Vain Imaginings and Vile Affections
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; * * * 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. * * * For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: * * * Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. (Romans 1:18 - 2:1 )
Vain imaginations! Darkened heart! Vile affections! Man, that is rude! Where does this guy Paul get off saying stuff like that! I mean, REALLY, is it THAT BAD? (Well, yes. It's a pretty good summary of the human condition.) The "world " doesn't see it that way of course and the whole laundry list of bad stuff that Paul comes up with are pretty much things that people today would consider "alternative lifestyle" or perfectly justifiable behavior. Sure, murder is a bad thing unless it is done in the name of the all-powerful political STATE. But what's wrong with gossiping about people. I mean, if they are doing stupid stuff then what's the big deal, huh? And envy and greed are what drives commerce so that must be a good thing, right? As the world sees it this guy Paul is a mean-spirited, judgmental nutcase who hates anything that is fun! So, they have to get rid of Paul so that they can water down the gospel to some feel-good, love and peace type of thing and then it is just hunky-dory love-everybody and God will love me anyway whatever I do.
Well, the Christians know better don't they. Because, the Christian says, we are separated from God by our sins and so you better quit sinning or you're gonna BURN IN HELL, DUDE! (Preach it, man, preach it.) So, let's get SUPER RIGHTEOUS here and condemn the world for it's list of bad doings. OK! HELL-FIRE AND BRIMSTONE FOR THEM and HEAVEN-PIE-IN-THE-SKY for us. Since "WE" don't do those, things, WE must be OK! And anyone who does those things is not saved and so we better get to work cutting on them to make them like us! OOOPS. Better read all of what Paul says. He says EVERYBODY does these things and to condemn others is to condemn yourself. And anyone doing these things is worthy of condemnation and death. Then, this guy Paul goes off and actually says later, "There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus" and appears that he just ignores all that bad stuff and all that and just have faith. Confusing isn't it?
So the REALLY-REALLY-EXTRAORDINARY-SUPER-RIGHTEOUS says Paul doesn't mean it, and if he does, then he is full of it because "NOT ONE JOT OR TITTLE OF THE LAW SHALL PASS AWAY!" (Dag nabbit!) And so you better be doin this and not-doin' that or you are still sinning and, you KNOW that your sins separate you from GOD so you are ...
Well here's the thing -- You gotta start where Paul starts or none of this is going to make any sense at all. Paul starts with the claim that man has turned away from God and is worshipping the created thing instead of the creator. Because of THAT, God turns His back on man, shoves man away and turns man over to vain imaginings, darkened heart, and vile affections. What he means by "ungodliness" is not the bad stuff that people do. It simply means: impiety. When man no longer worships in awe of the Creator man has turned his mind away from truth and in that ignorant, darkened, corrupt condition, he thinks up all this nasty stuff to do. We are not separated from God because of the sin; we commit sin because we have turned away from the Creator. The wrath of God is that He has cut us loose to go our own way. He always honors our free will but will not corrupt Himself by living within the heart of someone who has rejected Him. You may say, that's not very nice. God lets evil exist! Well, wouldn't you do the same thing? If you claim to respect someone's choices in life, you have to let them suffer the consequences as well.
Once this corrupt condition comes into existence man has to find some set of constraints or everything is going to turn to complete chaos. With everyone just doing as he pleases it isn't long before one man's desire conflicts with another man's desire and a war breaks out. So, we create rules, or laws, political systems, economic systems, ethics, morality, philosophies, religions, etc., to constrain evil behavior. Law comes about because of the vain imaginings and vile affections of man's mind and heart. Law is always necessary under the conditions where man has turned away from God. That's what Jesus tried to get the Pharisees to understand.
And the Pharisees, having come near, questioned him, if it is lawful for a husband to put away a wife, tempting him, and he answering said to them, 'What did Moses command you?' and they said, 'Moses suffered to write a bill of divorce, and to put away.' And Jesus answering said to them, 'For the stiffness of your heart he wrote you this command, * * * And in the house again his disciples of the same thing questioned him, and he saith to them, 'Whoever may put away his wife, and may marry another, doth commit adultery against her; and if a woman may put away her husband, and is married to another, she committeth adultery.' (Mark 10:2-12, Also Mat. 5:31 and Mat. 19:7)
Confused yet? See, it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife, but doing so can lead to adultery. Is the law good or is it bad? If the law creates the condition for the violation of the law, how can it be consistently good? The upholding of one part of the law gives way to a violation of another part. (Uh, oh.) The really key statement here is "for the stiffness of your heart." The law was given not for the purpose of creating righteousness. All the law can do is constrain what is unrighteous. The key teaching of Jesus on this question is in Matthew chapter five.
First, Jesus states that He is not going to make the law void and no one should instruct others to violate the law. Do you begin to understand why, yet? Jesus explains. The real problem is not in the law or the violation of it. That is just the end result of a more serious problem. When the mind of man is filled with vain imaginings and vile affections then man goes out and does bad things. It is the corruption in the heart that is the problem. The law does nothing to correct that condition. The law instructs the darkened mind in what that mind should have know instinctively. The law provides a restraint and also provides a way to cover the sin by propitiation by blood. Since the penalty for sin is death, some death must be provided or the law doesn't work. Then we can never get free from the condemnation of law and the law must remain always! But if we just keep the law we will be righteous. Right?
