The Degeneration Of Man

“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

It is the opinion of the average college professor that mankind is steadily progressing forward and upward. University students are taught by the Biology department that man is the most sophisticated product (thus far) of an Evolutionary process that goes back billions of year. They teach that man himself has continued to evolve, as “vestigial organs” such as the appendix and tonsils allegedly attest. The Philosophy department assures students that man has developed a more and more useful, efficient, and beneficial sense of morality throughout history; produced through trial and error, experimentation, and refined in order to best serve the interests of society as a whole. All of the other departments concur that man has become progressively smarter, wiser, and much more intelligent than our less enlightened ancestors. In short, the consensus is that man is climbing ever-upward in the journey to reach his potential.

All of these notions sound really nice within the peaceful walls of the hallowed grounds of Academia, but a quick glance at the outside world betrays the fact that these ideas don’t seem to really fit the evidence. That the body of knowledge possessed by mankind as a whole has grown in many ways, there is no doubt. Technological advances have increased the conveniences of modern life, even in the last century, exponentially. The available appliances, machines, and technologies at the dawn of the 21st Century are indescribably superior to what our great-grandparents used at the dawning of the 20th. But has man improved spiritually throughout the course of history? What about morally? Is man any wiser than he was a hundred, a thousand, three thousand years ago?

Contrary to the speculations of modern thought, the Bible makes it clear that, not only has man not evolved and been climbing ever-upward, he has actually been on a downward spiral since the Garden of Eden. Man is not evolving at all, but rather devolving. Man, as a whole, has been degenerating ever since he fell through the sin of Adam (Genesis 3). Man did not start out atheistic, gradually moving into paganism and polytheism, until he eventually developed monotheism. The process is actually reversed. Humanity began with an awareness and consciousness of God, and knew Him as He truly is. It is interesting to note all of the people in the Book of Genesis who seemed to have known about God, even though we are never told how they learned about Him (e.g., Gen. 14:18-19, 20:3-4, 41:38-39). It isn’t until several centuries later that a proud Pharaoh proclaims to Moses, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2).

So what caused man to “forget” about God and lose his awareness of his Creator? He became “vain in his imaginations and his foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21). When man knew God, he did not glorify God neither was he thankful. Man turned his back on the living God and with a proud and ungrateful heart sought to live his life apart from the Lord. His mind became corrupted and he lost his natural ability to know the truth about his Creator and his own origins and purpose. He “professed himself to be wise and became a fool” (v. 22). In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, the Apostle Paul shows the distinction between what God says is true wisdom and what man calls “wisdom.”  He goes on to say that the natural, unsaved man cannot receive the things of God because they are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14). Man feels that the things of God are foolishness while God declares that the “wisdom” of man is foolishness. Paul’s descriptions of the arrogant, philosophical minds of the Greek world of his day are equally valid for the arrogant, anthropocentric, “scientific” minds of our own.

God Gave Them Up

Three times in the remainder of the First Chapter of Romans we are told that God “gave them up/over” (v. 24, 26, 28). What a sad and terrible fate! Man has sought to rid himself of the knowledge, awareness, and presence of God in his life to the point that God has granted him his wish. Man has followed every latent wicked desire and fantasy that his depraved heart could manufacture and the Lord has allowed him to experience many of the consequences of these actions. God’s wrath is being revealed from Heaven (Rom. 1:18) against these sinful behaviors and one does not need to look very far to see the reality of this. A turning away from God invariably results in a licentious and degraded existence and the descriptions of the wanton depravity that mankind has sunken into in the balance of this chapter is both horrific and all-too veracious. The laundry list of iniquities characteristic of the soul apart from God listed in Verses 24-31 is not exclusive to any race, creed, or nation; for it has infected the whole of humanity like a cancer, both civilized and savage, on every continent that humanity has inhabited. It is with this in mind that I find it entirely unnecessary to develop any of those verses any further nor to comment on any of them in-depth. The atrocities that result from man’s rebellious departure from God are never magnified in the Word of God, nor is it prudent for us to dignify them by expounding on them at any length. Suffice it to say that we have herein all of the ugliness, all of the wickedness, all of the perversion and deviance that man will produce when left to his own devices. There is no value in focusing on any one of these sinful behaviors above another; for the purpose of this passage is not to illuminate the sins of certain people, but all the sins of mankind.

Yet even so, it would benefit all of us to carefully read through this list before we are too quick to turn away in disgust. Are not many of these abominations prevalent among those who frequent the church sanctuary as well as those who do not? It is not only the drunkard who envies, maligns, and deceives; but often the parishioner, as well. And a group more guilty of “whisperings” than some church congregants, one could scarcely find. Are not certain denominations within Christianity dangerously close to “worshipping the creature more than the Creator” in their veneration of mere human beings nearly to the point of deification? Every one of us can find themselves within these verses, at one point or another. And for the Christian, we must realize that, apart from the grace of God through Christ, our fate would be no different from anyone else’s. The description in Romans 1 of the heart in rebellion against God bears not only an uncanny resemblance to the primitive man in the wilds of Africa or Australia, but to the civilized man living in London, Stockholm, or New York City.

