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People are Broken

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Romans 1:18-32
October 5, 2008

As Paul penned these first chapters of Romans, one reality dominated his thoughts. That thought is stated in a critical verse in Romans 5: “By the trespass of the one man [Adam], death reigned” (v. 17). Our understanding of salvation must grow from our awareness of man’s utter lostness.

Righteousness Needed

  • The Gentiles under sin (1:18–32)
  • The Jews under sin (2:1–3:8)
  • The whole world under sin (3:9–20)[1]

Intelligence (vv. 18–20)

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. [2]

Review Question #1

All too often human beings begin their thinking about relationship with God with different assumptions. To some, a human being seems a person born with spiritual life who forfeits that life only when he personally chooses sin. Others believe that a person is born neutral. To them, the issue remains in doubt until the final judgment, when our acts will be weighed in a set of divine balances. If, at that time, there is more good than bad (so the thinking goes), eternal life will be the reward.

Paul had no such image of man. He took seriously the Old Testament picture of the Fall, and was convinced that all human beings are born spiritually dead and alienated from God. Both by nature and by choice, human beings willingly choose sin, even when they know the good. So the basic question is, “How do human beings receive spiritual life?”

Now, writing to the Romans, Paul realized that there would be many others like himself who would not have traced the implications of the Gospel back to the basics. So in the first three chapters of this book Paul sought to demonstrate the deadness of humanity. He sought to prove our guilt, and utter lack of righteousness. Paul argued that we do not die spiritually because of sin; our sins demonstrate that we are spiritually dead.

Paul is the first recorded person to argue creationism vs evolution. History began with man knowing God. Human history is not the story of a beast that worshiped idols, and then evolved into a man worshiping one God. Human history is just the opposite: man began knowing God, but turned from the truth and rejected God.

Review Question #2

God revealed Himself to man through creation, the things that He made. From the world around him, man knew that there was a God who had the wisdom to plan and the power to create. Man realized too that this Creator was eternal... “His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:20), since God could not be created if He is the Creator. These facts about God are not hidden in creation; they are “clearly seen” (Rom. 1:20). “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

The word translated “hold” in Rom. 1:18 can also be translated “hold down, suppress.” Men knew the truth about God, but they did not allow this truth to work in their lives. They suppressed it in order that they might live their own lives and not be convicted by God’s truth. The result, of course, was refusing the truth (Rom. 1:21–22), and then turning the truth into a lie (Rom. 1:25). Finally, man so abandoned the truth that he became like a beast in his thinking and in his living.

Ignorance (vv. 21–23).

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.[3]


Man knew God; this is clear. But man did not want to know God or honor Him as God. Instead of being thankful for all that God had given him, man refused to thank God or give Him the glory He deserves. Man was willing to use God’s gifts, but he was not willing to worship and praise God for His gifts. The result was an empty mind and a darkened heart. Man the worshiper became man the philosopher, but his empty wisdom only revealed his foolishness. Paul summarized all of Greek history in one dramatic statement: “the times of this ignorance” (Acts 17:30).

I Corinthians 1:18-31 is worth reading at this point.

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. [4]

Having held down God’s truth and refusing to acknowledge God’s glory, man was left without a god; and man is so constituted that he must worship something. If he will not worship the true God, he will worship a false god, even if he has to manufacture it himself! This fact about man accounts for his propensity to idolatry. Man exchanged the glory of the true God for substitute gods that he himself made. He exchanged glory for shame, incorruption for corruption, truth for lies.

Note that first on the list of false gods is man. This fulfilled Satan’s purpose when he told Eve, “Ye shall be as God!” (Gen. 3:5, nasb) “Glory to man in the highest!” Satan encouraged man to say. Instead of man being made in God’s image, man made gods in his own image—and then descended so low as to worship birds, beasts, and bugs!

