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Do Unbelievers Know God's Righteous Decree? - Romans 1:32

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by Rev Joseph R Nally


They know God's righteous decree - Romans 1:32


The phrase, "these very things" refers to the 21 vices (representative of sin, but which is not meant to be a complete catalogue of it) previously listed in Romans 1:29-31 (cf. compare Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 5:9-11; 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:19; 5:3-5; Col. 3:5-9; 1 Thess. 2:3; 4:3-7; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 6:4-5; 2 Tim. 3:2-5; Tit. 3:3, 9-10). God's revelation in nature demonstrates his moral character and instills a sense of moral duty in all human beings. As rebellion against God continues, the threat of divine judgment no longer acts as a restraint, but spurs further rebellion in the form of encouraging and praising sin in others. This sinful condition characterizes every member of fallen humanity to some degree, but Paul emphasized that it had been particularly true of the Gentile nations throughout history. See WCF 1.1; 20.4; WLC 151.


Hughes offers some insightful application for today:


Man reaches the nadir of depravity when he heartily applauds those who give themselves to sin. To delight in those who do evil is a sure way to become even more degraded than the sinners one observes. This, I think, was one of the supreme horrors of the Roman Colosseum. Those committing the mayhem were supremely guilty, but those watching and applauding were perhaps even more wretched.


What a telling application this has on our media-captivated society. Millions sit in their living rooms watching debauchery, violence, deceit and many other vices - and applaud what they see! It makes little difference whether the vices are real or portrayed, the effect is much the same - an increasingly depraved mind on the part of the viewer. Approving another's sin or encouraging another's sin is a sign that life has reached its lowest dimension.


We Christians are not exempt from this. Satan knows that if he can get us to laugh at things we believe we would never do, our defenses will fall. Maybe someday our unwitting approval will give way to action. We need to be careful what we watch and applaud.


As Thomas Aquinas pointed out, according to Psalm 8 man is made a little lower than the angels. This suggests that man is in a position somewhere between the angels above and the beasts below. Angels are spirits without bodies. (Sometimes they take on bodies, but they are spirit beings.) Animals are bodies without spirits. Man is in between because he is body and spirit. This puts man in a mediating position. It has always been man's prerogative to move upward toward the spiritual or downward toward the animal, and we become like that upon which we focus. This is why we cannot sin "a little bit." All sin moves us downhill individually, nationally, and culturally.


As our society has moved downward toward the beast, no one seems able to say, "This far and no further." No one can put a limit on sensuality. Incest is even being promoted by some. Our culture has been unable to draw the line on pornography. Such are the dimensions of depravity.


Privileged Jews and Sinfulness - Romans 2:1-3:8


In Scripture we world is basically divided into two different groups; Jews and Gentiles. Paul having dealt with Gentiles in a general way, now turns to the sinful condition of Jews. Though they had many privileges, they still were sinners, just as the Gentiles. Whether they be Jew or Gentile, all are guilty before God. This means "US." This means "YOU." This means "I."

You, therefore, have no excuse . . . God will judge - Romans 2:1-16


Hodge begins this section by saying:


In order to appreciate the force of the apostle's reasoning in this and the following verses, it should be remembered that the principal ground on which the Jews expected to be accepted by God was the covenant which he had made with their father Abraham, in which he promised to be a God to Abraham and to his descendants after him. The Jews believed that this promise guaranteed salvation for all who retained their connection with Abraham through the observance of the law and the rite of circumcision. Therefore they expected to be regarded and treated not so much as individuals, each dealt with according to his personal character, but as a community to whom salvation was assured by the promise made to Abraham.


However, though Paul is speaking to Jews in this text (cf. Rom. 2:16, 17), its general form, was not limited to just Jews. In this context, Paul depended heavily on principles of divine judgment that apply to all people. Judgment is based on truth (Rom. 2:2) and marked by righteousness (Rom. 2:5). It is according to works (Rom. 2:6), impartial in nature (Rom. 2:11) and executed through Christ (Rom. 2:16). Such judgment will bring agonizing ruin to all impenitent sinners (Rom. 2:8-9). See HC 12.


Romans 2 is extremely important to understand both God's nature and out own. Hughes says:


As we begin our study of Romans 2, we need to focus on this thought: mankind does not accept God's assessment of human sin and the imperative of divine judgment. This is not to say that men will not admit they are sinners. It is very easy to get a non-Christian to agree that he is a sinner ("nobody's perfect"), but it is almost impossible to get him to realize the gravity of his sin. Typically he has no trouble agreeing that those who are guilty of "big sins" like murder and rape and treason deserve judgment - even death. However, that God's wrath should fall on those guilty of such "lesser sins" as envy or arrogance does not seem quite right to them. . . . Most people do not take God's word about sin and judgment seriously, but rather reject it and replace it with their own ad hominem reasoning. . . . Inherent in the common thinking that because everyone is doing it, it is not so bad - as long as we do not commit the "biggies" we will be okay - is the assumption that God does not mean what he says or say what he means.


This problem is twofold: first, man does not understand God's holiness, and, second, he does not understand his own sinfulness. As to God's holiness, sinful man's idolatrous mind fails to see God as the transcendent, wholly-other, perfect God who is infinitely above him, but rather imagines that he is like himself. As to sin, man forgets that he is made in the image of God and that every sin communicates a distortion of the image of God to the rest of creation. It is through such ignorance that the world suggests that if God does judge as he says, he insults his own integrity, holiness, and justice.


The eternal fact is, God means what he says and says what he means. Moreover, his judgment, despite moralisms to the contrary, is perfect. That is what Romans 2:1-16 is all about. As we come to understand (or reaffirm our understanding) of the perfection of God's judgment, we will bring health to our souls. For those of us who are believers, this will drive us toward a greater authenticity in life - and thus spiritual power. For the non-Christian, there will be strong encouragement to face fundamental issues about oneself and God.

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