The Consequences of Rejection of God
Romans Lesson #019
May 12, 2011
What are the consequences of rejecting God? First of all, either the personal infinite God of the Bible exists as the Bible depicts Him or He does not exist. Those are the only two options. If He exists then we must understand the Bible in a somewhat literal manner because the logic of His existence and knowing about Him within the Bible is that we can only know Him as He has revealed Himself to us. Otherwise we are just making it up; we are creating our own idea of God. If the God of the Bible exists then we know about Him only through the Bible because this is where He has revealed Himself to us. On the other hand, if He does not exist then the Bible is no more relevant to either Jews or Christians the Koran or any other religious or non-religious book and we have no idea what is out there.
If the Bible is true (and we believe it is true) then it claims not only to give truth but also certainty and hope—confidence so we can base everything on that. So our assumption is that the Bible is true, that God exists, and that He has revealed Himself to us in a way that we can understand His revelation to us in the Bible. The next assumption is that if we reject self-exposure of God then, based on His revelation, we are simply creating fantasies about reality.
We are often provided with a guidebook for assembling something. But many of us, rather than look at the instructions, we assume that somehow we are so mechanically inclined that we can just look at all of the various little screws and nuts and bolts and pieces and that we can put it all together by ourselves. Then after three or four hours of frustration we finally decide to find the instruction book and see if we can look at the pictures. Well what most people are doing in life is that they have not only rejected the instruction book and thought that they can do the assembly themselves but they have burned the instruction book so that there is no way they can ever find their way back to it, and they are committed to running life on their own terms. This is what Paul is talking about here when he says that everyone knows that God exists, they have an internal compass that points them to God, but they are suppressing that truth in unrighteousness. As a result of that God is going to bring judgment upon them.
We see the consequences of that rejection of God outlined in this chapter. What this chapter is telling us is that when we reject God and reject that instruction book (general revelation, the picture book) what happens? People in their arrogance begin construct reality according to their own imagination. That is why in the Old Testament there are the statements about the imagination on man being evil continuously, because man in his imagination is generating these fantasy worlds; he is constructing his own view of reality. He has rejected the guidebook and so now he is making things up as he goes along. This is just called fantasy, and the more the individual gets divorced from the reality of truth and constructs his fantasy, the further his fantasy gets away from reality then the more dangerous that person becomes. He becomes dangerous to himself; he becomes dangerous to others. But when there is a tribe or nation of people or a culture of people who have rejected the truth and are living in a group fantasy then things can get even worse. Just think about radical Islam.
The problem that we see in this whole issue of rejecting truth and then trying to manufacture it out of old cloth without any idea or reference to some sort of ultimate absolute is like when we all have the same jog-saw puzzle but we are not going to look at the box tope to see what it is supposed to look like. We are just going to look at this jig-saw puzzle and all of the 5000 pieces in front of us and then generate out of our own imagination what it is supposed to look like. Then we are going to start putting together those pieces. Some don’t fit, some almost fit so we force them, others don’t fit so we ignore them and brush them aside somewhere because they don’t fit our reality; and then we just construct our little castle in the sky. But once we start living as if those castles are real it has significant consequences, and that is what Paul is talking about here. It is that when people reject God and substitute something else it has consequences because they have divorced themselves completely from reality.
With the initial rejection of God we see that there are basically five results: The first is arrogance. They don’t glorify God, i.e. they reject the creator out of any gratitude, and that is nothing more than pure arrogance. We start with self-absorption. Man makes himself the ultimate measure of reality. There is not an external reference point to appeal to; we become the ultimate determiner of truth; we are self-absorbed. Then we begin to indulge ourselves in that fantasy that we actually determine the course of life; that we are in control. After a whole if we live on the basis of self-indulgence we begin to justify all of our actions that come from self-indulgence, and this leads to greater self-deception.
