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.

God’s judgment against sin is God’s response to human "godlessness" and "wickedness." Now "godlessness" is sin against God and "wickedness" is sin against other people (Stott 72). Instead of loving God with our whole hearts and loving other people, the entire human race has failed to love God and love people rightly.

It’s important to remember that Paul is talking about the entire human race here, not just irreligious people or bad people. You see, Paul starts a line of reasoning here that’s going to end in Romans 3 with his conclusion that all people, both religious and irreligious (Jew and Gentile), are under the power of sin (Rom 3:9). He’s going to sum up his thinking by saying, "All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory" (3:23). So there are no exceptions to this description here; it includes you and me, and every other person.

As a race, humans have suppressed the truth about God with our decision to live independently of God. We’ve all tried to bury the truth about God, yet we’re never quite successful because God is constantly revealing his truth to us through creation. We’re like a person trying to hold down the lid on a pot of boiling water; the pressure keeps building until the steam of God’s truth finally forces its way out, yet we put the lid back on the pot and start all over.

Paul’s assuming here that every human being has some knowledge of God through the created world around us. Knowledge of the invisible God comes through God’s masterpiece of creation, much like we come to know an artist by looking at his painting or a scriptwriter by watching her play. Even atheists have this knowledge of God in some subconscious level. This universal knowledge of God renders us without excuse, because even though we’ve known about God, we’ve tried to bury that knowledge, refusing to honor God with gratitude. Instead of living lives of devotion to God, we’ve devoted ourselves to other things. In some places of the world people do this by worshipping literal idols and images. In our own society we simply worship ourselves, living for our own wants, our own goals, our own desires.

So here we find the ROOT of what’s wrong with our world. OUR REJECTION OF OUR CREATOR HAS UNLEASHED GOD’S JUDGMENT ON OUR WORLD.

Our entire species has risen up in rebellion against God. I’m guilty and so are you; Billy Graham as well as Madonna, Bill Clinton as well as Kenneth Starr. We’re all part of a mass conspiracy to reject our Creator and live for ourselves. Each of us expresses our rebellion a bit differently, but all of us are joined together, arms linked together in a universal rejection of our Creator.

Many biblical scholars believe that the Bible story about Adam and Eve forms the backdrop to what Paul says here (Stott 70). By echoing Genesis 1-3, Paul’s saying that all of us have gone the way of Adam and Eve by rejecting our Creator (Schreiner 93). All of us are accountable and answerable to God.

Paul claims that this universal rebellion is the ROOT, and this rotten root has unleashed God’s judgment against sin. Now when we think of God’s judgment we usually think of fire and brimstone, lightening and plagues. When the AIDS epidemic broke out, some people were quick to claim that the AIDS virus was God’s judgment on homosexuals. Yet you might be surprised by what Paul says God’s judgment on humanity looks like, because it doesn’t take the form of fire, brimstone or plagues, at least not yet.

2. THE TRUNK(Romans 1:24-25)

Let’s look at how our rejection of our Creator has effected the human race. God’s judgment is summed up in that phrase "God gave them over." God’s wrath isn’t fire or brimstone, it’s not lightening or plagues, but it’s God’s decision to allow us to go our own way. God judges human rebellion by saying, "If that’s the way you want to live, I won’t stop you." Now this doesn’t mean that God gave up on people because that would mean Jesus never would’ve come (Cranfield 1:121).

Paul’s going to use this phrase "God gave them over" three times in this section, and each time it describes a subsequent stage in God’s judgment on humanity for our universal rejection of our creator.

Here we find God hands us over to is the "sinful desires of our hearts." The word "desires" here simply refers to our appetites, our basic, natural desires, whether it’s our desire for sex, for control, for food, for things, whatever. Paul zeros in on the sexual component of these desires because that’s where we tend to struggle the most, but the Greek word here simply refers to any basic human desire (Dunn 1:62). When God gives us over, our basic human desires start ruling over us, causing us to do things that are degrading.


