Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
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. (1:24–32)
As Paul illustrates in these verses, and develops theologically through the end of chapter 4, man is not basically good but evil. His nature is innately bent toward sin. “There is none righteous, not even one; … there is none who does good, there is not even one. … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 12, 23). Those who ignore God’s provision for dealing with sin and seek to improve themselves by their own power invariably commit the most heinous sin of all, which is self-righteousness and pride. Only God can graciously remove sin or produce righteousness, and the person who tries to eliminate his own guilt or achieve his own righteousness merely drives himself deeper into sin and further from God.
Like an untended garden, when man is left to himself the bad always chokes out the good, because that is the inclination of his fallen nature. Man has no capacity in himself to restrain the weeds of his sinfulness or to cultivate the good produce of righteousness. Man’s natural development is not upward but downward; he does not evolve but devolve. He is not ascending to God but descending from God. He has continued a downward spiral of depravity throughout history, getting worse and worse, and when the restraints of the Holy Spirit are removed during the final Tribulation period, all hell will break loose on earth as evil reaches its ultimate stage (see 2 Thess. 2:3–9; Rev. 9:1–11).
Man cannot stop this slide because he is innately a slave to sin (Rom. 6:16–20), and the more he pursues his deceiving efforts at self-reformation apart from God the more he becomes enslaved to sin, whose ultimate end is eternal death (Rom. 6:16–23). As C. S. Lewis perceptively observes in his book The Problem of Pain, “[The lost] enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved” ([New York: Macmillan, 1962], pp. 127–28).
The major point of Romans 1:24–32 is that when men persistently abandon God, God will abandon them (see vv. 24, 26, 28). Even when God’s own people ignore and disobey Him, He may temporarily abandon them. “But My people did not listen to My voice,” the psalmist wrote in behalf of the Lord, “and Israel did not obey Me. So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devices” (Ps. 81:11–12). Hosea reports the same tragic reality concerning the unfaithfulness of the northern kingdom, represented by Ephraim, to whom God said: “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone” (Hos. 4:17).
In his message to the high priest and other religious leaders in Jerusalem, Stephen reminded them that when the ancient Israelites rejected the Lord and erected and worshiped the golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai, “God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven,” that is, the demon-inspired deities they had made (Acts 7:38–42). Paul declared to a pagan crowd in Lystra, “In the generations gone by [God] permitted all the nations to go their own ways” (Acts 14:16).
When God abandons men to their own devices, His divine protection is partially withdrawn. When that occurs, men not only become more vulnerable to the destructive wiles of Satan but also suffer the destruction that their own sin works in and through them. “You have forsaken Me and served other gods,” the Lord said to Israel. “Therefore I will deliver you no more” (Judg. 10:13). When God’s Spirit came upon Azariah, He told Judah, “The Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chron. 15:2). Through “Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest,” God again said to Judah, “Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He has also forsaken you” (2 Chron. 24:20).
Romans 1:24–32 vividly portrays the consequences of God’s abandonment of rebellious mankind, showing the essence (vv. 24–25), the expression (vv. 26–27), and the extent (vv. 28–32) of man’s sinfulness. Each of those progressively more sobering sections is introduced with the declaration “God gave them over.”
The Essence of Man’s Sinfulness
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (1:24–25)
Therefore refers back to the reasons Paul has just set forth in verses 18–23. Although God revealed himself to man (vv. 19–20), man rejected God (v. 21) and then rationalized his rejection (v. 22; cf. v. 18b) and created substitute gods of his own making (v. 23). And because man abandoned God, God abandoned men-He gave them over. It is that divine abandonment and its consequences that Paul develops in verses 24–32, the most sobering and fearful passage in the entire epistle.