Now we are moving into that castle in the sky. This leads to self-deification, which is what we see in Romans chapter one. We become the ultimate determiner of reality: reality is what I want it to be, don’t let God interfere whatsoever. This is a never-ending process unless it is broken by the grace of God. The center of all of these is I. Self-absorption destroys gratitude to God. The reason for that, according to 1:21, is because the reasoning processes become warped because they are missing the vital element of God’s control—God’s existence, God’s control, and God is the one who determines reality. There is a loss of understanding based on the loss of the ultimate reference point of objectivity; there is no truth. And then they start playing the truth and changing the definition until you get into the kind of quagmire we are in today where there is no truth, and then that begs the question: is that true that there is no truth? How can you know it is true if there is no truth? Now you know why it is empty reasoning, because they are ultimately living in a realm of complete irrationality and the only thing that can move them is either their emotions or power, or some other form of lust.
As a result they erect these fantastic castles in the air of science and logic to justify the existence of the castle in the air. That is verse 22 NASB “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” They think they are filled with intellectual accomplishments and wisdom and skill but it is really foolishness. And Psalmist said in the Hebrew Scriptures that the fool has said in his heart there is no God. He is a fool because he has said there is no God. It is not because he existed autonomously as a fool and this is just somebody who is a moron with a room temperature IQ and are not smart enough to accept the fact that there is a God, it is the fact that they have an IQ of 130, 140, 180 or 200 and they say there is a God and now they are a fool because they have denied the ultimate reality in the universe. So the fourth result is they are claiming to be wise and they become fools. The fifth result is they exchange the glory of God for creatures.
Now we have consequences, and they start to get spelled out in verse 24 NASB “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” This begins with a word in the Greek that is a little different from what we normally expect when we see a “therefore.” It is a strong word dio [dio], and it is a strong emphatic stating a conclusion. It is stating the result of a previous statement. When we look at the context of verses 24 & 25 we see that they are beginning to spell out the consequences of those first five results—arrogance, self-absorption, the warping of the reasoning, the loss of understanding, claiming wisdom and in reality it is foolishness, and then exchanging the glory of God for a creature. All of that is immediate as a result of sin.
Then what we see in v. 24ff is what happens as God gives the human race enough rope to hang itself, so to speak. That is the basic idea in the phrase “God gave them up.” In the Greek this is a word that means to deliver someone up. For example, you may deliver a prisoner to his prison. You may betray somebody and hand him over to somebody. The word is used of Judas handing over Jesus to the Roman authorities. It basically means here that God let them go their sinful way. But if you put it that way God just let them go their sinful way to realize the consequences of their decision it indicates a sort of permissiveness to God’s will and a level of passivity that isn’t there. This is an active voice verb; God is actively involved in overseeing this process. We will see that there are three such statements in the following verses. In verse 24 we have stage one: God gives them over to certain things. Verse 26 “For this reason [because of the sins identified in vv. 24 & 25] God gave them over to degrading passions…” This is the next level of degradation. Then in verse 28 we read, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind…” This is the third level of degradation.
These three levels of degradation that we have here in vv. 24-32 are actually judgments of God on the human race. We often hear it said: if you look at this culture that we have, God certainly needs to judge it. No, this culture that we have is God’s judgment for rejecting Him. It is just going to get worse and God is going to continue to remove whatever restraints there are on the culture so that people realize the ultimate consequences of their bad decisions. But the fact that this word “God gives them over” is used shows that God is actively involved in the process. He is overseeing it; it doesn’t just happen in a random way. It is not just simply removing the restraints. He is doing it in specific stages to bring about certain consequences. Part of His design is so that some people as they hit the negative consequences will sort of wake up and begin to think that maybe they ought to rethink their position. As some people come under divine discipline they respond by saying, Okay I need to correct something and get right with God, whereas other people just continue to harden their volition against God.
