ROMANS 1b: ROME, WE HAVE A PROBLEM!
The apostle Paul after introducing himself, offering a thanksgiving, and giving a theme statement for his letter (1:16-17), shares with the Romans the predicament in which humanity finds itself. It is a castigating indictment of the Gentile world.
In Paul’s view of humanity from 30,000 feet up he noticed that humanity has “suppressed the truth,” “did not honor God as God or give thanks to him,” and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” In short, humanity has rebelled against God. Paul has diagnosed the human condition, everything else are simply symptoms.
Three times (1:24, 26, 28) Paul says, “God gave them up” to lusts, passions, and a debased mind. Paul ends with a list of vices indicting rebellious humanity. Humanity is in a mess.
While this is not pleasant fodder for a devotional, there are some crucial things Paul says that are relevant for our spiritual formation.
First, none of the vices Paul lists are any worse than any other. Our human propensity to single out sins or give heavier weight to some sins is not to be found here. All are destructive.
Second, the wrath of God in this passage is simply letting sin have its effect. We are abandoned to our own devices and consequences. God lets human rebelliousness run its own course.
Third, we have a tendency to think Paul’s words are about someone else, surely not us. As a result, Paul says, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things (2:1).” We are all part of fallen humanity.
Paul invites us to consider the following questions, “In what ways do I rebel against God?” “How do I judge others while let myself off the hook for wrongdoing?” “How am I currently experiencing the consequences of my own wrong actions?”
These are difficult questions to ask and difficult to face in our own lives. However, it is important to know this description of fallen humanity is neither Paul’s first word or his last. Paul’s first and last words are God, Jesus, and grace.
Lord God, help me to face my failings. May I fully see them and then cling tightly to your grace. Through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Mark Manassee is Senior Minister of Culver Palms Church of Christ, a vibrant mosaic of people representing the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of Los Angeles. "Our experiences are varied," says the church, "but we are united in and by the love of Christ."