At first this feels like freedom, but we soon find that living for our unrestrained desires is a prison, a prison of broken relationships and humiliation. God created our desires, but when we reject our Creator, these desires became disordered and unmanageable, threatening to rule over us in ways that feel out of control. Our basic desires become are like a river, and as long as we honor our Creator the water stays in its banks, but when we reject our creator the water rises and starts flooding the banks.

All of us have these unrestrained desires. For some it’s eating uncontrollably, for others the need always be in control, for still others it’s hopping from bed to bed. All of us struggle with these unrestrained desires. I thought about this when I heard a pop song by Fiona Apple called "Criminal":

"Heaven help me for the way I am, save me from these evil deeds, before I get them done,I know tomorrow brings the consequence,at hand,But I keep livin’ this day like,The next will never come" ("Criminal").

This is why addictions run rampant in our culture, addictions to alcohol, drugs, pornography, spending money, gambling, adrenaline rushes, whatever. Our rejection of God has locked us in a prison of our own desires. Our captivity to these desires is a result of God’s judgment on human rebellion.

3. THE BRANCHES(Romans 1:26-27)

That leads us to the next stage in the process of creating this mess we’re in in vv 26-27. Now these two verses are very controversial in our world today, so let’s listen carefully to what Paul is and is not actually saying.

This passage is the most important verse in the entire Bible about the issue of homosexuality because it doesn’t just condemn homosexuality, but it actually explains it (Hays 7).

Now to understand this passage clearly we need to realize that in the ancient world homosexuality was thought to be no big deal (Schmidt 65). All the Roman Emperors except one were bisexual, and male homosexuality was rampant, especially among the wealthier elite in the Empire. In fact the Roman Emperor Nero--the emperor who was in office when Paul wrote this letter--actually married his male partner in a royal wedding. Homosexual behavior was not regarded as harmful, bizarre or immoral to the vast majority of the population (Fitzmyer 276). In fact some thinkers like the philosopher Plato and others celebrated same sex relationships as being better than heterosexual relationships.

Now this is a very different attitude than what we encounter in our own culture, where, despite the gay rights movement, according to "The Washington Post" this year 72% of Americans consider homosexual behavior to be unacceptable (Rosen and Morin). People may be more willing to tolerate homosexuals today, but the vast majority of Americans stop short of calling it moral or acceptable.

Now as you probably know the Christian community in America has been under enormous public pressure to condone homosexual behavior. Many of the major Christian denominations have experienced bitter conflict over whether the church should ordain practicing gay pastors, bless same sex unions, and condone homosexual behavior. Some churches in our community advertise themselves as "welcoming and affirming" of practicing homosexuals.

It’s important to realize that the underlying issue in this debate is not sex. The real issue is the role that the Bible should play in the Christian community. Very few people dispute the fact that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior, but the real issue is whether what the Christian community should believe what the Bible says. For instance, a well known New Testament scholar named Victor Furnish freely admits Paul is condemning homosexual activity here, but he says, "It is no longer possible to share Paul’s belief" (79-80). So the real issue is whether Christians believe the Bible is right or wrong in its diagnosis of what’s gone wrong with the world.

Now let’s hear what Paul is actually saying in this passage, because people often misunderstand Paul’s point. Paul calls both male and female homosexual behavior "unnatural" or literally "against nature" (Greek: para phusis). Now by that he doesn’t mean that it’s against the individual person’s nature, as if "natural" means "whatever feels natural to me" (Stott 78). Against nature also doesn’t mean that homosexual behavior is self-evidently unnatural because we can find examples of homosexual behavior in the animal world. This phrase "against nature" means against the Creator’s intention (Cranfield 1:125; Moo 114-15).

You see, Paul can never think about sex without also thinking about God’s purpose for sex as set forth in the Bible in Genesis 2. God’s purpose for creating sex was so men and women could nurture intimacy in the marriage relationship and to enable them to reproduce (Schmidt 81). Because that’s God’s purpose for sex, any use of sex for a different purpose goes against nature because it goes against God’s intention.