Nope. That's not it! The old man under condemnation of the law cannot reach righteousness. Never. No way. Not gonna happen. The corruption of the carnal nature will always pull us back into sin. Since the inability to keep the law is due to the corrupt nature and since the law does not fix the corrupt nature, but simply condemns it, there is nothing in the law that will help a man keep the law. We cannot keep the law unless the heart is purified and thus we cannot get a pure heart by keeping the law. Attempting to live that way becomes a vicious cycle.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:18-24)
Yeah, I get that. I know that sense of frustration. I know how I WANT to do what is right, but always keep failing whenever I try to do what is right. It's the same problem the Israelites had. You would think that since they had the perfect law, given by God Himself, that they would have a perfect society. What you see instead is a constant cycle of falling into idolatry, prophetic warning of judgement, judgement poured out, and then a remnant repents and the whole cycle starts over again. Eventually it gets so bad that God has to scatter the Israelites throughout the world, hiding them away, because they were such an embarrassment to Him. You'd think man would learn by now.
Yet, you find exactly the same thing in the world today, especially in the Christian churches. The Christian churches accept Paul's arguments that we are not under law but under grace. So, they can't go get a bunch of rules from the Old Testament to tell people how to live. Instead, they just take Paul's list and turn it into the new list of do-this and don't-do that. And the same thing that happened to the Israelites happens in the Churches. They go to a revival or retreat and get all excited and filled with the spirit. Then slowly but surely the cares of this world begin to work on them until they go back to doing what they were doing before. Then they have to do the confession/penance thing (if your church calls for that) or they do the backslidden/rededicate your life thing. It's all the same cycle of despair that Paul describes in Romans chapter seven. A different set of rules to be sure, but the same old thing. Round and round they go never getting anywhere. Take your pick:
1) The "law" is done away, but you need this set of new rules
2) The "law" is not done away, so you use the old set of rules
It doesn't matter which option you choose. The end result is exactly the same. "O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death!"
Well, there is another option. You can become a hypocrite. You can pretend that you have kept all the rules while still having the same old vain imaginings and vile affections. But because you are very good at hiding what you do, or have rationalized the law down to some set of traditions you can keep, then you can pretend to be righteous. Of course, you can lie to those around you, but you still can't hide your nature from God. He sees and knows.
Having reached this impasse, there is the tendency in most people to try and somehow reconcile everything with a kind of "just try real hard" attitude. Choose your set of rules knowing that you can't keep them, and when you fail you can repent and then go do the whole thing all over again. Some people seem to be able to accept that. I can't. I want a solution and if God can't give me one, I'm not sure there's any point to any of it. Fortunately, He has given us a solution.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
Born again! YEE-HAH! That's what I want. The carnal man, born of corruption is restrained against doing evil by law and condemned for his failure in keeping the law. But, a new man, born of the spirit of God, is not condemned. Go back and look closely at what Paul said in Romans chapter seven. He says "that is, in my flesh" there is no good thing. The lack of condemnation is the spiritual nature that is born in us. It is the regenerated soul that is out from under condemnation. The only way there can be no condemnation is if that new man is not under law. So, to the extent that the old man remains, the law constrains him. But the new man, born of the spirit was never under law to begin with. The new man has the mind of Christ instead of vain imaginings. The new man has the heart of Christ rather than vile affections. This new man, born of the spirit is not disconnected from God but is God's very presence living within the heart. This was the plea of David in Psalm 51 - "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" - and he understood that the sacrifices demanded by the law did nothing unless there was a contrite heart. There is only one way out from under condemnation.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)
And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:10-11)
Christ IN YOU. This is the key. Get Christ in you. Let go of the self that wants to remain turned away from God, proud of itself and sure that it can do the right thing by will power. That's just more worship of the created thing. Worship God because He is great enough to take what is corrupt and transform it into a vessel for His glory. For example:
And the apostles and the brethren who are in Judea heard that also the nations did receive the word of God, and when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision were contending with him, saying -- 'Unto men uncircumcised thou didst go in, and didst eat with them!' (Acts 11:1-3)
Peter was accused of violation of the Law and his supposed brothers in Christ were ready to condemn him for it. Do you know the story? Peter was given a vision of unclean foods and told to take and eat them. He was told not to reject what God had made holy. Do you understand this? Had Peter been restrained by the law that forbid him to associate with the uncircumcised, the work of the Holy Spirit would have been thwarted. He was told to go "outside" the law so that the greater work of the spirit could be achieved.
What is confusing at first is that people will think this "outside the law" means the flesh is not constrained. Not so! The carnal nature is under constraint, but the spiritual nature is set free. We are not set free to just do as we will and fulfill any lust or evil that a corrupt mind can come up with. We are set free that we may become the perfect instrument of His will.
This is what Jesus told His disciples in John chapter fourteen and fifteen. He said that they would do greater works than He had done. The works He spoke of were the miracles of healing, deliverance, binding of demons and so on. With Jesus at the right hand of the Father as our intercessor, the pouring out of His spirit into us, we become the vessel of that spirit and the servants of His will. As Paul says, it is not me, but Christ in me that does these things. I need to get out of the way. If I'm running around putting up limits I can interfere with the working of the spirit. So do I just do what I want? NEVER! I do what HE wants done. And this can only be done by constantly increasing our faith in Him. The just shall live by faith. More and more trust that He will fill the heart and mind with His spirit. The greater our faith, the more of His grace we receive and the more the restraints are lifted from us. We are not to be conformed, but transformed into the imaging of His spirit that the will of the Father may be made manifest through us. And, that is what it was all about to begin with.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26)
Don't think "image" of God. Think "imaging" of God. He projects His love of His creation through the heart of man. When man turned away from God and fell to vain imaginings and vile affections, the imaging of God could not take place. The heart had to be purified so that the spirit of the Creator could once again flow through the heart of man and manifest His glory. The law and the prophets contain the oracle of how God would do that while the moral provisions of the law provides a restraint until all is filled up. When the heart of man is once again filled up with God's presence, displacing all the vain imaginings and vile affections, the law must pass away, just as Jesus said it would.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8:36)