Paradidōmi (gave … over) is an intense verb. In the New Testament it is used of giving one’s body to be burned (1 Cor. 13:3) and three times of Christ’s giving Himself up to death (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 25). It is used in a judicial sense of men’s being committed to prison (Mark 1:14; Acts 8:3) or to judgment (Matt. 5:25; 10:17, 19, 21; 18:34) and of rebellious angels being delivered to pits of darkness (2 Pet. 2:4). It is also used of Christ’s committing Himself to His Father’s care (1 Pet. 2:23) and of the Father’s delivering His own Son to propitiatory death (Rom. 4:25; 8:32)
God’s giving over sinful mankind has a dual sense. First, in an indirect sense God gave them over simply by withdrawing His restraining and protective hand, allowing the consequences of sin to take their inevitable, destructive courseú Sin degrades man, debases the image of God in which he is made, and strips him of dignity, peace of mind, and a clear conscience. Sin destroys personal relationships, marriages, families, cities, and nations It also destroys churches. Thomas Watson said, “Sin … puts gravel in our bread [and] wormwood in our cup” (A Body of Divinity [Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1983 reprint], p. 136).
Fallen men are not concerned about their sin but only about the pain from the unpleasant consequences sin brings Someone has well said that sin would have fewer takers if the consequences were immediate. Many people, for example, are greatly concerned about venereal disease but resent the suggestion of avoiding it by restraining sexual promiscuity and perversions. Instead of adhering to God’s standards of moral purity, they attempt to remove the consequences of their impurity They turn to counseling, to medicine, to psychoanalysis, to drugs, to alcohol, to travel, and to a host of other means to escape what cannot be escaped except by the removal of their sin.
It is said that an ermine would rather die than defile its beautiful coat of fur; the animal will go to incredible lengths to protect it. Man does not have such an inclination concerning the defilement of sin. He cannot keep himself pure and has no natural desire to do so.
Not all of God’s wrath is future. In the case of sexual promiscuity-perhaps more specifically and severely than in any other area of morality-God has continually poured out His divine wrath by means of venereal disease. In regard to countless other manifestations of godlessness, He pours out His wrath in the forms of the loneliness, frustration, meaninglessness, anxiety, and despair that are so characteristic of modern society. As sophisticated, self-sufficient mankind draws further and further away from God, God gives them over to the consequences of their spiritual and moral rebellion against Him. Commentator Alan E Johnson said, “Without God there are no abiding truths, lasting principles, or norms, and man is cast upon a sea of speculation and skepticism and attempted self-salvation” (The Freedom Letter [Chicago: Moody, 1974], p. 41).
The divine abandonment of men to their sin about which Paul speaks here is not eternal abandonment. As long as sinful men are alive, God provides opportunity for their salvation That is the marvelous good news of God’s grace, which Paul develops later in the epistle. Like her Old Testament namesake, the Jezebel who was misleading the church at Thyatira was the embodiment of idolatrous, immoral godlessness, yet the Lord graciously gave her opportunity to repent (see Rev. 2:20–21). Despite His righteous wrath against sin, God is patient toward sinners, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
After giving a list of sins similar to that in Romans 1:29–31, Paul reminded the Corinthian believers, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). It is sin that makes the gospel of salvation necessary and that makes God’s offer of salvation through Christ so gracious.
In a second, direct sense God gave … over rebellious mankind by specific acts of judgment. The Bible is replete with accounts of divine wrath being directly and supernaturally poured out on sinful men. The flood of Noah’s day and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, for example, were not indirect natural consequences of sin but were overt supernatural expressions of God’s judgment on gross and unrepented sin.
God often allows men to go deeper and deeper into sin in order to drive them to despair and to show them their need of Him. Often He punishes men in order to heal and restore (Isa. 19:22).
It was because the lusts of their hearts were for impurity that God abandoned men to their sin. Men’s lostness is not determined by the outward circumstances of their lives but by the inner condition of their hearts. A persons sin begins within himself. “For out of the heart,” Jesus said, “come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man” (Matt. 15:19–20). Jeremiah had proclaimed the same basic truth: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9; cf. Prov. 4:23).
Used metaphorically in Scripture, “the heart” does not represent the emotions or feelings, as it generally does in modern usage, but rather the whole thinking process, including especially the will and marts motivation. In its broadest sense, the heart represents the basic nature of a person, his inner being and character.
In our day, the basic ungodliness of man is nowhere more clearly exposed than in the popular admonition to do one’s own thing. Man’s “own thing” is sin, which characterizes his whole natural being. Self-will is the essence of all sin. Although Satan was responsible for their being tempted to sin, it was the voluntary placing of their own will-s above God’s that caused Adam and Eve to commit the first sin.
