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Rescued From Moral Self-Deception

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 11, 2011

Selected highlights from this sermon

Jesus came to save us from the wrath of God. In today’s society, we’ve lost sight of God’s anger and hatred of sin, yet we spend a great deal of energy trying to manage our sin.

We want to justify the way we live even though we know, deep down, that it’s wrong. We’ll do anything to rationalize our immorality. We suppress the truth. We oppose natural law and intuition, trying to prove there are genetic reasons for our sinful behavior, even making sinful behavior legal. As the Apostle Paul says, we take the unnatural and turn it into “natural.”

God’s calling for us is clear: live pure lives. We may struggle. We may have to live with unfulfilled desires. But we are called to live in purity.

When rescuers went into the Twin Towers, some of them, I’m sure, knew that they would never come out alive again. Some of them, God bless them, rescued others and they themselves died. Others perhaps went in to recue others and then later on they died even though, perhaps, they couldn’t rescue anyone but they tried. And today we honor all of them, and it is true that “Greater love has no man than this, but that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Jesus came to us on a rescue mission. Right away from the beginning the angel said, “He shall save his people from their sins,” and the fire that He came to save us from is much greater than even the fire in the Twin Towers, because the Bible says that our God is a consuming fire and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. One of the reasons that we really don’t appreciate the grace of God and think that it is nice but not absolutely necessary is that we have no conception as to what it is that Jesus actually came to save us from. Blinded by sin to our own faults and our own inadequacies and failures, forgetting the holiness of God, we don’t understand the Gospel and appreciate it, and how far reaching Jesus Christ’s coming really was.

In order to help us understand this the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans and I invite you to turn to Romans 1, and this is a series on the book of Romans about how God came on a rescue mission, and you’ll notice that our first message on the series went to verse 17, and now verse 18 of chapter 1 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

First of all, we are introduced to the wrath of God. We think to ourselves that because God is love somehow love cancels wrath. No, actually love and wrath exist in God perfectly, but both of them exist, and it is impossible for me today to over-exaggerate God’s fierce anger and hatred of sin, and yes, of sinners too. After all it is the sinners whom He punishes. And we have lost sight of that in modern evangelicalism thinking that God is only love, forgetting the fact that He is a God of wrath. Just read the Old Testament. But notice that the text says, and I think it’s there in verse 18, is it not? The text says that they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The Greek word really does mean suppress. It would be like taking a spring and squishing it together and then knowing that you have to hold it there because the moment you let go it’s going to go back to its original shape.

Maybe another illustration would help. We’ve all taken a garden hose and then we’ve used our thumb to try to hold back the water and to be against the compression of the water, and sometimes a little bit of it squiggles out here, and then there’s a stream of it there, but we know that the moment we let go, the stream of water will flow. What Paul is saying is that, as verified in other scriptures, we are born into this world as sinners and a great deal of our psychic energy is going to be spent managing our sin. A great deal of it is going to be spent by suppressing what we intuitively know to be true, and we are going to rationalize our guilt. We are going to cover our guilt, and we are going to take care of our guilt primarily by living in darkness in the secrecy of our own hearts and in our own activities, and this is what man now is going to do as he takes the truth and he suppresses it at every single opportunity in the interest of self-justification.

You say, “Well, what truth does he suppress?” Well, let’s read the text and let’s go through this passage. He says in verse 20, “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. So they are without excuse.”

What Paul is going to say is that when we were created by God, we were created with an innate knowledge of God. We know intuitively that there is a divine law within us called the conscience and that has come to us from God, and Paul will expand upon this in the second chapter. But also he is saying that when we look at the heavens we should know his eternal power. His eternal authority should be recognized by us whether we have a Bible or not, whether we know the Ten Commandments or not. There is within every single person a moral law so that we are without excuse. And what Paul is going to explain in this chapter is how we take that truth and we suppress it and we rebel against God to become our own God, and in this way we actually are living-in such a way that we are in deep, deep self-deception, a self-deception that we invite into our lives. We want to be deceived. We grasp at any straw to be deceived because we want to justify the way in which we want to live, and we don’t want to deal with the God of wrath and anger against sin. That is true of all of us. We don’t want to deal with Him.

