Everyone Is Guilty
18From heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth. 19They know everything that can be known about God, because God has shown it all to them. 20 God's eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made. That's why those people don't have any excuse. 21 They know about God, but they don't honor him or even thank him. Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark. 22They claim to be wise, but they are fools. 23 They don't worship the glorious and eternal God. Instead, they worship idols that are made to look like humans who cannot live forever, and like birds, animals, and reptiles.
24So God let these people go their own way. They did what they wanted to do, and their filthy thoughts made them do shameful things with their bodies. 25They gave up the truth about God for a lie, and they worshiped God's creation instead of God, who will be praised forever. Amen.
26God let them follow their own evil desires. Women no longer wanted to have sex in a natural way, and they did things with each other that were not natural. 27Men behaved in the same way. They stopped wanting to have sex with women and had strong desires for sex with other men. They did shameful things with each other, and what has happened to them is punishment for their foolish deeds.
28 Since these people refused even to think about God, he let their useless minds rule over them. That's why they do all sorts of indecent things. 29They are evil, wicked, and greedy, as well as mean in every possible way. They want what others have, and they murder, argue, cheat, and are hard to get along with. They gossip, 30say cruel things about others, and hate God. They are proud, conceited, and boastful, always thinking up new ways to do evil.
These people don't respect their parents. 31They are stupid, unreliable, and don't have any love or pity for others. 32They know God has said that anyone who acts this way deserves to die. But they keep on doing evil things, and they even encourage others to do them.
A hundred years ago a French psychologist called Émile Coué believed that his patients could be cured if they repeated to themselves daily the words: “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” We don’t hear this kind of advice very much today. The television news, which tends to focus on trouble and violence, persuades many of us that every day, in every way, things are getting worse and worse.
That is certainly the impression we get from Paul in today’s reading, an appalling catalogue of sin. This is the start of a long argument. I don’t think it will spoil your reading of it if I tell you how it ends in chapter 8, with one of the most glorious declarations of joy and hope.
How does Paul get from this dire description of how things are to how they will be – or rather can be now for those who believe in Jesus Christ?
He begins with the observation that the root of all evil is failing to worship the one true God. Even those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ have no excuse. They can see something of God in the world he has created. The colours of a sunset, the care of a bird for its fledglings, the growth of a plant from a seed, the miracle of the human body, are all clues to the nature of God. But ever since Adam and Eve human beings have rejected him for idols of their – our – own choosing. We no longer make idols like the ones he is talking about here. But we have our own more sophisticated objects of worship.
And so “God gave them up.” Paul says this three times (vv 24, 26, 28 ESV. The CEV and other translations obscure the fact that he uses the same word in all three of these verses). He respects our free will. He does not want automatons to worship him.
He found another way to win us back. That’s what Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about.
Father God, please forgive me for the times I choose to worship anything, anyone, other than you, and for the many times I have fallen into the ugly sins I read about here. Help me to fix my eyes on Jesus and to worship him alone. Amen.