When Absurdity and Obstinance Collide
Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 1:28–32
(Read vv. 18–32) When I was 14 or 15 years old, we had a calf that was struggling to nurse, so one day, my dad told me to give the calf a bottle. Dad had just bought the cow a couple months earlier, and he warned me, “That cow is kind of crazy, so bring a baseball bat.” I was a punk teenager, so I thought that was ridiculous. I knew how to handle the cattle, and I didn’t need a bat. But as I was headed out, I grabbed a shovel anyway.
The calf was in a small shed about 80 yards from the fence. I walked out, crawled through the small door, and gave the calf the bottle. Everything went great. But when I turned to crawl out the small door a 1300 lb. angry mother was staring at me. So, I made a bunch of noise and spooked her enough that I could crawl out and get on my feet. But almost immediately, she charged at me, and I swung the shovel.
She backed off, and I started walking toward the gate. But several more times as I worked toward the gate, she would circle and then charge. I would swing the shovel, yell, and stare her down, but I was nervous. I had nowhere to go, and she was a big animal. I remember being so thankful that I grabbed the shovel.
But it was a minor miracle that I did because I thought I knew better. It was absurd because my dad knew a lot more about this cow than I did. But we all know that human pride doesn’t have to make sense.
We want to believe that we know best even when it’s ridiculous, and this arrogance is oftentimes terribly costly. But we’re stubborn, so we persist in our absurdity and repeatedly fall on our faces.
This is our 3rd week in Romans 1:18–32, and we’ve seen that the ultimate expression of this absurdity is when it’s directed at God. Verses 19–23 say that God has clearly revealed himself to all people through his creation. Everyone knows God is real, that he is powerful, that he is deserving of honor and obedience, and that his will is good.
But people refuse to worship God because they want to be their own gods. So, they create idols that fit their agenda. It’s evil. In fact, man’s refusal to worship and serve his Creator is the fundamental sin of this text. And it’s terribly tragic because a life without God is a life of delusion and deceit. The best path is always anchored in the knowledge of God and obedience to his will.
But since people stubbornly refuse God’s way, vv. 24–32 say that God judges them by handing them over to the natural consequences of their absurdity. In other words, when people continuously refuse to honor the Lord, he removes his gracious restraint and let’s sin run wild. That might be fun for a time, but sin never leads individuals or society into a better place. It is always devastating on multiple levels.
Last time, we saw in vv. 24–27 that one way God does this is that he allows people to rebel against his good design for human sexuality and the family. Both in Paul’s day and in ours, people arrogantly refuse God’s design, and we talked about the fact that it is having devastating effects on our culture and our children because sin never leads to a good place. But ever since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been successfully convincing sinners that they know best and that God’s boundaries are oppressive and hurtful.
Our text for today, vv. 28–32, follow by broadening the scope to include various other sins. Once again, they drive home the fact that doing it my way sounds good, but I can never improve on God’s way. Therefore, pride and rebellion always end in destruction. Let’s begin in v. 28 which describes…
I. The Cause of Man’s Destruction (v. 28)
Man’s Fundamental Sin: When we read through this passage, all the juicy sins tend to grab our attention, but notice that v. 28 once again emphasizes that the root cause of all the others is man’s refusal to honor the Lord. Paul says that sinners “do not see fit to acknowledge God.” The literal idea is that sinners refuse “to have God in their knowledge.”
Again, vv. 19–23 said that God has clearly revealed himself in creation. It is evident that God exists, that he is our creator, that he is good, and that life only makes sense when we are governed by the knowledge of God, and we obey his will. But v. 28 says that sinners don’t want this knowledge to govern their lives. So, they create their own truth and morality.
So, I want to emphasize again that the fundamental issue of the text is honoring and submitting to our Creator. Everything else flows from this issue. Therefore, just because your pet issue doesn’t make this list, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook if you are refusing his lordship.
And the fundamental plea of the text is that we must pursue the knowledge of God above all else, so that we honor him as God, and submit every thought, passion, and choice to this knowledge. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7). It’s also “the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10). It leads to life in his blessing. Know and honor the Lord.
But because sinners reject this knowledge, v. 28 describes…
God’s Just Response: As I said last time, many people compare the sins of vv. 29–31 to the evils of our day and conclude that God’s judgment is surely coming. But the statement, “God gave them over” means that these sins are not the cause of God’s judgment; they are God’s judgment for the more fundamental sin of refusing to honor God.
Specifically, Paul states that God judges sinners by releasing them “to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” The Greek word for depraved also means worthless, and the main verb in v. 28a comes from the same root. So, the idea is that because sinners view the knowledge of God as worthless, God hands them over to worthless thinking. Without God, we lose our ability to make clear judgments. Our moral sense becomes worthless.
The result is “those things which are not proper,” which Paul develops in vv. 29–31. It’s not a pretty picture; instead, it is terribly destructive. And it all stems from rejecting the knowledge of God. So, treasure the knowledge of God and submit all of life to it. This is because vv. 29–31 warn that the consequences of rebellion are devastating.