Now, let’s see how things develop here. It says in verse 21, “They are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor im as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

In this passage today I’m going to outline three exchanges that are made by human beings in order to suppress the truth and willingly accept deception. That’s where we are going.

The first exchange is found there right in verse 25. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. What happens is simply this: When Paul talks about the fact that they prefer idolatry, making gods in accordance with animals and everything else, what was the attraction in idolatry in the Old Testament? Why is it that when you read Jeremiah and the prophets the people were constantly going after pagan gods? What was the big deal about these pagan gods?

I didn’t know what the answer was until I heard a lecture by a Hebrew scholar (an Old Testament scholar) who gave a lecture on it and pointed out that the great attraction was sexual license. You could do whatever you wished. You know, the God of Israel has these commandments. “Thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” Hey, the pagan god said, “You can do it all,” and they said, “We want these pagan gods.”

So from now on what man is going to try to do is to shut out the true God and suppress the truth and he is going to ultimately end up, it turns out worshipping himself. My desires are now going to become my god. Whatever I want to do is going to become my god and I’m going to do it in my way and in my time, and so what you have in this text is they substitute the creature for the creator, and they accept idolatry.

But also there’s going to be rebellion against the creator. Paul indicates this when he says, “God turned them over,” and then he says, “They accepted and worshipped the creature rather than the creator who is blessed forever, Amen.” Paul couldn’t help but give a doxology about God’s creation right there. And in order to reject this creation in our day it’s done in a couple of ways. One way is through atheistic evolution-the very absurd notion that nothing times nobody equals everything in all of its complexity. And I’ve read Dawkins, the great atheist. It’s absurd that you can explain human life by random molecules bouncing around on their own, producing all of the complexity that we see with no intelligence guiding the way. It’s impossible. But they would rather do that. They turn the truth of the Creator and they begin to worship creation and they turn against the Creator. And then, of course, there are other ways that this is also done that we will point out in a moment.

What’s going on here in the text? What is Paul saying? He’s saying that every one of us are born with this strong desire to replace the true God with our own desires and to come up with a god who always agrees with us. No matter what we want to do, the god approves it. Even if we think of God beyond the world he’s the kind of god who understands us. He approves of everything that we are doing and we never are going to be judged by him. And if we do mess up, I mean to forgive us and to gloss over our sin, that’s his job. And so what we do is we exchange one god for another. And I need to tell you today that the god that America is worshipping is the god of the human body–how you look, who you are in terms not of your character but your appearance. And of course, this is all related to sexuality as well. So that’s the first exchange that is made in the text.

And then there’s a second exchange and that’s coming up now in verse 26: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passions for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Now that we’ve done away with God, and now that we’ve even done away with natural law, we can do whatever we want and as a result of that, you have in today’s society actually the incredible quest for same-sex marriage.

Now what I want to say in the next few moments I’m not referring to those of you who struggle with same-sex attraction, but you know that an intimate relationship with someone of the same sex is a sinful relationship. I speak with a great deal of compassion, and let me explain to you why. Many years ago I was asked to speak to Exodus International which is a ministry that you can go online and see, and it helps people coming out of same-sex attractions, and administers to them and shows them a pathway of hope. And I was the speaker and there were about 700 people present. It turned out that at breakfast I found myself seated with a group of young women–perhaps five or six–and as we were eating together I said to them, “If you would feel comfortable would you share with me how you got into this lifestyle?” And I need to tell you, it was enough to make anyone weep. I mean there was brokenness. It was molestation by an uncle, a father. It was being misused by men. They were horrible stories of brokenness. And if you talked to the men who were present they would give you a similar story of how they were inducted into it and how they were misused, and I began to see that a lot of what we see today in modern sexuality grows out of a tremendous amount of brokenness within people’s lives. So I speak compassionately but I hope I shall also speak clearly.

And now I am talking about the wider homosexual agenda and same-sex marriage. And what you discover today is that that movement is strongly opposed to natural law. I remember speaking to someone who was a part of the movement and I said, “You know, even if you don’t have a Bible, even if you don’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word, does not nature itself teach you that this is wrong? This is not the way it’s to be,” and he spoke vehemently against natural law because you see, the Bible says that they suppress the truth. And so there has to be a lid put on this volcano somehow, and that lid needs to stay.

