God Gave Them Up
Sunday, November 20th, 2022
Preacher, Alistair Begg
The sermon was given at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
The full sermon transcript as well as the Scripture text appears below the video.
The Righteous Shall Live by Faith
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,g in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Romans 1:16-25 — English Standard Version
I invite you to turn with me to Romans and to chapter 1 and to follow along as I read from the sixteenth verse through to the end of verse 25. Romans 1:16. We’re becoming familiar with these words, and purposefully so, so that we might follow the line of Paul’s great declaration concerning the nature of the gospel and why it is so important. And he writes,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
All that we need is you, Jesus. Now, as we turn to the book which tells us all about you, grant that we might meet you in its pages, that we might hear your voice as its word is spoken, and that our hearts may become the throne room in which you take your rightful place. For we ask it in your name, Lord Jesus. Amen.
In her book The World Turned Upside Down, Melanie Phillips, who is an English journalist and columnist and someone that we have had dealings with in the past when she was here as our guest, she writes as an agnostic but an observant Jew. And in that book, which she wrote, I think, probably ten years or more ago now, she observed then, “Society seems to be in the grip of a mass derangement.” There is a “sense that the world has slipped off the axis of reason”—thus posing the question, “How is anyone to work out who [has the answer] in [the midst of] such a babble of ‘experts’ and with so much conflicting information?” She then sets out the case that “there has been a departure from reason and [from] logic because,” as she writes, “objectivity has been replaced in large measure by ideology.”
And I started to reread the book this week. I read it some time ago. And I was struck again—and I went looking for this—but I was struck by the absence in her writing. As I say, she writes as an observant Jew, and many of the points that she makes are profoundly helpful. What is missing in her analysis, as far as I can see, is any recognition of Genesis chapter 3. She mentions Genesis with a fair amount of emphasis, but there is no mention of chapter 3.
And that is a significant absence. Because chapter 3 of Genesis actually provides the answer to the question that she poses. How is it that the world that God has made in its entirety and in its perfection, pronouncing upon his creation that everything was good—how is it that within a matter of a few verses, in turning to chapter 4, everything has gone haywire? Why is it that now in chapter 4 we have murder, we have the breakdown of relationships, we have corruption, we essentially have madness?
And, of course, that’s the question that people are asking. People are asking this question all the time: “Why is the world the way it is? Why is it that if this good and all-powerful God that you want to talk about at Parkside is actually as good and as powerful as the Bible claims, why is it that all of this chaos ensues? Why the suffering? Why the sadness? Why the mayhem that has been represented in our news broadcasts even in the week that has passed?” And the answer is in chapter 3.
Now, we’re not doing a study in Genesis at the moment. But I was asked to address this at the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy this past Thursday. And since I had to study it, you might as well be the beneficiaries of a few observations.
Adam and Eve, instead of trusting God—you can read it for homework—instead of trusting God, they believed a lie. They believed a lie. And as a result of that, the world was no longer as God had made it but now became the world as man had spoiled it by sin. What was it that they had done? Well, they had actually rebelled against God. They essentially said by their actions, “We know what’s best for us. We can figure it out from here.” They have made the determination, in accordance with the lie that the serpent gave to them, that somehow or another, God wants to deprive them of that which would make them all that they might become. And in believing that, they were banished from the garden, they were alienated from God, they no longer enjoyed God’s friendship, and they had no means of reentry into the garden—unless, of course, God himself would provide that way of reentry.
And, of course, we have the first hint of how God is going to do that right there in Genesis 3:15, where
the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Now, Paul is going to address this. In fact, he is addressing this, essentially, in the verses that we are focusing on now. But he puts it succinctly by the time he gets to chapter 5 and right around verse 18 and 19. He writes, “For … by … one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous”—thus commenting on the fall of man into the predicament which is true of the entirety of humanity. That’s what the Bible says, whether we like it or whether we don’t.
Now, with that by way of introduction, look at Romans 1:24. Hopefully you kept your finger there. “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity”—or a better word might be “uncleanness” (I think the King James uses “uncleanness”; I don’t recall)—to uncleanness, “to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!”
