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Descent into Human
Degradation


by Pastor Douglas Shearer



Suppressing the truth in unrighteousness
It's almost impossible for anyone not at least 65 years old to fathom just how drastically ethical standards have changed in America since the 1950s. For Millennials, and for many Gen-Xers as well, a "new normal" governs their lives. 
  • personal responsibility has given way to victimization;
  • the viability of the American family has been seriously eroded - and with its loss, government intrusion has become both necessary and ever more prevalent; "big brother" has become a looming presence;
  • the traditional American work-ethic is being replaced by government handouts and an entitlement outlook on life;
  • respect for authority has gone the way of the dodo bird and wholly mamoth; 
  • the sanctity of marriage is no longer honored - with no-fault divorce fully institutionalized since the early 1970s;
  • casual sex is both routine and condoned; 
  • abortion, at one time unlawful, is now fully legalized - and for many Americans, though by no means all, pretty much standard fare; 
  • homosexuality is no longer condemned - and its disapproval is now clothed in the garb of bigotry and hatred; and in many instances subject to both criminal and civil sanctions;
  • "gender" is now treated as a matter of personal choice - a social construct not a biological fact - with sex change therapy on its way to becoming mainstreamed and with children in kindergarten being encouraged by their teachers to buy into it; 
  • increasingly, hatred and violence are cast in the guise of righteous indignation rather denounced outright;  
  • etc.

These radical changes have occurred within a very short space of time, no more than fifty years - though, of course, their origins extend back much further. But the emotional and intellectual impact of these changes falls most heavily on those of us whose lives actually span those fifty years. For Gen-Xers and Millennials, the impact goes largely unnoticed. Why? Because they were born into these changes, meaning their memory provides no existential benchmark they can use to measure just how profoundly different the present is from fifty to sixty years ago. They're like frogs in a kettle - unaware that the water is getting hotter and hotter. And even if some of them are aware, they feel largely helpless to do anything about it. 


Not how these changes have occurred
But how they are changing the American psyche 
For most Christians, how these changes have taken place is the focus of their attention. But what I want to focus on in this article is ..

Frog in a kettle with the water getting hotter


     How are these changes reshaping the psyche of a large portion of the American 
public - and what is the peril that poses for believers?
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We will find the answer to that question in a single passage of scripture extending from Romans 1:16 to 32. 

The first three verses of this passage, verses 16-18a, taken together, introduce us to the truth of the human condition - with the following verses extending to verse 32 spelling out what happens to anyone who suppresses that truth ...


     For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 
     For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
     For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men ...

Romans 1:16-18a

Simply put, Romans 1:16-18a tells us ...
  • that we stand condemned before the bar of God's holy justice and are, therefore, subject to his wrath;
  • that God has mounted a rescue plan designed to save us from his wrath;
  • next, it tells us how God saves us; specifically, by freely providing us with a righteous standing in Christ;
  • it then makes clear how that unspeakable gift is appropriated: it’s by faith;
  • finally, we’re told that faith is not only what enables us to achieve a righteous standing, it also enables us to live in God’s presence - to maintain a walk with him. It’s from faith to faith. The just shall live by faith.    

​The next step, then, is obvious: ask for the pardon. However, it’s not quite that simple. Why? Because man suppresses the truth of his sinfulness ...
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     For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. 
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                    Romans 1:18b​

Verses 19 - 23 go on to tell us that suppressing the truth is not easy; it's very difficult. Why? Because nature itself declares it and because it's inherent - meaning God has embedded it in every person's mind and heart - in what's called the conscience. Nevertheless, most men and women try. And that leads us to the bone-chilling verses extending from Romans 1:24 to Romans 1:32. Here in this highly charged passage of scripture, Paul describes the inevitable consequences arising from that futile attempt.
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Roman 1:24-25 - suppressing the truth starts
a descent into human degradation - into sociopathic behavior
     

     Therefore God also gave them over to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.
Romans 1:24

Mankind suppresses the truth

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This is a judicial ruling on God's part.  It's the first of three "giving overs."  The others are found in verses 26 and 28.  Each one is a punishment - not merely a consequence of sin, but an actual punishment for sin. Verse 27 makes this point especially clear. The Bible acknowledges that there's "pleasure in sin for a season." But here Paul makes it plain that eventually the sin we find so exhilarating, so titillating - that very sin becomes wormwood and gall. Sin is like a baited trap; the bait lures us into a trap - which eventually snaps shut - catching us in a prison of anguish and misery. The first "giving over" is to ("εἰς"1) impurity - primarily sexual impurity, which is what the Greek word "ακαθαρσια" implies. 

