August 4, 2010 David Balzer

Romans 1:18-3:20: What’s wrong with the world?

What’s wrong with the world?  Everyone’s got an opinion. I googled that question and got 73,100,000 hits! All sorts of rants about suffering, or religion, or the environment, or the bad behaviour of kids today, or the high price of groceries, or people pushing-in in queues.  The internet is FULL of people who think they know the answer. Or maybe it’s just lots of people asking that QUESTION.

What’s wrong with the world? With the Federal election just around the corner, it’s a question that’s on people’s minds. And the politicians have LOTS of answers to the question.

What’s wrong with the world? And what’s the SOLUTION? The mining companies need to pay more tax, the army needs to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, there needs to be fewer refugees, more country doctors, a carbon emissions trading scheme, better health care, and better equipped schools. All sorts of answers trotted out in the hope the electorate will grab hold of something, and vote them in.

But will any, or even ALL of those things, FIX it? Or are they just band-aids over a gunshot wound?

What’s wrong with the world?

The English author GK Chesterton wrote a book with that title in the early part of the 20th century. And to be honest, I haven’t read it. But by the look of the contents page, he’s got a lot to say on the subject.

But what GK Chesterton is BEST known for/ is something he wrote to the London Times. The paper invited a number of leading British authors to submit feature articles addressing that very question. What’s wrong with the world?

And Chesterton’s contribution took the form of a letter. Are you ready for it?

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours

GK Chesterton

Concise, clear, devastatingly brutal, and completely CORRECT. I hope he didn’t get paid by the word.

What’s wrong with the world? I am. And so are you. We ALL are.

And, as we come to this next section of the letter to the Romans, that’s Paul’s answer to the question as well. What’s wrong with the world? US. WE’RE what’s wrong with the world. Not just THEM. (SOMEONE ELSE)

But ALL OF US. HUMANITY is what’s wrong. US and THEM.

True in Paul’s day, true in Chesterton’s day, and just as true in OURS.

Rescued from what?

We’re picking it up today from v18 of Ch 1. Last week we finished with the Paul’s declaration that he’s NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL. Because it’s God’s power to SAVE people. To RESCUE people.

But rescue from WHAT?

A message of rescue’s not good news if you don’t see any NEED to be rescued.

This last week we had a Telstra salesman door knocking. Trying to get us to go back to them. Offering us A GREAT DEAL.

But we’ve got a really good plan with Optus, and we’ve worked out before that Telstra can’t match it. So it didn’t matter how much this guy talked up how good their different packages were, it wasn’t GOOD NEWS to me. Because I couldn’t seen anything I needed being RESCUED FROM.

Let me give you another example. There’s lots of great things about being a lifeguard at Bondi beach. But the WORST part of it would be dealing with overseas tourists who flock to Bondi, but who have NO IDEA about the DANGER of the surf.

They look at the cool water, and the exciting waves. They see all the people frolicking on the beach. And the rush straight down into the nearest patch of water. No idea about rips, or swimming between the flags, or blue bottles. No idea about diving under waves, or staying in your depth.

The poor lifeguards get so frustrated. Signs everywhere to swim between the flags. They announce it over the PA that the surf is dangerous. But people just keep diving in, keep getting into trouble, keep nearly drowning, and keep getting rescued.

If they just realised the DANGER, they would listen to the WARNINGS. But if you’re not aware you’re in DANGER, then you don’t see the need for RESCUE. Until it’s too late.

So Paul’s going to point out the DANGER we need RESCUING from. What the gospel SAVES us FROM. V18.

18 THE WRATH OF GOD is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

God’s anger – his JUDGMENT- is the danger we’re facing. And it’s already being revealed. And godlessness and wickedness is the problem. Or SIN, if you like. And sin is the topic all the way from v18 of Ch 1 through chapter 2 and into chapter 3. In fact all the way to v20 of chapter 3, the topic is the same. People are guilty before God of SIN.

And NO ONE’S outside his sights.

Remember there were two main groups who made up the church in Rome – the Jews, and the NON-Jews, or the Gentiles. And the Gentiles are Paul’s FIRST target. From v18 all the way to the end of Ch 1. Gentiles are guilty.

And then he turns his attention to the JEWS, from the start of ch 2 to ch 3 v8. And Jews are guilty TOO!

Gentiles are guilty

And the first thing he wants to say about the Gentiles is that IGNORANCE is NO EXCUSE. God’s wrath is coming against EVERYONE (v19)

19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been CLEARLY SEEN, being understood from what has been made, so that MEN ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE

It’s no good saying to the Policeman who pulls you over for speeding, “But I didn’t KNOW it was a school zone!” The signs were THERE, it’s YOUR FAULT if you didn’t RECOGNISE them.

