Beginning at Romans 1:18, Paul gives a discourse in which he compares the sinfulness of the Gentiles to that of the Jews. His point is to expose the fact that, in regard to salvation, both groups were on equal footing. The Jews’ status as having been God’s people did not make them superior to the Gentiles because they were a sinful people. God opposes unrighteous no matter who it is. He is not a respecter of person (Rom. 2:11). Although Paul’s focus in Romans 1:18–32 is on the behavior of the Gentiles, we come to understand at the beginning of chapter 2 that he also accuses the Jews of the same things (Rom. 2:1–2). Both Jews and Gentiles had become extremely sinful, and Paul charges them in this text with suppressing the truth of God; that is, he accuses man with rejecting God by indulging in unrighteous behavior. This text is important for us today, as it presents to us at least five general warning signs that indicate if we are rejecting God in our behavior.
Refusing to Glorify God
The first sign that we are rejecting God is our refusal to glorify him. In verse 21, Paul writes, “although they knew God”, indicating that not glorifying him is a willful action that goes against nature. God’s existence and divinity are evidenced in the things that are made, and therefore, we are without excuse (v. 20). God wants his creation to recognize and glorify him. Jesus glorified God by offering himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (Matt. 5:16; John 12:27–28; 16:14; 17:1–5; 21:19). Likewise, we are expected to glorify God by offering ourselves as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1; 1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Pet. 4:16; 1 Cor. 10:31). Just as Christ honored God in his death, we must honor him with our lives. This sacrifice demonstrates our gratitude towards him and causes others to glorify him as well (2 Cor. 9:6–15).
Elevating Our Philosophies
Another sign of rejecting God is elevating our philosophies. Paul says that the Gentiles became futile in their thoughts, and they darkened their hearts. Although they professed to be wise, they became fools (Rom. 1:21–22). We often think that we can direct our lives on the basis of our own wisdom and traditions. The Israelites also were guilty of putting stock in their man-made traditions (Jer. 9:14; Matt. 15:1–9). We have to be careful not to elevate our philosophies and traditions over the doctrine of Christ (Eph. 5:6; Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20). This practice may give an appearance of wisdom; however, it does not lead to eternal life (Col. 2:20–23). God’s thoughts are higher than ours (Isa. 55:6–9), and his foolishness is wiser than our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:25). Therefore, we must understand and follow his will, not ours (Eph. 5:17).
Practicing idolatry also reveals our rejection of God. The Israelites were easily given into idolatry when they made a golden calf after Moses had gone up into the mountain for forty days and forty nights (Exod. 24:18, 32:1). They were rebuked severely for this sin (32:27–28). Before going in to possess the Promised Land, Moses reminded them of God’s law to not worship any carved images or heavenly bodies (Deut. 4:15–19). He knew they would feel compelled to worship the things they could see, and not the one who created them. That is, they would worship and serve the creature, and not the Creator (Rom. 1:25). This pattern of idolatry has been prevalent throughout the ages in all nations, and we continue to practice it today when we elevate our material possessions over God. People think their money, cars, houses, and political leaders can do more for them than the Lord. They continue to “change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man” (v. 23). We must be careful not to fall into this modern-day idolatry. Our devotion needs to be towards our Creator.
Indulging in Sexual Immorality
Paul also names sexual immorality as a sign of rejecting God. He says that the people dishonored their bodies in their lusts (v. 24). They were given to vile passions: women lusting after women and men lusting after men (v. 26). These things were shameful, and those practicing them would receive their due punishment (v. 27). Sexual immorality comes in different shapes and sizes in our society, for example, rape, sex trafficking, and pornography. We are also bombarded with all types of images on T.V. and on the Internet, making them easily accessible to adults and children. We must understand the severity of this sin. Sexual immorality is different from other practices because it is a sin against our own bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit once we become Christians (1 Cor. 6:18–19). Therefore, we have to run as far as we can away from it.
Embracing and Approving Sin
The ultimate sign of rejection of God is seen in our mindset. Paul accuses the Gentiles of having a debased or corrupted mind, which shows the extent of their sinfulness. Notice all the depravities he enumerates (vv. 29–31):
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful
They not only embraced these sins, but they also approved of those who practiced them (v. 32). When we have arrived at this point, we are in dangerous territory because we could become callous and hardened to the point of no return (vv. 24, 26, 28; Eph. 4:19). That is, we allow sin to rule over us by obeying it and becoming its slaves. Our goal, however, should be to free ourselves from sin and become slaves of righteousness (Rom. 5:12–18).
What to Do
We need to use these signs to examine ourselves as Christians to make sure that we are not walking on the path of unrighteousness and that we are continuing in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). God is kind, forbearing, and patient; however, we should not take advantage of these characteristics by willfully living a life of sin without repentance, expecting to receive his grace and mercy at the end. These attributes should prompt us to strive to please God (Rom. 2:4), and when we fall, we need to be conscious of our faults and repent. Our mindset should be to walk in the light, seeking God’s forgiveness by confessing our sins to him daily (1 John 1:7–9).