II. The Consequences of Man’s Rebellion (vv. 29–31)
Paul often uses vice lists like this to give examples of sin. It isn’t intended to be exhaustive, just illustrative of the types of sins that flow from a lack of restraint. As such, the point is not that everyone commits all of these, but that these kinds of sins characterize a depraved culture.
The grammar divides the list into 3 sections. Verse 29 begins with a group of 4 general sins (read). Then comes another grouping of 5 sins concerning envy and its consequences (read). Then Paul concludes with 12 descriptions of rebels against God. For our purposes this morning, I’d like to divide them into three thematic categories. First, God hands rebels over to…
Pride and Rebellion: The most obvious example of pride and rebellion is that sinners are “haters of God” (v. 30). In general, people are not searching for God. No, they despise God’s authority and holiness because they want to be their own gods. They are “haters of God.”
Then notice the next 3 terms in v. 30. They are “insolent, arrogant, boastful.” “Insolence” combines pride with violence and cruelty. Don’t we see that all around us? People love to beat their chests in a show of intelligence and strength. They want you to know how much they know and what they can do. But proud people are rarely compassionate and kind in the true sense. Instead, pride produces abuse. We’ll say more about that later.
Another example of pride and rebellion that really stands out is the last vice of v. 30, “disobedient to parents.” Does that sound like our culture? Our society has turned itself on its head so that youth is where it’s at. It’s fun, it’s cool, and we believe that young people really understand how the world should work. We glory in rebelling against the old-fashion thoughts of parents and grandparents.
So, it’s just accepted that kids will be disrespectful and rebellious. We say, “They’re just being kids” as if that’s what they’re supposed to do.
But the Bible teaches that elderly wisdom and authority are blessings, not curses. It teaches that society thrives when we honor parents as the first layer of age and authority and all other layers beyond it. This is because wisdom comes with experience, and wise authorities are a blessing because they restrain the foolishness and depravity of youth.
The biblical family structure is one of God’s greatest gifts to human society. We need the stability, love, and restraint that it brings. Our society is living proof of the consequences rejecting this design brings.
So, our culture clearly reflects the pride and rebellion Paul describes. We’re told, “Stop listening to old authorities and break free of responsibility and duty. Be your own person and do your own thing because you alone know what’s best.” It’s not helping us; instead, it’s causing the 2nd broad category which is…
Moral Upheaval: Notice all the broad terms for human depravity. Verse 29 mentions “unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil.” The point is not that we should look for some unique significance of each term; rather, Paul piles terms to emphasize that when God removes his restraint, people chase every kind of evil.
In fact, v. 30 says they become “inventors of evil.” They aren’t content with the evil they knows; instead, sinners invent new ways to harm each other. And v. 31 says they are “without understanding.” A small child is innocently “without understanding.” But the point here is that sinners willfully reject the knowledge of God that is available to them.
All these descriptions imply that sinners don’t naturally gravitate toward goodness but toward darkness and wickedness. If you are saved, it should make you thankful for the gospel because God sought you when you never would have sought him. You are what you are solely by his grace.
And if you have never received Christ, you may think, “I’m not that bad!” And you very well may not be. God’s restraining grace through Christian influence and other blessings protects many people from this spiral.
Give thanks but also understand what your heart naturally is. We are all sinners who will never be good enough to earn God’s favor. That’s tough news, but you must come to the end of yourself before you will ever fully trust the mercy of Christ. I hope you do so today. The 3rd category is…
Social Disaster: This is the focus of the list. When people reject God and disobey his will, it doesn’t just affect them. They become less civil, and it destroys civilization.
Notice that the second set of sins in v. 29 tear at culture (read). Envy is the root of all sorts of evil. Without God-centered contentment and thankfulness, many people are consumed with envy, and it drives them to use and abuse other people. It frequently leads to “strife, deceit, malice,” and sometimes even to murder.
We don’t have to look far to see how ruthless sinners can be. They lie, cheat, and steal, they bicker about the silliest things, and sometimes they are just nasty. It destroys marriages and families, workplaces, and whole communities. The spiral only gets worse as people grow further and further from a biblical ethic.
Then Paul concludes with 12 types of rebels against God, and several are relationally destructive. Paul begins, “they are gossips, slanderers.” By God’s grace the church should value and pursue truth and edification.
But many of you have extended family that are unsaved (or spiritually immature), and they are consumed with gossip and slander. It’s petty and childish, and it’s much more destructive than they realize because it’s all they know. When you’ve known the sweetness of true love it’s nauseating.
We’ve already discussed the remaining terms in v. 30 but notice how socially destructive they all are. Pride never brings people together; it only divides. As well, “inventors of evil” probably means, “inventors of creative ways to do harm.” Many people take pleasure in being cruel and conniving. Sadly, it’s all too common.
And “disobedient to parents” is both a symptom of pride and rebellion and a cause of major social destruction. The 5th command to “honor your father and mother” is a vital grace of God that stabilizes society and cultivates wisdom and discipline. But few things destroy culture faster than parents neglecting their children and children rebelling against parents.
Finally, v. 31 includes 4 nouns that are clearly parallel in the Greek, because they all have the negative “a”-prefix. One commentator said that these terms describe humanity in almost sub-human, animal-like characteristics.