Now, what we’re doing here in the second half of Romans 1 is essentially viewing God’s world through the lens of God’s Word. We’re looking to the Word of God to explain the world of God. Or, better still, we are seeking to see the world in light of the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are understanding the world in its predicament in light of God’s provision in the person of Jesus for a world that has turned upside down. And that’s why we began a few weeks ago reminding ourselves that Paul was “eager” to proclaim this good news, because, by way of rehearsal of what we know, he says he’s “not ashamed” of this gospel, because it is a gospel for “everyone.” For “everyone.”
Now, we need to remember this. Why is it a gospel for everyone? Because everyone needs the gospel. It’s very straightforward. It’s a gospel for everyone. It’s a gospel for atheists and agnostics, for Jews, for gentiles, for Buddhists, for Hindus, for Muslims, for the lost and the lonely, for the happy and the successful, for those who’ve figured out their gender and those who can’t figure out their gender. It is a gospel for the whole world.
Let that truth settle for a moment. Do you know of anything that is necessary for the entire world apart from the air that we breathe? Nobody would make that claim, would they? I don’t know of anybody, really. No religious leader would make that claim. But that’s what the Bible says.
And the reason that the gospel is needed by all is because all of us are in a hopeless and a helpless situation. We are, all of us, under God’s wrath—verse 18. Now, there are no exceptions to this. Paul is making his case all the way through into chapter 3, and he’s going to say, “Whether you are an irreligious gentile or whether you’re an observant Jew, it doesn’t matter. Here’s the problem: God has acted in such a way that the whole world will have its mouth stopped by way of argument or defense. And it will become apparent that the whole world is accountable to God.”
Now, this is something that is largely unpalatable. You don’t hear much of it in the press. You won’t, certainly, hear it in many congregations, because everybody wants to be liked and to be affirmed, and that’s true of the pastors as well. And so why get into stuff like this? There are many other things that we could talk about. But here we have it: that God’s anger is on account of our wickedness—our wickedness, whereby, as we’ve seen earlier, we suppress the truth. We refuse to acknowledge the truth we know. And we saw that in the last couple of studies: that this has been made known to us. Even the invisible qualities of God, his power and his divinity, are clearly perceived in the things that have been made.
Let me just take a brief discursus here for a moment and speak to some of our young people, who are increasingly living in a world where the idea of rationality is peculiarly on the side of science, and you are being told routinely that if you want to get into the realm of faith, then you must leave the realm of rationality and move into a strange category. This is challenged on every front, and not least of all by some who, in the course of their lives, have made the pilgrimage from atheism to theism.
For example, Antony Flew, in our generation: a fairly militant philosopher of an atheist. And in the course of thinking, in the course of using his brain, in the course of processing information, he has left atheism behind, and he has become at least a theist, a God believer. I don’t know. So is it like, a bit, the first part of C. S. Lewis’s conversion, where he moved from atheism to theism, before he actually comes to trust in Jesus? I don’t know where Flew is in relationship to that. But Flew makes the point that “to hold that reason … accounts for everything in the universe”—this is him—to suggest the idea that “reason … accounts for everything in the universe is profoundly unreasonable.” He says “the scientific atheists … overlook the most important aspect of all: the ineffable”—which is a word from a hymn—“the ineffable mysteriousness of self-consciousness, which is the ‘most obvious and unassailable and the most lethal’ argument against the materialist worldview.” The self, he writes,
cannot be explained in terms of physics or chemistry. These cannot explain phenomena in nature such as the code-processing systems of information in the cell; the fact that these have goals such as reproduction; or subjective awareness and conceptual thought. The only coherent explanation is that these are “supra-physical” phenomena—and these can only have originated in a “supra-physical” source.
So he says,
[It is] simply inconceivable that any material matrix or field can generate agents who think and act. Matter cannot produce conceptions and perceptions. A force field does not plan or think. So at the level of reason and everyday experience, we become immediately aware that the world of living, conscious, thinking beings has to originate in a living Source, a Mind.
Melanie goes on,
But scientific materialism holds that religion can be given no quarter whatever and that matter somehow created itself. Far from upholding reason, science itself has therefore become unreasonable. And so, in the name of scientific reason, many scientists are now departing from their own rules. Detached from its conceptual anchorage, science effectively turned man into God and decided that truth was only what science declared it to be.
Now, that brief discursus is simply to say to some of you who live in a world that I don’t inhabit, which is a scientific world: just think, and process information, and don’t allow yourselves to be driven into a corner under the disguised notion that somehow or another, rationality exists only in the realm of scientific endeavor. This is not a matter of irrationality. It is not a matter of leaping into the dark. This is a matter of leaping into the light, as it were, as the truth begins to dawn.
