Looking at Romans (Session 2)

Session 2: “And now the bad news…” (Rom 1)

I suppose you've heard about the man who went into a petrol station and asked, “Can I have a petrol cap for my Ford Escort please?”, to which the man behind the counter said, 'Yeah, OK, fair swap!' The section of Romans we are studying today speaks of a swap, an exchange - v25, 'They exchanged the truth of God for a lie.' Who are 'they'? Well, 'they' are Mankind! Humanity! People as a whole! You and me! We did a swap! We said, 'I will drop this - the truth about God, - and instead I'll have this lie!'

That's a bold statement isn't it? It's also a blunt and uncompromising accusation against us. Blunt I may be, but I can't beat this blunt, uncompromising accusation against us from the Bible. 'Hold on!' I hear you say, 'I didn't come here today for a verbal bashing. I didn't come so you could push some brash Bible accusation under my nose!' Well, I know you didn't, and so, from the word go let's get a few things straight in our own minds:

1 - I am not here to insult you. 2 - I stand accused by the Bible with you – “I too have exchanged the truth of God for a lie!' 3 - It's an accusation that we can't afford to simply dismiss as outrageous. What if it's true? If it's true then I want to know. I don't want to live a lie, and nor do you. 4 - If we have exchanged the truth about God for a lie then we really are in a mess! Actually that's the big thing this passage says. Verse 18 tells us that God is angry with us for exchanging the truth about him for a lie. If someone's angry with us, it really is worth knowing about isn't it? The last thing you want is to find out the wrong way, that someone is angry with you. It's best to know so that you can take wise, evasive action or try to make peace!

So for all these reasons let's take few moments to reflect and see if the accusation sticks! Does it ring true with experience? What evidence is there for the claim? Firstly...

 

1. The realm of Superstition

Each New Year begins with a flurry of adverts encouraging us to read our star signs in order to find out what the year to come has in store. According to astrology, the position of the planets affects our personalities. For hundreds of years the seven planets visible to the naked eye were used in astrological calculations. Now, having discovered Uranus in 1781, Neptune in 1846, Pluto in 1930 and a rather large asteroid called Chiron in 1977, up to 10 planets are used in astrological calculations. (Kirsten Birkett, Kategoria) Astrology affects lives. It affects our nation's life. Millions of people run their lives by the horoscopes that fill magazines, newspapers and also appear on TV. Our star signs affect and infiltrate into our conversations. 'I'm Sagittarius. What star sign are you?' And on that basis we actually make assessments of one another's personality, even down to whether or not he or she would make a suitable marriage partner!

So here are some questions which should be asked, and I think they are fair questions because of the impact of astrology upon our nation: Can we now assume that all the horoscopes for hundreds of years before the discovery of the extra planets, were wrong, because they didn't take into account the influence of those same planets? Or, if we assume they were correct, does it mean their influence is negligible and if so why are they used now? They are fair questions aren't they? 'Does this accusation stick?' Perhaps it does - (V25) 'They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things (planets and their influence on personality) rather than the Creator (who made our personalities!)' So let's move on to:

2. The realm of Sex

In recent decades we've witnessed some dramatic changes in the boundaries of sexual behaviour. Bertrand Russell, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, no doubt played a key part in the rejection of traditional Christian, sexual ethics. Russell's thinking in this area is often presented as being made in an atmosphere of 'detached speculation'. But what kind of man was Russell? Roy Monk in his book on Russell entitled Spirit of Solitude, writes this, 'Russell met a young American woman called Helen Dudley in America and suggested that she come to England to live with him and eventually marry him - if he could secure a divorce from his wife Alys. At the same time, he told another lover, Ottoline Morrell (the wife of a close friend), that he had slept with Helen only as an act of kindness to foster her creativity as a writer. Ottoline was not happy about this! Russell concluded that his relationship with Helen was not serious after all and when the unfortunate lady arrived in England to take up his invitation, he refused even to see her. Helen ended up in a mental asylum.' So let's ask a fair question: Here is a man who had a huge influence on our nation, and his philosophies and thinking have affected its sexual ethics. Were Bertrand Russell's views made in an atmosphere of detached speculation, or did they have something to do with justifying his own behaviour? What of our views in the realm of sex? Are they honest conclusions based on honest reasoning or attempts to justify our own behaviour?

The Bible says, 'They exchanged the truth about God for a lie'. (v25) Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. Does the accusation begin to ring true with experience? And what of.

3. The realm of the Spiritual

We won't spend long here! As a leader in an organised religion I put my hand up and admit that the accusation sticks very easily! Go to any religion in the world and there are objects and places and people that we reverence or worship. Whether it's so called places of blessing like Toronto, or things like the reserved sacrament, or a statue like the Buddha, or objects like the cloak of Mohammed, or an animal like the cow, have we exchanged the truth of God for a lie, spiritually speaking? Well v22 does begin to speak to us doesn't it. '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.' We have considered the realms of the superstitious and the spiritual, so what of

4. The realm of Science

Science is the search for knowledge and truth! What's discovered through scientific research is hard fact, proven truth with tangible evidence. In comparison to science, religion is often portrayed as fable, unproven faith or even disproved myth! But is science always what it's portrayed to be? Let's take a closer look.

The search to discover signs of life on other planets is often in the public domain. A meteorite arrives from Mars and we inspect it to ascertain whether there are signs of life, and we also spend vast amounts of money getting various bits of metal up there to carry out scientific research to see if there has ever been life on Mars.

