“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 1:22-25
In our last study, we learned that actions have results. People gave up God and glorified themselves and other created beings, so God gave people up. Up to what? We’ll start unpacking that as we take a closer look at the Apostle Paul’s words about the “wrath of God” that has been revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
God “handed over, delivered” humans to uncleanness. What does that mean?
διο και παρεδωκεν αυτους ο θεος εν ταις επιθυμιαις των καρδιων αυτων εις ακαθαρσιαν του ατιμαζεσθαι τα σωματα αυτων εν εαυτοις
The literal of the first part of verse 24 reads – “Therefore gave up them God in the desires of the hearts of them to impurity”
“Therefore” (διο) is important to note here. It is a conjunction that introduced God’s response to what Paul wrote prior –
“… because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”
God made a judicial decision to “hand over” people to “uncleanness.” Why? Paul will make clear later in Romans that God did what He did to demonstrate mercy to those whom He wished to show mercy.
When a judge hands someone over for the purpose of punishment or retribution, it is often into the custody of a warden and guards of a prison. In the case of people who, though they knew God, did not glorify Him as God and were not thankful and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things, God “handed over” those people to “uncleanness.” What kind of prison is that?
The Prison of Impurity
The Greek word translated “uncleanness” is ἀκαθαρσίαv. It comes from the word ἀκάθαρτος and means “unclean, impure.” It is a combination of the letter ἄλφα (understood as “no, not” when placed before a word) and καθαρός (pure, unstained, innocent, unmixed, unadulterated, literally or spiritually clean). God gave people up to impurity because their nature was “mixed, adulterated, guilty.” God placed people in the prison of impurity.
ἀκαθαρσία,ἀκαθαρσίας, and ἀκαθαρσίαἡ are used ten times in the New Testament –
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’sbones and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27
“Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” Romans 1:24
“I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” Romans 6:19
“… lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.” 2 Corinthians 12:21
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness …” Galatians 5:19
“… who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” Ephesians 4:19
“But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints.” Ephesians 5:3
“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5
“For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.” 1 Thessalonians 2:3
“For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7
And there you have the heart of the matter in Romans 1 – God called people to holiness, but they knowingly chose to suppress God’s “truth” and God gave them up to uncleanness:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Romans 1:18
As we saw in an earlier study, people “changed the glory of the incorruptible God.” The word “change” in Greek is ἀλλάσσω and means “alter, exchange, transform.” It’s in the active voice, which means people did the exchanging. People “exchanged” the glory of God for “an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” What did the Perfect, Supreme, Sovereign God do about that? He “gave them up to uncleanness,” to impurity.
Lusts of the Heart
God gave people up to the custody of the prison of impurity. What kind of prison was that? What kind of punishment would be inflicted on people in that prison? Look back at the beginning of human sin for the answer –
“… but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:17
“ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3:6
God sentenced people to fulfill the “desires” or “lusts” of their hearts. He sentenced them to do exactly what they wanted to do.
The Greek word used in Romans 1:24 is ἐπιθυμία and means “desire, eagerness for, inordinate desire, lust.” The word comes from ἐπιθυμέω, which means “long for, covet, lust after, set the heart upon, passionate longing.” God sentenced people to do what they coveted, what they passionately longed for, what their hearts were set upon, what was their primary focus. People had a “craving” for what was forbidden, what was unclean and impure. It’s hard to imagine that anyone made in the image of the pure God would have a craving for impurity, but that is the power of the sin nature.
The Greek word καρδία is translated “heart” in Romans 1:24, but it means much more than the physical organ that pushes blood through your body. The word was also used for the “inner life, intention, the mind.” The strong, passionate longing of the inner life of a person, their deep intention, was “lust.” What was the result of that craving in the inner person?
“to dishonor their bodies among themselves”
The words “to dishonor” are a translation of ἀτιμάζεσθαι, which mean “disgrace, treat disgracefully, dishonor, insult, despise.” It comes from ἄτιμος – “without honor, despised.” God sentenced people to do what they craved most – dishonoring and despising their bodies and the bodies of others.”
God judged people and placed them in the custody of impurity. However, the custody would not be served in solitary confinement. People would live out their sentence by dishonoring their body with the bodies of other people – “among themselves.” The “lusts of their hearts” would include the lusts of other peoples’ hearts. Lusting people would live out their custody in the prison of impurity lusting after other lusting people.
The picture Paul will draw for us in the next several verses will be hard to look at for many reasons. Many of us will see our own custody and how we lived out our passionate lusts with others. Hopefully, it will be a picture of the past. We will also see our community, our nation, our world as it really is.
We wrote a short book several years ago to help people look at the world as it really is and find help and guidance to the life of grace and mercy God offers us. We hope you will consider reading Gracelife: Words of Encouragement in a Discouraging World in either the paperback version or Kindle version and use it as both a study and devotional in the months to come. (Each version of GraceLife can be purchased for less than $6.00.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”