#141: The Solution to the Romans I Problem

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #141, on the subject of The Solution to the Romans I Problem.

We began this miniseries with The Sin in Romans I, where we stated

…ultimately there is only one sin listed in the first chapter of the Book of Romans:

…they did not give Him the glory or the gratitude that they owed Him, robbing Him of what He justly deserved….

We were deriving that from Romans 1:19ff.  We then continued in Immorality in Romans I to explain that the “sins” we see described in that first chapter–the immorality, homosexuality, and total depravity–are not given to us as the proof of guilt but as the demonstration of punishment, that God punishes those who fail to recognize and thank Him by delivering them to the desires that destroy them.  We ended that article with the thought

…if these are the punishment of God, why would I want them?  Obviously, there is this draw that they have, because people are drawn into them, and many Christians will admit being tempted in those directions.  The black hole of death pulls everyone toward it.  The message of the gospel includes that Jesus saves us from this, that He enables us to be free from this death.

Then I noted that there was something else, something I had missed before.  The third article, Societal Implications of Romans I explained that, that this judgment came not primarily on individuals who rejected God but ultimately on the society itself:  you could be innocent of the moral degradation of the world around you, but it was worsening, drawing in those around you.

The question here is, what can we do?  The answer is what the answer almost always is:  we need to repent.

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Some of you probably just said, “Yes, Chaplain, we need to get all those sinners, all those fornicators and adulterers and homosexuals and lesbians and generally depraved people out there, to repent and turn to Christ.”  If you said that, you missed the point.  Of course those people need to repent; but judgment begins with the house of God–and all of that, here in the first chapter of Romans, was the punishment, not the crime.  The one sin–the only sin–Paul identifies in the first chapter of Romans is failing to acknowledge God and thank Him.

Of course, we think that we do acknowledge God and thank Him.  After all, we say grace before meals, gather on weekends for worship services, make sure we set aside a little time every day for devotions–how are we not acknowledging and thanking God?

The fact is we give too much credit to ourselves, and in a lot of ways that we not only do not recognize as taking it from God but find admirable.  We are idolators, worshipping God sometimes and other gods at other times.

Our number one idol is ourselves.  We thank God for the food, but we think that we obtained it by our own labor or resourcefulness.  We do not really think that God provides our food, our homes, our clothes–we think all of that comes from our own effort.  We fail to recognize God’s kindness to us in providing all this.

There is also a great deal of patriotism:  we worship our nation.  There has certainly been much about our nation for which we should be grateful to God, but in the words of Romans 1:25, we worship the creation (“ktisis”, meaning any created object or act of creation, frequently rendered “creature”) rather than the Creator, thinking that our nation and its founders gave us what ultimately came from God.  I have been in churches where on patriotic holy days they have sung patriotic anthems and recited the Pledge of Allegiance as if it were one of the creeds.  Those who pledge allegiance to America are serving two masters.  Thank God for America, but pledge allegiance only to God, and acknowledge Him as the giver of all good gifts.

There are quite a few of us who worship capitalism and the free market.  Don’t misunderstand me:  capitalism is a brilliant and effective human method of driving a society toward prosperity, but it is not a Christian system at all.  Its central concept is that everyone not only will but should act in the most selfish self-serving way possible to bring about the maximum benefit for the most people.  A Christian system would work on the premise that everyone should and will act in the most self-sacrificing loving way possible to help others, which makes it surpisingly similar to socialism.  The problem is that most people–even most of us who espouse Christianity–are more likely to act in capitalist ways than socialist ways, and if you’re building a system it is more practical to design it to fit the way the majority of people actually do act than the way we would like them to act.  Capitalism works well precisely because people are in the main selfish and unloving; socialism fails for the same reason.  Yet we treat capitalism as if it were a codicil to the gospel, part of the divine plan.  We do not need to abandon capitalism as a society, but as Christians we need to recognize it is not the source of our prosperity but a tainted tool through which God has managed to deliver it to tainted people.

I could probably continue with our idols.  We always think that our prosperity comes from something tangible, instead of recognizing the real source of all the good we receive.  That is the repentance–the “metanoia”, the “thought change”–that we need.  We need to stop thinking that we have earned the good things we have, that we have built a society that provides them, that we should thank our nation for being a place where such prosperity is possible, and get beyond all of that to recognizing that God has delivered good things to us.  If we fail to thank Him for what He has given us, to acknowledge Him as the source of all the good in our lives; if we continue to share the credit due to Him with others who are at best instruments of His kindness; the wrath will continue to fall on our world, and we will be buried in the depravity that has grown exponentially in the short time that I have been alive to see it.

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