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Its Bondage and the On-going Mercy of God

by Pastor Douglas Shearer


The study here of homosexuality is an excerpt drawn from Calvin on the Ropes, a book that I've recently published. You can purchase it on line at It's based on a passage of scripture found in Romans Chapter One. The specific passage dealing with homosexuality is, of course, Romans 1:26-27. However, those two verses can't possibly be understood in isolation from the context as a whole. Accordingly, the study posted here begins with Romans 1:18b and carries forward to Romans 1:32, the end of Chapter One. Anyone wanting to understand the spiritual dynamic underlying homosexuality must understand it in that context.


The Grammatical Structure of Verses 18b

and the Verses Which Follow

The grammatical structure of verse 18b and the verses which follow is very complex. Nevertheless, it’s important to sort our way through it. We begin by taking note once again of the relationship between verses 18a and 18b:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . .

Rom. 1:18a

. . . who suppress the truth in unrighteousness ...

Rom. 1:18b


The word “who,” which begins verse 18b, introduces a relative clause that carries the flow of Paul’s thought through, in the short run, to Romans 1:24 – where three appalling judgments of God are delineated – extending all the way through to verse 32. The antecedent of “who,” is, of course, the “men” in verse 18a accused by Paul of ungodliness and unrighteousness. The relationship between verses 18a and 18b is sketched out below.


Verse 18b, “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” sets up the “therefore clauses” in verses 24, 26, and 28, “Therefore God gave them over…” In more technical terms, verse 18b is what grammarians call a “protasis” – meaning it states a condition leading to an “apodosis” – meaning a consequence.

The verses that lie between 18b and 24, verses 19 – 23, consist of four adverbial clauses each of which is introduced by one of two subordinate conjunctions, “because” or “for.” The use of the subordinate conjunctions “because” and “for” tells us that each of the adverbial clauses they introduce is meant to explain the clause that precedes it – either a “why” or a “how.”

Since verse 18b, not 18a, is carrying the flow of Paul’s thought through 3:20, we conclude that the first of the adverbial clauses is anchored to the word “suppress” in 18b - and is meant to explain why the truth can’t be ignored – why, instead, it’s got to be forcefully stifled – “because what may be known of God is manifest in them (verse 19).” That’s why.

A close look at verses 21 – 23 reveals that they comprise a secondary protasis/apodosis…


. . . imbedded within the primary protasis/apodosis . . .


The secondary protasis/apodosis is not a judicial consequence personally orchestrated by God himself; it’s what rationalizing the truth inevitably leads to: a darkened heart – meaning a hardened heart; and man bears responsibility for that, not God. Obviously, then, it’s only after man has first hardened his own heart (verses 21a-23) that God judicially hardens it even further in pursuit of a sovereign purpose (verses 24-32).

And that throws light on Romans 9:18.

… and whom He wills He hardens.

Rom 9:18

Boice and Piper, along with their fellow Calvinists, insist that the hardening described here in Romans 9:18 is…

  • undertaken by God alone;
  • with no role whatsoever assigned to man.

However that’s at odds with the pattern Paul’s at pains to explain in Romans 1:21-23: God hardens man only after man has first hardened himself. We conclude, therefore, that it was only after Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) first hardened his own heart - a tragedy for which he bears sole responsibility - that God hardened it still further to effect the release of the Jews from Egyptian bondage.

I have sketched out below a diagram of verses 18b – 23.


The Primary Protasis – a condition leading

to an apodosis, meaning a series of consequences

found in verse 24, 26, and 28


…who suppress the truth in unrighteousness

Rom. 1:18b

Specific words or phrases found in verse 18b:


The word “suppress” means to “hold down.” The truth about God and his hatred of unrighteousness is inherent - and to avoid facing it requires effort; it’s not easily done. The truth has got to be held down. It’s not possible to simply walk around it - to ignore it.

Specific words or phrases found in verse 18b:

“the truth”

What truth? The truth sketched out in Romans 1:16 – 18a.

  • Man is a sinner – he’s guilty of unrighteousness;
  • his only hope is to throw himself on God’s mercy.

The phrase “suppress the truth” doesn’t necessarily imply that the whole truth is being “suppressed.” In the case of a hypocrite (Romans 2:1 and 2:17), it’s his own sinfulness that’s being suppressed, not the sinfulness of mankind generally.

  • That alone, however, is enough to prompt the rationalizing Paul describes in verse 21a,
  • which, in turn, leads inevitably to the hardening he describes in verses 21b-23 – a hardening which is entirely of his own making.
  • That, in turn, may, though not necessarily, lead to the still further hardening described in verses 24-32. Whether or not it does is up to God. Some men God hardens; others, he doesn’t. It’s his call – which is the meaning of Romans 9:18…

… and whom He wills He hardens.

