Summary: Only the good news of Jesus Christ can overcome the moral mess of our culture.
Our world is a mess. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in ethics to realize that our world has become a dangerous and messed up place to live. Here in American in the last forty years violent crime has increased 280% (Bennett 15). Every year 20,000 people in our nation are murdered, half by people they already know (Bennett 17).
And it’s not just violence that’s tearing our culture apart. Families are falling apart all around us. Out of wedlock births have increased 511% since 1960, with one out of four children born today being born out of wedlock (Bennett 49, 50). While the marriage rate continues to drop, couples who live together with no marriage commitment continues to rise (Bennett 63, 65). One out of every six children has a step-parent, which makes for incredibly complicated family relations.
And these problems are by no means unique to us. When you look at places like the Netherlands, Germany and France some of these statistics are higher still. The twentieth century went down as one of the most violent centuries in human history, with two world wars, detonation of a nuclear bomb, and entire races of people almost obliterated through genocide. More Christians were murdered for their faith in the 20th century than all the previous 19 centuries of Christian history combined.
Every generation has wondered how to clean up this terrible mess human society finds itself in. The Puritans who fled persecution in England and settled in New England tried to create a Christian society. And the Puritans did a lot of things right. Yet by the second generation Puritan New England started unraveling at the seams. Karl Marx also tried to clean up society’s mess economically, yet his thinking led to the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, two of the most corrupt and oppressive governments of the 20th century. The civil rights movement here in America tried to eradicate the mess of society, yet racial intolerance and hatred is still rampant in our culture. In more recent years our government has tried to clean up the mess our society finds itself in, but government solutions have also proven to be inadequate.
So why is our world so messed up? The 18th century Enlightenment told us it was lack of education and technology. Marxism told us it was economic unfairness. Yet none of the answers given have been able to actually clean up the mess we find ourselves in.
We’re in the midst of a series through the New Testament book of Romans called GOOD NEWS FOR OUR TIMES. In this series we’ve discovered that God has good news for our world, that this good news is about God’s Son Jesus Christ, and that this good news is intended for everyone. Last week we saw that although God’s good news might seem unimpressive at first, that in fact this very message unleashes God’s power to change people’s lives. When people believe God’s message about his Son, God himself provides his own integrity as a gift to make up for our lack of integrity.
That raises the question of why we need God’s integrity? In the passage we look at today Paul’s going to answer that question by giving us a spiritual diagnosis of what’s wrong with the human race. This diagnosis isn’t a pretty picture, but sometimes we need to see how bad things really are so we can see how good God’s good news truly is. So Paul’s going to describe the entire human race today in vivid, striking terms. As we look at Paul’s diagnosis today, picture the human race as being like a TREE, with ROOTS, a TRUNK, BRANCHES, and FRUIT. Paul’s going to tell us what’s gone wrong with the ROOT, and how this root problem has corrupted the TRUNK, the BRANCHES, and the FRUIT, leading to a messed up society. Now some of you today are going to struggle with what Paul says, and I want to encourage you to actually listen to what he’s saying before you decide whether Paul’s diagnosis is correct. So turn to Romans 1:18 and take out your outline as we start with the root of the problem.
1. THE ROOT(Romans 1:18-22).
If the human condition is like a tree, Paul starts with the root in vv. 18-22. Now it’s important to understand what Paul means by the "wrath of God." God’s wrath is not irrational rage, as if God occasionally loses his temper and flies off the handle. In the Bible God’s wrath is simply God’s natural reaction to sin. Because God is holy and good, he’s naturally opposed to anything that’s unholy and not good. God’s wrath is his opposition to sin in our world; it’s his judgment on sin.
According to Paul, God’s wrath is presently being revealed from heaven against all human sin. Now to understand verse 18 we need to look back at verse 17, where last week we learned that in the good news about Jesus Christ God reveals his integrity. Here we find that though the good news reveals God’s integrity, heaven itself reveals God’s wrath. So God is revealing two things simultaneously: From heaven God is revealing his opposition to sin and from God’s message about Jesus Christ God is revealing that his integrity comes as a gift for those who place their trust in Jesus Christ. One displays the gravity of sin, and the other displays God’s remedy for sin. Paul writes in the present tense here to indicate that God is presently revealing his judgment against sin, that it’s constant and continuous, even for us in the 21st century.