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Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Nature of Ungodliness

A meditiation on the message of Romans 1:18-31.

The oft quoted passage in Romans chapter 1 about ungodliness paints a dark picture of wanton behavior, wickedness, perversity and debauchery that most of us, when we read it, says: "this passage here describes those other people. Surely it is not about us. It is about those sinners." The passage is preceded by the glorious declaration of the power of God to save those righteous people who have faith. Therefore, the simple conclusion is that since we have faith, we must be the righteous people, and those who do not have faith are the wicked and the passage from verse 18 onwards describes them not us.

Looking a little closer to what verse 18 says, Paul describes the stance of God. Paul says God's wrath is against all "godlessness and wickedness." It is easy to distort the meaning of this passage because Paul refers to "men who suppress the truth by their wickedness." But the emphasis of this passage is not about the men who suppress the truth, but about the characteristics of such people. Better it is about the characterisitcs of such a posture of the heart. When we suppress the truth in our wickedness, then what comes out of it is a godlessness and wickedness to which God's wrath is opposed.

It is not so much those unrepentant sinners against whom God's wrath has been revealed as the nature of the heart that is contrary to Godliness that He is opposed to. In other words, God's wrath is revealed against all nature of sin and ungodliness. This ungodliness is symptomatic of a posture that is decidedly against God. It is a posture of the heart. And it does not only affect one section of society, or one group of people. It affects all of us.

When we read the second part of Romans chapter 1 (from verse 18 on), it is easy to think that it is speaking about the other people, the sinners, and then categorize their sin (although I believe it is much easier to single out one or two kinds of sins among the list that might be found here), and heap judgment upon them. It is so easy to forget to read on. For in Chapter 2, Paul opens with the judgment on "YOU." Don't judge, he says, for with the same judgment that you pass on to others, you condemn yourself.

Ungodliness is not about one group of people. It is not about the ungodly people. It is a matter of the heart. For, Paul wants to tell us, we are ALL UNGODLY. We have all fallen short. We all come under the condemnation and wrath of God. There is none righteous. That is why we need God. And, that is why the message of grace, mercy and love that Paul describes from chapter four on applies. It is the message of Jesus who comes to us and asks, "Son/daughter, is there no one who condemns you?" And when we reply, "None, Lord." He says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. Go in the peace that I have given you. Go in the realization that you and I are in relationship. You are my son/daughter, and I am your God and Father. Remember that. Go in the peace of that grace. And let my Spirit free and transform you."