Rom 9:18

Specific words or phrases found in verse 18b:

“in unrighteousness”

Any attempt to suppress the truth is inherently unrighteous – because it’s God’s truth; its suppression reflects mankind’s basic sinfulness.

1st Adverbial Clause - meant

to explain the protasis


. . . because that which is known about God is evident within them . . .

Rom. 1:19a

This is the first of four adverbial clauses – each of which is meant to explain the clause it follows. Paul is saying that the evidence pointing to the truth is so compelling that it can’t be ignored – that no one can simply walk on by it - which is why verse 18b tells us that the truth has got to be suppressed – forcefully stifled.

But why, then, doesn’t Romans 1:19 read “...because that which is known about the truth is evident within them...” rather than “...because that which is known about God is evident within them...”? It’s because the one implies the other: anyone who refuses to acknowledge his own sinfulness, ipso facto, suppresses the knowledge of God. It’s exactly what Jesus tells us in John 3:19-20.

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

John 3:19-20

Anyone who won’t acknowledge he’s a sinner runs from the light into the darkness - away from the presence of God - away from the knowledge of God. Likewise, anyone who is brought into the presence of God is, ipso facto, convicted of sin - convicted of his own unrighteousness. Isaiah 6:1 - 5 provides a graphic illustration:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.

Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

And one cried to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!

And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.

So I said: Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.

Isaiah 6:1-5

2nd Adverbial Clause – meant

to explain the 1st adverbial clause


. . . for God has shown it to them.

Rom. 1:19b

Here we have the second adverbial clause – answering the question posed by the first: The truth is obvious! Why? Because God himself has made it so. It’s God who has made the truth so compelling that we can’t possibly ignore it! We can only suppress it!

3rd Adverbial Clause – meant

to explain the 2nd adverbial clause


For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…

Rom. 1:20

Here we have the third adverbial clause – answering the question posed by the second: How has God made the truth so obvious – so compelling? The answer: nature is God’s witness. Notice that what we have here is a deliberate non-sequitur: “His invisible attributes...have been clearly seen...” How can invisible attributes be clearly seen? A deliberate non-sequitur is sometimes used to convey a sense of mystery and wonder – which is why Paul is using one here. He wants to preserve the sense of God’s transcendent wonder – to make it clear that whatever knowledge of himself God conveys, it’s never sufficient to overcome that wonder. Still, the meaning is clear: God’s creation brings to light his invisible attributes. Psalm 19:1 is a good example of Paul’s meaning:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the earth shows his handiwork.

Psalm 19:1

So convincing is the witness of nature that the Psalms frequently give nature a human voice – implying that man must actually stop up his ears to avoid hearing it.

Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all stars of light!

Praise him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!

Psalm 148:3-4

Moreover, it’s not merely some transcendent truth that has been disclosed; it’s the truth about God himself - him personally - which is what’s implied in the phrase “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature.” Paul is not a “Jewish Plato” emerging from the shadows of a half-lit cave into the sun-bathed world of impersonal archetypes.

Paul, however, is certainly not positing here a “natural theology.” He is not saying that nature so reveals God that scripture is unnecessary or superfluous. That would run totally contrary to Paul’s assertion in Romans 1:16-17 - that the gospel (i.e., scripture, the written word), not nature, reveals God’s plan of salvation. It would also run totally contrary to Romans 3:21. What Paul is saying, however, is that nature reveals enough of God to make inexcusable our attempts to suppress the truth of his existence, his righteousness, and his hatred of sin. The intricate design of nature - its exquisite beauty - is a more than sufficient testimony.

“so that they are without excuse”

The whole point of verses 19 and 20 is to underscore the truth that the denial of God’s existence is wholly without excuse; God has clearly revealed himself to mankind.

4th Adverbial Clause – meant to explain the 3rd adverbial

clause – and leading to a Secondary Protasis/Apodosis


For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give him thanks, but became futile in their speculations…

Rom. 1:21a

item9Here we have the fourth adverbial clause answering the question posed by the third and leading into a secondary protasis: Why are their excuses so terribly egregious? Because, though knowing God, they have failed either to honor him or thank him. Against the backdrop of ancient Middle Eastern culture, this failure is especially culpable. A monarch’s presence was never a matter of pedestrian indifference; it customarily elicited an elaborate display of honor and gratitude. And if not, judgment was instant – most frequently death.

Notice too that no one can truly claim to be either an atheist or an agnostic. Everyone has at one time “known God.” Every person has, at some point in his past, personally encountered God and has acknowledged his existence.

“...but became futile in their speculations…”

item9aThe Greek word translated “speculations” is “dialogismois.” Its meaning throughout the New Testament is more akin to excuse making than to logical thought; that’s what makes its use here so interesting. In other words, the Greeks were well aware that our mind is more a servant to our emotional predispositions than most of us care to admit; in short, we tend to rationalize; we tend to use our vaunted intellect not to “reason our way to the truth,” but to excuse the “bent of our sinful inclinations.”