Romans 1:24 - Suffers the loss of his freedom
Impurity arises from the "lusts of the heart" ("ἐπιθυμίαις τwν καρδιwν αὐτwν"), which are ordinarily held in check by God's grace.  But here God withdraws his grace (the judicial act of "giving over"), and the lusts are left uncontrolled and unchecked. The end result is "impurity" - which is often linked to the word "greed" ("πλεονεξια"), which denotes a terrifying state of emptiness - a condition that drives its victims relentlessly; and the more that's gained, the greater the sense of emptiness and the sharper the pangs it arouses. There's never any rest - never any sense of satisfaction - only a momentary reprieve - a kind of catharsis - followed invariably by another cycle of frenzied sinfulness - more gripping than before. Impurity is far more than a particular lust; it's an inordinate craving, a mind-numbing addiction that paralyzes the mind and will.

​Think about what it means to be "given over."  Clearly, it implies domination and bondage.  We're made the prisoners of sin.  What we have here, then, is a "compulsion" - usually a sexual compulsion, which, once again, is what the Greek word "ακαθαρσια" clearly suggests.

The next verse, Romans 1:25, is transitional - leading to verses 26 and 27 ...

     ... who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 1:25

Sexual impurity almost always gives rise to idolatry.  Why?  The dynamic is simple and rather straightforward ...
  • fornication profanes sex - meaning it makes common what God intends to be sacred - reserved exclusively for the marriage bond. 
  • Likewise, idolatry profanes worship. It, likewise, makes common what God intends to be sacred - reserved exclusively for him. 

That's why fornication and idolatry are so closely linked throughout the Bible - why one leads almost inevitably to the other: if I profane sex, I will inevitably profane worship as well. It cannot be contained; fornication almost always leads to idolatry. It's this very insight that underlay Balaam's advice to Balak, King of Moab. Balaam knew if Israel could be seduced into committing fornication with the women of Moab that would inevitably prompt Israel to commit idolatry; and it did.

Romans 1:26-27 - Suffers the loss of his dignity and honor
     

     For this reason God gave them over to vile (ἀτιμίας - dishonoring) passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 
     Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
Romans 1:26-27

Idolatry prompts the second of God's judgments: men and women are given over to "dishonoring passions." The Greek words are "πάθη ἀτιμίας." "ἀτιμίας" means "loss of honor." Here another line is crossed along the descent into human depravity. It's not merely that nature is pushed to its limits (e.g., gluttony, heterosexual excesses and impurities, etc.); it's that nature ("φυσιν" - "nature") is violated ("παρα φυσιν" - "against nature"); e.g., homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, sadomasochism, etc).  Such sins are "πάθη ἀτιμίας" - meaning by their vary nature, they dishonor, humiliate, and disgrace the person afflicted.

What do "gay activists" most desperately want? Is it what they claim it is - tolerance? No! It's respect. It's dignity. Their insistence on tolerance is secondary - meant only to establish the groundwork for attaining their primary objective - respect. Think about it. What's the name of one their most prominent organization? It's Dignity. That speaks volumnes, doesn't it? Dignity is exactly what their sin has stripped them of - and it's what they're trying so frantically to recover. But it can only be recovered if somehow homosexual behavior can be clothed in legitimacy - thereby, so homosexuals believe, expunging its stigma, its shame. It's no coincidence that homosexual activists are at the leading edge of undermining the Judeo-Christian ethic.

And that's exactly what Christians won't do - their faith stands in the way. Yes, tolerance and civility can be extended - a willingness to live side by side with homosexuals - in the same neighborhood - on the same job. But to legitimize their behavior? No! Legitimacy can never be conferred. And therein lies the dynamic that gives rise to homosexual rage. Legitimacy is the "sine qua non" of respect and dignity - its necessary prerequisite; and Christians stand in their way of achieving that. And the rage will only get worse - with the secular elites, intimidated by homosexual rage, lending their support to that rage.


Romans 1:28-32 - Suffers the loss of his humanity
sociopathic behavior
     

     And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting ...
Romans 1:28

Finally, the mind itself ("νοuς") is "given over."  This is the third "giving over" - the third judgment. There's more at issue here than the translation suggests. The kind of behavior that's being described here does not "fit" humanity ("μὴ καθήκοντα").  Why?  Because man is fundamentally - meaning essentially - a moral being2; and, therefore, his rejection of all moral constraints leaves him less than human.  What he has made of himself is completely at odds with God's intention.  He no longer bears the image of God - the "imago dei" that makes him human.


It should be carefully noted that the Greek word "νοuς" is not exactly synonymous with the English word "mind." For the Greeks, the mind was not just the intellectual dimension of man's self; it was also the seat of moral integrity and spiritual perception. Indeed, it more closely corresponds to what the Keswick pietists called "the human spirit." Here - at this third level - a person's total intellectual, moral, and spiritual identity is lost. He is left with a "depraved humanity" - an "ἀδόκιμος νοuς" - a "humanity that doesn't measure up" - a psyche that can hardly be called "human" - wholly indifferent to shame and dishonor - incapable of even a modicum of genuine empathy.  These kinds of individuals are the Ted Bundys and Joseph Mengelers of the world. They're what psychologists call "sociopaths."