One particular statement stands out more than any other in this entire passage. Right in the midst of giving this terrible downward progression of sinful man, Paul says of God the Creator: “Who is blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom. 1:25). Paul puts himself shoulder to shoulder with the very wicked sinners he is describing. Knowing that he himself was at one time a blasphemer (1 Tim. 1:13) before God saved him, Paul patiently wades through this mire of filth in order to lay out the Message of the Gospel. Yet even in the muck and mud of man’s degradation, even while describing those who want absolutely nothing to do with God and would rather worship cattle and snakes than the living God, Paul looks up and praises the Lord of Heaven. What a beautiful ray of light in a dark and dreary chasm. Paul knows that save for the grace of God, there, too, would he remain. And so would we.

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15 responses

  1. Loren,

    The ugliness of man’s depravity is grossly seen when he denies that he is depraved….. It’s amazing that the LORD still loves us and desires to save us…. And yet, people are too proud to accept God’s forgiveness and salvation.

    Margaret

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  2. Loren, It would have been so easy, in writing on Romans 1, to point fingers at the wicked in society. But you have not done that. Instead, you point out that ” There is no value in focusing on any one of these sinful behaviors above another; for the purpose of this passage is not to illuminate the sins of certain people, but all the sins of mankind.” Our self-righteousness will do us and those who are lost no good whatsoever. We must, like Paul, recognize our own wickedness first and foremost, and then see the Light of Christ and the blessedness of God in the midst of it. I love how you ended on the positive note of finding the grace of God to save us from our wickedness. Peace, Linda

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  3. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

    It is amazing that the Lord Jesus would take the sins of the world upon Himself and pay the penalty for it. What great love God has for man that He would give Himself for people such as these….for people such as us. The great tragedy is that most people utterly deny their own depravity. It is easy for them to look at lists such as this one and shake their head saying, “Yes…those wicked, wicked people!” They fail to see themselves as guilty of these same exact things. Yet if they were to take seriously what we are shown in Romans 2, they would realize that, apart from Christ, they will no sooner escape the judgment of God than anyone else (Rom. 2:3).

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  4. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.” (Colossians 3:5-7)

    We are reminded several times throughout the New Testament of the kind of people we were when God saved us. And we are reminded that we would still be that type of people were it not for God’s saving grace. Between you and me, Linda, I really prefer not to dwell too much on what I have done in the flesh and what my flesh is still capable of doing. Honestly, I would really rather skip over this part of Romans and just pick up at 5:1 where we begin to look at all that we have in Christ. But these passages are in the Bible for a reason, and that is to demonstrate the sinfulness of man apart from God: to both the saved and unsaved. We as Christians are often in need of a reminder of this and the Holy Spirit has made sure that the Word of God contained it. After all, the Book of Romans was written to saved believers (Rom. 1:7) and, although unbelievers would surely read it, the focus was to give a systematic explanation of the Gospel to those who had already come to faith in Christ. I honestly believe that this part of Romans is in there as a reminder to all of us of the conviction and condemnation we would certainly have remained under without our precious Savior.

    Even so, I know I definitely do not like to spend much time thinking about the depravity of man and I am thankful for the little positive notes sprinkled into it (such as Paul’s praising God here). What a profound reminder that all of us can stand up for God and praise Him even when those around us curse His name.

    Thanks for the words of encouragement, Linda, God bless you :)

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  5. Thank you, Loren! I loved how you showed that we have devolved from the beginning when Adam and Eve knew God. Now we believe all sorts of things and don’t factor God into any of it. And , I do need reminded of what I am apart from Him. It helps keep me humble and of service to Him . . .and really dependent on Him to change me. God bless you and the light of His grace that falls on you!

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  6. And as much as we degenerate He offers us the gift of regeneration. Just lays it out for us. Easy plan. Excellent benefits. No catch…

    If I start counting the number of times I’ve gone down the slippery slope I’d be typing well into next week. :-) So very thankful that despite my history and despite all I’ve done, He still offers a way out. I’m thankful that I do not get what I deserve!

    Romans 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

    Here comes a ‘song moment’ ;-)

    “He knew me, yet He loved me
    He whose glory makes the heaven shine
    I’m so unworthy of such mercy
    But when He was on the cross”
    I was on His mind!!!!

    Loren, thanks for the reminder of how He delivers and how He loves fallen man. Looking forward to the day when He receives us into His kingdom.

    Regenerated and thankful,
    ann

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  7. “Paul knows that save for the grace of God, there, too, would he remain. And so would we.”…Wow. That is a leveling remark. I love leveling remarks, because I find them so uplifting! :)

    This is a very good post. There shall be no glorying in the flesh. I am so thankful for His mercy and grace.

