The worldwide Anglican Communion is meeting at Lambeth. The controversies over the ordination of a homosexual to bishop in the Episcopal Church US are threatening to fracture that Communion. Meanwhile, the African bishops and other evangelicals around the world have concluded their historic meeting in Jerusalem where they drafted a strong confessional statement. The Anglicans in Africa, for example, where the bishops and archbishops have stood their ground, Ryle-like, on the 39 Articles of Religion, are growing and great numbers of people are coming to Christ, while Lambeth languishes. In America this summer the Presbyterian Church USA voted in such a way as to further divide that denomination. Abandoning language aboust chastity, and further eroding the Biblical moorings that hold a Church together, the PCUSA continues its now increasingly lonely drift away from orthodoxy. There are many great churches in that Communion and my prayer is that Christ will be honored and glorified with the voices of Truth that surely remain. But even as they continue to divide, like the Anglicans, a continuing witness, through the New Wineskins Movement and other confessional groups, are growing in numerical and, I would say, in spiritual strength.
All of this has led me to prayer over the state of the Church. And from this prayer, I now want to share with you some thoughts on the relationship of our confession with the crises that invariably comes when sacred words are so easily abandoned. These thoughts came, first, through a message I preached from the Epistle to the Romans.
Whether an entire Communion, or a denomination, or a local church, or one Christian, the challenge remains the same: true to the Scriptures, to the old Reformed Faith, and to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.
A Sermon on Romans 1.24-32 by Dr. Michael A. Milton
Introduction to the Reading
The other night we went to a Braves game. John Smoltz was pitching which was great. He is a strong Christian and we heard him speak here not too long ago. But my problem was with the x rated mouth behind me pitching the worst kind of language. I promptly told him to be quiet. And he did, thankfully, without your pastor being beat up!
Has it always been that bad in public places? Or is it just your old prudish preacher? I can’t help but believe that there is a downgrade of courtesy and manners and decency because there is a denial of God in the public square.
And that is what we will study today from Romans. This passage is Romans is explicit. I will do my best to preach the principles without making families uncomfortable. But, my beloved, this is the very Word of God from Romans 1.24-32.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, Romans 1.24 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. 25
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; Romans 1.26 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. 27
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. Romans 1.28 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 29 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 30 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 31 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. 32
From this passage, I want to bring you a message called, “When Your Creed Cracks, Your Code Crumbles.”
But first let us pray.
Lord of life, we so often ignore you to our own hurt. Please show us, in these passages, not only how to analyze a culture, but to see our hearts in the mirror of your word, to repent, and to find new life in Jesus Christ. In Your name I pray. Amen.
Introduction to the Reading
Edward Gibbon was no friend of the Church. But this gifted enlightenment era historian, whose life work, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire wrote of the
“Vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave.”
When I was in Albania, I witnessed the vicissitudes of fortune in one place. I had visited museum of Roman antiquities, in Durres. As I walked out, I looked into the yard next to the museum, and there were piles of ancient Roman “stuff”-statues, and pieces of temples, mixed together with the head of a Communist dictator, or the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. It was a veritable graveyard of empires.
Here lies the crypt of Babylonia, next to her lies the tomb of Sennacherib. But he and his Assyrian kingdom were destroyed by the mighty Egyptians. And so Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah 37:
“It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. Isaiah 37.18
They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Isaiah 37.19
Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” Isaiah 37.20 NIV
Egypt was great, but now the sands blow across the ruins of the empire and their leaders are but mummies for school children to view. Cleopatra’s beauty is only an image in stone. She and the vestiges of a world empire were trampled over by the mighty Rome.
But on August 24th, 410 someone opened the gate from within and the Visigoths sacked the once seemingly invincible empire. And Augustine, the first great historical theologian sought to help Christians make sense of the fall and wrote “The City of God and the City of Man.” And he would lament the moral decline of that once great “city of man”:
“…Why were the gods so negligent as to allow the morals of their worshippers to sink to so low a depth?…why did not those gods…lay down moral precepts that would help their devotees to lead a decent life?”
