Sin’s Dominion over the Gentile (1:18-32)

Lesson ▪ 2002-03
Tags: Romans 1:18-32; Sin; Gentiles; Condemnation
Excerpted from God’s Righteousness Revealed: An Exposition of Romans
Related Resources: Sin, Grace, and Works: An Exposition of Ephesians 2:1-10


Interpretation

In this passage Paul begins to present evidence that all of mankind is under the dominion of sin. This establishes, of course, the need for the good news of salvation in Christ. Gentiles are the primary persons in view, though they are never named specifically.7

The Charge (vv. 18-21)

The essence of Paul’s argument here is that every member of the human race is guilty by virtue of rejecting the revelation of God that is universally available in the natural realm. Specifically, unbelievers are said to be suppressing (katecho) the truth, effectively denying the existence and attributes of God. A cycle of spiritual and moral decadence begins with what appears less than heinous: failing to worship and thank God.

The Explanation (vv. 22-32)

Paul’s develops his explanation of mankind’s guilt at some length here. It is significant to note the threefold repetition of two key concepts in verses 22-28: man’s exchange of divine design for an inferior substitute, and God’s retribution (i.e., handing sinners over to further alienation from himself and his will).

they . . . changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man . . . (v. 22-23)

God also gave them up to uncleanness . . . to dishonour their own bodies between themselves (v. 24)

Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator (v. 25)

God gave them up unto vile affections (v. 26)

even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise . . . the men (vv. 26-27)

God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient (v. 28)

The passage concludes with a list of vices which are the outworking of the reprobate (adokimos) mind.

The picture of humanity that Paul paints here is admittedly bleak. Every member of the human race rejects the light of God’s glory and turns to self-will. God reinforces our choice by delivering us to carry it out to its full extent. Apart from the truth of the gospel, this situation is hopeless. Apart from its saving power, man is bound to sink into greater depths of depravity, ever becoming further alienated from God.


Application

This passage contains practical lessons for unbelievers as well as believers:

  • We should devote ourselves to fulfilling the Great Commission. Evangelism and missions are of utmost importance, for those who never hear the gospel are really lost. God has indeed revealed himself in nature; such revelation is not redemptive, but a means of condemnation. We do not go about constructing our theology from nature, though as believers we are capable of perceiving God’s glory in the things he has made (vv. 18-20).
  • We should accept no substitute for the gospel. No other alternative is truly viable. Every alternative to God’s plan for human life is a form of idolatry and rebellion.
  • Spiritual and moral decadence begin with inattention to worship and gratitude. There is a danger for believers in this area. Failing to acknowledge God’s person and attributes leads to moral decline and, ultimately, to foolish thinking (vv. 21-22).
  • The abuse of God’s design for sexuality is perhaps the greatest demonstration of human depravity. Illicit relations, and especially homosexuality, figure prominently as outward demonstrations of inward rebellion (vv. 24, 26-27).
  • The mind is dreadfully subject to the influences of sin. Simply put, sin corrupts right thinking. At its core it involves the rejection of truth and the acceptance of lies. It should come as no surprise, then, that its logical end is foolishness (vv. 21-22, 25, 28).

Notes

7 Paul affirms the guilt of the Jews apart from faith in 2:17-3:8. In the passage under consideration, Paul only assumes exposure to divine truth in the form of general revelation, an assumption that would not hold true for Jews.
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