Lest Paul place the punishment for sin solely on sexual immorality, he here moves on the other manners of unrighteousness and ungodliness. Though sexual sin is often more destructive in our lives than other manners of sin, all sin causes separation from God, thus all sin leads to our inevitable destruction. And notice that it is not merely the physical sins which the apostle lays blame upon, but the mind itself. He states that they “did not like to retain the knowledge of God in their mind,” displaying that this was derived from a conscious decision. He doesn’t say that they were unable to, or that they were directed not to, but rather that they did not like to. It’s important that we understand this concept that is plainly written all through Scripture, that it is a conscious decision to follow the Lord’s teaching, and that because there are many who teach otherwise. There are many who teach that we have no control, no choice, no free will in the manner at all. And that’s a dangerous thought, because then they will make no decision to do so; in fact, they may undermine that very decision by determining that they are unable to make it, thus not even attempt to “set their minds on things that are above, not the things of the earth.” (Colossians 3:2). And once they’ve been taught that they have no power to do that, combined with our natural predilection towards the flesh, ultimately, many make the decision to “follow their heart,” which without fail leads to a decision to place earthly desires, physical pleasures and gratification of the flesh before the Lord. If we teach that a human has no ability to choose correctly, then we teach instead to bury the conscience beneath waves of vice, as a seafarer during a storm determining that, since the ship may sink, he would be better off to throw himself into the sea instead. This doctrine that teaches that we are totally depraved becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, for in teaching that we are unable to resist depravity, we teach one to become depraved, to never truly seek after the righteousness of God.
Much as the apostle writes when he pens “being filled with all unrighteousness,” displaying the depths to which the Romans had given themselves over to. This wasn’t an incidental type of rebellion, but rather a full blown determination to rebel against the will of the Lord. Notice the intensity with which Paul writes here, “being filled with all unrighteousness.” Not merely with the underlying desire to rebel, but being filled with it fully. Completely filled with this rebellion, and not even merely seeking to sate one or two fleshly longings, but being filled with all unrighteousness. Once you make the decision to give in to one sin, soon, other sins become easier. Sin’s job in our lives is to destroy, and so it can never be satisfied, nor can it ever bring true satisfaction; rather it brings temporary pleasure that quickly falls flat, and thus once we’ve given ourselves over to one sin, that sin quickly becomes not enough, thus it requires more and greater sins to bring the same degree of pleasure. Consider aberrant sexuality, the porn addict can very quickly no longer find enjoyment in porn, thus he begins seeking extramarital affairs to bring about the same enjoyment that he once attained from pornography. Or consider the way we develop a “tolerance” to alcohol. In the first, one or two drinks was sufficient to bring us to a point of enjoyment, quickly that one or two becomes three, four, six, ten; until eventually one could spend nearly his entire day imbibing and still not feel the same effects. All of sin is like this, one sin is never enough to sustain, thus it rapidly multiplies in our lives until it has completely taken it over. That’s why so many in the world who shun the discipline that our Lord requires so often become so despondent, because they have forsaken the one means through which they could attain true joy and contentment.
Paul goes on to detail some of the ways in which they had given themselves over to this sin. Full of envy, he writes. In opposition to gratitude, envy is the sin which teaches us to focus on what others have and what we don’t have. The way of the Lord is to be thankful for everything, regardless of our circumstances. The way of the world is the exact opposite, to constantly seek after what others have and to covet their lives, regardless of how well off we already are. Consider our economy versus the economy of the world. Consider that the median household income globally is less than 10,000 dollars, and compare that with the median income in the US of 59,000 dollars, and yet, you’ll constantly meet people in America who are dissatisfied with what they have. India still operates under the caste system with the Dalits being lower than low class, and yet an American with a home, a car, a television, electricity, a blu-ray player, etc will still complain about not having something. “Full of envy, murder…” continues the apostle, bearing in mind the teachings of the Lord wherein anger and hatred are considered murder (Matthew 5:21-22); whisperers, those who gossip; backbiters, haters of God. Those who invent new ways and means to rebel against God. We constantly do that, and I don’t just mean the atheist scientist who claims that God doesn’t exist, though they are included. But so too would be those who twist and contort the words of Scripture to come up with ways to ignore His commands and live in our own vices and sins. Those who, according to Jude, “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Those who pervert the doctrines of grace to allow for sinfulness and licentiousness.