In verse 24 the NKJV has a different order of words from what we have in the Greek text. The NASB follows the Greek order, but it is thought that the NJKV has an order that is better in terms of English: He “gives them up to uncleanness.” Uncleanness is expressed in the text with a phrase that indicates the ultimate goal. That is what God is giving them over to—uncleanness—and it is expressed as the result of the lusts of their hearts. The word that is translated “uncleanness” is the Greek word AKATHARSIA. KATHARSIA is the word for “clean”; the “A” in front of it is a negative: “unclean.” What is interesting is that when this word is used in the New Testament it tends to be slanted towards more of being used in the context of sexual immorality. But that, it is believed, is read more into the text by our modern theologians than what the Scripture says, because if we go back into the Old Testament this word in the Septuagint (LXX) was used to translate anything that resulted in ritual impurity or spiritual impurity. Anything that separated a person from God is AKATHARSIA; it makes one unclean. Basically it makes one out of fellowship. Sexual perversion isn’t the only result of rejection of God, so it is a mistake to limit this to a nuance related to perversion, it is related to all areas of sin that separate human beings from God. So God gives them over to un cleanness which is in the lusts of their hearts. Uncleanness is the result of their lusts.
The drive shaft of the sin nature is the lust pattern. This is what is at the very core of our sin nature; this is what motivates us—our various lust patterns. In one direct we have our area of human good, which is just as much a product of the sin nature as what we define as personal sins but it is done in the context of not being in relationship to God. For example, there are many kinds of people who are unbelievers. They don’t believe in God at all, they are not regenerate; they only can operate on the basis of their sin nature. They can do many wonderful things. There are many wonderful people out there who are not Christians and they have great morality. They do a measure of good, but it is not a good that measures up to God. Jesus, when speaking to His disciples said, "You being evil know how to give good gifts to your children". Being evil or what theologians call total depravity doesn’t mean you are as bad as you can be, it means that every area of our being has been corrupted by sin so we can’t do anything that measures up to the absolute perfect righteousness of God. This is clearly taught in the Old Testament when Isaiah said that all of our works of righteousness are as filthy rags, and that even the best we do falls far short of God’s absolute standards. So the filthy rags righteousness is human good. At the other end we have personal sins.
When we look at the trends of the sin nature we can go in two opposite directions. One trend goes in the direction of morality—asceticism, legalism, and epistemologically there is rationalism. This is the idea that in asceticism and legalism somehow we can impress God with how good we are. But this can degenerate into moral degeneracy. Nothing can be as bad as a self-righteous person who is going around trying to make everyone else conform to his self-righteousness. That is just a tyranny of arrogance. On the other side are the people who reject standards. This crowd is a lot more fun! The other crowd are the hardest to witness to because they think they’re good enough: they don’t need to be saved; they don’t need salvation. But in the other direction where the trend is toward licentiousness, which means everything is okay, which produces antinomianism, anarchy, irrationalism where there is no logic, no boundaries, which leads to mysticism and to immoral degeneracy.
The lust patterns drive things, and what Paul is saying here is that God gave them over to uncleanness by the lusts of their hearts. The lust pattern is the core mover and what it produces is the sins that separate them from God that become the uncleanness. So God gives them over to that. That doesn’t mean that God causes them to do those things but it is that God gives them the freedom to pursue the rejection of Him that they want to and to see the consequences of that in their lives. “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” We see that it is not just a mental thing but it has an outworking in the physical life of the individual.
Romans 1:25 NASB “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” It is an aorist tense there, which indicates that the starting point for this was the rejection of God and idolatry. This word “exchange” accepts the fact that there is an absolute truth; it has an article with it. They are exchanging the truth, the absolute truth that comes from God for the lie. That is the only option; they are either believing the truth of God or believing the lie. The result is that they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” In the process of doing this what are they doing? They are getting involved in idolatry—either overt idolatry or abstract idolatry. The first two commandments of the Ten Commandments relate to the exclusive worship of God and the rejection of idolatry. There is a reason that is at the beginning. In Exodus 20:3, the first commandment, God said, “You shall have no other gods before me.” In verse 4, the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” The reason these are first is because they become the foundation for all law. If you don’t have a law grounded in an ultimate reference point, an ultimate absolute, then there is no basis for law and law either becomes the whim of the kings or the majority of opinion of people, either of which can change in another five or ten years. That is one of the things we are seeing in our culture because we have lost this idea of law being grounded in God. This isn’t an issue of freedom of religion; it is the issue of what is the ultimate source of law. The ultimate source of law is God.