Summary: Though true that sin is "out there, it's just as true that sin is "in here."
Defining Deviancy Down
March 18, 2012
In 1993, a Democratic senator from New York wrote an essay for a educational journal. In this article, Daniel Moynihan argued that:
“the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond levels the community can afford…and that society has been redefining deviancy to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and accepting as normal behavior that was considered abnormal by earlier standards.”
The phrase that he used to describe this phenomena is “defining deviancy down.” I don’t think it’s very often we can legitimately call a statement by any politician prophetic, but this one was, in a very biblical sense, or at the very least it was a clear observation of human nature.
Let’s be thinking of this phrase coined by Senator Moynihan as we read from Romans 1:18-32, our text for this morning.
Romans 1:18-32 (ESV) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
You might be thinking, gee, didn’t Jim preach on God’s wrath last week? Well, that’s only part of what we’ll be looking at today, but consider this more of a continuation of a similar thread, following up on some themes Jim touched on in last week’s excellent message.
Here we see the Apostle Paul writing to the church in Rome. If we think our culture is the worst ever, in terms of moral decay, we don’t know much history. The kinds of things we could use as illustrations today are the same kinds of things Paul described happening in Roman society here. The people of 2000 years ago that Paul was writing to had the same propensities, the same sin nature, that we do.
What Paul is describing here is a downward spiral into sin. What Paul is describing here is our natural state as sinful humans apart from God. Paul is telling us that this is the inevitable result in our lives if we reject God.
It’s important to remember the context of this passage. The better part of Paul’s first three chapters in Romans is laying the groundwork for why we need Christ. Why we need grace. So Paul leads with the wrath of God. Paul leads with a detailed look at our sin nature. Because, as Jim noted last week, how can we possibly understand the grace of God, and why we need it, without first seeing the stark contrast between our natural state without God’s grace …without understanding how hopelessly lost and sinful and broken we are apart from the blood of Christ. Our problem is that we’re all sinful and guilty.
After introducing God’s good news to save people, Paul shocks us by switching to the topic of God’s wrath against all sin and evil. The good news actually begins with some “bad news” —God absolutely hates evil, He hates sin. For us to acknowledge our need for a Savior, we need to admit we have a sin problem, and this is Paul’s focus in this passage and what follows right on into chapter 2 & 3.