Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE OUTWARD ACTS OF IDOLATRY”

Romans 1.23-25

 

Before we turn to this evening’s text of Scripture, it is important to bring to your attention a practice used by the entertainment industry to desensitize their audiences to various types of immorality. What I am about to say can be easily confirmed with a modicum of reflection.

The entertainment industry exists as much to advance an immoral agenda as it does to make huge sums of money by feeding the voracious appetite of a population addicted to entertainment in all its forms. To that end, they very typically introduce a very likable and morally unobjectionable star to their audience, usually a television audience though the practice happens in full-length movies as well. Then, after securing the good favor of the audience toward the star they will use the star’s likability and appeal to pull the audience toward an accommodation of sinful behavior. There are too many examples to cite, but a rather typical one would be a very handsome and vulnerable young man whose appeal to the young women in the audience is high, at which point that character played by the handsome young actor engages in some sinful behavior, with the story line portraying his decision to have sex or his decision to come out as gay portrayed in a very sympathetic light. The young female lead will be manipulated in the same fashion, showing her in a sympathetic light to win the affections of the audience before she has premarital sex with a boy or comes out as a Lesbian. In this way, the entertainment industry weakens the opposition of their audience over time to the lifestyle choices that they so often have made. This strategy was employed in the famous movie Casablanca when the character played by the beautiful Ingrid Bergman committed adultery with the character played by Humphrey Bogart. The American audience is exposed to this type of thing so frequently that we have become numbed by it and are desensitized to the sinfulness of sin so that we are no longer shocked by it, horrified by it, or stunned when someone we like or admire is involved in that kind of behavior. And what has become the worst of all sins to most people in our country? Judging any conduct, no matter how evil or wicked it is, as wrong. Thus, the worst sinners in our country are not women who murder their unborn children, or who take off their clothes to be photographed, or who have sex with some guy they are not married to, or a guy having sex with another guy, but those who have the opinion that kind of thing is wrong.

Imagine coming to the West from the Middle East and being shocked by the immodesty of young women, by the effeminacy of young men, and by the careless disregard almost everyone seems to have for sex between people who are not married. While I am no apologist for the religion of Islam or Orthodox Judaism, I do appreciate their horror at being exposed to what most Americans or Western Europeans or Brazilians give no second thought to. It doesn’t bother you because you have been desensitized by repeated exposure to it your whole life on television and in movies, though it certainly disturbs those from other cultures who have not been so desensitized. Now imagine yourself a Jewish Christian living in the first century, having been raised a Pharisee, the strictest sect of the Jewish people. You are in the city of Corinth, one of the most corrupt and vile population centers on earth. Lying, stealing, cheating, extortion, and promiscuous sexual conduct of every kind is practiced by almost everyone. As well, no one gives a second thought to any of those sins unless you are the one lied to, you are the one whose possessions are stolen, you are the one who is extorted, or you are the one your spouse cheats on. No one that is, except you. You are horrified at what you see at every turn. That is what the Apostle Paul experienced in Corinth, where he wrote his letter to the Romans.

However, what may surprise 21st century Christians in the United States is that the lying, the stealing, the cheating, the extortion, and the illicit sexuality were not the most egregious of the sins observed by Paul. What was most painful to his soul and spirit was the idolatry, the repeated robbing from God of the worship, adoration, and praise that was due Him because of Who He is. This brings us to our text for this evening, Romans 1.23-25. When you find that passage I invite you to stand and read along silently while I read aloud:

 

23    And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

24    Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

25    Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

 

If you consider the verses leading up to our text, you will recognize a progression given to his readers by Paul. We see in Romans 1.19-20 that God has revealed Himself to His creation through what is called natural revelation. You look around, and you see the fingerprints of God on everything. Thus, mankind is without excuse. Verses 21-22 show mankind’s passive response to God’s revelation of Himself in nature. Mankind did not glorify God as God and were not thankful to God for His manifold blessings. They then became vain in their imaginations, darkened in their hearts, and while thinking themselves to be wise, they experienced a degradation into folly. For the most part, this was internal and passive, more a failure to respond than a response.