And that’s why—you can see he goes on to say, verse 22—behind a facade of wisdom, “they became fools.” “They became fools.” It’s so foolish, says Paul, to bow down to idols of our own making—to create something and then take it in your bedroom and to say, “Oh, dear little thing, please help me with my exams. Please help me with my life. Please help me with my MRI. Please…” Have you lost your mind? What are you doing in there with that thing? He says it’s insanity, isn’t it? Idols of our own making, replacing God. Essentially, we replace God with ourselves. Because we don’t want God to be God. “Why don’t you believe in God?” “I don’t want to believe in God.”
And here’s the grave thing. Here’s the gravity of all of this. For those of us who are praying and coming to pray tonight for friends and loved ones who are on a different plane when it comes to these questions, here’s the gravity of it: we do not understand, or we are unprepared to accept, the helplessness of our situation. Despite everything that is going on in our world at a macro level between the nations, and down at the tiny levels, and in the chaos of all that was taking place with this unsolved quadruple murder this week—all of this is there. And still mankind says, “No, no, no, no. We’ll be able to fix it.”
Shakespeare was ahead of the game in so many ways, wasn’t he? Remember, after Hamlet has learned that he has now been entrusted with the responsibility of avenging his father’s murder—his father has been murdered by Hamlet’s uncle—you remember what he says? “The time is out of joint.” “The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite that ever I was born to [put] it right!” Everything seems to be broken.
And we feel, actually, in ourselves, in our self-confidence, that actually, no matter how messed up it might be, there’s nothing we can’t fix. It’s quite surprising, really, isn’t it, when you think this was written to first-century Rome? And here we are, all these thousands of years later, and the immediate application of what he’s writing here in the twenty-first century proves unassailably the fact that we cannot fix it. The succession of governments, whether Republican, Democratic, Conservative, Labor, whatever they might be: here we are, proving the fact that neither by education nor by legislation—nor, actually, by totalitarian domination—are we able to fix the fundamental problem that is before us.
We’re actually like some people who, having a chest cough as I do, decide that they have no interest in going for a scan, no interest in having an MRI, for fear that the predicament is actually more dangerous than one is prepared to face. So they say, “Well, if I don’t find out about it, then I don’t need to really worry about it, and therefore, it won’t really have any impact at all.” (Incidentally, I’m not remotely worried about this cough, but I just… Of course, I think you’re aware of the fact. So that wasn’t a personal anecdote there.) But we don’t want to come into the light of God’s Word, do we? We don’t want to have him scan us, because we might find out that he’s absolutely right.
What we’re being told here, what we’re discovering, is that we are rebels under the wrath of God. Our sins—the things we’ve done, the things we’ve failed to do—are simply the outward manifestations of our personal decision to suppress the truth about God and thereby to pursue whatever it is that we have decided to put in the place of God. And therefore, God’s wrath—God’s wrath—is being revealed in the present. Remember, when we were in verse 18, we noted that there is a day of wrath that is coming. Paul is not speaking about that—verse 18: “For the wrath of God is revealed.”
Now, how is the wrath of God revealed? Verse 24 begins to tell us. Here is how God’s wrath is being revealed in the present tense: “God gave them up.” This is the first of three “gave them ups”: verse 24, verse 26, verse 28. It’s the second of three exchanges: they exchanged the glory for things that creep, they exchanged the truth for a lie, and they exchanged normal sexual activity for that which is in the face of God. And in this the wrath of God is being revealed. The reason for God’s retribution—for retribution it is—is because of the ungodliness and the unrighteousness of men. Ungodliness, the vertical axis: “We want nothing to do with you, God.” Unrighteousness, on the horizontal plane: the chaos that ensues all around us.
God’s response to giving them up is not arbitrary. It’s not random. He is giving them up to what they have chosen. You will notice that he “gave them up in the lusts of their hearts.” “In the lusts of their hearts.” The things that they craved for, the things that they longed for in place of him, they were being given over to. “This is what you wanted. You wanted to put this in place of me, the living God? Then here you are.”
