Romans 1.23

And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

In the last verse we found out that a man as soon as he steps away from God and His grace and mercy starts to exalt himself and his achievements and his popularity and his attributes.

In this verse we find out what happens next. And this happens in EVERY individual and every community and society that rejects God and His ways and His truth.

As soon as mankind rejects God as His source of worship, gratitude, strength and truth – he immediately has to create another god to take the real God’s place.

This is a universal principle and it is always true.

The NIV translates this verse as:

and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Exchanged is a better translation of the Greek allaso than the KJV changed. It means to swap (or swop for the transatlantic readers of this!) one thing for another thing.

Whenever you give up on God and His goodness, you cannot leave that gap empty! You have to generate something or someone else to be your god. You exchange the glory of God for the image of:

1) man
2) birds
3) animals (four footed things)
4) reptiles (creeping things)

Now, in our contemporary culture idoltary is not as blatant as it was 4000 years ago say, with genuine false gods with names and statues and so on. There is not too much of this around today in Western culture. Certainly in Hinduism for example this idolatry is maintained.

Just as an aside the gods of Hinduism are totally false gods. We have a lady in our church who was a Hindu and she is clear: none of those gods have ever done anything for her, and none of them have ever answered a single prayer.

In our culture though, false gods are not so noticeable, so let’s first define what an idol is.

1. An idol is something that you give unconditional emotional investiture into.

2. An idol is something that you spend disproportionate time, money and effort on.

3. An idol is something that you value its ideas and ideals without question.

4. An idol is something that without which life would not seem worth living.

So, when Hindus worship Ganesh, they unconditionally love him and worship him whether he answers their prayers or not.

They spend time and money and effort feeding and clothing and caring for what is essentially a statue of a man with an elephant head.

They value his ideals, such as being in business, overcoming obstacles and unity. I am not saying they are not good ideals, but it is the idea of not questioning that makes him an idol.

Finally, having access to Ganesh makes life worth living for many Hindus and Jains across the world.

This identifies him as an idol. Now to us the idea of doing all this for the statue of a man with an elephant head seems bizarre, but we have our idols too!

Let’s put the same first test to let’s say the televsion:

Some people put unconditional emotion into the television. I remember once being in a church as a preacher and an elder rebuked me for being too exuberant during the worship. I said to him: “maybe I should be telling you off for being too wooden”, trying to build a rapport with him and help him see the nature of worship.

He said that he just did not get emotional about things and it was not his nature. I told him that I did get emotional about Jesus, so the conversation was left there. A few weeks later I had reason to visit this elder at his house while the football was on (soccer for you Americans!). This was a revelation as the same man who worshipped like he had left the ironing board inside his shirt on the Sunday was screaming and yelling and was very mobile indeed in front of the television on Saturday.

You see he did express strong emotions visibly – he just did not have strong emotions for Jesus. Unfortunately, he is now divorced and not in the church anymore.

Do you laugh more and cry more due to secular TV than you do with Jesus and with real people? Do you watch programmes that make you feel scared because you enjoy the rush, but wouldn’t dare putting 10% of your pay check in the church and enjoying the rush of wondering how God is going to keep His promises to you as a tither?

What about the second test? Do you spend disproportionate time, energy and money on anything? Sometimes I am preaching in an evening service and it might get late and people get edgy and some people might leave because it is 9pm. Listen – 9pm is not late when you are in the world. But people would give hours of time to the nightclub and only a little bit of time to the church!

What about money? Before I became a Christian my gods were music, alcohol and whatever girl I happened to be seeing at the time. No-one ever had to take up an offering to persuade me to give far more than 10% of my income to these false gods every single paycheck!

What about the third test? An idol is something whose values you imbibe without questioning. So many Christians have a favourite preacher (and there is NOTHING wrong with that, I have my favourite) – but it is the unquestioning nature.

I honestly believe that some of the big name charismatic stars could go on TV and say that Jesus wants us all to dress up as oak trees to be saved and Christians would be down the costume shop the next morning. I have no problems with people with big ministries, I have a problem with anyone receiving what someone has to say without question. I have a problem if you receive what I have to say without question! That is idolatry.

And finally, an idol is something you could not live without. Could you live without TV, the radio, your favourite Christian rock star?

Idolatry is the natural state of man without God. As soon as someone rejects the glory and goodness of God and fails to glorify and thank God, they need to find someone else to fill that void. That is why idolatry is utterly universal within humanity – false religions, personality cults, false ideological concepts have always thrived – because a person rejecting God’s goodness and glory and the gospel always exchanges that for a false god.

Now as a Christian, is there an area where you have an idol, a false god? Do you give unwarranted affection or unquestioning loyalty to any thing or anyone?

So why do people serve false gods? Because the truth of the good news of God forces them to strip off their own confidence in their self. As I said when talking about the previous verse, you cannot serve God and hold onto valuing your deeds and your attitudes.

You can worship a false god without letting go of these things. That is why so many people do.

Glory and freedom,

Run Through Romans (1.18-1.32)

I have included the text of Romans 1.18-32 below.  The Bible text is in red, and my comments are interspersed with the text.  At the end of the Bible text, I will talk about the problem with unrighteousness.

18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

This verse tells us the problem of humanity: the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.  The phrase “wrath of God” is only used 4 times in the Bible (Romans 1.18,  John 3.36, Ephesians 5.6, Col. 3.6) and it does not mean that God is having a temper tantrum.  It means that God is going to punish all unrighteousness.  This has happened once before in the world-wide flood of Noah (Genesis 6) and will happen again when the world is destroyed by fire.
As we shall shortly see in the remainder of this chapter, everyone in the world is unrighteous on the basis of their actions.  Therefore everyone must be punished by God.  God is a good, just God and must punish all unrighteousness.

