Grace and Going Our Own Way (A Study in Romans)

Romans 1:24-32

Children are famous for wanting their own way. They chafe under the rule of their parents, especially if their parents do not allow them to do the things they want. If the rules are too stringent, rebellion may be the child’s chosen course of action. But disobedience can even occur—and often does—when the rules are fair.

This striving within children is a part of our natural desire for independence which we are allowed to experience when we reach a certain age. At a particular age, children whose parents have divorced can choose which parent they want to live with. A young person can exercise the privilege of voting at a certain age. Some habits—such as smoking and drinking—become legal when one reaches a particular age.

Our human makeup contains that desire to be free from our parents and choose our own way. This is why children move away from home and get married.

It is likewise a part of our makeup to want freedom from the demands of our heavenly parent. This desire is instilled in us from birth (Psalm 51:5) and is a part of our sinful nature that incorporates a bent toward rebellion.

God responds to this rebellion in much the same way that earthly parents do. He will punish and discipline. The punishment is reserved for those who stubbornly continue in that rebellion and allow death to overtake them without repenting of their sins. Discipline is designed for his children who still struggle with the flesh, which in turn leads them to wrangle with disobedience even though they have the power to obey (1 Corinthians 10:13).

When we stubbornly ignore God’s efforts to draw us to him or to keep us on the path of obedience, he gives us the desires of our heart by letting us go our own way. Like the parent who tires of fussing with their child and says, “Fine, have it your way.”

Paul now comes to that point in which he describes what happens when God lets people go their own way of disobedience and disregard for him.

Since the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), it will always lead to shameful living. As in most biblical passages using the word heart, the reference is not to the literal organ but rather to our emotions, passions, and desires. It can be likened to a familiar saying, “My heart is just not in it.”

Since the human heart is sinful, it will continuously lead us to sinful actions unless we allow God to change it. If God were to take the influencing power of his Spirit out of the world, we would quickly notice how evil the world could get.

Thus God allows people to be bad—not by a positive act but by the negative act of simply letting them do their own thing. Even though God allows humanity to be bad, they are not as evil as they could be. God still enacts an influence.

Paul describes the downward spiral of humanity when God lets us have our own way (25). When God is rejected, we will concoct our own ideas of what God should be and do. We exchange the truth for a lie, and the lie is that we can be god, or our own god. This is the same temptation Satan used on Eve in the very beginning. Eat the fruit and become like God. This was the reason for her and Adam’s downfall. We will erect idols to replace God, for it is hardwired in humanity to worship something.

Since God is out of the picture, all manner of wickedness will result: greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, dishonesty, gossip, and malicious behavior. We will grow to hate God because his desire for us is completely opposite of our sinful nature. We will want others to hate him as well. The worse comes when God allows us to experience the consequences of our sinful notions.

The downward spiral can only be escaped by faith in Christ. We have no power to interrupt the process. God does not initiate or cause the downward spiral but allows it when we choose to go our own way. It is vital that we know the basis of our beliefs.

People on this spiral did vile and degrading things with their bodies, chose to believe lies, and worshipped the things God made rather than him. The Genesis narrative makes it clear that humans were the crown of God’s creation. We were made in his image, a phrase not associated with any other part of creation.

Leaving God out of our life fosters a loss of identity. We forget who we are and who he is. He is the God of creation, but he also made us in his image which allows us to have a relationship with him that is not offered to animals.

God allows people to choose independence even though he knows the end result. Not having this freedom would lessen the definition of humanity and also force us to actions against our will.

Other acts of wickedness are described next—actions which are still witnessed today even in developed countries (26-27). He mentions lesbianism and homosexuality. Homosexuality was widespread in Paul’s day just as it is in ours. Pagan practices often encouraged it. While degrading, this sin is no greater than any other sin.

Paul catalogs a further list of specific sins that result when God is abandoned from one’s life (28-32) God gave them over to a depraved mind which in turn prevented them from forming right judgments. Paul lists 24 specific sins which are still with us today.

These verses clearly show that what moral uprightness remains within the human mind is solely because of the restraining influence of God. However, God does set boundaries beyond which humanity’s perversity is not allowed to travel.

Paul classes depravity under three heads: ungodliness, intemperance, and unrighteousness. By ungodliness, they have changed the truth of God into a lie. They made images to worship instead of worshipping the God who created what they see in nature. Intemperance. God delivered them over to their vile affections. Unrighteousness. All the vices that are opposite of a righteous lifestyle.

When God’s standards are rejected as the standard for right, we turn to other venues to justify our actions. Statistical morality believes whatever the majority believes as right. Emotional morality adheres to whatever feels good as right and whatever feels bad as wrong. Situational morality believes there is no standard of right and wrong. Rather, right and wrong depend on the situation. This is also known as situational ethics. Sensitive morality proclaims there is no standard of right and wrong. Each person determines this for themselves.

Misery loves company. Not only have such people abandoned God and reaped the consequences, but they also encourage others to do so as well. We refer to this as peer pressure.

And so Paul in great detail paints the picture of those who God allows to go their own way.

While God desires that all repent and turn to him, his grace is not forced on anyone but at the same time is available to all.