Now, there’s something that’s very, very important to notice here. Because there is no question that there is a cause and effect in the implications of responding to temptation and sinning and so on, when desire then meets with action and so on. I’m thinking of the book of James. So, somehow or another, when this happens, this inevitably happens. And so, when you read that—“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their [heart] to [uncleanness], to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves”—this is not just noninterference on the part of God. The phrase “He gave them up”—“gave them up”—is not simply “He left them to themselves.” The phrase actually means being handed over to—“Here”—a more intensified and aggravated cultivation of the lusts of their hearts. This is so vitally important we realize: that sin in the religious realm is here punished in the moral realm. The unrighteousness emerges from the ungodliness. The progression that runs throughout the whole section is impiety, idolatry, immorality.
Now, if you think about this, just take any cultural period that you have lived through, and view the unfolding of things. Take the 1960s, for example: God is dead. God is dead. So what goes in his place? Whatever we want. And what happens is that we create idols of our own making. And suddenly, we live through one of the most immoral sexual revolutions that has taken place in the span of human history. And we now live as a result of what took place there: “I don’t care what’s right or wrong. You know, I don’t care about anything. Help me make it through the night”—and there the night into another night, and another night, in the darkness of the human soul, “the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.”
What he’s describing there is, if you like, a kind of communal immorality. A communal immorality: the degeneration of a culture, of a society, as it turns its back on God, puts gods, substitute gods, in its place—gods that cannot provide the things that the people long for in them, for we were made by God, for God, to trust God, to love God, to obey God; we were conceived within the context of God’s creative power in order that we might enjoy all that he has provided. “Here, you’ve got a whole garden,” he says. “Take it and enjoy it. I have made it for you in all of its fullness. But just prove to me that you trust me, and do this”—or, actually, “don’t do this”—“for one reason only: I am God. I am God. Leave it alone.” “No.”
The Evil One comes, says, “You don’t want to believe that stuff.” No, no, you can see what he’s doing. It’s the exact same thing I remember at school, when, in the ’60s at school, at the height of, you know, the unfolding of all kinds of sexual activities, the word on the street was “You know, if you can get out of that cage that you’re in, Begg, you can really have some fun. Why would you ever want to pay attention to that?” Hm.
Now, can I quote Melanie just one more time without you being annoyed? She doesn’t attribute the decline in sexual behavior to the judgment of God. No surprise, because she doesn’t pay attention to Genesis 3. But this is her observation. This is the observation of an observant, clever, Oxford-graduate columnist:
Sexual behavior [has now been] hauled out of the private realm and turned into enforceable public ‘rights.’ And because of the absolute taboo against hurting people’s feelings, the very idea of normative behavior had to be abolished so that no one would feel abnormal.
So behavior with harmful consequences for others or for society in general, such as sexual promiscuity or having children without fathers, was treated as normal. Correspondingly, those who advocated mainstream, normative values such as fidelity, chastity or duty were accused of bigotry because they made those who did not uphold [their] values feel bad about themselves … the ultimate sin. Alternative lifestyles became mainstream. The counterculture became the culture.
“God gave them up.”
You see, we ought to be devastated by this. You see, when people focus on the idea… Let me put it in as graphic a way as I can. If you’ve got the impression that Jesus came to save you from your sins, that’s good, and that’s true. But let me tell you what Jesus came to do: he came to save you from God. He came to save you from the wrath of God—that you are by nature, I am by nature, a rebel without cause before Almighty God, who made me for himself. That’s my problem. The issues, the expressions, the manifestations are simply evidences of the core predicament: that we are in the wrong, and God is angry.
The reason why people are able to dismiss the gospel with such ease is because it is presented in such a casual way, as if somehow or another, it’s on your time and in your own way that you can silently file in and join up or whatever it might be—no idea, no idea of the fact that when you put your head on the pillow at night, you may never waken up in time again but in eternity, and you will enter into eternity under the wrath of God. That’s why he says, “Do not eat this. For in the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” In other words, there is judgment. And the serpent comes, and the voice of the Evil One says, “You don’t need to believe that stuff about judgment. You don’t need to believe that stuff about death.” “As in Adam all die, so in Christ … will [all] be made alive.”
Now, I’m not going to pause here, you’ll be glad to know. But I want to make an observation for the future. I’m not planning on dealing with verse 26 on next Sunday, in the Thanksgiving Sunday. I may be dumb, but I’m not that dumb, so… And I’m not sure that I’m going to deal with 26 to the end of the chapter in the morning when I return to it. I think I will deal with it in the evening, ’cause I want to be able to handle it in a way that does not invade the privacy of parents with their children. But I will alert you to that as I choose. And the judgment, of course, is yours as parents.
