‘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.


Suitable temptations abound

Satan will come on with new temptations when old ones are too weak. In a calm prepare for a storm. The tempter is restless, impudent, and subtle; he will suit his temptations to your constitutions and inclinations. . . If your knowledge is weak–he will tempt you to error. If your conscience is tender–he will tempt you to scrupulosity and too much preciseness, as to do nothing but hear, pray, and read. If your consciences be wide and large–he will tempt you to carnal security. If you are bold-spirited–he will tempt you to presumption; if timorous, to desperation; if flexible, to inconstancy; if proud and stiff, to gross folly. Therefore still fit for fresh assaults, make one victory a step to another. When you have overcome a temptation, take heed of unbending your bow, and look well to it, that your bow is always bent, and that it remains in strength. When you have overcome one temptation, you must be ready to enter the battle with another.

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices

Low thoughts of Scripture

Ah! how many in these days have fallen, first to have low thoughts of Scripture and ordinances, and then to slight Scripture and ordinances, and then to make a nose of wax of Scripture and ordinances, and then to cast off Scripture and ordinances, and then at last to advance and lift up themselves, and their Christ-dishonoring and soul-damning opinions, above Scripture and ordinances.

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, p 22

Evil turned back on itself

Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin.

–Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross: An Analytical Look at the Problem of Pain

Good news: The heart wants what the heart wants!

It is seldom that any of our [bad habits or flaws] are made to disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning…[or by] the mere force of mental determination. But what cannot be thus destroyed may be dispossessed–and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection of the mind…. [T]he heart[‘s]…desire for having some one object or other, this is unconquerable…. [T]he only way to dispossess [the heart] of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one…. It is…when admitted into the number of God’s children, through the faith that is in Jesus Christ, [that] the spirit of adoption is poured upon us–it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, and is the only way in which deliverance is possible.

-Thomas Chalmers, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”

The Blue Fairy will send you to hell

OK, maybe the title for this post is over the top. A little background:

Our daughter has come to enjoy reading with dad–provided she picks the book (is that a female thing?). Her literary taste is quite bland and her selections are entirely predictable. To be fair, she’s only two so for now I just enjoy the time spent with her.

Anyway, this morning I took to reading to her for a few minutes before I left for the office. To my surprise she didn’t pull out one of the books I’ve nearly memorized. She went for a Disney collection of fairy tales. During an “abbreviated” read of Pinocchio we came across the Blue Fairy who, after bringing the wooden puppet to life, counsels him “Always let your conscience be your guide.”

The moralizer(s) of the fairy tale assumes that by listening to our conscience we’ll astutely avoid familial estrangement, truancy, exploitation, or the jack-assery of self-indulgence on Pleasure Island. But what if our conscience is broken? Where do we turn for guidance when our conscience can’t be trusted (Jer 17:9; Rom 1:28-32; Eph 4:17-19)?

A man’s conscience may seem a sufficient guide but if, like Pinocchio, we desire real life we need more than the damning counsel of a fairy.

Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could

Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could…every rise of lust, might it have its course, would come to the height of villany: it is like the grave that is never satisfied. And herein lies no small share of the deceitfulness of sin, by which it prevails to the hardening of men, and so to their ruin (Heb. 3:13) — it is modest, as it were, in its first motions and proposals, but having once got footing in the heart by them, it constantly makes good its ground, and presseth on to some farther degrees in the same kind.

–John Owen (1616-1683), Of The Mortification of Sin in Believers

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