19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

This verse explains why God is going to punish everyone that is unrighteous.  They should know the laws of God – God has shown everyone what is known of God.  Or put more simply: God has created everyone with the ability to know right from wrong.  We call this the conscience.  No one  who acts in an unrighteous way can ever say that they did not know how to act right.  Every time they act unrighteous, they know they have done wrong.  The voice that tells them right or wrong might be silenced by continual wrong-doing, but no-one can ever claim it was not there or that they did not know they have done wrong.

20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

The second reason that no-one can be excused for acting unrighteously is the creation of the world.  The creation of the world proves that God is all powerful and that He is Lord.  People might claim they think this world began in an explosion of nothing and that life came from non-living material, but itis scientifically impossible and is simply a denial of what the Bible says can be clearly seen.  If you see a building, you have proof there is a builder.  If you see a creation, you have proof there is a creator.

21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

So although every single human born has both a conscience and creation to prove to them there is a God and that they should live a righteous life, every human has done 4 things wrong:

1. They failed to glorify God

2. They were not thankful to God

3. They became vain in their imaginations

4. Their foolish hearts were darkened

Every person should know there is a God and that they should live right.  Every person has violated their own conscience and done things they know to be wrong.

Firstly, everyone has failed to glorify God.  To glorify God means to acknowledge that God is great, to think highly of God.  We have not done that – we have blamed God for our problems, we have thought that He is like us that He does not mind our sin, that He is not holy.  Every depiction of God in the media reduces Him from His true greatness.  We all have doubted that God would come through for us, we all have doubted His Word, doubted His love, doubted His holiness and His greatness.

Secondly, everyone has failed to be grateful.  In particular this is a Western problem.  We are panicking that we cannot buy the same amount of food we used to be able to in the credit crunch, but we forget how blessed we are to live where we live.  All of us have spent time moaning about the negative and ignoring the positive.

Thirdly, we have all become vain in our imaginations.  We have imagined ourselves committing sins of violence and sins of sexual immorality in our minds, we have imagined and worried about things that God promised to protect us from.  Our imaginations run wild, and we fill them up with junk from the TV just to make it worse.

Fourthly, we have all had darkened hearts.  God has tried to speak to us but we could not hear Him.  We failed to notice Him ministering to us again and agani.

Every human being has done these things in every single nation.  Every human is unrighteous in God’s eyes and therefore must be punished.  This is the problem of humanity – God’s goodness means He must punish unrighteousnes (the wrath of God) and every human is unrighteous.

22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

As an aside on v. 22, I noticed recently that Richard Dawkin’s new atheist club is called the Brights.  Immediately I thought of Romans 1.22.  However, we are all guilty of this.  We all think we know best, and that God’s ways are archaic, out-of-touch, unrealistic, or whatever.  Whenever we reject God’s ways, we are foolish.

23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Verses 23-32 show how unrighteousness caused by thanklessness and not glorifying God degenerates.  We have all been guilty of vv. 18-22, but not all nations have spiralled into what happens next.  However, all nations without a strong Christian witness – or if they ignore that Christian witness – will spiral into this downward fall into unrighteousness.
After ungratefulness, comes an honouring of the creation.  This takes many forms from the totem poles of tribal animism to the mother Earth  philosophy infecting many facets of our society.   Creation is given respect and God is ignored.

24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

Following ignoring God over the creation comes sexual immorality.  People have sex before and outside of marriage.

25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Next the idolatry becomes more pronounced and people openly worship things that have been created.

26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Next the sexual immorality becomes more pronounced leading to a society which openly accepts homosexuality.  If this happens to a society it is deeply in this spiral of unrighteousness.

28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

At this stage, what happens is that the people in that society will develop reprobate minds.  The Greek word used for reprobate is adokimos which is used for counterfeit coins.  It means to have no value at all – to not be fit for purpose.  This is what is happening in large sections of Western society – people cannot use their minds at all.  They cannot think, they cannot show initiative, they cannot create.   All of society dumbs down.  People then fail to notice any sin, any wickedness and simply let everything pass.  Crime rates sht up, poverty and injustice increases and the society becomes a hard place to live in.

29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

I could go through each of these words and show you what they mean exactly and you would realize that we are here people.  However, most of them are self explanatory.  When a society or a nation exhibits all these qualities it is simply showing the fruit of the fact that everyone fails to glorify God and fails to thank Him.  It has just spiraled out of control.

Ultimately without the gospel, this will happen to every nation on the planet.  Even with the gospel being present in a nation it still happens if people make unrighteous choices.

32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Then, not only will people do all these unrighteous acts they will take pleasure in those that do them. The word take pleasure could also be translated applaud. Think about this: the Bible describes an unrighteous society at its apex as one where people worship the creation, treat homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle, disobey parents, invent evil things, hate God, hate people, and then finally clap and applaud people who do wicked things.

Our society has TV chat shows where you can clap and applaud people who divorce, comedy shows where you can clap and applaud people who hate and slander the government of our countries, romantic shows where you can clap and applaud people committing fornication and reality shows where you can clap and applaud people in all manner of wickedness.

Our society is unrighteous.  Our planet is unrighteous.  But before we judge the world and the nations and are smugly condeming of them, remember: I have failed to thank God and so have you.  I have failed to glorify God and so have you.  I have had vain imaginations and so have you.  I have had a dark heart and so have you.  On our next post we will show that we cannot judge anyone in a smug self-righteous way as we look at Romans 2.

We have to find out how a person like you and like me can be righteous.  Otherwise we are condemned to hell on earth and hell after earth.   Stay with us as we run through Romans, the journey will be worth it.