For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
–Romans 1.16-27 (NIV)
Imagine that you are on life support. You are dependent on a ventilator to breathe and various IVs to keep you alive. Suddenly in an unconscious state you begin to flail about, tearing away from the ventilator and IV’s, the very systems that support and give you life. What do you think will happen to you if there is no intervention on your behalf? You will quickly die because you have severed your connections to the very things that give you life.
While no analogy is going to perfectly compare things of this world and/or relationships between humans with our relationship with God, the scenario above helps us understand what Paul is addressing in today’s passage. Paul is describing the human condition, which causes us to rebel against God, the very Source of our life. When we rebel against God, it causes us to be alienated from him and like the patient above, whether consciously or not, we sever our relationship with God and cut ourselves off from our Source of life. Without a restored relationship with God, we have no life in us. Sure, our bodies may continue to function for a span of years, but ultimately without God we have no life in us. If we don’t learn that awful truth now, we will surely learn it when our bodies die. Paul talks about this dynamic in terms of God’s wrath poured out on us–God’s implacable opposition toward anything evil or bad–in giving us up to the consequences of our sinful (rebellious) desires that separate us from God and keep us in a hostile state toward him. It is a dreadful and fearful picture and it should cause terrible grief for anyone who claims to care about human beings.
But of course it is to the glory of God that this is not the final picture Paul (and Scripture) paints for us. No, beginning with these verses and in the next several chapters, Paul is building a case for the righteousness of God made manifest in the Gospel of Christ. For while it is true that God cannot be inconsistent in his opposition toward evil, it is also true that God created us to have a relationship with him so that we could enjoy life as he intended for us, a life that not even our physical death can separate. God knows that without a restored relationship with him, we have no life in us. He sees that our sinful rebellion cuts us off from our life support and he has intervened decisively on our behalf to make sure that we get reconnected to him, our very Life Support.
This is the Good News of Jesus Christ that Paul talks about in today’s passage. In Jesus, God condescended and became human to die on a cross so that our life support (relationship) with God could be reestablished and restored. God did this because he loves us, not because we are good people. As Paul reminds us above, none of us deserve this kind of love and mercy, but God offers the Good News to everyone because, well, because he is God. It is a free gift to all, although sadly not all will accept the life-giving offer, and that is a terribly grievous thing.
This is also why we have the season of Lent. During Lent we remember that without God’s help, we are disconnected from our Life Support, i.e., we our rebellion and hostility against God and we desire to end it so that we can have life. We come to the foot of the cross and are confronted by the terrible cost and ugliness of our sin and alienation–and we grieve even as we give thanks to God in Christ for doing the impossible for us. This is called confession and repentance. We realize we have missed the mark in our relationship with God. We realize that we are hopelessly marred in our rebellion and are thankful that God has condescended to restore our broken relationship with him. This is what we must understand if we ever hope to find healing, redemption, and the restoration of our broken relationship with God. This, in turn, produces a desire in us to love him and imitate him. We remember Paul’s soaring hymn in Philippians 2.1-11 and like our Lord that Paul describes in this passage, we seek to humble ourselves and serve others in thankful and faithful obedience for the breathtaking gift of love and mercy that has been given to us through the cross of Jesus.
When this happens, we are freed, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us, to become Kingdom workers. We embody the Presence of Jesus living in us and offer him to others through our love and service. Because we love Jesus, we are willing to deny ourselves and take up our cross each day. We also monitor our life support systems and are ruthless to purge anything in us–again, with the help of the Spirit–that seeks to keep us unhooked from our Life Support (God). And we are thankful each day for what God has done for us in Christ. We are thankful that he has given us the wondrous privilege of being Kingdom workers so that he can use us to be his agents, helping him usher in his glorious New Creation of which Jesus’ resurrection gives us a glimpse. That happens every time we extend mercy instead of vengeance. It happens every time we offer compassion to another or act kindly toward another or by our forgiveness bring healing to another.
This, then, is one of the reasons we observe the season of Lent. It is more than just a time on the Church’s calendar. A real season of Lent keeps us constantly humble because it reminds us of the inexpressible love and mercy of God and our own unworthiness of it. It reminds us that God loves us and acted decisively on our behalf even when we didn’t want him to, even when we thought he didn’t need to do so. A true season of Lent lasts all our days here on earth and reminds us to fight and put to death all traces of sinful human pride that seeks to make us equals with God or worse yet, seeks to have us take God’s place, which of course means we will take ourselves off our one and only Life Support system.
But when with God’s help we remain humble, when we remember that God is God and we are not, we can look forward to living life with fullness and abundance, the very abundance of God’s love and mercy poured out on us, enabling us to do the work of healing and reconciliation he calls each of us to do. If you have not yet done so, choose life. Choose to remain connected to your Life Support. It begins by choosing to take the season of Lent seriously.