Same thing with GOD. The signs of God are THERE for everyone to see. His fingerprints are all over his creation. On the enormity of the night sky. On the intricate design of unicellular organisms, or flowers or snowflakes. And they’re on the mind-boggling complexity of the human body, or the perfect balance of the water cycle or food chains.

And God’s put those hints there ON PURPOSE. They’re no accident. No forensic trace left behind by mistake by some Cosmic burglar. He’s left us CLUES so people would FIND him. That they’d RECOGNISE the Creator from his creation. See it there at the end of v19 “Because God has made it plain to them.”

So it’s no good someone saying, “It’s not fair, God can’t JUDGE me. No one ever TOLD me about him. I didn’t see the signs.”

The signs were THERE, people just choose to IGNORE them. Look at v21.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The reason ignorance is no excuse is because people make a CONSCIOUS CHOICE NOT to glorify God or thank him for his world, and what they have.

They pick up SOME sort of hint about the Eternal, Powerful, Caring, Creator-God from his world. But instead of recognising him, seeking him out, they choose the OPPOSITE. They choose a world that revolves around THEM, rather than God. A world THEY create. A world that exalts THEM, rather than the One who DESERVES it.

And in Paul’s time that showed itself most obviously in the worship of CREATED things, rather than the Creator. There from v22. Of idols and statues, of birds or reptiles or animals. Or gods that looked like men. He calls it FUTILE thinking. POINTLESS. Carving a crocodile out of a lump of stone with your own hands. And then BOWING DOWN TO IT. ASKING ADVICE of it. LUDICROUS.

But is it any different TODAY? People bowing down before sportsmen, or singers, or politicians. Or building their careers, or their homes, or their bank balances, or their boats, then WORSHIPPING them. Devoting their LIVES to them. Only to LOSE them. Rusted, betrayed, devalued, dismissed, malignant, inoperable, decaying, destroyed, DEAD. It’s FUTILE THINKING.

A heart condition

But Paul wants to point out it’s not a matter of INTELLECT. As if it’s only people with a low IQ who fall into this sort of thinking. It’s not a matter of brain power. Or education. Or privilege. Or income.

It’s to do with THE HEART. Every one of us has a HEART CONDITION when it comes to God.

It’s not the pumping muscle in your chest Paul’s talking about, though. When the Bible means talks about your heart, it means your BASIC IDENTITY. Your NATURAL ORIENTATION. Your PERSONALITY. And at the end of v21 Paul says, “Their foolish HEARTS were darkened.” And again in v24 the sinful desires of THEIR HEARTS.”

Our basic orientation, our natural inclination is to choose to IGNORE God, and make our own decisions. To create our own world instead.

That’s what sin, in a nut-shell, is. Choosing our way over God’s. Everything else flows from that. All the law-breaking, and selfishness. All the idolatry and immorality and injustice. Wickedness and disobedience.

They’re all SYMPTOMS of the HEART CONDITION. That’s what’s wrong with the world.

And so, God gives people over to the sinful desires of their hearts. Allows them to live out the consequences of their sinful orientation. Three times to the end of Ch 1 we get the same phrase. V24.

24 Therefore God GAVE THEM OVER in the sinful desires of their hearts

V26.

26 Because of this, God GAVE THEM OVER to shameful lusts.

And again in v28.

It’s judgment before the FINAL judgment. It’s GRACIOUS judgment. It’s God ALLOWING people to live out the horror of their heart desires. To see its consequences. The pain it causes. The broken-ness and ugliness. To see where it’s headed. All before it’s too late. So they might RECOGNISE its foolishness and futility. And turn back to God.

God’s wrath is being revealed. Against people’s sin and godlessness. Handing them over to its consequences. That’s what’s wrong with the world!

Jews are guilty

That’s the Gentiles. Those WITHOUT God’s law.

You can imagine the Jews in the Roman church sitting there smugly as that first part is read. “We’re not like THAT! We know God. We know what he wants. We’ve got THE LAW.”

Well, now Paul turns his attention to the JEWS. Ch 2.

2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who PASS JUDGMENT DO THE SAME THINGS.

Don’t be so quick to point the finger, says Paul. Until you take a good look in the mirror first. Whenever you point the finger, there’s always three fingers pointing straight back at you.

Knowledge is no excuse

If IGNORANCE is no excuse for the GENTILES, then the second point Paul wants to make is that KNOWLEDGE is no excuse for the JEWS. V2.

2 Now WE KNOW that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and YET DO THE SAME THINGS, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

Simply KNOWING the law means NOTHING!

It’s like the bank manager caught in Cape York in the last couple of weeks. He knew the RULES about banking inside out. But that didn’t stop him, allegedly, swindling more than a million dollars from his local branch. Probably HELPED him.

You see, the people BEHIND the bank counter are essentially the same as those IN FRONT of the counter. They’re selfish, and greedy, and they want as much as they think they can get away with. Whether you’re a bank ROBBER or a bank MANAGER.

