God Gave Them Up:
The Slippery Slope

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 6a of 83

“24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And 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.

28 And 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; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:  32 Who 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” (Romans 1:24-32).

The theme of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Paul has barely left the preliminaries of the letter when he starts building up his case for the doctrine.

He tells us God has revealed His existence, holiness and power in the things that He has created. These truths are made plain and available to the conscience of every man. Man by looking at nature, is able to conclude that God exists, and that He is holy and powerful. But ungodly and unrighteous men choose to hold down the truth in unrighteousness (v. 18-20). Do they know the truth? Yes, they do! God has made it plain to all men. Yet, they choose to disbelieve the truth. It is not an intellectual problem. It is a moral problem. They do not want to retain God in their minds.

But what are the consequences of their moral choice?

·     First, it leaves them without excuse (v. 20b). It renders them guilty of rebellion against God.

·     Second, it leaves them with purposeless and meaningless lives, instead of lives that glorify God (v. 21a).

·     Third, their minds and hearts are darkened so that they cannot use them objectively for good (v. 21b-22).

·     Fourth, they begin to indulge in idolatry in an attempt to appease their conscience. (v. 23)

Is that all? No; that is just the introduction! It is just the tip of the iceberg in so far as their problems are concerned. This is what the apostle is seeking to impress upon our minds as he continues to describe what happens when the truth is suppressed.

From his description, we may learn three things.

First, we learn that…

1. Sin Progresses Down 
a Slippery Slope

Consider our text as a whole. How many sentences are there? There are only three sentences, beginning at v. 24, v. 26 and v. 28.

The first sentence is from verse 24 to 25. What is Paul saying there? He is saying that those who would not retain God in their minds, but change the truth of God into a lie,—will not stop at idolatry.

They will take a step further into immorality. Since they have made the images of animals their gods, they will begin to behave like animals. They will be given up to uncleanness. The idea of moral purity will become foreign to them. In particular, the purity and honour of the marriage bed will no longer be upheld. They will burn with lust indiscriminately one for another,—like animals. They will dishonour their bodies one with another without restrain. Fornication and adultery will no longer be regarded as wrong and shameful.

I am sure you know what I am talking about. Paul is not describing Hollywood imagination. He is describing reality. What he describes was happening in Rome. And it has been, and is happening in our nation. And it is getting worse by the years.

That is step 1 down from idolatry.

Paul speaks about step 2 from verse 26. What is he saying here? He is saying that those who would not retain God in their minds, will not be satisfied with uncleanness or immorality that brings them to the level of animals.

They will be given up unto “vile affections” or “shameful lusts.” They have lowered themselves to the level of animals because they made the images of animals their gods. But they will not stop there. They will go further. They will behave worse than animals. Men with men, women with women,—they would engage in homosexual behaviour,—which even animals would have nothing to do with.

Again, I am sure you know what I am talking about. It was, for a while, much talked about in the papers. It happened in Rome. It happened in Africa, America, Europe, etc. It is happening in our land. Is it nature? No, no, it is against nature. It is ‘vile affections’. It is part of the progress of sin.

But that is not the end. Those who would not retain God in their minds, would also be “given over to a reprobate mind” (v. 28). What is a ‘reprobate mind’? Literally, it is a ‘mind that is not approved.’ Or ‘a mind that is a failure.’ It is a mind that is tested, but failed the test; and therefore condemned and rejected. It is a mind that does not function, as it should.

How should an ‘approved mind’ function? It should distinguish between good and evil; and it should tell the will to do the good. This is how we function: Our mind tells us what is good and our will follows it. Now, the reprobate mind knows what is good in terms of what he or she ought to do, and what God hates (v. 32). But instead of instructing the will to do the good, it invents many excuses and persuades the will to do that which is evil.

The result is that all sorts of wickedness imaginable by man have been enjoyed by man. Yes, you did not hear wrongly. I said, ‘enjoyed.’ This is what the apostle Paul says in verse 32, doesn’t he?

Now, Paul lists some of the more common types of wickedness enjoyed by man. We shall look at them in a future study.

b. But for now, realise this: Sin is like a relentless disease—it attacks, it weakens, it destroys, it spreads, it changes form, it kills… until every one of its victims die.

Those who hold down the truth will sink deeper and deeper into sin. Indeed, the apostle Paul seems to be speaking about the prosperity and progress of sin. Unbelief leads to idolatry; idolatry leads to uncleanness or immorality of fornication. Immorality leads to the vile affections of homosexuality. Homosexuality leads to a reprobate mind and from it a myriad of other sins.

Sin is very successful in what it wills to do. It accomplishes all that it seeks to do—even until the very end.

This is the nature of sin. All things being equal, sin is unstoppable. Sin will not, by itself stop its spread and progress. It is in the nature of sin to progress and prosper in what it does. So sinners will always go down. They will keep going down like Jonah when he ran away from God. We read of how Jonah shut his ears to God’s call, and he ‘went down to Joppa’ (1:3); and he went ‘down into the sides of the ship’ (1:5); and he went ‘went down to the bottoms of the mountains’ (2:6). The sinner will always go down.

Let me illustrate what I am saying with analogy adapted from one used by Rev. Hoeksema.

Think of a mountain. On the side of the mountain, there is a drain that leads from the top of the mountain and ends in a bottomless pit at the foot of the mountain. The drain is covered with algae—very slippery. A man steps into it at the top of the mountain. What happens? He begins a rapid downward slide.

Will he stop? No. Why will he not stop? Because of the law of gravity! The law of gravity pulls him down. Can it ever happen that he should stop his downward slide and actually begins to move upward? No! Not unless a miracle occurs.

This is a picture of the progress of sin. The man who steps into the drain is a sinner, and indeed the whole world, which is holding down the truth. Along this slippery drain, the whole world is moving according to a universal law. This law is not the law of gravity, but the law of sin. Sin drags the world down deeper and deeper into sin.

But let us pause for a moment and ask: Where is God while the world is sliding down in sin? Is God standing by wringing His hands, not knowing what to do with the world? No, no, the apostle Paul would have us to know that God is in sovereign control even in the downslide of the world into sin. He permits the slide, but it is not a bare permission, as the framers of our Confession would remind us.

Indeed, we see from our text that Sin is the instrument of God’s wrath. But we will leave that for our next instalment.

─ JJ Lim

To be continued in next Issue