And that inevitably leads to a darkened heart – meaning a hardened heart; and that’s precisely Paul’s point in the next clause, “and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

4th Adverbial clause - Secondary Apodosis

“and their foolish hearts were darkened”

item9bThe word “foolish” translates the Greek word “asunetos” – and it means “uncomprehending,” “void of understanding.” The Greek word kardia” conveys far more than the English word “heart.” It denotes the inner self – including the intellect, the emotions, and the will. And because it’s modified by the adjective “asunetos” – meaning “uncomprehending” – what Paul probably has most in mind is the intellect. Therefore, we may conclude that when a man turns his back on God it’s the intellect that’s first affected.

When our immoral “bents” - our corrupt proclivities - are sufficiently rationalized, our hearts become “darkened.” That’s because “rationalizations” encrust falsehood with a thin coat of respectability. Paul is saying precisely what Christ said in Matthew 6:22-23.

The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

But if your eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness!

Matt. 6:22-23


Professing to be wise, they became fools…

Rom. 1:22

A fool is anyone who denies the obvious; but a quintessential fool is someone who not only denies the obvious, but then wraps his denial in pedantic sophistries.


and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things…

Rom. 1:23

The word “changed” conveys the sense of “exchanged.” The point here, then, is rather straightforward and simple: in refusing to honor God or cultivate a grateful “spirit,” man has, in effect, consented to a tragically foolish “exchange.” He has exchanged the unspeakable glory of the Creator for the infinitely lesser glory of creation – and a sin-tainted creation at that. It’s an exchange that has cheapened and degraded him. He has exchanged “incorruption” for “corruption.” And he is now doomed to “live out” the consequences of that exchange - of the degradation it entails - in his attitudes and behavior.

item9cThere’s an underlying truth here that’s very easy to overlook: ontologically, man is a mirror - meaning he reflects whatever he points himself toward – never actually becoming it sui generis, but assuming its shape and form – displaying all its essential qualities.

It’s one of the first truths elucidated in the scriptures: Genesis Chapter One makes it clear that mankind was made in the image of God – meaning we were meant to reflect God – to bear his likeness – to, in effect, stand in his stead – to represent him.

And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness...

Gen. 1:26

But man turned himself away from God – and, therefore, he no longer reflects God’s glory – he no longer bears his likeness - which is precisely the truth underscored in both Psalm 106:20 and Jeremiah 2:11.

Thus they changed their glory into the image of an ox that eats grass.

Ps. 106:20

Has a nation changed its gods, which are not gods? But my people have changed their Glory for what does not profit.

Jer. 2:11

item9d2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that the whole point of salvation is to bring us back into the presence of God - where, as we turn ourselves back toward him and keep ourselves turned toward him, we will once again reflect his glory and assume his likeness. And isn’t this a definition of worship?

But we all, with unveiled face beholding as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.

2 Cor. 3:18

item9eIf in turning away from God we lose his likeness, in turning back to God, we regain his likeness. Overcoming the power of sin, therefore, is not so much a matter of trying harder; it’s more a matter of turning back to God and staying in his presence; it’s a matter of…

  • keeping ourselves pointed toward God;
  • delighting ourselves in him;
  • learning how to rest in him.

“into an image”

It’s unlikely that Paul has “full blown” idolatry in mind here – notwithstanding the use of the words “omoiomati eikonos” (“likeness of an image”) - which, if they stood alone, certainly might give rise to that conclusion. However, the “exchange” he’s describing here does not necessarily require it; and, indeed, the context, which is the “queen rule” of hermeneutics, seems to suggest otherwise; specifically, in verses 21 through 28 Paul is describing a progression – and idolatry, as such, isn’t “fitted” into that progression until further on: first, man suppresses the truth (verse 18). That leads to rationalizing our denial of the truth – “putting a spin” on what we’ve done – excusing it – which, inevitably, hardens our heart. That, in turn, may, though not always, lead to the first of God’s “judgments” (verse 24): man is given over to impurity – primarily sexual impurity, which is what the Greek word "akatharsia" implies. Impurity, then, often leads to idolatry (verse 25 – where the word “worship” is used – indicating the presence of “full blown” idolatry) – which, then, may, though not always, lead to a second judgment: man is given over to “degrading passions.” And so on through the third judgment – leading to a debased mind.

The Primary Apodosis – a series of consequences

arising from the protasis found in verse 18b


Therefore God also gave them over to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves…

Rom. 1:24

1st Punishment

“Therefore God also gave them over to uncleanness”

This is a judicial act 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.

