Why has God determined it appropriate to establish an eternal, unending judgment? And what is the one main sin it is deigned to punish? And how are we all made so guilty that this punishment is appropriate and fitting for every human who is separated from Christ? Into this heavy, but essential, question we find the answer in Romans chapter 1. The following is a clip from a sermon John Piper delivered last year in England at Revive, a weekend conference of the Co-Mission church planting network. Here’s what he said.
We never leave God because we value him little. We also exchange God because we value something else more. Let me say that again. Nobody leaves God, forsakes God, abandons God, suppresses God, turns away from God simply because they value him little. We always turn away from God because we value something else more, which is why it is such a cosmic insult and infinite outrage. This is the infinite outrage in the universe, that human beings prefer something else to God.
“We always turn away from God because we value something else more, which is why it is such a cosmic insult and an infinite outrage.”
So here we are at Romans 1:22–23: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” — and here it comes — “and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” They became fools and exchanged the glory of God for images. Now just think that through, because you have all done it. And we are tempted to do it every day — to exchange something for something means to express a preference. All right? You don’t exchange something you value supremely for something you value less. Never. You always exchange something for something that you want instead of it. You don’t want that. You want the other thing. That is what exchange means. I want the other thing.
And everybody does that with God. We look at his glory. We look at his power. We look at his wisdom. We look at his beneficence. And we don’t say, “Thank you,” and we don’t say, “You are great.” We say, “I am going to trade you for something that I really want.” That is why hell exists, because it is an infinite sin. You can’t do anything worse. There is nothing worse that can be done. Sins are simply expressions of that. Sins get all of their evil from that. That is evil.
What we call evil, hurting each other, that is just little expressions of that. All the rottenness that we do to each other is deriving its rottenness from the ultimate rot of exchanging God, saying to the infinite Creator and the most beautiful reality in the universe, “I don’t want you. I don’t prefer you. You are not attractive to me. You are not satisfying to me. I get no pleasure from you. This is my desire. This is my treasure.” That is evil. That is the meaning of evil. And all other evils get their evil from that, including the evils of money, sex, and power, which Paul is going to make crystal clear.
The deepest problem that we are dealing with behind money, behind sex, and behind power is that we all know the supreme power of God. We do. Everybody does. Everybody you will ever talk to — atheist, skeptic, agnostic, secularist, new age, whatever religion — everybody knows the truth; namely, God is supremely valuable. And everybody prefers something to God. Adam and Eve thought they were doing a wise thing when they preferred their way and this fruit over God and his way, and they became fools and were darkened in their understanding — and we have inherited that all the way down to the roots of our being.
There are two kinds of heart condition in the world: the one that values God over all and the one that values something else over all. But the main issue you are going to be facing as we are meeting together here is whether your hearts are treasuring God supremely above everything else: everything evil and everything good, all the good things God has given you, all the evil things that the devil is tempting you with. And I am saying that, more than the good things and more than the evil things, is God your treasure? Is God your satisfaction? Is God your delight? Because if he is, money, sex, and power will turn into remarkable potentials in your life. And if he is not, money, sex, and power will become unbelievably destructive in your hands.