Summarizing
The descent into human depravity corresponds to the following pattern: we begin with lusts held in check by God's grace; then, because the truth is suppressed, the heart is darkened, meaning the conscience barely registers sin: it prompts only a weakened sense of disgust and moral revulsion. That prompts a series of three judgments
extending from verse 24 all the way through to verse 32.
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  • The first "giving over" is to "impurity" - compulsive excesses - especially of a sexual nature.
  • The second "giving over" is to "dishonoring passions" - an immoral condition that goes beyond mere excess - that, instead, violates nature itself; e.g., homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia.
  • The third "giving over" is to a "failed humanity" - an intellectual, moral, and spiritual condition that's no longer truly "human" - that can assume the form of terrible cruelty​ and heartless indifference. I'm personally convinced that whole nations, not just individuals, can be turned over to a depraved mind - a "nous adokimos;" e.g., Nazi Germany, ISIS, etc.
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At each of the three descending levels, the person undergoing judgment suffers a profound loss - meant both to bring him to his senses and to display the horrifying consequences that result from turning away from God - from suppressing the truth. 

Verses 29-32 give a horrifying description of the final outcome. 

     ... being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 
     backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 
undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful, 
     who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only to the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 1:29-32

What's described in these four verses is a psyche devoid of basic human decency - persons hardly worth calling human.  It's almost a carbon copy of Paul's description of the Last Days Generation found in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.


     But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:
     For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
     unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,
     traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
     having a form of godliness but denying its power.

2 Timothy 3:1-5

The persons described in verses 29 - 32 make no excuses for their sinfulness - they make no attempt to hide it; in fact, they not only sin themselves, but actually endorse and then go on to encourage the sinfulness of others. That's the extent to which their rebellion has carried them. They willfully resist any kind of moral constraints - no doubt clothing their defiance in righteous indignation - claiming ...

  • that their civil liberties are being violated;
  • that their artistic imagination is being thwarted;
  • that civilization itself is being threatened by narrow minded bigots and "bourgeois philistines."

And isn't that an exact description of what we are witnessing taking place now in America? This, then, is what we will - and even now - are finding ourselves as believers confronting?

A Word of Caution: 
We shouldn't conclude that any of the three "giving overs" is irremediable. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 proves otherwise ...


     Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
     Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
     And such were some of you: but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 1:6:9-11

In other words, many of the redeemed are drawn from the same cesspool Paul describes here in Romans 1:29-31.

The On-Going Mercy of God
It's hard to be dogmatic about the passage of scripture we've been examining - beginning with 18b and extending through 32; but there's evidently a pattern here that Paul is sketching out ...


  • The hardening Paul describes in Romans 1:21b-23 appears to be the unavoidable consequence of rationalizing our sinfulness (Romans 1:18b-21a).  It's not prompted by God - at least not directly; it's simply "the way our psyches are wired": they're hardened whenever we excuse or justify our sinful proclivities.
  • The hardening may reach a point at which our conscience can no longer generate sufficient conviction to hold our lusts in check.
  • If that occurs, God intervenes.  He, so to speak, "shoves our face" in the sin we've been "toying with" - the sin we've found so titillating - so tempting.  He turns us over to it - to the anguish and misery which is always its bottom line. That's what Paul is describing in Romans 1:24-32.
  • If indeed we are brought back to our senses, it's not simply because shame has drawn us back - though shame may continue to play a diminished role; it's because anguish and misery have drawn us back. It's no different from what happened to my friend when his father caught him as a teenager smoking a cigarette. He made him smoke a whole pack - a whole pack of unfiltered Camels. It wasn't the shame of smoking that brought him back to his senses; he was largely beyond that; it was the misery caused by smoking an entire pack. He was sick for a week - and resolved never to smoke again.

  • In any case, God never hardens us until we've first hardened ourselves (cf. Commentary on The Book of Romans: Volume I, Deliverance from the Penalty of Sin, pages 103-124. Press this link to purchase); and then the hardening he prompts - though certainly justly deserved - is ultimately meant to bring us to our senses - to see sin for what it is - to feel its horror and to be crushed under its tyranny - not just our own lives, but the lives of those we love the most - our parents, our wives and husbands, our sons and daughters, our friends, our colleagues.  In short, lying behind the terrible judgments God inflicts on sinners - the judgments spelled out in Romans 1:24-32 - is God's mercy.  Once again, we hear echoes of Micah 7:18 ...

     Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.

Micah 7:18


Footnotes​​​​​
The Greek word translated "to" in the phrase "given over to impurity" conveys a teleological sense, implying design, purpose, and plan. In short, the judgment spelled out here is not arbitrary or haphazard. It's specifically designed to produce impurity.

For a complete explanation of what the Bible teaches on man's essential morality, see my book, Commentary on The Book of Romans: Volume I, Deliverance from the Penalty of Sin.

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