You know, never before in history, until the rise of modern Europe did you have homosexuals wanting to be married and to be recognized as married. Of course, throughout all of history there has been homosexuality, but this is the first time that there’s been a clamor for the status that is equal or even above a heterosexual relationship. And so that is what we are encountering today and I simply say this: There is a tsunami that is coming toward the Church in this area, and we have only seen a tip of that tsunami, and we had better be ready for it.

Let me ask you a question: How is the truth suppressed? How do you justify it? How do you make right something that you intuitively know is wrong? There are a couple of ways. First of all, you have an emphasis of saying, “I was born that way. I have the gay gene.” I remember talking to someone who was a kleptomaniac and he stole even when he knew he would be caught. And then he told me, “I have a kleptomaniac gene. I stole even when I was a boy. Stealing is just a part of who I am.” So you have a kleptomaniac gene. You have a pedophile gene. You have an alcoholic gene. Do you know what the problem with all of us is? Bad news, but there’s good news at the end of the rainbow. The bad news is we all have the sin gene and that’s our problem. Right? (applause) Yeah, all sinners clap at this particular point. All right? (Laughter) We have the sin gene, and sin bubbles up in all different kinds of ways. In the life of one person it becomes this addiction. In the life of another it’s that addiction. Nowhere in the Bible do we find that God excuses us because we have the wrong genes, and the fact is that we are born sinners. Yes, we have the sin gene.

So there are other ways that this is, of course, enforced and that is legally. I think, for example, of parents in a school in California. This made headlines. They did not want their school children, especially in the very early days, to be indoctrinated into homosexuality, but the law is that you must, and if not, you will be penalized, so they don’t even want the parents to have authority over their own children in this area. This is the way it must be!

Whenever same-sex marriages are instituted in whatever state, there are immediately lawsuits against people who are photographers for weddings because if you are an independent agency and you have your own photographic studio, if it’s a same-sex marriage and you say no there’s a lawsuit. Did you hear the story on the news about two women who were in a committed relationship and one of them, through a procedure, became pregnant and gave birth to a child? And then this committed relationship broke up and the woman who was the natural mother became a Christian. And then there was a dispute between the two regarding parental rights, and as a result of this dispute the judge ended up giving this child to the woman who wasn’t the natural mother, not because the natural mother was an abuser. No! Was she mistreating the child? No! The reason was because anyone who believes the Bible and is going to bring a child up in a home where same sex relationships are not accepted is really ultimately an unfit parent. Expect more lawsuits along the same lines.

And then, of course, without going into detail (and I discuss this in more detail in the little booklet I wrote entitled “The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage") one of the great mantras today is, “You’re a hater. You don’t agree with us? How can you be so filled with hate?” So the alternative that we are given is, “You either buy into this,” or “Where’s all this hate coming from?”

One day I was giving a lecture at a university and I was setting things up before the lecture because I wanted to put my outline on a screen, and a college student came up to me and said, “Do you believe Christ is the only way to God?” I said, “Yeah. That’s what I’m going to be speaking about here.” He said, “How can you be filled with so much hate? Why are you spreading so much hate?”

So, folks, remember this. You oppose it; you are a hater. If you ask the question as to why the same-sex marriage agenda has made so much progress in the United States, that’s a longer issue. It has to do with a concerted effort of propaganda, but one of the points is to demonize anybody who disagrees with you and make them look so terrible that no one will be willing to be like them. That’s what is happening in society today.

Paul is saying that the problem is this, that the truth is being suppressed because people want to be deceived so badly and there are so many justifications out there for deception. Paul says another deception is to take the natural and turn it into the unnatural and celebrate it.