Men reject God because their preferences, their lusts, are for their own way rather than God’s. Lusts translates epithumia, which can refer to any desire but was most often used of carnal desire for that which was sinful or forbidden.
Speaking about believers as well as unbelievers, James declared that “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:14). Because even Christians are tempted to desire their own sin above God’s holiness, Paul warned the Thessalonians about falling into the lustful passions that characterized pagan Gentiles (1 Thess. 4:5). He reminded the Ephesians that “we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph. 2:3).
Akatharsia (impurity) was a general term for uncleanness and was often used of decaying matter, especially the contents of a grave, which were considered by Jews to be both physically and ceremonially unclean. As a moral term, it usually referred to or was closely associated with sexual immorality Paul lamented over the Corinthians “who [had] sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they [had] practiced” (2 Cor. 12:21). He used the same three terms to introduce the list of “deeds of the flesh” that are in perpetual conflict with “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:19–23). He exhorted the Ephesians: “Do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Eph. 5:3; cf. 1 Thess. 4:7).
The effect of men’s rebellious, self-willed impurity was that their bodies might be dishonored. When men seek to glorify their own ways and to satisfy their bodies through shameful indulgence in sexual and other sins, their bodies, along with their souls, are instead dishonored. When man seeks to elevate himself for his own purposes and by his own standards, he inevitably does the opposite. The way of fallen mankind is always downward, never upward. The more he exalts himself, the more he declines. The more he magnifies himself the more he diminishes. The more he honors himself, the more he becomes dishonored.
No society in history has given more attention to caring for the body than has the modern Western world. Yet no society has caused more degradation of the body. The more human life is exalted for its own sake, the more it is debased. In tragic irony, the same society that glorifies the body has no regard for the body, the same society that exalts man incessantly degrades him. The world echoes with demands for men’s fights; yet books, movies, and television often portray brutality and murder as all but normal, and sexual promiscuity and perversion are constantly glamorized.
Because humanism rejects God, it has no basis for man’s dignity. And therefore in the name of humanism, humanity is dehumanized. While lamenting man’s inhumanity to man, fallen men refuse to recognize that in rejecting God they reject the only source and measure of man’s dignity. Therefore, while loudly proclaiming the greatness of man, modern society abuses man at every turn. We sexually abuse one another, economically abuse one another, criminally abuse one another, and verbally abuse one another. Because they reject the God who made them and would redeem them, “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Eccles. 9:3).
The well-known founder of a contemporary pornographic empire is said to have commented: “Sex is a biological function like eating and drinking. So let’s forget all the prudery about it and do whatever we feel like doing.” That such thinking is not the modern invention of a sophisticated “world come of age” is dearly seen in the fact that Paul confronted precisely the same thinking in Corinth nearly 2,000 years ago. A common saying in that day was “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food,” and the apostle intimates that it was used even by some Christians to justify sexual immorality, comparing eating to sexual indulgence. Both were claimed to be merely biological functions, which could be used however one might choose. Paul’s stinging reply to that perverted reasoning was, “The body is not for immorality but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13).
As the apostle goes on to explain in that passage, sexual immorality not only is sin against the Lord but is sin against one’s own body (v. 18). That is his point of the present passage. The body that indulges in sexual impurity is itself dishonored; it is debased, disgraced, and degraded.
Newspapers abound with reports of senseless beatings for no other purpose than the perverted fun of it. Brutal wife and child abuse have become epidemic. The Indianapolis Star reported that child toolesters have their own national organization called nambla (National American Man Boy Love Association) that publishes a newsletter for members (Tom Keating, “Molesters Have Own Organization” [15 April 1981], p. 17). One of the shocking things the article mentioned was that at a large seminar to discuss prevention of child pornography and related crimes, a man interrupted the proceedings and loudly defended his and other men’s rights to indulge in such perversion. Lately nambla has been in the news again because it is becoming more bold and open about its activities.
