I have spent the past 3 months leading our senior high youth group through the first three chapters of Romans. It has been a dismal time sitting in the dark, godless, idolatrous world of sin painted in Romans 1:18-32 in particular. I knew very well that the good news would arrive in chapter 3 but we sometimes need to sit in the ugliness of life lived in ignorance of and rebellion against the God-oriented life we were created for in order to fully appreciate God’s salvation.
One of the darkest truths of Romans 1 is the scary realization that God doesn’t force anyone into submission to his lordship but eventually, after so many failed attempts to get their attention, gives them over to their “sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity” (1:24); God gives them over “to shameful lusts” (v. 26) and a “depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” (v. 28). As a result of letting them go and indulge their sinful desires in a life without reference to God they “received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (v. 27). This is the scandalous freedom of the human will and God’s choice to let us choose life with or without his guiding light and purposes. In order for us to have the ability to freely choose God, we must be given the freedom to reject God’s love. Love not freely chosen is not love at all.
But if this is the darkest picture of what life looks like in rebellion against God, what might the opposite look like? How amazingly beautiful and bright is the fully God-centered life anchored in the knowledge and love of God? In a brilliant move one pastor decided to rewrite Romans 1:24-32 from the opposite, positive perspective. Here is a picture of the life God desires us to enjoy in a committed and loving relationship with Him:
Therefore, God gave them over in their hearts to self-control and purity, that their bodies might be honored among them. For they kept and cherished the truth of God and worshiped and served the Creator, who is blessed forever, rather than the creature. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to pure and wholesome lives, lived with carefree ease even in the most intimate relations so that all received in their own person the due reward of their fidelity. And just as they saw fit to acknowledge God in all things, God gave them over to a sound mind, to do those things which are proper, being filled with all righteousness, goodness, generosity, kindness; full of selflessness, life, healing, openness, kindliness; they are gentle in speech, always building others up, lovers of God, respectful, humble, self-effacing, inventors of good, obedient to parents, understanding, trustworthy, loving, merciful; and as they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are possessors of life, they do the same, and give hearty approval to those who do likewise (From Love Is An Orientation by Andrew Marin (pp. 128-129).
Let this picture of a heart given over fully to the love and life of God through the power of the Spirit spur you on to good works today and bring you to the throne of grace with thanksgiving and joy for the life God has made possible for us through the gift of Christ!