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  8. “I do need reminded of what I am apart from Him. It helps keep me humble and of service to Him . . .and really dependent on Him to change me.”

    I need that, too :) I absolutely love the Book of Romans because it shows the non-Christian of their need for Christ and it shows the Christian their continued need for Christ. We never reach a point where we are not wholly dependent on Him and that, to me, is the great lesson of this wonderful book of the Bible. This is exactly what “From faith to faith” in 1:17 means to me, what a profound reminder it is!

    Thank you so much, Deb, for taking this journey through God’s Word with me. You’re feedback and comments are so encouraging and such a blessing to me :) I love to see the way that the study and reflection on God’s Word affects His people…what a privilege and an honor!

    Your Friend in Christ,

    Loren

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  9. “If I start counting the number of times I’ve gone down the slippery slope I’d be typing well into next week.”

    All I can do is groan and give a very painful Amen to that. The extent of God’s mercy absolutely blows me away! That He would continue to forgive me time after time when I have really messed things up is beyond my comprehension…yet He does just that. What an awesome God we serve!

    I am so grateful that God has laid His wonderful gift of Salvation out there with “no catch” and no strings attached. I know that if it depended on my faithfulness, my dedication, or my ability to keep His commandments, I would be doomed.

    Thanks, Ann, for the great comments, I appreciate it so much :) (P.S.: I love that song, thanks for posting those lyrics).

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  10. Thanks, Theresa, for the kind words of encouragement :)

    I find leveling remarks uplifting, too. It encourages me that, no matter who we are, we all need the Lord Jesus Christ and we are all lost apart from Him. Honestly, this section of Romans makes me a little uncomfortable and I really don’t like to spend too much time reflecting on it. But what other passage of Scripture is more leveling than this? If God can save the worst of sinners, then He can save me; for I count myself among them.

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  11. “If God can save the worst of sinners, then He can save me; for I count myself among them.”

    Me, too…”Oh the wonderful grace of Jesus greater than all my sin…How shall my tongue describe it? Where shall it’s praise begin. Taking away my burden, setting my Spirit free…for the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!”

    I just couldn’t resist. I had to quote from a hymn. I hope you have a wonderful week filled with more insights!

    Theresa

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  12. I had an interesting conversation with a Christian brother last Sunday. He lives out in the country and had hitch-hiked to fellowship with us at our little Sunday afternoon meeting.
    I offered to take him back home as he lives in the “bush”.
    On the way he mentioned that he had been talking with a sister that also fellowships with us and that she had mentioned in passing that she was upset with something that had been said to her after the meeting. We talked about this for some time and he stated that he thought she may not have “a right walk with God”.
    I interjected and reminded him that we each have a personal relationship with our Saviour and that it is not up to us to determine who has or who has not “a right walk with God”. I reminded him that his relationship with his Saviour was one that only he could have and that this sisters relationship with her Saviour was peculiar to her as was mine.
    Yes Christ died for each one of us and for whosoever would receive such a salvation but we each have our personal walk with our Lord and Saviour. I reminded him that we can only ever be “a sinner saved by Grace” in this world but we do have the promise of glorification when we are at last, called home to be our Lord.
    My walk is always fraught with the sinner that i am yet that is exactly what my Lord nailed to the tree so many years ago. He died for every sin in my life and he paid the penalty for that sin long before i was born, long before i new him.
    This is grace beyond measure that we can be “in this world but not of it” for he has made us a new creation yet we must also know that he especially died for my sins as he also died for each one that would receive such great a salvation.
    It is sobering to realise that it is not the church we attend or the position of our standing in the community or even the measure of our wealth but our own exclusive and personal relationship with the Christ of God.
    That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.(Rom:10;9)
    This is the benchmark for all of mankind, anything beyond has no further effect towards our salvation. I can never be “more saved” or “more righteous” than my fellow Christian.
    Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.(Lk:6;37)
    If Christ can forgive such as me then why do we presume to have the right to judge each other.
    I delivered my friend to his gate and we parted after a word of prayer.
    He rang me today and he told me that he had prayed for this lady and committed her into Gods hand.
    What more could we ask of each other.
    Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;(Eph:6;18)
    May the Lord bless you all.
    In Christ: Rakau

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  13. When you here something that you know is true, especially things pertaining to salvation, it causes your heart to rejoice and you just never tire of hearing it. Rakau’s comment touched my heart. :)

    Looking unto Jesus,

    Theresa

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  14. What a powerful story, Rakau, thank you so much for sharing that.

    “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” (Rom. 14:4)

    It has been said that the Army of the Lord is the only army in the world that shoots its own wounded. For some reason, we have that tendency to want to criticize, accuse, and stand in judgment of our brethren in Christ rather than help them in their walk and pray for them. I love the way you handled this situation; I pray that your prayer benefitted the dear sister as well as the man with whom you prayed.

    God bless you, Rakau, thank you so much for sharing this :)

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  15. It touched me, too, Theresa, what an awesome story :)

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