Darrow Miller and Friends

Life Brings Its Own Rewards

Life brings its own rewards


We have been examining Paul’s discussion on worldview in Romans 1. We have seen the shifting of paradigms from the Judeo-Christian worldview to either pagan humanism or pagan animism.

Because ideas have consequences, a shift in worldview inevitably leads to a shift in values and that to a shift in behavior and that, eventually, to a shift in consequences.

In this post we will examine how a worldview shift impacts values, especially related the matter of virtue and vice.

Three verses in Romans 1 mark the pivot from belief to values and behavior. These verses use three different phrases to indicate this pivot.

  • Verse 24 uses “therefore” or “for this reason.”
  • Verse 26 has “because of this.”
  • Verse 28 uses “and since” or “and even.”

These all mark a turning point in Paul’s argument. Because truth has been suppressed, therefore a change in “values”[1] naturally follows. People who suppress the truth will abandon a life of virtue for a life of vice. This internal change in values will then ultimately lead to an external change in behavior.

Romans 1:24

Romans 1:26

Romans 1:28b

“therefore” or “for this reason” “because of this”

 “and since” or “and even”

 

After each pivot, we find the same exact phrase in each of the three verses. God gave them over, paradidōmi – “gave over.”

Romans 1:24 Romans 1:26 Romans 1:28b
“therefore” or “for this reason” “because of this”  “and since” or “and even”
God gave them over  God gave them over  God gave them over 

 

Human beings are free moral agents

We were created in the image of God. Among other things that means we have the attribution of will. We are free moral agents. We can make decisions that will change the course of our own lives and the lives of others.

Paul speaks of two alternative worldviews that reject God’s truth.Electric brain

  • The atheist regards humans as animals with more developed brains. We are not free; our lives are determined by electrical impulses and chemical processes.
  • The animist sees the universe as mysterious, governed by capricious gods.

Neither atheism nor animism can achieve free moral agency. In both systems, human life is controlled by fatalism, either that of the gods (in animism) or of brain chemistry (in atheism). In both, the absence of free moral agency eliminates human responsibility. “The gods made me do it,” or “It’s my brain chemistry” are mantras to avoid personal responsibility.

But this is mistaken. Our decisions actually affect history for good or ill. We are morally responsible for the decisions we make. God made us to live responsibly in the framework of the order He has created. When we choose to do good we are blessed.

You are free to suppress the truth and deny the clear revelation of God’s existence. But to do so is foolish and harmful to yourself and others.

You can choose your decisions, but not their consequences. You can deny the law of gravity and jump off a three-story building. But consequences will ensue. You will be broken against the reality of the ground.

You can claim there is no moral law against adultery. If you commit adultery, you are not breaking this immutable law. You don’t have the power to do that. You are simply breaking yourself against that law.

The consequences of our choices lead to brokenness for ourselves and other people in our lives. The spouse and family of the adulterer suffer the consequences of his action. Think of the broken lives, broken families, enslavement to one’s passions, the health problems arising from the misuse of one’s body. Think of the destruction of sexually transmitted disease, poverty, alienation from society … the list goes on.

Three times Paul uses the phrase “God gave them over.” To what did He give them over? Note the bottom row of the table.

Romans 1:24 Romans 1:26 Romans 1:28b
“therefore” or “for this reason” “because of this”  “and since” or “and even”

God gave them over

God gave them over God gave them over
to sexual impurity to shameful lusts

to a depraved mind

In the first instance (vs 24), the desires of heart went from virtuous to sinful. Instead of seeking the virtue of sexual purity, they desired the vice of animal instincts. In the second instance (vs 26), instead of the virtuous heart’s desire for honorable treatment of others, the depraved heart turned to the vice of shameful lusts.

In the third instance, man’s rebellion led to a depraved (unfit, undiscerning, and worthless) mind. This is a mind that does not function the way God made it to function. It is a mind that has been corrupted, allowed to atrophy, to be wasted.

Sinful desires, shameful lusts, and depraved minds are poor tools for making wise decisions when facing the external world.

External life flows from the inside

Hugo Grotius taught importance of a disciplined life

Dutch lawyer and theologian Hugo Grotius captures the need for a sound mind and a good heart to govern oneself internally. Only when we govern ourselves well internally will we be able to govern ourselves externally. Or to put it differently, if our external life is a mess, it is because we have not first learned to govern ourselves internally based on God’s word, the work of the Holy Spirit, and sound reason. Grotius writes:

He knows not how to rule a kingdom, that cannot manage a province; nor can he wield a province, that cannot order a city; nor he order a city that knows not how to regulate a village. Nor he a village, that cannot guide a family; nor can that man govern well a family that knows not how to govern himself; not can he govern himself unless his reason be lord, will and appetite be vassals; nor can reason rule unless herself be ruled by God, and be obedient to Him.

Beliefs and values are both internal. Now the writer pivots from the internal to the external, from immoral thoughts to wicked behavior.

We see the outworking of our vain imaginations and hard hearts (Romans 1:21). Foolishness has its way (verse 22). From internal self-government and its rewards of freedom, humans degenerated to self-indulgence and instant gratification.

Have you known someone enslaved to addiction? A drug or alcohol addiction, perhaps, or sex, pornography, gambling, etc. If you know someone like this, you know that they are enslaved by their addiction. Their lives and the lives of their children and spouse are often ruined.

I know a very smart and extremely talented young man whose life has been shaped by one foolish choice after another. One act after another of rebellion against God and the moral universe has left his life in utter ruin. He has cut himself off from his family, has lost his wife and beautiful children. His life is a wasteland. At one point he was extremely popular, now he has few friends left. When he is sober he cries about the mess he has made with his life. What seems to be missing is a simple act of repentance before the God whose arms are always open to receive penitent sinners.

Ideas have consequences. When a person exchanges truth for lie, their internal moral compass begins to move away from true north. As their values shift internally, the next thing to move will be external behavior. We will take up this part of Paul’s argument next.

  • Darrow Miller

[1] The premodern world of Judeo-Christian theism acknowledged a universal moral code. To obey the moral code was an act of virtue, to break it a vice. In the modern and postmodern world there are no moral absolutes, only subjective values, i.e. “my values vs. your values.” Here I’m using the term values as a kind of shorthand for moral actions (virtues) and wicked actions (vices).

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