A heart condition

Same with Jew and Gentile. One knows the law, the other doesn’t. But they’re ESSENTIALLY the SAME. The problem for THE JEW is that he’s got A HEART CONDITION TOO. There in v5 of ch 2.

5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant HEART, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

For the Gentile, it was a FOOLISH heart. A heart with SINFUL desires. It had nothing concrete to say NO to.

But the Jewish heart is STUBBORN AND UNREPENTANT. It KNOWS God’s standard, and stubbornly refuses to KEEP it. Consciously moves in the other direction. And refuses to turn around. Which in lots of ways is WORSE.

Different SYMPTOM, same DISEASE. The lifestyle of the Jew wouldn’t have LOOKED like the Gentile described in ch 1, but the ROOT CAUSE is the same. The same DISEASE. A heart condition.

And because it’s the same DISEASE, God’s treatment of BOTH groups is completely JUST. V6. God’s righteous judgment.

6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”  7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

No pushing in, no jumping the queue, no special favours with God on the basis of what you know.

If you DON’T know the law, and you sin, you perish. If you DO know the law, and you sin, you perish TOO. HEARING’S not enough (v13), you’ve got to DO IT.

It all gets back to the ROOT of the problem. Band aids and antiseptic won’t do ANYTHING when the infection’s ON THE INSIDE. And the solution to our sin has to be something that deals with OUR HEART CONDITION. Our NATURE.

What we need is HEART SURGERY. Jump down to v28. He’s talking to the Jew who’s confident before God simply because he’s a Jew. Because he’s been circumcised. But Paul wants to say that what REALLY counts is circumcision of the HEART. God fixing up your sinful HEART. Spiritual heart surgery. Making it new by his Spirit. And that’s something that can happen WHATEVER your nationality.

28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one OUTWARDLY, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one INWARDLY; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, BY THE SPIRIT, not by the written code.

GOD’S got to do it. We’re POWERLESS. That’s what his RESCUE is about. The rescue from his wrath and judgment. The salvation the gospel describes.

Everyone NEEDS it. That heart surgery. Because it’s the same problem that EVERYONE’S got. Jump down to Ch 3 v9 Paul’s conclusion. The same point he’s been hammering all along.

9 What shall we conclude then? Are we (Jews) any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that JEWS AND GENTILES ALIKE ARE ALL UNDER SIN.

Male and female. Educated and uneducated. Rich and poor. Married and single. Young and old. Busy and bored. Babies and businessmen. Black and beige. Beautiful and bland.

All under sin. All having a sinful, foolish, wicked, stubborn, unrepentant heart. All needing a NEW heart. One only GOD can give. One that gives us a new desire, a new orientation, a new power and motivation to live God’s way. All need it, but none deserve it.

And we’ll see more next week about how we can GET it.

But, as we finish, a few points of application.

What’s wrong with the world? I am. YOU are. You and I are what’s wrong with the world.

What’s wrong with our CHURCH? I am. YOU are. You and I are what’s wrong with our church.

So don’t judge other people. Don’t measure them by some unrealistic yard stick that only YOU can measure up to.

Don’t compare yourself to other people.

And when you feel church isn’t as good as it could be. Don’t be too hasty to point the finger at other people. Have a good look in the mirror FIRST. What can YOU change what you do here at church? How you treat people? What priority you make things?

Change yourself. YOU’RE what’s wrong with church. Same thing in OTHER areas of life.

What’s wrong with your FAMILY? Or your MARRIAGE? YOU are. Don’t be too hasty to point the finger at other people. Have a good look in the mirror FIRST. What can YOU change?

I’m not saying that there’s nothing other people can’t do better. Of COURSE there is. But the only person you’re RESPONSIBLE for is YOURSELF. The only person you can really work on changing is YOURSELF.

Another point. If you’re what’s wrong with the world, it means accepting others. Not just theoretically, but PRACTICALLY. REALISTICALLY. Have an ACCEPTING ATTITUDE, then SHOW that in your ACTIONS and WORDS.

Church is a hospital for sick people. We don’t have it all together. I’m not better than you. We all need grace. Let’s ACCEPT each other. Forgive each other.

And when it comes to OTHERS. NON-Christians. Those who haven’t had the privileges we’ve had at KNOWLEDGE. Remember we’re no better than them. Let’s not judge their lifestyles, or behaviour. Let’s humbly and lovingly point them to the One who graciously saved US, and offers the same TO THEM. One beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.

Grace, acceptance, and love. It’s what God is offering YOU. We’ve focussed on the DANGER of God’s judgment. But just listen to ch 2 v4. We skipped over it before, but it’s a great place to finish.

The riches of God’s kindness, tolerance and patience. God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

That’s the God who offers you RESCUE. Who offers you a NEW HEART in place of your broken one.

Give him the glory. Give HIM the thanks. Humbly follow and obey HIM.

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