That is the legacy of those who have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Having suppressed God’s truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18), rebellious man submits himself to untruth, a lie. The basic divine truth that fallen man suppresses is that of God’s very existence and therefore His right and demand to be honored and glorified as sovereign Lord (see vv. 19–21). Scripture often speaks of God as being the truth, as Jesus declared of Himself (John 14:6). Isaiah described a pagan who held an idol in his hand but was too spiritually blind to ask what should have been an obvious question: “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Isa. 44:20). Through Jeremiah, the Lord declared to apostate Judah, “You have forgotten Me and trusted in falsehood” (Jer. 13:25). To forsake God is to forsake truth and become a slave to falsehood. To reject God, the Father of truth, is to become vulnerable to Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44).
Tragically, as in the Corinthian church of Paul’s day, many people who claim the name of Christ today have succumbed to the world’s self-oriented view of morality. An advice columnist to singles received a letter asking how Christian singles can deal with their sexual desires and still uphold their Christian beliefs. The columnist referred to a woman on her surf who conducts Christian singles retreats, who replied that such decisions were up to each couple to make for themselves. If having sex before marriage would harm their relationship or compromise their personal value systems, they should refrain, she said. Otherwise, “sex in a loving relationship is all right without the sanction of marriage” (Joan Keeler, “The Single Experience,” Glendale News-Press [13 August 1981], p. 10).
When men turned from God and His truth, Paul goes on to say, they then worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. As the apostle had just pointed out, they found themselves foolishly and wickedly worshiping lifeless images of their own making, “in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (v. 23).
Perhaps unable to continue discussing such vile things without “coming up for air,” as it were, Paul inserts a common Jewish doxology about the true God, the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Paul could not resist adding that refreshing thought in the sea of filth he was describing. That word of praise to the Lord served, by utter contrast, to magnify the wickedness of idolatry and all other ungodliness.
The Expression of Man’s Sinfulness
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. (1:26–27)
For this reason, Paul declares-that is, because of man’s rejecting the true God for false gods of his own making, for worshiping the creature rather than the Creator-God gave them over to degrading passions. For the second time (see v. 24) the apostle mentions God’s abandonment of sinful mankind. He abandoned them not only to idolatry, the ultimate sexual expression of man’s spiritual degeneracy, but also to degrading passions, which he identifies in these two verses as homosexuality, the ultimate expression of man’s moral degeneracy.
To illustrate the degrading passions that rise out of the fallen human heart, Paul uses homosexuality, the most degrading and repulsive of all passions. In their freedom from God’s truth men turned to perversion and even inversion of the created order. In the end their humanism resulted in the dehumanization of each of them. Perversion is the illicit and twisted expression of that which is God-given and natural. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is inversion, the expression of that which is neither God-given nor natural. When man forsakes the Author of nature, he inevitably forsakes the order of nature.
Some women of ancient times and throughout history have exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural. Paul does not use gunē, the usual term for women, but rather thēleia, which simply means female. In most cultures women have been more reluctant than men to become involved either in sexual promiscuity or homosexuality. Perhaps Paul mentions women first because their practice of homosexuality is especially shocking and dismaying. In commenting on this verse, theologian Charles Hodge wrote, “Paul first refers to the degradation of females among the heathen, because they are always the last to be affected in the decay of morals, and their corruption is therefore proof that all virtue is lost” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983 reprint], p. 42).
Chrēsis (function) was commonly used of sexual intercourse, and in this context the term could refer to nothing other than intimate sexual relations. Even most pagan societies have recognized the clearly obvious fact that homosexuality is abnormal and unnatural. It is also an abnormality that is unique to man.
And in the same way also the men, Paul says, again using a Greek term that simply denotes gender, in this case, males. The usual Greek terms for women and men, like corresponding terms in most languages, imply a certain dignity, and Paul refused to ascribe even an implied dignity to those who degenerate into homosexuality.
Those males, says Paul, abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts. There is a burning level of lust among homosexuals that beggars description and is rarely known among heterosexuals. The homosexuals of Sodom were so passionately consumed with their lust that they ignored the fact that they had been made blind and “wearied themselves trying to find the doorway” into Lot’s house in order to pursue their vile passion (Gen. 19:11). Those ancient people were so morally perverse that in Scripture the name Sodom became a byword for immoral godlessness, and sodomy, a term derived from that name, became throughout history a synonym for homosexuality and other forms of sexual deviation.