But when you factor this notion of “the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves”—and I look at what is happening in my homeland in Scotland in the realm of gender and sexuality. The same is true in large measure here, but somewhat behind. Conversion therapy, whereby somebody would want to talk with someone about the nature of their dysphoria, would want to talk to somebody about the reason that God has made them—any notion of doing that, any notion of doing that—is described as being a harmful emotional, physical therapy that is used against the LGBTQ. That’s all that that is. It’s entirely negative. All right? Anytime you read it in the press, whatever you do, we must never be involved in those kinds of things. (This is not a comment on conversion therapy. I’m just making a point.) The flip side of it is that the drastic treatments offered to young boys and girls—puberty-blocking drugs, hormone treatments, sex-change surgeries—is presented as perfectly reasonable, sensible, and advances the cause of a rational culture.
Who makes these decisions? A man cannot become a woman, and a woman cannot become a man. It is the responsibility of the Christian to speak the truth in love, to speak it with compassion, but to speak it with conviction. Loved ones, we cannot start from the place of verse 18—“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all [the] ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”—and then, when it comes to the actual points of application, fall back into a kind of stupefied dumbness. “God gave them up.” “God gave them up.”
And I want to say one other thing as well, and it’s this: this is the world in which we live. We live in this world now. Jesus was very clear in his High Priestly Prayer that his followers should not be taken out of the world, but they should be kept from the Evil One: “I pray that you will sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth. They need to understand what you have said, God the Father, and make sure that they lay hold of it.” And so we recognize that here we are, living in this culture, and our boat—the boat of our Christian faith, if you like—is in the water, or the church is in the water, but the water mustn’t be in the boat.
What we mustn’t miss in this is the recurring emphasis in Scripture by the same apostle Paul, writing to the church about these very matters. In other words, Romans 1 does not exist on its own as a statement about the dramatic devastation that is represented in a world that has turned its back on God. He’s also writing to those who have professed themselves to be followers of the living God. And what does he say to them?
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; [and make sure] that no one transgress[es] and wrong[s] his brother in this matter.
That’s 1 Thessalonians 4.
You read him in Ephesians. When we studied Ephesians, we saw this: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, … you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” Remember? That “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” “You better not be walking in the futility of your minds.”
They[’re] darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to [the] hardness of [their] heart[s]. They[’ve] become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of [uncleanness]. … That is not the way you learned Christ!
See what he’s saying? In one sense, what he’s saying is “Don’t get up on your high horse on this stuff. You recognize this.” And I think if we’re honest, we need to recognize this too: that in many ways, we have become calloused. The impact of the frog-in-the-kettle thing? I could never have imagined, as a boy sixty years ago, hearing the amount of profanity that is heard, the extent of brutality that is in contemporary movies, the depth of immorality. This is our world. We live in this world. And if we’re not careful, because it’s only been heating up gradually, we find that we have actually found it funny to laugh at these things. We found it titillating to consider these things. We tolerated ourselves to a lifestyle that God never intended.
Be imitators of God, as beloved children. … Walk in love …. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not … be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let … no filthiness … foolish talk … crude jok[es], which are out of place, but … let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you[’re] light in the Lord. Walk[, live,] as children of light.
In other words, the Christian in this contemporary chaos is supposed to shine as a light in the dark place. The Christian is not somebody who has a particular political bent. The Christian is not somebody who is on the side of this or on the side of that. The Christian is a follower of Jesus, the one who stands in the synagogue in Nazareth and said, “The Spirit of God is now upon me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, to bring light into the darkness of the caves of people’s own rebellion,” and so on. How is this manifested in our world? Well, it’s manifested in a world that has gone completely nuts by Christians who are prepared to do this.
Now, we need to stop. But notice, 25: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” In other words, it’s Genesis. Notice something carefully: all the uncleanness is not the cause of God’s wrath; it is the evidence of his wrath. He gave them up to that which they had already determined was their idol, was their success, was their significance. His judgment lies in being given over to the destructive power of idolatry and of evil. That’s where the judgment of God lies. That’s why it’s revealed.
You look at the culture, and the world says, “I haven’t a clue what’s going on here.” It’s a long time since the Beatles sang, “[You]’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.” Nobody believes that. They didn’t believe it then; they don’t believe it now. That’s for sure.