Now Paul’s not saying this because he was homophobic or because he hated gay people. In fact, Paul is writing this letter from the city of Corinth, and we know from 1 Corinthians that some of his Christian friends in Corinth had come out of a gay lifestyle (1 Cor 6:9-10). Paul had no problem worshipping with these friends, loving them, helping them get back on track when they fell back into their old sins. But Paul passionately believed sex was God’s gift to a man and a woman to be enjoyed in the context of marriage.

Now Paul is using homosexual behavior here as an example of unnatural behavior because it graphically illustrates what happens when we reject our creator. But Paul’s not saying that homosexuality is the worst possible sin. In fact, he’s already told us that our universal rejection of God lies at the root of our problem, and that this is a sin all of us have committed.

Notice that Paul’s also NOT saying that homosexuality provokes God’s judgment. He’s actually saying the opposite, that the existence of homosexuality is itself a sign of God’s judgment on the human race (Fitzmyer 284). So it’s not AIDS that’s God’s judgment against homosexuals, but it’s the existence of homosexual people that’s evidence of God’s judgment on us as a race. When Paul says they receive in themselves the penalty for their perversion, the perversion here is their rejection of God, and the due penalty for rejecting our creator is the homosexuality itself (Cranfield 1:127; Dunn 1:65; Schreiner 97).


Just as God gave us over to the desires of our hearts, so also God gives us over to unnatural behavior, what he calls "shameful lusts" here. There are other examples of human behavior that are against nature, but homosexuality is the most graphic.

Because of this, the Christian community can never puts its stamp of approval on homosexual behavior. You see, if we reject the Bible’s diagnosis of the human problem, we’re also forced to reject the Bible’s solution to the problem. If the Bible’s wrong about the problem, how can we trust the Bible’s solution? I agree with a theologian named Don Williams:

"For the church…to surrender to gay advocacy…would bring not only disaster upon herself, it would bring more havoc on the world as well. If the church simply blesses homosexuality, the hope for change in Christ will be destroyed. Millions of potential converts will have the lasting hope of wholeness cut off from them. Untold numbers of children and adolescents who are struggling with their sexual identity will conclude that ’gay is good,’ deny their heterosexual potential and God’s heterosexual potential for them, and slip into the brokenness of the gay world" (cited in Grenz 9).

Now if you’re struggling in this area, I want you to know that you’re welcome, that you’re in the right place, and I’m glad you’re here. God loves you as much as he loves me or anyone else, that God’s good news about Jesus Christ is for you as much as it’s for me. Both of us have joined in a rebellion against our creator, and both of us struggle as we live under God’s judgment. God offers you his own integrity through his son Jesus Christ, just like God offered this gift to me and to the rest of us. If you’re struggling in this area or if you like me have a loved one who is, I highly recommend Thomas Schmidt’s book "Straight & Narrow?" Schmidt’s book is a compassionate, careful look at what the Bible says about this issue.

Part of God’s judgment against our rejection of our Creator is the draw to unnatural behavior, and for some people that draw is to same sex attraction.

4. THE FRUIT(Romans 1:28-32)

Finally we reach the FRUIT of the tree in vv. 28-32. Here, for the third and final time, we find the phrase "God gave them over." Here Paul catalogues twenty-one different sins and the only thing they have in common is that they’re all sins against other people. Mike Cloud, our staff Minister of Care and Visitation calls this the 31 flavors of sin. Each of us are drawn to some of these sins and repelled by others, but the point of the text is that all of us have sinned. Each of us struggles with some of the sins listed here. Each of these 21 sins are the kind of sins that destroy our relationships with other people. These are the kinds of sins that lead to racial hate crimes, school violence, drive by shootings, abortion on demand, workplace violence, spousal beating, and so many of the social evils that plague our society.