The text before us this evening shows the outward, active, conscious decisions made for the most part by sinful man and God’s response to man’s sins:

 

First, THEY CHANGED THE GLORY OF GOD INTO IMAGES

 

Verse 23 reads,

 

“And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”

 

Three observations from verse 23:

First, the glory of the uncorruptible God. The word translated uncorruptible here in Romans 1.23 is translated immortal in First Timothy 1.17. Both translations do the word justice since it refers to someone being immortal because one is impervious to corruption, imperishable.[1] The verb glorified in Romans 1.21 refers to influencing another person’s opinion about someone else. I indicated that it is your duty, obligation, responsibility, and privilege to speak and act so highly of God that other people’s opinion of God will be enhanced, elevated, and improved. Here in Romans 1.23, we have reference to the glory of God, which is not a verb but a noun. Bringing the Old Testament Hebrew concept of God’s glory into his letter, Paul here uses the phrase the glory of God to denote the manifest majesty of God, that self-manifestation of the true God spoken of in Romans 1.19-20.[2]

Next, they changed the glory of the uncorruptible God. We know that God cannot be changed. Malachi 3.6 tells us,

 

“I am the LORD, I change not.”

 

What is meant, then, by the assertion that the glory of the uncorruptible God has been changed? This refers to the change made by sinful men. It has to do with men exchanging who they chose to revere, worship, adore, and pay homage to. Thus, while their actions had no impact on who or what God is, their actions did completely alter the honor and worship they paid to God.

Third, choosing to worship, revere, honor, and adore instead of God an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Notice the contrast. Worshiping the visible rather than the invisible. Worshiping the created rather than the Creator. Worshiping the corruptible rather than the uncorruptible. Worshiping the lowly, the creeping, the crawling, and the debased rather than worshiping the exalted, majestic, eternal, and glorious. Who would do that? We would do that. And but for God’s grace, we would still be doing that. This, to Paul, was the worst offense, the chief issue, the despicable thing, that he observed in his travels and what the Corinthians excelled at. It starts with God, you see. Your relationship with God, your respect for God, your attitude and posture toward God, determines everything else about you.

 

Next, THE RESPONSE OF GOD TO MEN’S SINS

 

24    Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

25    Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

 

Three things to keep in mind from what we have just read:

First, pay particular attention to the word wherefore. The Greek word it translates indicates that what is related in this verse was God’s response to the perverseness of men just described in verses 22-23.[3] This should put to rest once and for all any notion that someone might have that God deals with His creatures from a distance and does not react and respond to their conduct. God is not a distant God. He is everywhere present. Better than that, He is near, Psalm 119.151.

Next, God also gave them up to uncleanness. This is the first of three times the Apostle Paul uses the phrase gave them up in this first chapter of Romans. Verses 26 and 28 also feature this phrase and each time Paul uses the phrase it is not at all good. Allow me a poor illustration: A sinful individual on a slippery slope is kept from sliding backward to destruction while fighting against the gracious hand that prevents his backward slide until the determination to fight against the helping hand becomes so committed to personal destruction that the helping hand is removed, and the backward slide accelerates. This is the message of verse 24:

 

“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.”

 

The refusal to honor God as God results in sinful men being given up to uncleanness (a word usually related to sexual sins) through the lusts of their own hearts. Dishonoring God, they reap what they have sown by dishonoring their own bodies between themselves.

Third, a restatement of the sins that provoked God’s reaction as described from God’s perspective is provided in verse 25:

 

“Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.”

 

What is meant by changing the truth of God into a lie? It is true that God is glorious, uncorruptible, eternal, true and worthy of worship, adoration, and praise. That anything created and susceptible to decay and death is fit to be worshiped is a lie. As astonishing and as ridiculous as the notion is, that is exactly what unsaved men in Paul’s day, as well as those of our day, do. Anything that is created is unworthy of worship and honor, be it a great athlete, a marvelous accomplishment, a noble ideal, or a figurine made by men’s hands. And such wickedness is judged by God, Who gives such people up to uncleanness through the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies between themselves. And to that judgment, the Apostle Paul inserts his agreement using as an ending the pronouncement Amen.

 

Thus are the actions of mankind summarized by the Apostle Paul, at least those actions that bear upon spiritual direction and discernment. Incredible is it not? For all his potential for genius mankind stoops to such nonsense in the spiritual realm, because he is, after all, is said and done dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2.1.

You may wonder what the Apostle Paul is doing at this point. He is building a legal case against the human race, introducing evidence into the courtroom of God that shows man’s sinfulness, man’s guiltiness, man’s culpability, and taking away every basis for a plea of innocence. He is on his way to showing that there are none righteous, that none seek after God, and that God is just in His condemnation of the entire human race. Understand that Paul is not doing this to justify God’s damnation of sinners to eternal Hellfire since God’s actions need no justification. He is God. What Paul is doing is laying the groundwork to show how utterly gracious and merciful God is for saving such guilty and wretched sinners as we are shown to be. And so Paul proceeds from verse to verse, from passage to passage, building his case as a prosecuting attorney to show our guiltiness to demonstrate God’s graciousness.

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[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 155-156.

[2] C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle To The Romans, Volume I (ICC), (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Limited, 1975), page 120.

[3] Ibid.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org