There’s a third deception in the text also, and you’ll notice that instead of rebuking sin it’s the condoning of it. Now if you think that I am hard on sexual expression here today, you come back next time when I am going to be speaking about self-deception in the religious realm. And you’ll notice that the Apostle Paul, as he ends this chapter, doesn’t end up at all talking about the sexual. He broadens it and includes all of us in one way or another. We all long to be self-deceived and to suppress the truth. You’ll notice it says in verse 28, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”

I think yesterday I counted 21 or 22 sins that are listed here so let’s give equal treatment to everybody and read them. “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die.” If they spent a half an hour looking into their conscience, they would know that these things are wrong. They not only do them but they approve those who practice them, and you have for example today whole industries based upon gossip columns and what have you about people who commit adultery, and whose marriages break up, and other people delight in it. And you have people today who delight in addictions. In fact, they hope for addictions. They probably pray that there will be many addicts to support their industries, whether it’s pornography or any other industry because they not only do evil but they approve of others and they encourage others who say, “Be like me. I am the standard.” Intuitively they know that those who do such things are worthy of death and God’s wrath but they do them and they approve of those who do. They suppress the truth. You can’t let it out. It won’t be tied to somebody who has the nerve to let the genie out of the bottle, to let the truth be told.

Let’s look at this text and how we get to the bottom line to understand ourselves in relation to this. There are a couple of things. First, do you notice that God abandons some people to their sins? God abandons some people to their sins three times. In verse 24, verse 26 and verse 28 God gave them up. The Greek word is paredōken. God gave them over.

You say, “Pastor Lutzer, are there people who live this way and are absolutely content with the way in which they live, and are absolutely positively committed to the idea that they are doing right?” Yes. There comes a time when you fight the truth and you fight your conscience long enough, and God says, “Hey, I’m out of here. You want to do what you want to do? You go your way and you are not going to get any resistance from me. You’re committed to doing this. I’ll take my hands off and say, ‘It’s all up to you from here on.’” It’s a judgment of God that He gives them up and it’s not just simply those who are involved in sexual sins. It applies to the whole list of sins–the whole catalog that I just read a moment ago. So there are those who are perfectly content with their lifestyle. There is such a thing as the judicial judgment of God when he gives them up. It’s very sobering.

So first of all, God abandons some people to their own sin. He says, “You want this sin? Fine. I’ll give you lots of it and you’ll be an addict. Okay, be an addict. Be content with your sin.” Secondly, God delivers some people out of these lifestyles. This is what it says in the book of 1 Corinthians: “Do you now know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (That’s quite a list.) But such were some of you, but you were washed.” Oh, isn’t it beautiful to be washed clean? Is there anybody out there? Am I alone up here? Don’t you rejoice in the fact that we can be washed? “You were sanctified. You were set apart for God. You were justified (and that word is going to come up in the book of Romans and we’re going to explain it) in the name of Jesus, and your lifestyle became different.”

Now you say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, since we’re talking about same-sex attraction, what about those who are converted but their orientation isn’t changed?” It’s interesting that a member of the pastoral staff this past week said that in other countries, such as in Africa, when a person gets saved, all of the addictions are gone, possibly because they understand spiritual warfare much better than we do. I don’t know if that’s true, but I also know that there are those who would say, “I’m a Christian and I am also in a same-sex relationship, and I really do think I am right.” I have in my files letters from people like that who affirm their Christianity and plead with me to see their case, and to see their side of the argument.

Here’s the bottom line. If God does not deliver you from the orientation (And He often does. It’s possible that it’s a struggle. In fact, it will be.) God’s standard for you is very clear in the Scripture and that would be to live a life that is celibate. One day I was asked by a reporter whether or not we are prejudiced against homosexuals at Moody Church and I said, “You know, we have the same standard for everybody. No matter what your orientation is, all [sexual] relationships outside of a “man and woman married relationship” are sinful. Period! That’s our view. Well, you say, “It isn’t fair.” Oh, you know, who in the world ever came up with the idea that life should be fair? Now it is going to balance out because we’re going to talk about Romans 2 about how the judgment of God is going to balance things but, of course, life isn’t fair. It isn’t fair for a lot of different reasons. And what we need to do as believers is to realize that it is God’s calling for all of us to live pure lives sexually, as we struggle with our lustful desires to continue to struggle and to seek God’s people and God for victory, and it is God’s intention that we live pure lives.

Now, also, it is God’s intention that we all live with unfulfilled desires. There are some of you, who perhaps have the desire to be a mother, but you are not married and possibly you’ll never be married. It’s an unfulfilled desire that you and I have to live with, and we all have them.

So the Apostle Paul here is mapping out the fact that God is someone who delivers people, but even if your orientation isn’t changed, the Word of God gives the standard.