He continues by going into things that our generation especially would be indifferent, possibly even supportive of. Proud, he writes. Pride so often is considered a highly coveted virtue in our generation. Love of self, narcissism; how often do we find people saying things like “you’ve got to love yourself more, all of the answers are within you.” Consider this, in 1986, one of the most popular songs in America was “The Greatest Love of All,” and what was the lesson of that song? “Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” See, in our culture, we consider a lack of pride to be a root of all sorts of evil, and yet, Scripture says the exact opposite. Scripture says that we must love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and might; and love our neighbor as ourselves. I had a statement recently that if you ever want to find joy, you need to remember that joy is an acronym, Jesus, Others, Yourself. Compare that to the world, and to our philosophy in the Church. Do we truly follow that, or do we follow the wisdom of the age? See, what psychiatry considers to be the greatest, the most important virtue, pride, is the very trait that led to Satan’s fall from Heaven. Let that sink in for a moment, what psychiatry says we need more of is the very pride that led to Satan’s fall. “Disobedient to parents,” Paul writes. In our generation, we’ve placed so much emphasis on a child’s right to choose what they do and don’t want that we’re surprised when a child actually obeys their parents. We let them dictate to us what they’re eating for dinner, when they are attending the liturgy, what they’re watching on television; and then we’re surprised when they grow up and injure others when they don’t get their way. In Proverbs we read that if we “raise a child in the way he should go, then when he is older he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). Is it any wonder that the world tells us that children should be allowed to go whatever way they want, considering who is the ruler of the world? If we don’t guide a child, we don’t give him direction, and then we teach him that the most important thing in life is that he love himself and do whatever he wants, then he will almost never make the right decisions. Especially in a world that has stated that whatever is right for you is right for you and no one is allowed to tell you otherwise.
Paul concludes this by stating that they are undiscerning, unable to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Through the prophet Isaiah, we read, “woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are intelligent in their own eyes and expert in their own sight.” (Isaiah 5:20-21). See, when we remove the foundational understanding of the ways of the Lord from our lives, there no longer remains any boundaries to judge an action as being either good or evil, right or wrong. Thus, we turn to other people to determine for us, and suddenly, our morals become based on our laws instead of our laws being based on our morals. The laws of the Lord no longer stand as our basis for life, but rather the laws of man. Suddenly, we begin changing our beliefs based on what is popular in civil government; each new law passed in congress becomes a new Church doctrine. That’s why it’s so important that we cling to the doctrines of the Church that have been there since the New Testament. When we abandon the “traditions that have been handed down” (2 Thessalonians 2:15), we lose the teachings that have been defended by annointed men of God for thousands of years, and suddenly our Church begins to look much more like the world.
Paul warns us that people have become very unloving. Jesus warned us that “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). It’s this idea that as people grow more and more lawless, seeking after their own desires and wants; they grow to love themselves more and more, and thus there is less and less room to love others. And ultimately, there is less room to love the Lord. The more we seek after earthly riches, the more we separate ourselves from the Lord and then, filled with avarice, we turn further and further away from Him and look to ourselves and to the world more and more for our joy, for our pleasure. We seek after our own passions, proclaiming how much we “deserve it,” and in choosing ourselves first, we harden our hearts to everything else. Consider how often you’ve heard someone say, “I never do anything for myself, I really deserve this.” Now, consider what they are usually doing at that point. So often, that statement is made as a justification to suit some worldly desire in the search for earthly pleasure, and so often it’s made to justify not using those resources (time, money, etc) to do something with eternal value. It’s taking an extravagant trip to Disney instead of donating the money to the poor; it’s sleeping in for a week straight instead of using that time to volunteer, or to evangelize. And it’s always that same mentality, “I deserve this.” Eventually, the more we seek after ourselves and our own desires, the less we see this distinct line that the Lord has given us of good and evil, and we redefine those two terms to equate to what we do and don’t like; what suits our earthly desires.
Paul ends this passage with a very strong warning that all of us must hold very closely. See, on the one hand, as followers and disciples of Christ, we know the righteousness of God. If we claim that we do not know it, then the apostle has already blamed us for leaving God in the first place. We all know His commands, what He expects, and so to not be walking in that is to not be walking with Him. The Scriptures are very clear, Jesus’ teachings are very clear, the doctrines of the Church are very clear, on what it costs to be a disciple of Christ; the sacrifices He accepts, the works that He expects. If we claim not to know those, then we have abandoned Him already, or have invented new ways to rebel against Him by twisting the words that He so plainly taught. As a guideline, consider how hard you have to work to explain the “meaning” of a passage; if it requires too much work, then you are probably working really hard at changing His words. I.E. Jesus tells us that “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21). Jesus also teaches that “If you forgive men their sins, your Father will also forgive your sins, but if you do not forgive men their sins, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15). When we read those passages, how hard do we work to remove obedience to the commandments or forgiveness of sins from our beliefs? When we do that, aren’t we “inventing new ways” (though not so new anymore) to rebel against the commands of our Lord? See, when we read passages like that, and still chase after the passions of the flesh, then we show that we have chosen ourselves and our own passions over Him. And to do that is to break the greatest commandment, to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and might.
