Romans 1 is the story of humanity’s seeking to detour itself from the consequences of its rebellion against God, and thereby making the situation all the worse. Romans 1:18 explains that God reveals Himself to humanity in nature. Simply put, nature has God’s fingerprints all over it. We understand this as artistic beings. If I paint a room, or my father-in-law paints a room, you’ll learn something very quickly. Something will be revealed to you about me or him: Joel can’t paint well; Johann can paint extremely well. When we create something, our fingerprints, real and figurative, are all over it. So it is with God and His created order: His character (nature) and his ability (power) shine brightly, more brightly than even the stars on a clear, Kansas night. And with that, people are without excuse. There is enough trace evidence of the maker to know we are made and should live in service to our maker.
But, as humanity gazed at the stars, eyes quickly went out of focus, and the beauty of God’s nature and power shifted abruptly to displaying His wrath. In our fall, and our fallen-ness, we rejected the Creator’s glory and fell in love with His reflection in the world: ourselves. The fallout of the fall was vast, thorough, and ongoing, distorting and perverting everything. What was once natural was now rejected for unnatural passions and lusts, and with all sense of appropriate order went any sense of shame for what they were doing.
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Romans 1:28-32 (ESV)
People don’t just do these things; they develop a support base to help others do them. All the while, seeking to avoid the consequences of their rebellion against what God has clearly revealed of Himself in the world around them: without Him, they die. The rebellion of their hearts leads to death and, ultimately, hell. Man even divorces himself from fundamental logic and reality to avoid those consequences or, at least, try to. Lord Bertrand Russell displayed the greatest ability to do this when he called into question the moral character of Christ Himself:
There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.
What insanity! You cannot avoid the consequences of what can be known through Natural Revelation, by simply changing the rules so your own convictions fit. Yet some, like Russell, will go to great lengths to deny what can be known even through Special Revelation, accusing the Son of God of a morally flawed character because he “believed in hell.” Lord Russell fails to acknowledge what’s “worse”: Jesus didn’t just believe in hell, he created it. And it was created as a just and right judgment against the sinful people in rebellion against God.
So as we meditate on Romans 1 in light of all that we see and know from Natural Revelation, and all that’s been clarified in Special Revelation, a few points stand clearly before us that show the Fall, man’s abandonment of God, gives man Hell.
1. The Triune God is wrathful against man’s spiritual immorality of abandoning Him (vv. 18-23). Without our rebellion, every shining star would be a simple reminder of our loving Heavenly Father. With our rebellion, those lights shine the way to eternal punishment apart from the gracious presence of the Lord.
2. Abandoning God leads to physical immorality by the outer man, which leads to hell (vv. 24-25). Our whole selves serve in the rebellion. The body, the outer man, is simply a tool in the hand of a demented scoundrel, seeking to wreak havoc on the created order.
3. Abandoning God leads to spiritual immorality by the inner man, which leads to hell (vv. 26-27). The ugly of the fall goes clear to the bone. Not just our bodies, but our minds, wills, and emotions are in service of our nefarious overlord. Fallen human beings just aren’t sinful and broken in body. No. The depravity touches every area of the human existence.
4. Abandoning God leads to exponential immorality, which leads to hell (vv. 28-31). Sin has never uttered the word: “Enough.” It stops at nothing to consume and destroy. Peter warns us to keep watch as the Devil seeks those whom he might devour (1 Peter 5:8).
5. Abandoning God makes you lead others to hell (v. 32). Others are watching you. Others are taking their cues from you. When one is unrepentant and moving deeper into his depravity, he not only practices these vile sins, he also makes way for others to do the same. The judgment, then, becomes as exponential as the immorality above.
Special Revelation always trumps General or Natural Revelation. Unfortunately, for fallen humanity, they do not even need Special Revelation to be responsible for their rebellion against God. He has revealed himself plainly enough. May we pray and labor for the Special Revelation of God’s Word to inundate our generation that they might be confronted with the response they must give to this powerful One who made them and whose wrath is revealed against them.
Joel Enoch Wood is the pastor of Trinity RPC in Burtonsville, MD, between DC and Baltimore. He holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is 1/4 of The Jerusalem Chamber podcast, a roundtable discussion among four friends who are pastors about the doctrine, worship, and piety of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
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