The behavior—and this is going to be important when we get to the closing verses—the behavior is not the root problem. The behavior is not the root problem. It is the ugly fruit of the exchange. “They exchanged the truth … for a lie.” And the manifestations of that decision are the evidence of God’s judgment upon humanity. He has revealed the righteousness which is through faith for all who believe in the context of the unrighteousness and the ungodliness which men and women, choosing to suppress the truth, have embraced.
God hands us over to disordered desires that end, eventually, in tragedy and in death. Every funeral that I’ve done for addicts—if you had spoken to them before they took that final dose, they would tell you, “I’m actually now held in a grip that I cannot liberate myself from. This has been my longing. This has been my craving. This has been my everything.”
You see, the lie is that God is a cosmic killjoy. The lie is that the things we choose to serve will set us free. The lie is that, for example, we were never made for monogamy. Just yesterday, in The Times, I read an article—a pathetic article—by an Oxford graduate entitled “Half the Fun of Married Life Is the Infidelity.” Don’t get smart, now. Some of you watched The Bridges of Madison County. Some of you read the book. No. We find ourselves in between time and eternity, entrusted with a message that is wonderful in its fullness, set against the backdrop of God’s judgment. And it is an irony that we need to continually point out that the things that offer freedom actually enslave us.
Let me finish in this way: three Ps. Three Ps.
The response of the life that becomes aware of God’s amazing grace is, first of all, the response of penitence. Penitence. It was in the ’80s or ’90s that the people that started selling those things to hang around your neck—once you get to our age, my age, you’re supposed to have it in the bathroom in case you fall down, and the bell goes off. And I don’t have one yet, but I’m open to offers. But the line that became part of common parlance was “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” That’s response number one. That’s Genesis 3. “We have fallen, and we can’t get up, unless you come and pick us up.” That is salvation. That’s response number one: penitence.
Response number two: praise. Look at how he finishes with a little, mini doxology: “Bless God. The Lord is blessed forever and ever.” He says, “You know, no matter how much people dishonor things, they cannot ultimately rob God of his honor and of his glory.”
So, penitence on the part of the one who comes to Christ, praise on the part of those who are in Christ, and postponement on the part of every one of you that wants to roll the dice and walk out believing that you’re in neither department one nor in department two. In other words, you want to do what some did after Paul preached in Athens: they said, “We will hear [you] again [on] this matter.” Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. “Now is the accepted time; behold, [today] is the day of salvation.” There’s not a person in this room that does not need the gospel.
Let us pray:
Lord, in your mercy, look upon us, we pray. Grant that this wonderful, amazing good news, offered to all who believe, may find a resting place in our hearts. We realize that what you’ve made known of yourself is insufficient to put us in a right position with you. We need what Jesus has done upon the cross for that. So take us there, Lord. Help those of us who are proud to just come before you—drive away in the car and say to you, “God, I have fallen, and I can’t get up. Pick me up.” And then, for those of you who have come by your mercy to trust in you, then we say, “Let the amen sound from [the] people again.” For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 Melanie Phillips, The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power (New York: Encounter, 2010), x.
 Phillips, xi.
 Genesis 3:14–15 (ESV).
 Romans 5:19 (ESV).
 Romans 1:15 (ESV).
 Phillips, World Turned Upside Down, 335–36.
 Anthony Flew, with Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: HarperOne, 2007), 183, quoted in Phillips, 336.
 Phillips, 336.
 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 5.1.
 See James 1:14–15.
 Genesis 2:16–17 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 3:4–5 (paraphrased).
 Phillips, World Turned Upside Down, 285–86.
 1 Corinthians 15:22 (NIV).
 See John 17:15.
 John 17:17 (paraphrased).
 1 Thessalonians 4:2–6 (ESV).
 Romans 4:17 (ESV).
 Ephesians 4:18–20 (ESV).
 Ephesians 5:1–8 (ESV).
 Luke 4:18 (paraphrased).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Getting Better” (1967).
 Phoebe Hennell, “Half the Fun of Married Life Is the Infidelity,” The Times, November 16, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/half-the-fun-of-married-life-is-the-infidelity-7zhzdvrfl.
 Acts 17:32 (KJV).
 2 Corinthians 6:2 (KJV).
 Joachim Neander, trans. Catherine Winkworth, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (1680, 1863).