their senseless heart was darkened” (v. 21)

- They thought they were wise “Professing themselves to be wise” (v. 22)

- In reality, they had become very foolish “They became fools” (v.22)

- Instead of worshipping the eternal God, they preferred idols patterned after mortal man “They changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man” (v. 23)

That is total descent. They knew God, but when they arrived at the bottom, they were worshipping sticks and stones, carved out in the shape of animals and creeping things. In Isaiah 44:12-17, God exposes the foolishness of idolatry. Let us read it together: “The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals, fashions it with hammers, and works it with the strength of his arms. Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The craftsman stretches out his rule, he marks one out with chalk; he fashions it with a plane; he marks it out with the compass, and makes it like the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house. He cuts down cedars for himself, and takes the cypress and the oak; he secures it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it. Then it shall be for a man to burn, for he will take some of it and warm himself; yes, he kindles it and bakes bread; indeed he makes a god and worships it; he makes it a carved image, and falls down to it. He burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He never warms himself and says ‘Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire’. And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says ‘deliver me, for you are my god’”

The final question we shall consider today:

Did God really inflict the deserved wrath?

How did God inflict His wrath on the ancient heathen world? Paul now answers: “Wherefore God gave them up” God stayed with them all the way as they descended into the pit, until they came to the point where they carved out wood and stones and made idols and worshipped them. Then God surrendered them! The key phrase of this passage is “God gave them up” (Verses 24, 26 & 28)

First – “God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness.” They became depraved in heart when God gave them up. First it is the heart, and then it is the body.

Next, “God gave them to a reprobate mind”. “A depraved heart, a depraved body, and a depraved mind” The word reprobate means “tested and found to be no good” – like a piece of tested steel in a machine shop. God tested man and gave him up. Men vied with one another to invent new forms of vice in the days of Paul.

Some people have asked “What is the wrath of God like? The wrath of God inflicted, whatever thing it includes, includes one thing “abandonment”. If you can look at the world when God removes all His restraining forces and His love, and lets sinner wander in their sins, - that is hell; that is the wrath of God! No man can say this response of God is not righteous. Even as they refused to know God, God gave them up.

That is the position of the heathen world. They cannot help themselves. They therefore need the Gospel – the power of God unto salvation. Who would give them the Gospel? God is waiting for our answer.

May the Lord help us

For other sermons in this series visit Who Needs the Gospel?

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