Romans 1:18-32
Sin's Source

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In October 1999

1.  As of Wednesday of this week (Ash Wednesday) we enter into the Passion period of the church calendar (Lent).  As we recall the passion or suffering of the Lord, the days begin in which we will continually ask, "O Lord, your sufferings -- why?"  On this Lord's Day just before Lent, the biblical passage we are given is the same as last week's.  Today I read you the passage in chapter one and verses eighteen onward in The Epistle To The Roman Disciples wherein is recorded a message concerning the sin of humanity.  Through the words of this scripture I would like for us to listen to the message the Lord is directing to us, to examine ourselves, and to prepare to enter the Lenten season.

Because They Wouldn't Recognize God

2.  To start, let's read verse twenty-eight again.  "Because they wouldn't recognize God, God handed them over to unworthy thoughts, and for that reason, they started doing what they shouldn't have."

3.  In the reading we had last time the word "entrust" was in the text twice, in verses twenty-four and twenty-six [respectively].  It means that God lets what human beings want, who are arrogant towards him, come just as they want it.  It means that God even allowed them to live pulled around by their passionate feelings and cravings just as the haughty people wanted.  At that point they have the judgment of God on them already.  That same word appears in verse twenty-eight.  Here the word is translated as "hand over, deliver."  It means God handed them over to unworthy thoughts.  What does it mean to be given over to unworthy thoughts?  We will see the meaning in verses twenty-nine on.  However, before going on into that text, I'd like to keep in mind the reasons for it.  What does it say?  The text has "because they wouldn't recognize God."  The arrogant character of humanity directed towards God which is recorded from 1:18 on has been re-worded by that phrase, "They wouldn't recognize God."  Actually, interestingly enough, in the original the word "to test" is used.  One person has explained this section as "after testing [God] they rejected [him]."  At any rate, the point of emphasis is that "the will" of humanity lies in that [phrase].  So, I think the translation "they wouldn't recognize [God]" may be appropriate.  There is within a person the will to reject God.  It means that they have the kind of volition that will not let God into their consciousness or that will try to shut God out.  Although some claim "god," they accept [him]1 as if [he] were an idol fashioned into some [form] or another by their own hands.  It's okay with them if it's a god who does whatever [they please] according to their human convenience and [a god] that caters to human desires.  If like that, they can receive [him].  When they are in trouble, they can accept [him] only if [he] is a god who appears as they clap their hands and [he] comes to grant their wishes.  But, the reality is that God is a true God, a God that humanity must humble themselves in front of, the Absolute [Supreme Being], and the Eternal One, and humanity prefers to reject a God like that.  Because of that text that humanity does not hold God on the carpet, but is held accountable by God, humanity would rather reject God.  Why is this?  Because we are so proud.

4.  Now when I was a junior high school student I got a hold of the pastor of the church I belonged to, some adults, and some youth from another church who were already baptized, and I blew them away with my tirades.  To make a long story short, I believe the gist of it was "Why do you believe in God and all that?  I don't believe in that God stuff."  I tried to prove with all my might that believing in God was dingbattiness to the max.  However, as a freshman in high school, it dawned on me one day that "Am I insisting 'There is no God!' because I'm really convinced that believing in God is nonsense?  Or am I saying that because it is inconvenient for me if there is a God?"  When I think about that I suppose I was more like the latter [shunning the inconvenience and circumstances of being a believer.]  It seemed that my getting baptized less than a year after that had something to do with what I was thinking at that time.  At any rate, as I come to the present moment, I understand myself better.  As far as those questions I had before, I was really and truly the latter (wanting to avoid the inconvenience and circumstances).  To admit in God was inconvenient for me.  I did not want to recognize God as Creator or the Absolute. My life was my life and I wanted to do as I pleased and saw fit.  I wanted to be the center of my attention.  I may add by the way, whenever I got in a mess, I still wanted him to help me.  That was frankly the mental state I was in.  To put this another way, idolatry was okay by me.

