Romans 1:18-32

These small group studies of Romans contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Romans 1:18-32 Inductive Bible Study

I. God’s wrath against mankind’s sin (18-32)
A. God’s Standard
1. Made Clear to Men (18-20)
2. Rejected By Men (21-32)
a. Following man-made idols (21-25)
b. Following perverse desires (26-27)
c. List of their sins (28-31)
d. Blatant and Enthusiastic (32)

Discussion Questions:

Isn’t God a loving God? How could He have wrath? Is his wrath like ours when we are angry? What is the difference? What is the focus of his wrath?
What is the “truth” which the wicked people suppress?
What does it mean that what is known about God is evident within them? How has God made it evident to them?
How can someone see God’s power or attributes? What is the theological term for this?
Is there any legitimate excuse for not believing in God? Why not?
But many people claim to be atheists. Why?
Who is the “they” in verse 21?
Why would they not honor God although they know in their hearts He is real and true?
How can we apply a proper understanding of this passage to gospel sharing?
What should our response be when we see the creation of God?

Today when we read this, we may think of evolution as a substitute for believing in God, but what alternatives might they have set up then? Why would anyone rather worship an ugly idol than God?
What phrase is repeated three times from verse 24 to 28 (Gave them over)?
What does it mean that God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity? Did he cause their sin? Why allow them to go their own way instead of stopping them?
What do people worship and serve now instead of the Creator?
What natural function did the women exchange? Why do you think Paul mentions the sin of homosexuality here instead of murder or stealing or something else?
What does the end of verse 27 mean? What principle does this teach (you reap what you sow)? So is there any validity to the idea that AIDS are a judgment from God?

Why are those who do these sins worthy of death? Even things like disobeying parents? Why?
What does verse 32 tell us about how far people go in sin? What is the next step beyond doing it? Do you see this happening in the world today?

Cross-references:

18. Psalms 90:7-9, Jeremiah 25:14-16, John 3:36, Col 3:5-6, Psalms 81:11-12, Proverbs 1:23-31, specific examples of God letting people go their own way if they refuse to listen. (Wrath)
20. Psalms 19, Romans 2:14-15
21. Psalms 14:1-3 (Fool says there is no God. None seeks for God.), John 3:19-20 (Light came into the world and the darkness hated the Light.)
27. 1 Thess 3:4-7, Galatians 5:19-21 (such people will not inherit the kingdom of God.), Eph 5:3-5, Galatians 6:7-8 (sowing and reaping)
32. Ephesians 5:3-17, 1 Tim 3:1-7

Teaching Points-

Intro – Paul begins his point by point exposition of the gospel with the sinfulness/depravity of man. This is an essential point. It shows that God is just and that we are totally depraved. If God were to allow us to go our own way completely (which He sometimes does), we would descend into evil quickly and enthusiastically. Our complete lack of ability to God and sinful state means that we are separated from God and need His help, His grace, to somehow solve this problem. I have titled this part of the chapter “the necessity of the gospel.”

The “Them” in this chapter refers to verses 18-20, the people who reject God and substitute idol worship or any similar form of rejecting God (atheism, evolution, agnosticism). In the next chapter he deals with those who think they are moral (not like the clear pagan behavior in this chapter), such as those with false religions might, and also with the Jews.

1. God’s wrath/justice – This passage shows us the necessity of the gospel. If sin didn’t make God angry, there would be no need for Jesus to die. If God is only love, then He could simply decide not to punish any sins. But this passage shows us that God has holy anger. This isn’t the kind of anger we might have if someone cheats us, lies to us, or violates our “rights”. It is more like the righteous anger we might feel if we heard about a person abusing children or cheating the elderly. This wrath might be demonstrated in a number of ways. It is shown in the way God made up the world to punish those who violate his moral order. It is more clearly seen by God’s direct intervention in the world such as the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the sentence passed on Adam and Eve, etc. Just as love was the motivation for the crucifixion, so wrath is the motivation for divine judgment. Notice here the object of God’s wrath. It is the ungodliness and sinfulness of man. It is the sin that makes God angry. God’s holy anger should teach us to respect God and realize He is not only a loving father figure, but He is also a just father figure who will punish those who don’t comply with His moral laws. Notice the word “All”. No sin escapes God’s attention.