In the United States and many other western countries it is not uncommon for homosexual males to have 300 partners a year. Even when relationships are on a friendly basis, the most bizarre acts imaginable are committed, and mutilation is common. In his biography (Where Death Delights, by Marshall Houts [New York: Coward-McCann, 1967]), the New York City forensic expert Dr. Milton Helpern, who makes no claim of being a Christian and avoids making moral judgments about homosexuality, nevertheless comments that, after having performed thousands of autopsies, he would warn anyone who chooses a homosexual lifestyle to be prepared for the consequences: “When we see … brutal, multiple wound cases in a single victim … we just automatically assume that we’re dealing with a homosexual victim and a homosexual attacker. … I don’t know why it is so, but it seems that the violent explosions of jealousy among homosexuals far exceed those of the jealousy of a man for a woman, or a woman for a man. The pent-up charges and energy of the homosexual relationship simply cannot be contained. When the explosive point is reached, the result is brutally violent. … But this is the ‘normal’ pattern of these homosexual attacks, the multiple stabbings, the multiple senseless beatings that obviously must continue long after the victim dies” (pp. 269–70).
A San Francisco coroner estimated that ten percent of his city’s homicides were probably related to sadomasochistic sex among homosexuals (cf. Bob Greene, “Society’s Been Given Far Too Much Rope,” the Chicago Tribune [19 March 1981], sec. 2, p. 1). Yet in spite of such impartial and damning evidence, many people, including a large number of psychologists and other social professionals, persist in maintaining there is no scientific proof that homosexuality is abnormal or harmful to society. Some even assert that attempts to convert homosexuals to heterosexuals are ethically questionable. The city government of San Francisco has even conducted workshops to teach homosexuals how to avoid serious bodily harm while engaging in sadomasochistic sex-although by definition, both sadism and masochism are destructive! The very purpose of both deviations is to inflict pain and harm, sadism on others and masochism on oneself. Many mass murderers seem to be homosexuals.
Unimaginably, many church denominations in the United States and elsewhere have ordained homosexuals to the ministry and even established special congregations for homosexuals. One denominational group claims that homosexuality is no more abnormal than left-handedness. An official church organization for homosexuals is called Dignity.
Instead of trying to help their children become free of sexual deviation, many parents of homosexuals have banded together to defend their children and to coerce society, government, and churches to recognize and accept homosexuality as normal. In many cases, religions that hold homosexuality to be a sin are blamed for the tragic results that homosexuals bring on themselves and on their families and friends. Evangelical Christianity in particular is often made the culprit and is accused of persecuting innocent people who cannot help being what they are.
But in both testaments God’s Word condemns homosexuality in the strongest of terms. Under the Old Covenant it was punishable by death. Paul declares unequivocally that, although homosexuality can be forgiven and cleansed just as any other sin, no unrepentant homosexual will enter heaven, just as will no unrepentant fornicator, idolater, adulterer, effeminate person, thief, covetous person, drunkard, reviler, or swindler (1 Cor. 6:9–11; cf. Gal. 5:19–21; Eph. 5:3–5; 1 Tim. 1:9–10; Jude 7).
All people are born in sin, and individuals have varying tendencies and temptations toward certain sins. But no one is born a homosexual, any more than anyone is born a thief or a murderer. A person who becomes a habitual and unrepentant thief, murderer, adulterer, or homosexual does so of his own choice.
Any attempt at all to justify homosexuality is both futile and wicked, but to attempt to justify it on biblical grounds, as do many misguided church leaders, is even more futile and vile. To do that is to make God a liar and to love what He hates and justify what He condemns.
God so abhors homosexuality that He determined that the disgraceful, shameful acts that women commit with women and men commit with men would result in their receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. They would be judged by the self-destructiveness of their sin. The appalling physical consequences of homosexuality are visible evidence of God’s righteous condemnation. Unnatural vice brings its own perverted reward. aids is frightening evidence of that fatal promise.
The Extent of Man’s Sinfulness
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. (1:28–32)
Because fallen mankind did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over in still another way, in this case to a depraved mind. The God-less mind is a depraved mind, whose predetermined and inevitable disposition is to do those things which are not proper.