On the other side of that, however, is that if we acknowledge that a behavior is wrong, that a behavior is opposed to the Lord, and still cooperate with those who do it, we are equally guilty with those who do them. To drive my brother to a bar so that he can become drunken, or to drive them to meet someone with whom they are indecently involved, is still to sin on my part. To cheer someone on while they are participating in sin is to share their guilt with them. If that person is of the world, not the Church, it is not our place to judge them, we can never judge the world for acting like the world. At the same time, however, we cannot participate in that sinfulness, as those who have no hope would do. See, the biggest mistake that we make is to judge the world for acting like the world and yet allow the church to do the same things, usually under the pretense of, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.” And we’re not, we’re not perfect; however, that can never be our excuse to continue in sin. Not our excuse, nor can we allow it to be the excuse of anyone else who bears the name of Christ. As the apostle warns us, “I have written you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner-not even to eat with such a person.” (1 Corinthians 5:11) and John tells us “do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 1:10-11).
See, we have to be mindful of the actions and behaviors of those in the Church, understanding that those outside the Church will not uphold the moral integrity that believers are called to. That’s the whole reason that the Lord admonishes us that we should be holy, as He is holy. It’s the very reason that the Lord’s will for our lives is our sanctification. It’s the very reason that Jesus tells us, “Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). It”s not that we can ever attain full sinfulness in this life, but rather, that our striving should be this completedness, this fullness that comes through Him, seeking Him and His ways, and finding our joy and comfort in Him, not in the world. To condemn the world for living like the world while condoning the same behavior in the Church is utter hypocrisy. It’d be better that we had never known the commands of the Lord at all than to have known them and disobeyed them. No, when we allow sin, we are guilty of that sin as if we were committing it ourselves. And we have to be very careful that we don’t allow our personal preferences overcome the ways of the Lord. Just because we like a sin, doesn’t make it right. And, yes, I can find a random verse to justify any sin that I am partial to; but finding a verse and twisting it to justify iniquity doesn’t make it righteous, it makes me hypocritical. We have to be very cautious not to do that; not to read so deeply into something that we can change the meaning completely.
So often, I hear people proclaim that the word of God is the ultimate authority in all matters, and yet, so often their lives lack the fruit of that conviction. If the Holy Scriptures are to be revered as the true, unerring word of God, consider this question for me. If Jesus Himself were standing in front of you dictating Scripture, would you be so caught up in re-interpreting His words to mean anything other than what He is plainly saying to you? The biggest problem with a hermeneutical approach to the word of God is that you are so busy trying to figure out what He could possibly mean and how you can make it fit into your life that you don’t actually hear most of what He says. It’s the equivalent to having a conversation with someone and, instead of listening, you stand silently awaiting your turn to speak.
We must never allow this to happen my brothers and sisters. We must never be so concerned with finding what we want Jesus to say that we don’t listen to what He actually does say. It’s so often, so common of a mistake to read something in the Scripture that we don’t like and begin immediately searching for some form of comfort, some justification as to how we can change the meaning of the word of God to suit our own desires. We must remember that the word of God is just that, it is as though the creator of the heavens and the earth, of all things, is actually speaking directly to us; we must reverence the Scriptures as the living breathing word of God, not a science textbook full of formulas that we must decipher. When Scripture states something or commands something, we must trust that the Lord has given us that for a reason and obey, not look for ways to justify disobedience; regardless of what the greatest minds of our time say, they are still of the age, thus to heed them over Jesus is to heed the “wisdom of the age” over the wisdom that comes from the Truth. When we read the Scripture, let us heed His words, being guided by the Holy Spirit to understanding, and should there be something that we still can’t grasp, rather than trusting our own minds to understand and interpret, let us turn to the Church, which for millenia has been entrusted by the Lord to guard the integrity of His Holy Scripture. Let millenia of annointed men of God be our earthly guides, as the Holy Spirit is our spiritual guide, and let us seek their wisdom that we may attain His.
May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.