But decency and greatness, indecency and decline all go together. And the Bible tells us so.
Paul gives an explanation of this to his Roman and Gentile auditors. He explains the condition of the Gentile world apart from God. He gives what I would call a downward spiral of life, from glory to the grave. And how did they do it? When your creed cracks, your code crumbles.
How the Creed Can Crack
The word “creed” comes from “credo” or “I believe.” The Creed we are talking about in Romans is the belief in God Himself.
The Creed was the knowledge of God. We have studied that this knowledge of God is known internally, as God has placed eternity in our hearts, and externally, as God has placed knowledge of Him in the heavens and in all of creation.
“For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, an their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21).
One time I heard of a fellow who was drunk and saw a sign that said, “Danger, Bridge Out Ahead.” But he went on anyway. Of course what happened? He ran off into the river at night and was killed.
God shows us here that to deny Him, to deny his truth, is like running through a barricade and driving towards certain destruction.
Now Paul is explaining the condition of the Gentile world in his day, but I say again, we remember that Creeds, what we believe about God and about ourselves from His Word, keep our lives on the right road.
Jesus said that you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. But here we see that truth is set aside for personal pleasure in sin.
Whenever I counsel people who are going through a tough time, I remind them to stay in the Word, stay in church, stay in fellowship, stay close to God through the ordinary means of grace.
And now more than ever in our generation, we who live in a world that looks so much like Romans 1.26-32, must stay in the Word, stay close to Christ and to his Bride, the Church.
I think it is a time to rediscover the blessings of Bible reading and Bible teaching and to seek Jesus Christ on every page.
It is a time to teach our children the creeds of our faith beginning with the Bible, but also giving them explanations of the Word of God that apply to our lives, like the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of our church.
There is a passage I often think of at this point:
To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Isaiah 8.20
To turn from the truths of God is turn from light and to retreat into darkness. In such times, we need watchmen on the walls crying to return to the light, Jesus Christ! In His light we shall see light.
May God keep our hearts faithful to the Word of God in this church and in our families.
And May God forgive our nation, and send revival. And in every revival, there is a revival of creeds, a revival in the things we believe about God and about ourselves as found in his Word.
How the Code can Crumble
The Creed is what we believe. The Code is how we live. The two are linked together and cannot be separated. If you creed goes, then anything is possible.
Romans one shows us what can happen.
First, God judicially allows the rebellion as a form of punishment.
You have heard it said that the worst thing that could ever happen is that God gives us what we want. Well, Romans one say this is exactly what happened in Gentile Rome and happens every time a people forget God. Step by step they descend the staircase into Hell.
But what does this say to believers: The Bible says:
Do not quench the Spirit. 1Thessalonians 5.19
We can quench the Spirit by ignoring the leading of the Lord, disobeying His clear commands, or by withdrawing ourselves from Word, Sacrament and Prayer.
I once had a friend who would not listen to the truth of God. She had grown up with me in the same Sunday School class. She began to walk away from the Lord, though she knew the truth. Ultimately, she seemed so hardened to the things of God that is appeared that she got what she wanted: she wanted away from God and His people. And as far as I know she died in this condition. How horrible.
What a warning to each of us to be quick to turn to Christ, to be quick to repent, to keep our hearts supple and soft before the Lord Jesus and to seek him daily in our hearts lest we should fall into the downward spiral of sin by denying Him.
Second Men begin to sink into a moral cesspool.
Paul mentions immorality of several kinds: carnal sensuality that defies nature itself (and you know what I am talking about), gutter minds, violent hearts, wicked mouths, and inhumane treatment of others who don’t like them.
I remember when I was in the Navy. I lived with a very unkept fellow in the barracks where we were in training. One day the old Chief Petty Officer came in while we were gone and unlocked our room, walked through and began to throw things all over the place. He then left a sign that said, “Filthy Rodents Live Here. See Me Immediately.”
