‘God gave them up’ is not a passive statement

Our plight is more hopeless than we dare to imagine. Judgment isn’t on the distant horizon; our judgment has already begun.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity… Rom 1:24 {ESV}

Before his grand unveiling of the gospel, Paul must set the stage for the presentation. The setting is bleak to say the least.

Mankind is characterized by truth suppression on a massive scale. He denies the undeniable–that he owes his existence to a Creator–and by self-delusion he worships creaturely things as if they are worthy of honor (Rom 1:18-24).

But suppression and delusion isn’t just done in sin, it’s done for sin. After all, if I make the god I also make the rules.

As a result, God “gave them up/hands them over” to the very impurity and passions they seek. But what does it mean for God to hand over?

For some time now I assumed a passive interpretation. That “hand over” implies “let go.” But as Doug Moo explains in his commentary on Romans, a passive interpretation isn’t the best interpretation for the following reasons:

  1. Paul’s use of “hand over” has its roots in the OT where God is said to “hand over” Israel’s enemies (or vice versa) to be defeated in battle (Exod 23:31; Deut 7:23).
  2. the Greek verb for “hand over” is used in an active sense in the NT in a variety of ways: handing over things to people (1Cor 13:3), handing over people into judicial custody (Mat 26:15), handing over Christian tradition (1Cor 15:3)

That said, when Paul says that God “handed them over” his language signifies an act of divine judgment not a mere withdrawal of divine influence (i.e. no longer preventing or restraining man’s sin). Illustratively, Moo concludes :

. . . the meaning of “hand over” demands that we give God a more active role as the initiator of the process. God does not simply let the boat go — he gives it a push downstream. Like a judge who hands over a prisoner to the punishment his crime has earned, God hands over the sinner to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin. [emphasis added]

All of this is in keeping with what we find on the lips of Jesus & John the Baptist:

“He who believes in [the Son] is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (Jn 3:18-19)

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”(Jn 3:36)

Our plight is more hopeless than we dare to imagine. Judgment isn’t on the distant horizon; our judgment has already begun. There’s no avoiding judgment because we’re already in it. But what if the same God who handed us over would hand over someone else in our place?

That would be good news.

Romans 8:32-33   He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.


I left out the most important part

As an “associate” pastor (curious as to how this title came to be) you have a hidden blessing when it comes to preaching. Most associates only preach when the “senior” pastor is unavailable and since many senior pastors want to preach, they seek to minimize their unavailability for the pulpit. The associate, then, doesn’t preach on a weekly basis which means he has the luxury of sitting on certain passages as he waits for the next available opportunity. Depending on how long you’ve been sitting you may already know the major points you intend to hit well before it’s your turn to stand in.

Such was the case last Sunday when I stepped in to preach from 2Sam 12:1-15a. The passage recounts the Lord’s indictment & sentencing of David–spoken through Nathan–for his adultery with Bathsheba & the subsequent murder of her husband. There’s no way to honestly preach a section of Scripture like that without addressing the coexistence of God’s judgment & forgiveness. But 2Samuel 12 offends our natural sensibilities when we discover that David isn’t executed for his adultery & murder (both capital crimes under OT Law) while the infant son conceived through the affair is (2Sam 12:14). Say what you will about God’s mercy & forgiveness, are we really expected to see the juxtaposition of David’s pardon with the infant’s death as a demonstration of God’s justice? Yes, for at least three reasons:

1) God’s judgement is righteously dispensed to the criminal & to those he represents. It started with Adam as the head of the entire human race. As our “federal head” Adam’s guilt became our guilt (Rom 5:12, 19a) and God declared the sins of the father would be judged to the third and fourth generations (Exod 34:6-7). Thus, David’s infant son was corrupted by his father’s guilt (not to mention Adam’s guilt as well).

2) Following on #1, there are no innocent defendants in God’s courtroom–not even infants. David rightly declared in his confession psalm, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psa 51:5) If David was sin-cursed from conception how much more his son conceived in the act of adultery? The awful reality is that every life is issued with a death sentence, amassing more guilt & condemnation as (s)he grows (Rom 3:10-18).

3) The punishment for David’s crimes wasn’t denied–it was delayed & displaced. #1-2 are cold comfort until we understand that justice was served in every way. Although David was pardoned his sin didn’t go unpunished. God merely suspended David’s death sentence until the time He would place it on His own Son, Jesus Christ. On the cross, Christ suffered the penalty that David was spared and justice was served in full. God proved His righteousness in pardoning David by punishing Christ (Rom 3:23-26).

This final point was what I inexplicably forgot to explain in my pinch preaching. It’s the most important part because it represents the heart of the gospel. All of humanity deserves death but God has commuted the death sentence to His Son so that His people will be granted life. Sadly, I fear too many of us mistake the death of David’s son to be the greater mystery.

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