Like animals, depravity robs people of understanding. They become fools. As well, we live in a me-first world where taking care of myself and expressing myself trumps everything. It’s not just that they undervalue faithfulness and loyalty; they believe they are the enemies of true self-expression.
Is it any wonder that so many people are “untrustworthy” or “disloyal.” The consequences for families, workplaces, and communities are devastating. Society can’t function without trust.
Finally, apart from God’s restraining grace, people grow “unloving” and “unmerciful.” Our culture talks a lot about love and mercy, but love and mercy are waning where they matter most—in our own homes, our families, our neighborhoods. It’s easy to talk about a merciful government or justice system, but when your heart is full of self and bitterness, it’s hard to be loving and patient with the people nearest you.
So, vv. 29–31 pain a dark picture of sinners void of God’s restraining grace. I hope it causes you to despise worldliness, and any expression of these sins in your life. Ultimately, I hope it inspires you to honor the Lord, to know him, and to submit to his will because no matter what the world claims, God’s way is clearly better than the consequences of unrestrained depravity.
So, we’ve seen that the cause of man’s destruction is that he rejects the Lord. We’ve also seen that the consequences of man’s rebellion are the socially destructive sins of vv. 29–31. Finally, notice in v. 32…
III. The Obstinance of Sinners (v. 32)
Rebels know the truth. First, Paul says “they know the ordinance of God” and judgment rebellion deserves. It’s not like people are wholly in the dark about how evil these things are. Romans 2:14–16 say that God has given all people a conscience, and vv. 26–27 say that nature communicates some level of morality also. And in our society, many people have at least some exposure to Christianity and to the ethic of Scripture.
I don’t think there was ever a time where America was truly a Christian nation in the sense that most people were born again. But there was a time when most people knew the biblical ethic and at least tried to conform on the outside.
There were exceptions because sinners are evil, but God’s restraining grace produced healthy communities with strong families, mutual care, and strong industry. But increasingly our country is moving to the 2nd half of v. 32.
Rebels glory in rebellion. They know the truth, but v. 18 says they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” So, v. 32 says sinners often reach a point where they willfully commit the sins that they know are deserving of God’s eternal judgment. That’s a scary place to be—to willfully defy the judgment of God by rebelling against his will.
But it gets worse. They “also give hearty approval to those who practice them,” meaning the same sins. There’s a massive difference between being stuck in an unfortunate rut and loving the rut. And you’ve at a whole different level when you are trying to pull others in and then celebrating their rebellion.
Once again, this is a stunningly accurate picture of the progression in our culture. People have always been sinners, and they’ve always done horrible things. But sins that used to be done in the dark and with great shame are now openly celebrated. And they demand that you join the celebration.
Be careful not to let the constant gnawing of our culture dull your senses to how evil something like Pride Month really is. We are living in v. 32, and it is the bottom of the spiral in this text.
Yes, there are many people who get foolishly caught up in stuff, and we must love sinners and compel them to come to Christ. We must not lose our vision for the lost. But celebrating rebellion against God is a dangerous place to be. Don’t get anywhere close to it. That said, I’d like to close with 3 applications.
Keep a biblical perspective on the world. Satan’s oldest lie is that God’s will is oppressive, and you can do better going your own way. We all want to believe it. But it is a dangerous lie. It sunk Adam and Eve, and it has destroyed many other people.
This passage masterfully demonstrates where rebellion leads. It doesn’t lead to peace and human flourishing; it leads to chaos and strife. Don’t buy the lie; instead, see the world through the lens of this text.
I’d also like to add that one of the basic tests of a worldviews validity is if it adequately explains reality and if you can consistently live it. And here we have a passage that perfectly summarizes our culture and many others because it’s inspired of God and assumes the doctrine of depravity. If anyone here is skeptical of the Bible’s validity, ask yourself, “Does Disney’s worldview fit reality or does the Bible’s?” The answer is obvious.
Worship and serve the Lord. This is the most important takeaway from this chapter. We were made for the Lord, and we will only find rest and blessing under his lordship. This begins with receiving Christ as Lord and Savior. You can’t earn a relationship with him or even worship and serve him on your own. You need the forgiveness and the new life that he alone provided on the cross.
Maybe you are recognizing for the first how sinful you are and how worthless your sin is. There is abundant mercy in Christ if you just confess your sin and believe on Christ. Please be saved today.
If you are saved, pour all your energy into living under Christ’s lordship. God made you, he understands you, and he knows what’s best for every detail of your life. You were made to worship the Lord, so get to know him, spend time before him, give thanks for his blessings, and pursue his will believing that every detail is good and wise. Please do not let Satan, Hollywood, or anyone else make you believe there is a better path.
Call sinners to know and honor the Lord. I’ve been very critical of our culture today, but the right response is not to get angry and start yelling at sinners or to merely attack the outward fruits of rebellion.
No, we must have compassion for blind and hurting sinners who are being crushed by this flood of rebellion. Just think about how much carnage the rebellion of our world is leaving behind.
And then we need to point these people to the only hope for salvation and meaning. They need to know the Lord and find their rest in him. We have the only solution to the mess. Share the good news that Jesus saves.