Is There Hope?

Title: Is There Hope?

Text: Romans 1:18-32

Time: June 25th, 2006

Is there hope for America? I mean really, is there hope for a brighter future? As Christians, especially American Christians, we are trained from our youngest days to be optimistic. It’s almost our national philosophy to be positive and optimistic about the future. But really, what are our chances of becoming again a godly nation, where people read and respect the Bible, where people pray for personal and national revival, where most people go to church regularly and follow the basic moral and spiritual teachings of Christianity. What are the real chances of a revival like what happened in the 1700’s and the 1800’s, today, in the 21st century? I want to say, “Yes, it can happen. Sure, it will happen, we just have to keep believing, keep praying, keeping working for it, and it will happen.” But is that just more American optimism? What if it doesn’t happen? What if things just keep getting worse and worse, and morality keeps going down and down, and real faith keeps getting less and less? What happens if our national leaders keep leading our nation further and further away from God? What happens if the abortion laws never are changed back to respect for unborn life? What happens if the homosexual movement keeps gaining more and more influence until that sin is totally accepted, even by the church? What happens if the trend of less and less commitment in church continues? What happens if nothing changes for the better but only becomes worse? What then? We search the Bible for answers. Does the Bible mention any guarantee of things getting better before the very end? Are we close to the very end of things? Today we are starting the final section of the first chapter of the Book of Romans, and in it, Paul the Apostle touches on the subject, and deals with some of the questions I just asked at the beginning of this message. Paul gives a brief outline of how bad the world is, how bad it can get without God’s influence upon it. Then Paul talks about how things can get so bad, that past a point even God himself gives up on things generally and lets them spiral downward until they hit bottom. Finally, Paul just leaves us there with the question: is there any hope? I’ll try to answer that question at the very end of the message. Is there any real hope for things to return to God? Now I’m not saying that things were ever perfect in this nation or any nation, I’m just asking, can things ever return to the point they were in days of old when people really seemed to respect the authority of God and His Word. I’m not wishing for anything close to perfect, I’m just wondering if it’s possible for the pendulum to swing any the other way than it currently is, and swing back in the God-ward direction. Let’s see if Paul can give us any hope from the Book of Romans 1:18-32 (read). Let me point out three things from this passage.

First, It’s clear that people are in rebellion against God. (1) People deliberately ignore God, verses 18-20, 32, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understand from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. . . . Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (2) People refuse to worship and give thanks for God, verses 21-23, 25, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. . . . They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator, who is forever praised. Amen.” (3) People rebelled in mind, body, and soul, verses, 26-27, 28-31, “Shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. . . . Depraved minds, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” Now who is Paul talking about? He’s giving a description of the world, the world in his day, and the world in our day too. Now he’s specifically describing the Gentile, or non-Jewish world, because in chapter two of the Book of Romans he’ll review the Jewish sins, but here he’s talking about non-Jews, us, our world. And it’s pretty accurate. If you really know what’s going on out there on the streets in our cities, behind closed doors in the suburbs, and all over the world, you’ll realize that Paul’s description is sad, but accurate. Our world is in a mess because it is in rebellion against God. Even nations that once had a high level of faith and morality, now are as rebellious or even more so than other nations. Is there any hope for a turn around? Now Paul says something else.

Second, God’s wrath is displayed when he lets things go from bad to worse. If people keep turning away from God and not listening to God, God turns away from people and stops listening to people. Verses 24, 26, 28, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual immorality for the degrading of their bodies with one another. . . . Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. . . . Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” Three times it says that God gave them over to their sins. One time he gave them over to the sins of their minds, a second time he gave them over to the sins of their bodies, and a third time he gave them over to the sins of their soul. Three times it says “God gave them over.” Some different Bible translations translate the phrase, “God handed them over,” or “God abandoned them,” or “God gave them up.” It’s like a doctor working on a cancer patient and nothing that he does helps stop the cancer, so suddenly he announces that the patient may go home. I hope I’m never suddenly told I may go home after intense treatment, because nothing is helping. “But what kind of special diet shall I be on?” I would ask. “No special diet, eat whatever you want.” “But what kind of special medicine are you going to give me this time?” “None at all, no medicine for you, you are off all medicine, no more of that.” “But how can I get better?” “Better, you aren’t going home to get better, you are going home to die, nothing that I’ve tried to do has helped. Your body has rejected all help offered to it, now I’m giving you up as a patient.” But do you know the sad truth about God giving sinners over to their sins? They don’t even care that he’s dropping them as a patient. They could care less, in fact, they might say, “Good, now I can get on with enjoying life without feeling the guilt of Christianity, the Bible, and the church.” That’s just the way the people of our world are reacting more and more. God’s Word, the Bible, used to be seen as an answer book, instructions from God to us for our own good, but now the Bible is seen as an obstacle, not worth reading because it’s always so negative about our sins. Instead of seeing it as a blessing, more and more people see it as a curse, keeping them from having fun with their lives. Now my question is, “Is God giving up on the United States of America today?” We look at the spread of the AIDS virus, we look at the 9/11 terrorist attack, we look at the war in Iraq, we look at the Hurricane Katrina, and ask, “God, could you be trying to say something in all of this?” We look at the break up in the family over the last few years, divorces, children separated from parents. Could God be trying to say something in that too? Is God working actively on our part in the United States, or has he cut us loose to our own sins? Look at what Proverbs 1:20-33 says (read). Could that verse apply to us as well?

Third, is there any hope left for us? There is only one shred of hope in this whole passage, and that is the very first verse, 18, where it says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” Now why is that a word of hope? Because if I, if we, know that our troubles, our problems, our disasters, are the wrath of God backing away, letting things go, failing to intervene on our behalf, if we can see that this is God’s wrath and judgment, we can take action to repent and turn ourselves around and not go any further in the rebellion. But is there any hope for our nations as a whole? Is there any hope for our culture as a whole? That we do not know either way, but what we do know is that if God’s word gets through to us enough to show us that what we see happening today is God’s passive wrath, that is, his letting things fall apart on their own, then we can decided to repent in our own lives, not matter what others do. I really can’t say if things will turn around as a whole. For example, there are Christian denominations that have gone so far into sin and rebellion that I’m not so sure God hasn’t given up on them. The Episcopal church here in the United States for example, once one of the great Christian churches, but now just 3 years ago it appointed its first openly gay bishop in here in New England. That church is filling up with more and more openly gay priests in direct rebellion against God, as Paul just describes in the verse. I think possibly God is letting them go, cutting them loose to do whatever they want because he’s washing his hands of them, “They are out of my control, I leave them to their own devices.” Or what about the United States as a nation? Has God cut us loose to our own way today? It might possibly be, although I continue to pray that it is not the case. But even if nations, and whole denominations, and cultures, and groups are abandoned by God because of their sins, individuals are still in a position to repent – if they can see that God’s wrath is upon them and their hearts are convicted about their sins. That’s our main prayer now, that individuals, our family members, our relatives, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, would somehow be convicted of their sins and repent, and put their trust in Jesus for salvation. That’s really the only hope. We should continue to pray for large-scale revival of nations, but as it stands now the best hope is that certain individuals will be saved, even if the world is going down and down, getting worse and worse.

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