I’ve joined a Precepts study for the first time, through my church.
While home, I wanted to get involved, despite my short time here, and somewhat unpredictable schedule. A women’s Bible study seemed like a good choice. When I signed up, I didn’t know two things about this class on the book of Romans that became apparent very quickly: 1. I was going to have quite a bit of homework to work on every week. 2. The Precept study is very similar to the Bible study methods I teach in ABIDE. In that course, I teach from Paul’s other letters, but rarely Romans. So, this class will definitely be an asset to my job in Uganda.
Today we were discussing observations about Chapter 1. Part of the previous week’s assignment was to make lists of what we learned about Paul, God, Jesus, the saints, and the ungodly from the chapter. Our discussion started with the ungodly, then swiftly moved to God.
A classmate mentioned that we shouldn’t ignore that when talking about the ungodly, Paul says God gave them up three times (v. 24, 26, & 28). Each verse talks about how God gave them up to follow the sinful desires of their hearts and minds. Before I could mentally sort out the significance of this seemingly hard statement, another classmate pointed out that in each occurrence, the ungodly first refused God. Take a look below (emphasis added).
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
The conversation continued around the circle, but I couldn’t get my mind off of this. I sensed the Holy Spirit intervening and guiding me to some insights. I noticed in verse 7 that Paul refers to God as our Father. That opened my eyes to see this whole chapter from that perspective. I’m not a mom, but I was starting to look at this from the perspective of a parent. (Sometimes I really desire to be a wife and mother simply because I know in those roles I will be able to understand my God as a bridegroom and a parent in ways I am currently limited…but that’s another blog for another day…)
Parents, good godly parents, desire to establish a loving home with clear boundaries and rules for the good of the family. The children know the standards and what is expected. We could say they are without excuse. Yet, they often still end up giving in to their rebellion. Or as verse 24 calls it, the lusts of their hearts. (What do we lust after? Things/people we think will satisfy, yet don’t. God alone can satisfy, yet somehow we have believed the lie (v.25) that something else could.) Sometimes parents have to make the tough choice to give them up to their rebellion. Sometimes we need to let children make bad choices and face the consequences. Sometimes those are man-made consequences. (You break curfew, I take your keys away.) Other times they are more natural consequences. (You hit your brother, he is going to hit you back, and probably harder.) Some of my former high school students would regularly hear me say, Consequences need to change, or behavior won’t change.
But parents don’t do that because they hate their children or want to see them suffer. They do it out of love. They know that if they don’t allow consequences, their children won’t learn. They know that if they always make choices for them, someday when the children are out of their parents’ care, they will very likely make contrary decisions in that freedom. Figuring out that training, the balance of protection and allowing consequences, is not easy. But it is out of love. It is with the desire to see children grow and develop into adults who will choose to make God-honoring choices on their own. Sometimes, unfortunately, we need to learn through the suffering of our mistakes.
When God gave them up He wasn’t rejecting them. He wasn’t revealing His wrath against them as people, but against all ungodliness and unrighteousness within them. He loved them. He knows that sometimes rebellious man can’t be forced to obey, but needs to learn to obey.
It’s like the prodigal son in Luke 15. The son basically told his father he wished his dad was dead so he could have the inheritance now. The father gave him up, and allowed him to follow the lusts of his heart. Then the son suffered the consequences. Eventually he repented and came back to his father. He expected the worst. But his father showered him with love. He hadn’t sent him away hoping to never see him again after such a heart-breaking insult. No, he always hoped that his son would return. He wasn’t ready with I-told-you-so lectures, but with open arms. That’s the character of our Heavenly Father. When we, as sinful people, refuse to acknowledge Him, sometimes He gives us up, but always out of love, always ready to receive us when we come back with a repentant heart.
So as we look through the long and specific lists of what the ungodly were like in Rome (which is exactly what we are like in our current cultures), we don’t need to look at them with pride or judgment. We don’t need to see God as simply cold and full of wrath either. But we can see Him as loving and merciful.
I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful for that unparalleled parental wisdom from my Heavenly Father.