Finally, the third observation is life-challenging and a whole lot of good news. God sometimes abandons people to their own lusts and desires. God sometimes delivers people, or at least some people. I should say that better. God delivers some people from those who have these addictions and certainly that’s the case of the people in Corinth, and there are thousands of stories like those all throughout the United States of America. But God always, and this is point number three, extends grace to those who come to Him with humility and faith. He always extends grace. That is the message of the gospel.

Many years ago I met a young man whom I’ll call Roger. Roger was in the homosexual lifestyle. He, if I might put it somewhat delicately, serviced other men in that particular lifestyle. I asked him how many partners he had had, and he said he didn’t know but he estimated 750. Now God saved him gloriously, and he talked about how God enabled him to get out of it, and the battle that it was, and how he quoted Scripture, and how, as he quoted these verses of Scripture just awash with these tremendous desires, they would dissipate, but they would come back. And he continued to quote Scripture and ended up actually being married and having a child, even though he himself later died of AIDS. As a miracle of God, his wife did not contract the disease. Now as a Christian, he witnessed to people in the hospital to the grace and the love of God before he died.

What I want to do today is to illustrate the Gospel that Paul is going to explain in the book of Romans as we go through the text. I’m going to use these two books to illustrate God’s amazing grace to those who come to Him with humility and faith. I want you to visualize that this book that I have here says on it, The Life and Times of Jesus Christ. Oh my. So I open The Life and Times of Jesus Christ, and I read it and I see nothing but beauty and obedience. In fact, I see a quote here: “The Father says, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’” There’s nothing but beauty, page after page. Wow!

Then over here I have another book and it is called, The Life and Times of Roger. Let’s see what’s in this book. Well, we open it up and it’s just filled with impurity, all kinds of sin, betrayal, emptiness and lies. What Jesus says in effect to Roger is, “Roger, are you willing to give me the contents of your book?” Roger says, “Oh, Jesus, only too gladly,” and Jesus says, “If you give me your book I will rip the contents of your book out.” So Jesus comes to Roger, and Roger believes in Jesus Christ by faith, and is saved, so Jesus, according to our illustration rips out the pages of Roger’s book, and then Jesus takes and rips out the pages of His own book and He’s saying in effect, “Roger, all that I need now at this point is the covers of your book.” So Jesus takes the covers of Roger’s book and inserts in it His own contents. It still says, The Life and Times of Roger. You say, “Ha, I wonder what kind of a life he lived.” We are astounded. Beauty, holiness, a sacrifice, which Jesus Christ accepts! God is just as pleased with Roger as He is with His own Son. “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” It is a book of such beauty that God himself adores it. That is the Gospel.

Are you willing today to give God the contents of your book? Are you willing to say today, “I receive Christ as Savior”? Because remember this: God always extends grace to those who desire it. What we need to do is to let go of all of our self-deceptions, all of our views, all of the suppression of truth, and admit who we are. God says, “You admit who you are in My presence and I’ll make you who My Son was legally by giving you His righteousness” and then we belong to Him forever.

The firefighters on 9/11 were saving people from the burning inferno of the twin towers. Jesus comes to deliver us from the wrath of God, revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, against all unrighteousness and those who suppress the truth. You come to Christ today. We’re going to have prayer partners up here as we often do, as we almost always do. Why don’t you come and shake my hand letting me know that you have received Christ as Savior? You can even do it today in the balcony or wherever you may be, or listening by way of radio or on the Internet. You can receive Christ right now. If God has talked to you and this is your moment, you know who you are to respond to the Good News of the Gospel, Jesus Christ’s awesome rescue mission.

Let’s pray.

Father, as we’ve taken a look into our own hearts we realize that we are all filled with self-deception. We spend so much of our time figuring out how to look better than we are, but we thank You that if we admit to our ugliness and our sin and then receive Jesus as Savior, that the ugly contents of our book are taken away.

I am going to ask now that there be silence. Why don’t you pray to God wherever you may be listening? And if you receive Christ as Savior the Bible says that as many as received him to them he’ll give the authority to become God’s children. You believe on Him right now.

Father, for those who are struggling with the truth, help them to overcome their reticence to admit who they are, and to receive Your grace poured out in Jesus. We thank you that He came to get us, because we were on our way to a terrible fire. We love Him. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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