Reversing Romans 1

A Glimpse of the Godward Life

The late R.C. Sproul was fond of inverting a particular biblical passage in order to bring home a theological truth. For instance, in seeking to press upon his hearers the horrors of God’s wrath, Sproul would turn to the Aaronic blessing:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
     the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24–26)

Sproul turns the blessing inside out, transforming it into a curse:

May the Lord curse you and abandon you.
     May the Lord keep you in darkness and give you only judgment without grace.
May the Lord turn his back upon you and remove his peace from you forever.

His point in doing so was to press home the reality of God’s judgment and the wonders of Christ’s cross, modifying the familiar words so that we marvel at God’s grace in sending Christ to bear the curse in our place. Years ago, inspired by Sproul’s example, I engaged in my own inversion, this time transforming the Bible’s most detailed description of human rebellion into a vision for the Godward life.

The Godless Life

In Romans 1:18–32, Paul paints a picture of the consequences of human idolatry and ingratitude on human life and culture — the wages of a godless life. God’s wrath is revealed against our ungodliness, by which we suppress the truth of his sovereignty, power, and nature. In refusing to honor and thank God, who gives us every good gift, our minds fall into vanity and our hearts are darkened. Our rebellious folly is manifested clearly in the dark exchange that we make — trading away the glory of the immortal God for created things.

As a result of this foundational rebellion and false worship, God gives us over to impurity, lies, dishonorable passions, and a debased mind. The result extends to every area of human life. The individual is corrupted in mind and heart, in thinking and willing. The effects of rebellion extend from the inner man to the outer man, from the soul to the body. Our sexuality is corrupted, as sinful desires reign and ungodly passions distort the relationships between men and women.

From there, our corporate life is affected. “They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:29–31). Family, friends, and society are all twisted by our debased minds as loving fellowship and community are torn apart and reoriented by our shared rebellion.

The Godward Life

So then, if this is a horrifying picture of human rebellion and ungodliness, what might the opposite be? Could an inverted Romans 1 give us a renewed vision for the Godward life?

The pleasure of God is revealed from heaven upon all godliness and righteousness of men, who by their righteousness celebrate the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. For because they know God, they honor him as God and give thanks to him, and they become fruitful in their thinking, and their humble hearts are enlightened. Having become fools for Christ, they have thereby become wise, and are receiving the glory of the immortal God and seeing that glory reflected in mortal man, birds, animals, and creeping things.

Therefore, God restored them in the desires of their hearts for purity, to the honoring of their bodies among themselves, because they gladly received the truth about God instead of lies and worshiped and served the Creator, who is blessed forever, rather than the creature. Amen.

For this reason, God renews their desires and delights and passions. For the women glory in the masculinity of men, and the men likewise revel in the femininity of women, and husbands and wives are consumed with passion for each other, men and women honoring the marriage bed and receiving among themselves the due reward for their obedience.

And since they see fit to acknowledge God, God reorients their renewed minds to do what ought to be done. They are filled with all manner of righteousness, goodness, contentment, benevolence. They are full of gratitude for other people’s gifts, brotherly love, peace, truth-telling, magnanimity. They are edifiers, encouragers, lovers of God, courteous, meek, humble, inventors of good, obedient to parents, wise, steadfast, compassionate, merciful. Because they know God’s decree that those who practice such things will receive eternal life, they not only do them but give hearty approval to those who practice them.

By turning the chapter on its head, we discover a fundamentally different vision for human life — one that begins, not with God’s wrath, but with his pleasure.

Going Godward Together

As we together turn our lives, ambitions, and worship Godward, we celebrate the truth, rather than suppress it. God’s revelation in creation and conscience and the Scriptures is the same, but now it leads us to heartfelt worship and gratitude to God through Christ. Such worship includes renewed and fruitful minds and humble and enlightened hearts, as we wisely and gladly receive the glory of God in and through the things that he has made.

Worship and thanksgiving spill forth from our souls to our bodies, as we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). This worship and gratitude reorient our sexual lives so that our renewed desires lead us into marriages, families, and fruitfulness. Rather than a war between the sexes, in which we despise, reject, and scorn each other, men marvel at the glory of women, and women admire and rejoice in the strength of men, as our families live beneath the blessing of God.

And then our reordered desires spill over the banks of our families and flood every aspect of our social lives, forming communities and cultures united by deep love for God and others. God’s law is our delight. Evil gives way to goodness, covetousness to contentment, and malice to benevolence. We cast off fellowship-killing envy and instead give thanks to God for his blessings to others. Strife ceases and peace reigns. We put off malicious lies and instead speak the truth with magnanimous hearts. Instead of using words to tear down and destroy, we build up and encourage. Insolent pride turns to meekness and humility. By God’s pleasure and grace, “foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless” becomes “wise, steadfast, compassionate, and merciful.”

This is the way of life that God has set before us — the Godward life — and it was not without great cost. God himself, in the person of his Son, took our flesh and dwelled among us, and gave himself for us, to turn the curse inside out and make it a blessing. And he plants this seed in every regenerate heart through the new birth, as we see and savor the goodness and grace of Christ. And as he pours out his grace upon us, this glorious vision multiplies in churches and homes and communities around the world, for his glory and our joy.