Hebrews 11:25 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 (“eis) “impurity” - primarily sexual impurity. The Greek word is “akatharsia.” Impurity arises from out of the desires of the heart” (“epithumias ton kardion auton”) which are ordinarily held in check by God’s grace. But here God withdraws his grace (the judicial act of “giving over”), and the desires are left uncontrolled and unchecked, becoming lusts. The item9e1end result is “impurity” - which is often linked to greed (“pleonexia”), 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. There’s never any rest - never any sense of satisfaction - only a momentary reprieve followed invariably by another cycle of frenzied sinfulness - more gripping than before. Impurity is far more than a particular lust (“epithumia”); it’s an inordinate craving - a gripping, mind-numbing compulsion.

“gave them over”

Think about what it means to be “given over.” Clearly, it implies domination and bondage. We’re made the prisoners of sin. Again, what we have here, then, is a “compulsion” - usually a sexual compulsion, which is what the Greek word “akatharsia” implies.


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

For this reason God gave them over to vile 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.

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 . . .

Rom. 1:25-28

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

Sexual impurity almost always leads to idolatry Why? The dynamic is simple and straightforward: fornication profanes sex - meaning it makes common what God intended to be sacred - reserved exclusively for the marriage bond. Likewise, idolatry profanes worship. It profanes what God intended to be sacred - reserved exclusively for him. That’s why fornication and idolatry are so closely linked throughout the Bible and why one leads almost inevitably to the other: profanity cannot be contained; profanity at one level spills over to all levels. Fornication almost always leads to idolatry.

It’s this very insight that underlay Balaam’s advice to Balak, King of Moab. Balaam knew that if Israel could be seduced into committing fornication with the women of Moab that would inevitably prompt Israel to commit idolatry; and it did.

item9e22nd Punishment

“For this reason God gave them over to vile 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.”

Idolatry prompts the second of God’s judgments – men and women are given over to “dishonoring passions.” The Greek words are “pathe´atimias.” “atimias” means “without 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 (“physin”) is violated (“para physin” – “against nature”); e.g., homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, etc. Such sins are “pathe´atimias” – meaning by their vary nature, they dishonor, humiliate, and disgrace the person afflicted.

3rd Punishment

“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”

Finally, the mind itself (“nous”) is “given over.” This is the third “giving over.” There’s more at issue here than the translation suggests. The kind of behavior that’s being described here does not “fit” human nature (“me´ kathakonta”). Why? Because man is fundamentally – meaning essentially – a moral being, even in his fallen state; and, therefore, his rejection of all moral constraints leaves him less than human. What he has made of himself is completely at odds with the basic, underlying nature of his being.

Once again, it should be carefully noted that the Greek word “nous” 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” - a “nous adokimos” - 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.”

The descent corresponds to the following pattern: we begin with the lusts of the heart held in check by God’s grace.

  • The first “giving over” is to “impurity” – compulsive excesses – especially of a sexual nature.
  • The second “giving over” is to “degrading 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; e.g., Nazi Germany.

LossofFreedomHonorHumanityAt 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.


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…

Rom. 1:29-31

Paul's Typology of Sin

Verse 29 begins a relative clause which modifies verse 28. Normally, a relative clause is introduced by a relative pronoun - most frequently the word “who.” However, here in verse 29 the word “who” has been omitted, though, grammatically, it’s assumed. The technical term for an omitted pronoun is a “zero relative pronoun.” The relative clause that verse 29 begins extends through verse 31, making verses 28 - 31 a single grammatical unit. TypologyofSinonlyBut verse 32 is also a relative clause - which means that it too is a part of that single grammatical unit. The bottom line is simple: Paul is making a clear distinction between the persons described in verses 21 - 27 and those described in verses 28 - 32. In short, the flow of Paul’s thought corresponds to a typology of sin that he’s developing (see graphic on page 91). Paul elaborates on this distinction in Romans Chapter Two when he takes up the issue of hypocrisy.

Verses 29 – 31 provide a horrifying description of persons who have been given over to a “debased mind” – 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 Tim. 3:1-5

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 Cor. 6:9-11

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


. . . who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Rom. 1:32

Romans 1:32 tells us that the persons described in verses 29 – 31 make no excuses for their sinfulness – they make no attempt to hide it; in fact, they not only sin themselves, but actually endorse and encourage the sinfulness of others. That’s the extent to which their rebellion has carried them. They consciously and quite 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.”

The On-Going Mercy of God:

  • Romans 1:18b - 32 outlines a pattern that must be carefully noted …
  • The hardening Paul describes in Romans 1:21b-23 is 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 a person’s conscience can no longer generate sufficient conviction to hold his desires 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 my friend’s father did when as a teen-ager he caught him smoking a cigarette. He made him smoke a whole pack. 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; 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 you, who pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retains not his anger for ever, because he delights in mercy.

Micah 7:18



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