The basic meaning of adokimos (depraved) is that of not standing the test, and the term was commonly used of metals that were rejected by refiners because of impurities. The impure metals were discarded, and adokimos therefore came to include the ideas of worthlessness and uselessness. In relation to God, the rejecting mind becomes a rejected mind and thereby becomes spiritually depraved, worthless and useless. Of unbelievers, Jeremiah wrote, “They call them rejected silver, because the Lord has rejected them” (Jer. 6:30). The mind that finds God worthless becomes worthless itself. It is debauched, deceived, and deserving only of God’s divine wrath.
The sinful, depraved mind says to God, “Depart from us! We do not even desire the knowledge of Thy ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him, and what would we gain if we entreat Him?” (Job 21:14–15). Although God-less people think they are wise, they are supremely foolish (Rom. 1:22). Regardless of their natural intelligence and their learning in the physical realm, in the things of God they are devoid even of “the beginning of knowledge,” because they lack reverential fear of Him. They are merely “fools [who] despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7; cf. v. 29).
Even God’s chosen people, the Jews, fell into that foolishness when they rejected or neglected the revelation and blessings He had showered on them so uniquely and abundantly. “For My people are foolish, they know Me not,” the Lord declared through Jeremiah; “they are stupid children, and they have no understanding. They are shrewd to do evil, but to do good they do not know” (Jer. 4:22; cf. 9:6). Those who reject the true God are wholly vulnerable to “the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
The catalog of sins Paul proceeds to mention in Romans 1:29–31 is not exhaustive, but it is representative of the virtually endless number of vices with which the natural man is filled.
The first two terms in the nasb text, all unrighteousness and wickedness, are comprehensive and general, synonyms that encompass the entire range of the particular sins that follow. Some versions include fornication between those first two terms, but that word is not found in the best Greek manuscripts. The idea is certainly not inappropriate to the context, however, because fornication is universally condemned in Scripture and is frequently included by Paul in lists of vices (see 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19; Col. 3:5). Fornication is implied in the sin of impurity, which has already been mentioned in the present passage (1:24).
The sins mentioned in the rest of the list are basically self-explanatory: 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. The Greek term behind untrustworthy means literally to break a covenant, as reflected in some translations. Unloving relates especially to unnatural family relationships, such as that of a parent who abandons a young child or a grown child who abandons his aging parents.
Reiterating the fact that rebellious, ungodly men are without excuse, Paul declares that they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death. The apostle has already established that, since the creation of the world, God has made Himself known to every human being (vv. 19–21). People do not recognize God because they do not want to recognize Him, because they willingly “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). “This is the judgment,” Jesus said, “that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19–20).
Whether they recognize it or not, even those who have never been exposed to the revelation of God’s Word are instinctively aware of His existence and of His basic standards of righteousness. “They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom. 2:15).
In most societies of the world, even in those considered uncivilized, most of the sins Paul lists here are considered wrong, and many are held to be crimes. Men inherently know that such things as greed, envy, murder, deceit, arrogance, disobedience, and mercilessness are wrong.
The absolute pit of wickedness is reached, Paul says, when those who are themselves involved in evils also give hearty approval to others who practice them. To justify one’s own sin is wicked enough, but to approve and encourage others to sin is immeasurably worse. Even the best of societies have had those within them who were blatantly wicked and perverse. But a society that openly condones and defends such evils as sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, and the rest has reached the deepest level of corruption. Many of the most socially advanced societies of our own day are in that category. Sexually promiscuous celebrities are glamorized and the rights of homosexuals are ardently defended. These acts of sin are in direct contradiction to the revealed will of God.
A certain species of ants in Africa builds its nests in deep subterranean tunnels, where its young and its queen live. Although they may be great distances from the nest foraging for food, worker ants of that species are able to sense when the queen is being molested and they become extremely nervous and uncoordinated. If she is killed, they become frantic and rush around aimlessly until they die.
What better illustration could there be of fallen man. Even in his sinful rejection and rebellion, he cannot function properly apart from God and is destined only for death.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (pp. 97–110). Chicago: Moody Press.