That was a very bad memory. And he made his point as only crusty old Navy chiefs can do. But the point for us is that if you give up on God, God will allow you to pursue the base part of your life which will lead you to live like a rodent.
We can point to culture today and see it. But I am a pastor, and the place of my work today is in your heart and mind. How much of the world’s lustful, godless language and thinking has made its way into your very being?
My Aunt used to say that we may be poor and live among the poor, but we don’t have to live without honor and dignity. Aunt Eva had little food in the pantry, but plenty of manners in the public. She had little money, but a lot of generosity. She had an old home, but you can bet your bottom dollar that you eat off of the floor it was so clean!
Well, what am I saying? I am saying that God is calling to say, “We may be living in a culture that has abandoned the Creed, and its Code of living is cracking, there may be rodents all around us, but they will not be on us! We may be in a spiritually barren era, but we need not be famished if we have God’s Word in our hearts. The world may be seeking to cross the sacred boundaries of God ordained decency, in language and relationships, but we need not cross it with them.
And more than this, we are here, to reach out as Fanny Crosby wrote:
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
Third, the Society that they create eventually codifies the immorality.
This is one of the most tragic and damning effects of this downward spiral of sin: verse 32:
“Thought they know God’s decree that those who practices such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
I have read, with you, of states like New Hampshire who are saying, “Immorality in marriage will be recognized in our state.” And there are others coming on board. We are in a mixed audience and I need not go further. Those who do these things begin to approve them.
The codification or at least the normalization of such godless immorality will meet with the most severe judgments of God.
Now all of this is the condition of Rome. Paul, who said that whoever trusts in the Gospel will be saved, the Jew first and then the Greek, also says in Romans 2.9:
“there will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek.”
Paul is making plain that all are sinners, all have sinned in a wicked way, we are all capable of even greater sin, if the restrains of God are lifted, and that we are all in need of a Savior.
Someone came to me recently to say that the cry of the hour ought to be forgiveness in Christ. And I fully agree. I do not need to list all of the heinous sins that are so like what we see here. It is upon us. This is not theory. We see all of it coming true.
But where do we go from here?
Cry out to the Christ
In my times of counseling I often point people to Joel 2.25. There, after God has severely judged the people of God for their forgetting of God, he promises that when they return certain things will begin to happen:
“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army which I sent among you.”
We have studied this before. But in this one verse God says, “I am the One who sent the judgment that set in because of your sin of unbelief. But as there was a downward spiral of devastation, so there will be a restoring of life through my grace.”
This is a wonderful promise to a world like ours. If we forget God and our Creed cracks, then our Code will crumble. Our lives, our nation, our world falls into tremendous judgment. But if we will turn to God, then there will be a supernatural time of refreshing and blessing and renewals of life.
The reversal of judgment came to us in Jesus Christ. The cross of shame became a thing of hope. The death of Jesus brought life. The tomb brought resurrection.
And thus Isaiah gives hope to a nation facing doom for their sin:
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1.18
One time when I was a boy I went deep into the woods. I was in search of a supposed lost civilization. But my journey kept getting me deeper and deeper into the thicket and the swamps. I was lost. The sun was setting. I tried re tracing my steps but I could not get out. I was a the point of desperation, when I heard the voice of Aunt Eva calling me. And then I looked and saw a light, a flashlight in her hand. I followed her voice. I followed her light. And I got out.
My beloved there is no human way out of the downward spiral of sin. You cannot humanly get yourself out of sin. And we are all sinners. Some of us have gone deeper into the woods than others, but we are all there. And there is only one way for us to get out:
“Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” John 8.12
Listen to His voice. Follow His light. There is a way out for our culture; there is a way out for you.
Bartlett, John, comp. Familiar Quotations, 10th ed, rev. and enl. by Nathan Haskell Dole. Boston: Little, Brown, 1919; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/100/. [June 23, 2007].
Augustine, The City of God and the City of Man, as quoted from Christian History (see http://chi.gospelcom.net/DAILYF/2002/08/daily-08-24-2002.shtml) [June 23, 2007].