Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 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; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just. When peoples spurn Him, He eventually hands them over to utter debasement and societal instability. Their debased minds bear increasingly bitter fruit. In our text, Paul lists no fewer than twenty three fruits of a debased mind, fruits which characterize a society’s descent into barbarism. Today we consider the first of these character traits: all unrighteousness. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “filled with all unrighteousness.”
In the universe that God has made, there is a fixed standard for moral and immoral behavior. That standard is God’s moral law. To practice righteousness is to live according to the standard; to practice unrighteousness is to ignore or violate it. To be filled with all unrighteousness, therefore, is to be filled with a hatred for God’s law, it is to be lawless and a lawbreaker. When we repudiate the knowledge of God, we eventually repudiate the knowledge of righteousness. “Righteousness, what’s that?”
Because the unrighteous man hates God’s fixed moral standard, hates the truth, the Scriptures frequently contrast unrighteousness and truth. For instance, Paul writes that those who are perishing do“not believe the truth but [take] pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes 2:12). Unrighteousness versus truth. Similarly, earlier in Romans 1, Paul insists that God’s wrath is directed against all “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). And he concludes in Romans 2:8 that because unbelievers “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,” therefore they will endure God’s “indignation and wrath.” Unrighteousness hates the truth.
With no fixed standard for moral and immoral behavior, those who are filled with all unrighteousness not only hate the truth, they also cannot define real love. Paul writes that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10b) and that love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). God’s law is the truth and to speak truth, to uphold truth, to treasure truth is to love my neighbor. God’s law empowers us to define love accurately. But when we cast off God’s law, when we cast off the truth, then we no longer know what love is; our conception of “love” careens about like a drunken man.
Notice, therefore, that our calling as the people of God is to treasure God’s moral law. His law is the truth; His law defines true love; His law is light and life. So Paul outlines our responsibility as the people of God in Romans 6:13, “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” We are to treasure God’s law and practice it in our lives. We are to be filled with all righteousness.
So what of you? Do you treasure God’s law and permit it to define true love? Are you loyal to the truth and determined to help others by upholding it and refusing to lie? Or have you compromised the truth, pretended that the truth is malleable, and so failed to love your neighbor?
Reminded that we are to be filled with all righteousness, that we are to love and treasure God’s moral law, let us confess that we often follow the temptations of the evil, of our sinful nature, and of the world in the practice of unrighteousness. And as you are able, let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sin. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.