5.  But, Paul says since a person decided to reject the One who is the Creator and the Absolute and to live just as he or she craves, God delivers him or her over into those unworthy thoughts.  Because that [handing over of a person by God to his or her appetites] itself is the judgment of God, the person starts experiencing the results of his or her rejecting of God, even though the person doesn't admit in God.  Even though a person might not accept the notion of God's judgment, he or she will come to experience every bit of that judgment realized in the here and now.  It is because God is God whether the person won't recognize him or rejects him.  This judgment is expressed by the words "They turned to doing what one shouldn't do."

They Turned To Doing What One Shouldn't Do

6.  Well, Paul's speaking here of "what one shouldn't do" is not about wicked deeds of some narrow definition.  We can tell that because most of the things which are given in the upcoming list, rather than calling them concrete actions, instead have more to do with the inner works of the heart.  Paul is taking issue with the things which are inside a man or a woman.  The reason he does so is because matters pertaining to our inner mentality are more serious.  And because after the thing which is inside a man or a woman appears on the outside of him or her, it gives way to an act, and then it determines the very life [of the man himself or the woman herself.]  Whatever is inside of us will surely become visible on the outside.  He tells it the following way in verses twenty-nine and on.  "They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice and loaded with jealousy, murderous intentions, dissension, deception, and sinister designs, they say backbiting things, slander others, detest God, despise people, are high minded, talk big stuff, plan evil acts, rebel against their parents, and are unwise, dishonest, apathetic and ruthless."  As we read such a passage, we immediately think, Do I fit into any of these?   Some will think I am not bad enough for all of these to apply to me.  But, Paul's interest does not lie in that direction.  As we read the entire list of sins which have been joined together in a hodgepodge way, I think we should try to rethink how we beings called people live caught up in the evil thoughts within us.  Therefore, I won't explain the details of each and every word here or tell what kind of vice each of the words might mean.  Instead I'd like us to focus our attention on the phrase "what one shouldn't do," which is recorded just before [the list of sins].

7.  This phrase, which could be translated as "what one shouldn't do; Thou shalt not do" or "what is not appropriate; It is not fit to do," is related to the terminology used by the Stoic philosophers of that time period.  When the Stoics spoke on "the appropriate thing" it meant to fulfill one's proper duty as a human being.  However, Paul himself was not a Stoic philosopher even though he may have borrowed a favorite word used by contemporary philosophers of his day.  What he embraced in his thinking was consistently the relationship between God and a person.  It means that God is the creator and the people are creatures dependent upon him.  In pointing out that we are not fulfilling our appropriate duties as persons living in society or that we are committing something against the laws of morality, Paul is not speaking on "what we shouldn't do" or "what is not appropriate."  That's not what he is saying, rather, he is saying you are doing what is not appropriate as a creature created by God.  He is saying when we shut God the creator out, it is no longer possible for us to be alive and live any more like that.

8.  Please give some thought to each of the words which have been listed here.  We may sense a bit of resistance that the following examples have been given in a hodgepodge way, but each of the situations are probably not strange to our every day lives.  [On a day to day level] we harbor ill will towards others, we are envious, and we deceive.  In as much as people live, I think that that they will frequently embrace such thoughts becomes somewhat expected of them.  It is natural for persons to think deep inside them that people by definition are just that way.  But, Paul calls these things "what is not appropriate."  Human beings were not created to be envious of others or to hate.  We were not created to fight with each other or to live by slandering each other.  Originally humankind was intended to be created as a wonderfully priceless and sacred being.  Humankind was created in the image of God and created to live loving one another.  However, it didn't turn out that way in the world we know.  Humankind turned so far from his or her original position.  And it's a fact that we are reaping a harvest of suffering, trouble, and illness.  Why must this be?  The Bible makes a declaration [concerning this.]  Because we did not consider important keeping the creator in our hearts, and because we did not want to recognize God.  It came after we refused to live in worship of the One worthy of our worship and in thanksgiving to the One worthy of our thankfulness.  The origin of sin truly lies there.

