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The Link Between Idolatry and Sin

Read Romans 1:18-32

We have seen in the early part of this first chapter Paul's own introduction of himself, including a glimpse into the main topic of his epistle. Last week we saw 2 verses that began to transition into the main theme ahead of us, and then... bang! A really big change of direction.

We see Paul is eager to preach the Gospel, because he is not ashamed of the Gospel, and then... "The Wrath of God".

Before we can continue with the Good News of Christ, we must first hear the bad news. We begin to see that before we can proclaim the Good News, we must first see the absolute necessity of the Good News.

Wrath is an old term meaning simple anger. But not the same emotional response as when we stub our toe, no, this is God's necessary response of a holy, righteous and just God. Not based on us, but based purely on His own standard. Not like the pagan Greco-Roman gods whose wrath was based on their ego. And why is God angry? Because we have sinned against Him. Sin is the turning away of God. This takes many forms in our lives, but at its simplest level, it is that we are not recognising God as the sovereign ruler in our lives.

There seems to be a specific focus on those that suppress the truth. You can only suppress the truth if you first have knowledge of it. Hard wired in our being we know of God, even if you have never heard the Gospel, but once you hear the Gospel we normally think of the 2 responses we see. We can either reject it or accept it. However, here we see a 3rd option, one who suppresses the truth - the act of suppression.

As we move into verses 21-31, we see a process laid out for us. We see the word "exchange" used 3 times in this section. Each time, our own god or sin replaces some element of God. We see how sin takes use away (exchanges) how we view God. We also see the reaction by God when He hands them over, meaning there are consequences to our sin.

Verse 23, The glory of the immortal God is exchanged for images of mortal humans, birds, animals and reptiles. We know Cesear (a mortal man) was promoted to a god and we know that pagan worship used some of these other elements in their worship practices. We see this as the first step towards the process. God has been exchanged for idols! They know God, but they refuse to acknowledge Him. The Jews had a history of idolatry while the Roman lifestyle was synchronous with pagan worship. To live in the Roman Empire would mean taking part in idolatry.

Verse 25 shows progression. The truth about God has been exchanged for a lie. We no longer worship the true living God, the creator of all, but rather created things. This in turn then leads to unnatural sexual relations and lusts for one another. Idolatry leads to the worship of incorrect things and, in turn, leads to the outcome we see in the 3rd exchange. There is progression shown here. One thing leads to another. Society has no view of purity or standard and therefore accepts anything that helps worship our false gods.

This is one of the very clear verses we find in the Word of God that speaks of homosexuality as a sin. We know through history, the act of homosexuality was prevalent throughout the Greco-Roman world and therefore in particular Rome. Other examples of sexual immorality were too, including prostitution, which was heavily associated with pagan worship and the various temples. Idolatry was embedded in the lifestyle, pagan god and temple worship was part of life, as was sexual immorality and homosexuality. I think that Paul, under the power of the Holy Spirit, is writing this to address the specific of homosexuality in Rome, and one that sees God's response that there will be a penalty for their error.

Why I say this is that Paul does not just single this sin out and leave it there. He uses it as an example (perhaps because it is a specific issue in Rome). In verses 29-31 we see a list of other sins. The first set seems to be general terms for sin; wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. While the next set are basic sins that affect human relationships; envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. Finally, the third set sits a little less comfortably on our palette; gossip, slander, God-hating, insolence, arrogance and boastfulness. These are sins too, yet challenge us far more than depravity and murder.

Paul has expanded the list and while the primary example used in this passage points to a sin seen extensively in ancient Rome and today's world alike, so also see the other sins listed. This a key here, all, yes all, receive God's wrath!

When we turn away from God and replace Him with idols we will sin. So when we look down that list, which sin resonants the most with you?

Is it malice towards someone? Slander of another person? Pride or arrogance perhaps? Boastfulness?

If we reflect on our sin, perhaps we can see where we have exchanged God with something else?

Once we let idols affect our worship of God, we run the very real risk of sin infecting our life. To help avoid this, we need to constantly give the glory and honour to God that He deserves and demands.

As a church, we have a critical, but also challenging role to play. How do we live a life that is obedient to God and aims at correcting those around us in the world? If we are no different to the world then we are unable to without being called hypocrites. We all stumble, but we must also persist with a life that is holy. Our challenge must therefore be one flavoured with love, but not of acceptance.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 with emphasise added)

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