Individuals who identified as “born again” Christians were surveyed based on their beliefs in 2007.   To be identified as a born again Christian you answer that "have you ever made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today?" and answered "when I die, I will go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior." Individuals who answer "yes" to the first question and select this statement as their belief about their own salvation are then categorized as "born again."


  • #3 37% of born agains believe that if a person is good enough they can earn a place in Heaven. (2007)
  • #4 26% of born agains agree that "while he lived on earth, Jesus committed sins, like other people," compared to 41% of all adults. (2007)

Indulgence (vv. 24–27).

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. [5]

From idolatry to immorality is just one short step. If man is his own god, then he can do whatever he pleases and fulfill his desires without fear of judgment. We reach the climax of man’s battle with God’s truth when man exchanges the truth of God for “the lie” and abandons truth completely. “The lie” is that man is his own god, and he should worship and serve himself and not the Creator. It was “the lie” Satan used in the Garden to lead Eve into sin: “Ye shall be as God!” Satan has always wanted the worship that belongs only to God (Isa. 14:12–15; Matt. 4:8–10); and in idolatry, he receives that worship (1 Cor. 10:19–21).

Because of their sin “God gave them up” (Rom. 1:24, 26) which means that He permitted them to go on in their sins and reap the sad consequences. They received “in their own persons the due penalty of their error” (Rom. 1:27, nasb). This is the meaning of Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven” (literal translation). God revealed His wrath, not by sending fire from heaven, but by abandoning sinful men to their lustful ways. But there was one more stage.

This word “changed” should really read “exchanged.” People replaced God’s truth with Satan’s lie! What is Satan’s lie? Worshiping the creature and not the Creator; worshiping man instead of God; worshiping things instead of Christ.


  • #5 Born again Christians are more likely than non-born again individuals to accept moral absolutes. Specifically, 36% of born agains said they believe in moral absolutes, compared to just 16% among non-born agains. (2006)
  • #6 Half of born again Christians (46%) agree that Satan is "not a living being but is a symbol of evil." (2007)

Impenitence (vv. 28–32).

28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. [6]

When man began to feel the tragic consequences of his sins, you would think he would repent and seek God; but just the opposite was true. Because he was abandoned by God, he could only become worse. Man did not even want to retain God in his knowledge! So, “God gave them over” this time to a “depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28, nasb), which means a mind that cannot form right judgments. They now abandoned themselves to sin. Paul names twenty-four specific sins, all of which are with us today. (For other lists, see Mark 7:20–23; Gal. 5:19–21; 1 Tim. 1:9–10; and 2 Tim. 3:2–5.)

But the worst is yet to come. Men not only committed these sins in open defiance of God, but encouraged others and applauded them when they sinned. How far man fell! He began glorifying God but ended exchanging that glory for idols. He began knowing God but ended refusing to keep the knowledge of God in his mind and heart. He began as the highest of God’s creatures, made in the image of God; but he ended lower than the beasts and insects, because he worshiped them as his gods. The verdict? “They are without excuse!” (Rom. 1:20)

This portion of Scripture gives ample proof that the heathen are lost. Dan Crawford, British missionary to Africa, said: “The heathen are sinning against a flood of light.” There is a desperate need for us to carry the Gospel to all men, for this is the only way they can be saved.

These people had begun with a clear knowledge of God (vv. 19, 21) and His judgment against sin (v. 32); but now they reached the lowest level of their downward fall: they did not even want to have knowledge of God! “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ “ (Ps. 14:1, NKJV).[7]

Romans 3:9-12

9 What shall we conclude then? Are we any bettera? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;

11     there is no one who understands,

no one who seeks God.

12     All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”b [8]

Summary Points

  • As people we are broken.
  • We need salvation we ourselves cannot provide.


[1]Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (359). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[2]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ro 1:18-20). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ro 1:21-23). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

a Isaiah 29:14

[4]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (1 Co 1:18-25). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ro 1:24-27). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ro 1:28-32). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7]Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (364). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

a Or worse

b Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20

[8]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ro 3:9-12). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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