Our greatest problems in life are not ignorance problems; they are preference problems. And that means our greatest need is not merely new information, our greatest need is being given new preferences, new desires, new loves, as John Piper explained from Romans 1, in a 2015 sermon. Here’s how he explained it:
Having set up why we are existing; namely, we exist to know and experience and enjoy and reflect the value, the glory, and the beauty of God back to him, Paul now makes the connection with sex. Isn’t that remarkable? Four times. This is unmistakable and amazing. Four times he makes the connection between the distortion of the relationship vertically and the darkness there with the distortion of the sexual relationship horizontally and the darkness there. So let’s see these four times where Paul does this.
Trading Treasures for Scraps
1. The connection between Romans 1:23 and 24: “[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images . . . ” Verse 24: “Therefore” — that is a very important word — “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” So, the exchange vertically in verse 23 (they exchanged the glory of God) results in God handing them over to horizontal dishonorable passions of the body in lust. Where does lust come from? Where does the brokenness of our God-given, beautiful sexual reality come from? Where does that brokenness come from? It comes from the brokenness of exchange.
“Nobody’s main problem is an ignorance problem. Everybody’s main problem is a preference problem.”
2. Here it is again, the connection between verses 24 and 25: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,” — and here comes the other important word besides “therefore” — “because.” Why did he do that? Why did God hand us over to this mess, this brokenness? “Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” Another exchange, the same exchange. The truth about God, the glory about God, for a lie. “And worshiped and served the creature” — that is, us — “rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
So, he says the cause — don’t miss the word “because” there — the cause of lust and impurity and the dishonoring of the body is the embrace of a lie about God. The darkness of creation is owing to the darkness as we look at the Creator. We believe we are more valuable than God. Our friends are more valuable to us than God is to us. And sexual pleasure is more valuable than God to us. We have exchanged him for a lie, and God hands us over.
3. The connection between verses 25 and 26: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” Verse 26: “For this reason. . .” Do you see it? “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie. . . . For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” So three times so far he has said that the cause, the reason for God handing us over to the dishonoring of our own good, God-given passions, is because we traded God. We traded his truth and we traded his glory for other things, though they are not more preferable.
4. The relationship between the two halves of verse 28: “Since” — very important word — “And since they did not” — now the ESV says here “see fit to acknowledge.” I don’t know what your version says. Here is my literal translation of dokimadzo. Here is the way I would translate it: “Since they did not approve” — that is the usual translation of dokimadzo — “they did not approve of having God in their knowledge” — that is a literal translation. “See fit to acknowledge God” — that is okay, but I think you feel the horror of it if you say: They did not approve of having God in their knowledge.
The picture is back in verse 18: They know God and they suppress truth. So, God is approaching them in manifold ways, and we consider that enough to be accountable. We know, and we disapprove. “I don’t want you in here. I don’t want you in my head. I don’t want you in my heart. I disapprove of having you in my knowledge.” This is where atheism comes from. This is where skepticism comes from.
The root issue of both homosexual and heterosexual distortions are rooted in this exchange: “God, I don’t want you here.”
It is not at first an ignorance problem. Nobody’s main problem is an ignorance problem. Everybody’s main problem is a preference problem. “I don’t want you in my head. I don’t want you in my heart. I don’t want you to be supremely valuable. I will not have a God in my life who is supremely valuable. I just won’t.” That is the meaning of the first half of verse 28: “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge” — or “did not approve” — I don’t want it. I don’t approve of having God in my knowledge, — “[therefore] God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”
So four times it just could not be clearer, repetitively clearer, that the root issue of our horizontal distortions, homosexual and heterosexual, are rooted in this exchange: “I don’t want you in here.” And if he is not in here, everything is going wrong in the world.