Being Worthy Of Death

9.  Furthermore, Paul speaks in the following manner in verse thirty-two. 

"While they know the judgment of God in which a person who commits these kinds of things is worthy of death, they not only are committing them, but are giving approval to the same acts by other persons."

10.  After reading this passage I'm sure there will be fine folks who think "Oh, how strange this is!"  I tend to agree because in the real world of our lives, for example, even though one might harbor feelings of murder towards a person or partake in backbiting gossip, that doesn't amount to the death penalty.  Or, though the text says "the judgment of God in which one is worthy of death," we never hear any stories that a person, for example, who was jealous of another is struck down by God and died for that reason.  What in the world was Paul trying to say with the words, "worthy of death?"

11.  It is clear that Paul was not talking in a narrow sense of only bodily death.  Actually this word "death" will appear in the text later with some frequency.  In a certain sense, it's one of the key words as far as for understanding this epistle.  It appears in the text in connection with sin.  Later on we will get to read what this "death" means in greater detail.  For today, I'd like to touch on just one aspect.

12.  The exact opposite of "death" is "life."  When we make a search for the word "life" in the text, we meet up with it immediately in chapter two and verse seven as the word [combination] "eternal life."  Therefore, it is thought that when Paul speaks of "death" it is not simply in correspondence to biological life, but it is a word that corresponded to "eternal life."  When we will have read that passage on "eternal life" again later, I will have us think about it, but we understand in one simple reading here that "eternal life" is pointing to ultimate salvation.  Therefore, "death" takes on the meaning of the final judgment of God and to be cast completely away from God.  In short, death is nothing but being cut off and separated from God who is the source of life and even life itself.  Furthermore, the state of being completely cut off and cast off from God is actually hell itself.  This is the last judgment.  Also, though we will reflect on this together later, this "death" goes beyond waiting for the final judgment and has already begun in our present existence now.  It has begun to rule.

13.  At any rate, when we think of the meaning of the word "death" within such a broad definition, we can come to understand what Paul is trying to say.  People know that unrighteousness or sin is in conflict with God and they know that evil, greed, ill will, jealousy, intent to murder, dissension, deception and so on are out of harmony with God.  Since God is the true God and not an idol, humankind knows that he or she cannot be united to God while toting these things along.  We understand that high mindedness, big talk, evil doing and on it goes are incompatible with eternal life.  It is evident on its own that while one commits such things, one will not enter into the kingdom of God, the land which God rules.  They know "the judgment of God in which a person who commits such things is worthy of death."

14.  Paul says, "...while they know these things..., they not only commit them themselves, but give approval to the same acts of other persons."  Paul sees a human being quite clearly.  We not only approve of what we do but we give consent to what others do, too.  Why do we do that?  We relax since other people are the same as us.  In claiming "Hey, I am not alone here," we get the feeling that we can justify the way we are.  By giving approval to others, we get the feeling that we can put a covering over the problem of our own sin.  Then, we get the feeling that we have prepared enough material to stop thinking about God's judgment.  But, isn't that very foolish?  If we think about this a little we will understand.  Whether a person is all by oneself or with a crowd of persons does not change the judgment of God.  "The red light doesn't scare me if we all cross [the street] together."  But, it's all the same if an eighteen wheeler truck comes diving into the crowd and everyone is run over.  It's all the same if you were crossing alone or with the crowd.  Claiming "it doesn't scare me" itself is truly very scary.

15.  The path to true salvation does not lie in giving approval to the acts of other persons and deceiving oneself.  Although we have read chapter one from verses eighteen to thirty-two for three sessions, we needed to look hard at ourselves while illuminated in the light of God's word.  As of this week we enter into Lent.  The sufferings of Christ are deeply connected to our reality which is documented here in this text.  Therefore, this period of time when we remember the passion of the Lord is a season of repentance for us.  And, true repentance begins when we first know ourselves.

End Note

1 The pronoun "it" would work just as well because "god" is an idolized object here.  The words in the squared brackets [] show that a word is not actually in the original Japanese text.

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