This endeavour is linked to research into the origins of life on this planet. There is growing belief that the start of life on Earth, in what we term the 'primeval soup', is probably unlikely. Hence the search for life on other planets, which might, just conceivably, have found their way to earth. Richard Shapiro is a leading scientist in this field. Listen to what he says and judge for yourself whether this reads better as the words of a scientist searching for truth, or whether it's a scientific, religious statement. 'Some future day may yet arrive when all reasonable chemical experiments, run to discover a probable origin for life, have failed unequivocally. Further, new geological evidence may indicate a 'sudden' appearance of life on earth.

'Finally, we may have explored the universe and found no trace of life, or process leading to life, anywhere. In such a case, some scientists might choose to return to religion for an answer. Others however, myself included, would attempt to sort out the surviving less probable scientific explanations in the hope of selecting one that was still more likely.' (Kirsten Birkett, Kategoria).

Now is that a scientific statement or a faith statement - faith in the non-existence of God? Why get so churned up and spend your life trying to prove that God didn't have a part to play in the origin of life? Personally I'm a contented agnostic when it comes to how God made the world. I'm quite happy for God to have used evolution or whatever. But there are certain things that I do question in this whole area. Why is it that debates about evolution are so stubbornly religious? How come we can't discuss evolution in isolation, and just think through the principles without bringing God into it?

I've recently been reading Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution. The author, a scientist, is passionate about science and he notes a number of instances where scientists have falsified evidence or made fraudulent claims over their research - Haeckel's embryos, peppered moths, Darwin's finches, all have pretty dark backgrounds, where the wool has been pulled over people's eyes. But the staggering thing is this - why, when they've been rumbled by other biologists, do their conclusions still appear as scientific fact in biology text books! I think it's a fair question isn't it? Is the Bible right? Is the accusation beginning to stick?

'They exchanged the truth of God for a lie ...' (v18) The wrath of God is being revealed form 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 understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.' Could it be that we sometimes use science, not in the search for truth, but in the suppression of the truth ... the truth of God? Lastly, let's come nearer home ...

5. The realm of Self

The writings of the author Samuel Clemens are peppered with attitudes to the truth that are comical and casual. Clemens played with truth. Let me read a couple of his famous quotations: 'Truth is the most valuable thing we have. So let's economise it!' 'The principal difference between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives!' He once cynically wrote to a friend, 'I like the truth sometimes, but I don't care enough for it to hanker after it'.

Clemens' aim in life was so shamelessly for profit that when he wrote one particular book (The Innocents Abroad), he urged his publisher to throw a dinner to celebrate its success. Sam wouldn't attend the dinner. In fact, no-one would, so it wouldn't cost a penny. But the newspapers could reprint Sam's speech and, as a result, sales of the book would increase! Sam Clemens was a spin-doctor before his time! He lived a life of lies, hype and spin. You will know him better as ... Mark Twain!

Samuel Clemens is not alone though, is he? We may not go to the lengths that he went to, but the fact that every single one of us has a tendency to lie and to live for lies is an observation that not only the Bible makes. T S Elliott wrote in his Four Quartets, 'Humankind cannot bear very much reality.' One Greek statesman (Demosthenes) said, 'Nothing is easier than self-deceit', and what the philosopher Nietche said of a friend is true of us all, 'He does not believe in God, but he believes in himself. Nobody who believes in himself can be entirely honest!' 'They exchanged the truth of God for a lie.' Does the accusation stick? What evidence do we have to avoid being accused personally? What evidence is there to stop our names being slotted into v25? “(Your name) exchanged the truth of God for a lie?'

It takes great courage and honesty to stand up in front of others and say those two short and simple words, 'I lied'. Yet every single one of us has lied! Why are the words 'I lied' so hard to say? Is it because we live a lie? We live the lie - 'I'm not a liar!'. 'Lies are weaklings; they need body guards!' - (J Budziszewsk - in Time for Truth). Each new protective ring of lies breeds its own protective ring. How many layers of lies and lying are we smothered beneath?

How do we live free in a world of spin? How do we live free in a world of lies? Politicians can't help us here and education isn't going to help either is it?. What do we do when we've exchanged the truth of God for a lie? G K Chesterton wrote, in What's Wrong With The World, 'When a man really tells the truth, the first truth he tells is that he himself is a liar'. What do we do when we've exchanged the truth of God for a lie? The answer is simple? We swap back! We do the reverse exchange and we come to God and say:

'Please, dear God, I would like to swap back. I want to drop the lies and exchange them for the truth - for You! I'm sorry I've lied and I'm sorry I've lived for lies. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus Christ to take your wrath on me upon himself. Thank you that because of him I can be forgiven and washed clean. I want to live for the truth and I want to practise truth. Please help me to do that. Amen.'

As we repent of our sin and our lies and turn to the Christ who died for us, we find he is the one who washes us clean and gives us a fresh start.

It may be that you're a Christian who is struggling in the whole area of truth and lies and know that you need help, or simply need to pray with someone. I don't think there's anything better than helping one another. If there someone in your home group, or another Christian friend who could help, then why don't you speak to them today or soon?

Perhaps what you've heard today is new and you need to give it some careful thought. Or it's come as a bit of a shock and you are thinking, 'Hang on! There's an awful lot to take in. I just need to think a bit further'. Well, that's fine, just as long as we do think a bit further, because it's an accusation we can't afford to dismiss, as there are serious consequences.


Teaching Notes
Webpage icon Are you ready for revelation? (1 Cor 2:9,10)
Webpage icon Looking at Romans (Session 1)
Webpage icon Looking at Romans (Session 3)
Webpage icon Looking at Romans (Session 4)
Webpage icon Looking at Romans (Session 5)
Webpage icon The church is a community…
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