2. God’s general revelation – Some basic things of God are evident to everyone. The knowledge is there and it is our responsibility to accept it. There is no exception of someone who cannot see this basic truth of God’s existence. This knowledge is referred to as general revelation and is two-fold. It includes the conscience of God’s moral order (19, 2:14) and it includes creation. We will discuss conscience more in chapter two and focus on creation this time. God’s power and His nature can be clearly seen through His creation. How? The complexity, scale, order, variety, and perfection all point to God as the creator. I often use this point in sharing the gospel because it is a very strong argument for God’s presence and it is also a biblical one. There is simply no other reasonable explanation for our existence or existence of the universe. From the smallest of creatures like the bee or ant, to amazing mammals like the giraffe, to ice crystals, to stars and galaxies, the universe portrays God’s orderliness and design. Every person is responsible to respond positively to this, but many don’t. This also answers the question many like to ask about some guy on some island who hasn’t heard the gospel, is he responsible? Although he may not know as much he is responsible for what he knows and the sinfulness of man will lead him to reject this knowledge of God unless God specially intervenes to call that person to Himself through some divine way. God’s general revelation condemns those who reject it and will be strong enough testimony to render a guilty verdict on judgment day. God gives this knowledge to condemn those who reject, but also as a matter of love to encourage people to seek after God.

3. Man is without excuse and knows God is true deep inside his heart – Why is God wrathful? God’s wrath is stirred up against these people specifically because they reject the truth they know to be true. The Bible is very clear here. There will be no excuse on judgment day for people who say “I didn’t know” or “I was taught there is no God.” It is comforting to me to know people in their heart of hearts already recognize God’s existence. So in sharing the gospel, it is not a matter of convincing someone, because they already should recognize that God is true, but willfully choose not to. It is not whether I can win a debate or not. Creation ends the debate before it even begins. The question is whether someone will choose to follow God or continue to reject Him.

4. Man rejects God in favor of idol worship – This chapter is very sad and shows the depth of sinfulness of the human heart. Instead of honoring God, which is the chief purpose of man, humankind as a whole has chosen to reject God. They substitute other things for God. Different eras might be different things, but the result is the same. During biblical times they substituted idols for God. They worshiped created things like animals, but also stones and wood and gold. A classic example was when Aaron made the golden calf and they worshiped it and said it saved them from Israel. The Phillistines worshiped a god called dagon, which was half fish. The Egyptians worshiped the sun, moon, stars, cows, frogs, etc. Indians today still hold cows as sacred. People claim to be wise, but it is actually foolishness. How perfectly evolution fits here. People claim that evolution is a brilliant discovery. The educated people mostly believe it and they think they are so clever to come out with this theory. But according to God they are fools. Actually another name for April fool’s day is national atheists day. The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. Cross-references. Why do people do this? We see soon after this that they turn to sin. There is a close connection in the Bible between rejecting God, idol worship, and sinning. We will look at that closer in a few minutes.

5. God’s judicial abandonment to allow men to follow their own will – We see here several times that God gave them over. The first time is to “in the lusts of their hearts ti impurity”, the second is to “degrading passions”, and the third is to “a depraved mind”. This term “gave over” is a judicial term like if a judge pronounces sentence and then hands over the prisoner to the officer to execute the sentence. It shows God’s justice and man’s responsibility. God does not cause them to sin and neither
does their sin please him. In fact, God is actively involved in restraining sin through both world governments, His church (now), and believers. But for some individuals and societies, when they continue on in willful rejection God decides to remove all barriers to their sin and allow them to follow their sin to its natural conclusion. Because man’s will has been enslaved to sin since the fall of Adam, this abandonment will lead to worse and worse sins. It is individualized or group cases of what will take place during the tribulation for the entire world when God removes His restraining influence over sin, Satan takes over, and the world becomes a cess pit of sit and evil.

6. Twisting belief leads to twisting morals (you will become like who you believe in) – This chapter shows very clearly that what you believe in will affect who you are. Our beliefs shape our worldviews, which in turn shape our character. When people turn to idolatry, other sins follow closely. Remember Aaron’s calf? After they started worshiping it, the entire camp degenerated into a wild party full of immorality. Remember when the people of Israel worshiped the idol at Peor in Moab with Baalam? They also began committing sexual immorality. The nation around Israel worshiped female fertility godesses (basically sex gods) and not surprisingly their worship consisted of sexual immorality. Same thing in Ephesus. Same thing with the Greeks. The Aztecs in Central America worshiped violent, bloodthirsty gods and therefore made human sacrifices to those idols. This passage is a summary of this behavior throughout world history. Whenever people turn to idolatry, people turn to sin. Why? Discuss the reasons including the fact that idols are man’s creation and therefore they aren’t responsible to them because they can’t see, hear, or judge. Idols are little gods, creations of man, and therefore can do nothing when man sins. Man can also assign whatever morals or lack thereof to those so called gods they want. According to the fourth century historian Eusibius, the oldest civilizations in the world didn’t even have idol worship. That began roughly around the time of Abraham, when people got further from the beginning and Creation.

This chain of wrong belief and sin doesn’t hold true only to traditional idolatry, but is still true with atheism, evolution, and agnosticism. The affect of atheism is the same as idolatry. You don’t believe there is a judge or your are responsible to any higher authority. So you can do what you want. Evolution is a fancy form of this and leads to the deterioration of morals, which have no place in evolution thought. Agnosticism doesn’t believe God is important. It doesn’t care about these things. If these major issues of life are unimportant then so are the smaller issues of their personal behavior. Sure, a person with these beliefs might not consciously make these connections, but they will unconsciously. You can see this by the priorities they have. A believer will realize God is watching us all the time and will hold us responsible for our actions. Don’t you think this will impact our behavior? Of course it will.

7. You reap what you sow – Galatians 6:7-8. God set up natural order where sins generally will bring forth negative consequences in this life. A children disobeying his parents will generally die younger. Maybe he will cross the road when his parents say “no” and be hit by a car. Or he won’t learn to eat healthy foods, so will eat too much junk food and die of bad health, or he will live a wild lifestyle, which will take effect on his body. A person who is generous will find that others will normally be generous in return while a stingy person may find he has no one to help him in time of need. These are some examples. What is the example in the passage? In the passage it is that homosexuality (perverting God’s natural order) comes with harmful side effects. AIDS is also a clear example. If you don’t commit sexual immorality you won’t catch AIDS (99% of the time). The world tries to find bandaid solutions (I even talked to one guy at Zhong Shan Yi who is researching how to make homosexuality safer), rather than fix the root of the problem. Other negative side effects might include social stigma, losing your job if your boss finds out, etc. These things depend somewhat on the general morality of the culture you live in.

The point is that sin is extremely destructive. It leads to a guilt-ridden, miserable life, and finally to judgment by the just God. The further people go down this path of evil, the more unhappy they will get and they may try more and more evil things to satiate their desires, which will increase their guilt again. It’s a slippery slope and once a person reaches a certain point God may remove His restraint and just let them slide.

8. The downward spiral continues with a large array of sins – Discuss each sin individually.

9. The final step of sin is to not only do it, but encourage others to do it (sin loves company) – This slippery slope gets worse and worse. Notice that gave over first is just to sexual immorality, probably over the “normal” kind. The next is to sexual immorality of twisting God’s man/woman order. The final is to a depraved mind, where the mind itself is darkened, almost like that of an animal, which just follows its basic instincts. Here the final step is not only to do these sins “in the closet”, but to do them publicly and enthusiastically and encourage others to do the same. This is the case with many sins in the US right now including homosexuality, arrogance, gossips, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, haters of God, etc.

Study Romans 2:1-16

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