This moral chaos rises and falls like the tide, but it never goes away. This moral chaos is true of every human society that’s ever existed, from the ancient Incas to modern day America, from ancient Israel to the Native Americans, from Puritan New England to modern day Amsterdam. Until God’s Kingdom comes to this earth when Jesus comes again, this will continue to characterize every human society.


So this is the picture of the human condition the Bible gives us. We see the fruit and we know it’s rotten. No one is arguing that school violence is good, workplace violence is okay, or that hate crimes are morally acceptable. We know the fruit is rotten in our world. So we pull the rotten fruit of the tree and try to throw it away, but the it keeps growing back. We pass laws that make some of the fruit illegal, yet it keeps growing back, again and again.

So we cut off some of the branches, trying to eradicate unnatural behavior. Yet the branches keep growing back. We’ll never eradicate unnatural behavior in our society because it’s a result of God’s judgment on the human race.

So we try cutting down the tree. We go to therapists and support groups, we read self help books and subscribe to magazines to help us get a handle on our unrestrained desires, but as soon as we get one under control another one crops up to take its place. The best these things do is help us become well-adjusted in our prison rather than setting us free.

You see, the only possible way to change the tree of humanity is to change the root, to reconcile people to their Creator. This is where it all starts, in the root system, not in the trunk, not in the branches, and not in the fruit. This is why every attempt to clean up this mess has always ended in failure, because no human philosophy or government program is equipped to deal with the root issue. There’s only one thing can change the root, and that one thing is God’s good news about Jesus Christ. Only God’s good news unleashes God’s power to reconcile sinful people to their creator. The more people in a society who are reconciled to their creator through faith in Christ, the less rotten fruit will grow.

Today we’ve seen the Bible’s diagnosis of what’s gone wrong with human society. It’s not a pretty picture, but we’ve seen that humans have universally rejected our Creator. The Bible claims that this rejection of our Creator is the root of our problem. God’s judgment against our rebellion is our captivity to unrestrained desires, our draw to unnatural behavior, and our society characterized by moral chaos. One day God’s judgment will reach the point where each of us stand before God and give and account, when heaven and hell stand in the balance for every person. But until then, God’s judgment is God giving us over to our own way, and us experiencing the awful consequences of going our own way.

Now it’s hard to think of this diagnosis as good news, but it is. The good news is that life wasn’t intended to be like this. The fruit really is rotten, and we don’t have to pretend otherwise. God has given his Church something no human philosophy has, no government program possesses, no human institution has; He’s given us His message, his good news, and this message alone can change the root. What would our world be like if the Christian Church in our nation really believed that God’s good news can change the root, if we really invested ourselves in sharing this message in credible and caring ways, if we focused on changing the root one person at a time? Would our world be a different place? I think it would. You see, we can’t be ashamed of God’s good news because it alone is the power of God for salvation for all who believe, because in this message God offers his own integrity as a free gift.


Bennett, William. 1999. The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators: America at the end of the Twentieth Century. New York: Broadway Books.

Cranfield, C. E. B. 1975. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Publishing.

Dunn, James D. G. 1988. Romans. 2 Volumes. Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 38 A and B. Waco: Word Books.

Fitzmyer, Joseph. 1993. Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible Vol. 33. New York: Doubleday.

Furnish, Victor Paul. 1985. The Moral Teaching of Paul. Abingdom Publishing.

Grenz, Stanley. 1998 Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. Westminster/John Knox Press.

Hays, Richard. 1994. "Awaiting the Redemption of Our Bodies: The Witness of Scripture Concerning Homosexuality." in Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate edited by J. S. Siker. John Knox Press.

Moo, Douglas. 1996. The Epistle to the Romans. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Rosen, Hanna and Richard Morin. 1998. "American Values: Views on Homosexuality, as Tolerance Grows, Acceptance Remains Elusive" The Washington Post (12/26/90).

Schreiner, Thomas. 1998. Romans. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Books.

Schmidt, Thomas. 1995. Straight and Narrow? InterVarsity Press.

Stott, John R. W. 1994. Romans: God’s Good News for the World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity.