Unrighteousness in Idolatry

Sermon Study Sheets

Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

February 17, 2002


Unrighteousness in Idolatry


Romans 1:24,25


Last week we began to answer the question, "Where do evil men come from?" The answer is that
because of sin nature we inherited from Adam, all people begin life with a bent toward evil. Ephesians
2:1 tells us that we were all "born dead in our trespasses and sin." Each of this confirms that sin nature
with our own acts of rebellion against God. We break the laws He has given us and do not keep His

Why then are some people more sinful than others? Two reasons. First, people tend to define sin
according to our own standards, so what is judged as sinful may not actually be any more sinful than
what they themselves are doing. Paul will address this moral hypocrisy in Romans 2 when he deals with
the moral unrighteous and the religious unrighteous. Second, there is a descent into depravity, and some
people have simply descended farther down into it. This descent is most clearly seen in the immoral
unrighteous which is the focus of our current study in Romans 1.

Turn again to Romans 1:16 so that we can set the context.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who
believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it [the] righteousness of God is revealed from
faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous [man] shall live by faith."

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,
who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within
them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes,
His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been
made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as
God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an
image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be
dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the
creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Paul is writing to a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome with his desire is to come to
them in person and bring an apostolic ministry, but until he can, he presents to them a clear presentation
of the gospel and its ramifications so that they might understand it better themselves and then proclaim
these truths to others. Romans is by far the most clear theological presentation of the Gospel of God in
all of Scripture.

Paul begins his presentation with a declaration of his own response to the gospel. Paul was not
ashamed of the it. He was afraid at times, but he would not hide the truth from others regardless of what
personal consequences it brought upon himself. Paul understood what the gospel is and what it does. It is
the power of God unto the salvation of all who are believing without regard to ethnic heritage, and it
displays the righteousness of God in His justification of those who believe in Jesus Christ. The righteous
live by faith.

But the gospel cannot be comprehended without a clear understanding of the natural state of
mankind being under God’s righteous condemnation. That is why Paul begins his explanation of the
Gospel by proving that all men are unrighteous before God. The immoral unrighteous (1:19-32), the
moral unrighteous (2:1-16) and the religious unrighteous (2:17-29). None righteous, nor are there any
that seek God on their own initiative (Rom. 3:10-12). All the world is guilty before God and He is
righteous in His wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. The point of his discussion will be
that apart from Jesus Christ, there is no hope for man.

The natural course of man is to suppress the truth that God has revealed. God has placed a certain
knowledge of Himself within the hearts of all men and He has displayed certain aspects of His attributes
in what He has made in creation. We looked at this a few weeks ago. The power of God is displayed in
the various natural phenomena. His immensity is displayed in the size of the universe. His goodness is
manifested in His provision for all life. His justice is seen in the evidence of His wrath. His precision,
intelligence, and complexity is displayed in such things as the precision of the universe, the design of life
and the structure of DNA.

What God has created is more than enough evidence, yet man willingly suppresses the knowledge
God has given to him and displayed in everything He has created so that men are left without excuse for
their refusal to seek Him. This is an important point we need to understand clearly. The evidence is
overwhelming, but man purposely ignores the evidence. The consequences of suppressing the truth is
fully the responsibility of man. God is fully justified in His condemnation of ungodly and unrighteous

Paul describes the descent of man into depravity here in chapter 1. We examined the first step in this
descent last week. What is that first step? Verse 21, it is when man turns away from what he already
knows about God and does not honor and give thanks to God for Who He is as the Creator. Man should
glorify God with thanksgiving, but instead he turns away from the truth. This brings on the second step.
The musings of man in his own mind apart from the truth.

When the truth is abandoned, then there is no option left except vain speculations which in turn will
invariably lead to a foolish and darkened heart. In saying that the truth is abandoned, it does not mean
that there is not some truth in some of the ideas that man comes up with, but when truth is mixed with
error, then the result can only be error. If you mix a color in with white paint, you no longer have white
paint. If you mix poison in pure water, the water is now poisonous. Truth plus error equals error. Man is
not immediately as bad as he can get, but because he has turned away from the truth, he will continue to
get worse and has no hope of improving without divine intervention.

The third step down for man is becoming proud about his own futile speculations. Professing to be
wise, man becomes a fool. The degree of his foolishness is directly related to the degree that he has
suppressed the truth. Paul illustrates the utter foolishness of man that was common in his own time in
verse 23. They exchanged the proper glory that belong to God who is incorruptible, that is, God cannot
degrade or perish, for the glorification of images of creatures God created. Creature that do corrupt,
degrade, perish.


Idolatry is a very serious matter no matter what form it takes. We do not live in a society in which
the blatant worship of such images as described here is practiced, yet, there is pagan idolatry in our
society and the secular versions are rampant. Paul pointed out specific types of creatures whose images
where made and worshiped in ancient world. These idols included those made to look like a man in
some form, those made to look like birds, those made to look like four footed animals and those made to
look like "creeping things." The Greek word here(eJrpetovn /herpeton) is the root for what we translate
as the study of reptile (herptology), but the idea here included all those animals that "creeped" as
opposed to those animals that walked on four legs." It is often translated as serpent.

The Greek and Roman gods were portrayed in idols that were of human form – Zeus, Athena, Apollo,
Aphrodite, Ares, etc. Some where a mixture of man and animal, such as Pan. The Egyptian pantheon of
gods were represented with human torsos and human or animal heads. Ra had the head of a hawk.
Hathor, the goddess of love and laughter, was given the head of a cow. Anubis had the head of a jackal.
Mut was vulture headed. Thoth was ibis headed and Sobek had the head of a crocodile. The same was
true of the Canaanite deities. Dagon was half man and half fish. Amulets made in the image of various
animals would be used to represent the various deities.

The idols themselves were nothing. The prophets often mocked those who worshiped idols because
of the very apparent silliness of it. In Isaiah 40:18-26 the prophet questions them. 18To whom then will
you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? 19 [As for] the idol, a craftsman casts it,
A goldsmith plates it with gold, And a silversmith [fashions] chains of silver. 20 He who is too
impoverished for [such] an offering Selects a tree that does not rot; He seeks out for himself a skillful
craftsman To prepare an idol that will not totter.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it
not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the
earth? 22 It is He who sits above the vault of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who
stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. 23 He [it is] who
reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. 24 Scarcely have they been
planted, Scarcely have they been sown, Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, But He merely
blows on them, and they wither, And the storm carries them away like stubble. 25 "To whom then will
you liken Me That I should be [his] equal?" says the Holy One.

In short he is mocking them. Your idols have to be stabilized with chains or carefully made so they
do not fall over. What kind of god is that compared to the living God?

In Isaiah 46:5-7 the prophet adds, "To whom would you liken Me, And make Me equal and compare
Me, That we should be alike? 6 "Those who lavish gold from the purse And weigh silver on the scale
Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it [into] a god; They bow down, indeed they worship it. 7 "They lift it
upon the shoulder and carry it; They set it in its place and it stands [there.] It does not move from its
place. Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; It cannot deliver him from his distress.

In other words, you expect your gods to deliver you, yet they are idols with so little power that they
have to be carried from place to place. How then can they be compared to the living God who is so
powerful that He knows even the end from the beginning.

The most direct passage on the foolishness of idol worship is Isaiah 44:9-20. 9 Those who fashion a
graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses
fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. 10 Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no
profit? 11 Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men.
Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame.

12 The man shapes iron into a cutting tool, and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with
hammers, and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no
water and becomes weary. 13 [Another] shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with
red chalk. He works it with planes, and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man,
like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house.

14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak, and raises [it] for himself among
the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes [something] for a
man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also
makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image, and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he
burns in the fire; over [this] half he eats meat as he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He also warms
himself and says, "Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire." 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his
graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for thou
art my god."

18 They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see
and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. 19 And no one recalls, nor is there knowledge or
understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire, and also have baked bread over its coals. I
roast meat and eat [it.] Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of
wood!" 20 He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor
say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"

The idolater who did understand the outward appearance of utter silliness in what they were doing
could counter that they were not worshiping the idol itself, but what the idol represented. That may be
true enough, but what did the idol represent? It could only represent one of two things. First, as Paul
points out here, it is an image that expresses the thoughts, desires and purposes of the man. They have
given themselves over to their own futile speculation with the result being idolatry. Man’s pride moves
him to trust in himself rather than in the God that created him. Man’s idols are really expression of self-worship. That is, the worship of what man himself concluded from his own reason instead of what God
has revealed.

However, there is another danger in the idolatry. Since man ends up worshiping according to his own
understanding instead of God’s revelation, he opens himself up to be further blinded by the demonic.
Paul comments in 1 Cor. 10:20 that the gentile sacrifice to their idols was actually a sacrifice to demons.
What begins as man’s worship of what he has concluded from his own futile speculations becomes
empowered by the demonic which further chains him to his foolishness. Is there power in animism,
idolatry, and the various forms of witchcraft? The answer is yes. There is demonic power, and it is
extremely dangerous for the non-Christian. But for those of us who are saved, we need not be afraid of
it, because "greater is He who is in [us] than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). We need not fear the
devil, his demonic host, or those that are controlled by them. All the believer needs to do is submit to
God and resist the devil, and the devil will flee from us (James 4:7).

We must be careful at this point to understand that idolatry exists in our own society just as much as
it did in the ancient world even if it is not as blatant as it was then or still is in other parts of the world.
There are those who have idols in their homes here in America. The combination of the arrival of so
many people from various nations from around the globe at a pace in which they are not assimilated into
American culture plus the rise of multi-culturalism in which all cultures are considered to be equal, has
resulted in it not being such a rare even to go to someone’s home in which there is an altar for the
worship of some deity. There could be a statue there, or it might just be a picture of some sort, but in
either case it is blatant idolatry.

There are also those that are pantheists who worship nature. The Gia, or mother-earth, movement is
part of this. You may not find them bowing before a tree, or praying to a wolf to help them with their
problems, but they treat plants, animals and rocks with the reverence that belongs to deity, for they
believe that they all contain god. That is the heart of idolatry, as Paul states in verse 25, whether there is
an image or not. They exchange the truth for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the

The heart of idolatry is not the idol itself, but the turning away from the truth to embrace a lie. It is
turning from the Creator to what has been created. The word for "worship" in verse 25 ( sebavzomai
/sembadzomai) is a different word from "honor" in verse 21. Honor (dovxazw /doxadzo) means to
glorify, magnify, praise. "Worship" means to "give reverential awe" or "honor religiously." Paul also
adds here the concept of serving the created thing. "Serving" here (latreuvw / latreuw) is religious
service. We get our word "liturgy" from this word.

In blatant idolatry the idol represents a god who is glorified and praised. There would also be a
proscribed manner in which the idol was to be served. In secular idolatry, there is no deity per se to
praise, but there are many things that substitute for God which are given reverential awe and honored
with life spent in service to it or them.

How else does such idolatry exhibit itself in our society? An obvious one is worship of evolution by
many scientists. They would argue that they do not worship it, for they claim to be scientists. But they do
give the idea reverential awe, honor it religiously and spend their lives promoting it. Their world view is
controlled by it, and to it all other ideas must submit, regardless of the actual facts. For them, evolution
is a religion, not a scientific hypothesis (evolution does not qualify as a theory by definition since it is
not testable).

For others, it is wealth. They would not say they worship money, but they give reverential awe to
wealth and give greater honor to those who posses it while seeking wealth out for themselves as their
greatest quest in life.

Other forms of materialism certainly follow in the same category as wealth. It could be something
other than money and stock portfolios, but the bottom line is that there is some thing that they honor and
spend their life on it a religious manner. As one man described it, "Idols exist today in many garages –
Mustangs, Impalas, Sting Rays, Eagles, Cougars, Jaguars, etc.". Others treat their homes or some
collection in the same way. The line has been crossed into materialistic idolatry any time the acquisition
or maintenance of the thing is more important to you than the active service of God. A simple way to
assess this is to compare the time and finances you spend on them as opposed to your worship and
service of God.

The same can be said for other modern idols such as fame and power. They are not material, but the
quest for them is religious with some folks. Their lives center on gaining fame or power. The Winter
Olympics are currently being played in Utah. While it can be said that many of the athletes there are
simply doing their best to compete at something they enjoy, there are others in which their sport has
become their god, and being the best at it is everything to them. In only a few years, their aging bodies
will no longer allow them to compete. What then of their god and their purpose in life? But perhaps the
same can be said of some sports fans whose lives seem to revolve around some team. Again, a simple
test to see if an interest or a hobby has become a god is to compare the amount of time and finances you
spend on it compared to your worship and service of God.

The apostle John closes his first epistle with the proclamation, "And we know that the Son of God
has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in
Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life,
" and then the warning,
"Little children, guard yourselves from idols." This ending seems a bit strange, especially since 1 John
is largely written to correct gnostic ideas that were already rising within the church, until you understand
that there are many different forms of idolatries. The heart of the problem with all of them is that they
are given the reverence and service that properly belongs to God. They exchange the truth for a lie.


What is the consequence of idolatry? In verse 25, Paul points back again at this reverence and service
to idols to explain God’s action of judgement in verse 24. Man exchanged the glory of the incorruptible
God for the images of corruptible things. Man exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and
served created things instead of the blessed, eternal Creator. God’s judgement upon men is to give them
over to the lusts of their hearts in uncleanness to the dishonoring of their bodies in them.

Three times in the chapter the same judgement is given, though each time it is to something worse.
God gives them over. In this verse, to the lusts of their hearts. In verse 26 it is to degrading passions. In
verse 28 it is to a depraved mind.

We tend to take God’s care and protection of us for granted even though if He removed it, we would
all be destroyed, for in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17). The truth of it is that it is God’s
restraining hand that keeps us from becoming as evil as we could be. This is God in judgement moving
back His restraining hand and yielding to let the person get their own way. This is not a total
abandonment, for it is done in stages. The desire is that the pain that comes as a result of their
foolishness will cause them to turn, but when they do not turn, the hand is moved father back and the
person is allowed to fall farther into sin with its consequences.

At this level of descent into evil, God gives the person over to the "lusts of their hearts to impurity."
Several Bibles translate this in a narrow sense of sexual immorality, but the word (ajkaqarsiva /
akartharsia) is not so narrow. It means to be unclean or impure. We think of "heart" as the seat of
emotion, but the Greeks and Hebrews used "heart" as a reference to the seat of mind and will. Though
the word for "lust" here (ejpiqumiva / epithumia) is often associated with sexual immorality, it really
only means "strong desire." God is letting them pursue their strong desires that exist in their minds to do
things that are unclean. This would include sexual immorality, but it would also include all that would
be impure, unholy. The consequences of impurity shows itself in the dishonor of the body.

If you eat impure food, you get sick. If you abuse drugs, your body suffers. If you are sexually
immoral, you sin against your own body (1 Cor. 6:18) and risk many diseases as well as suffer emotional
trauma. But impurity leads not just to physical consequences, for Paul states here that the consequence is
"dishonoring." The body will be treated shamefully, without honor. The shameful treatment of the
human body is something our society has become accustomed to.

We have gotten use to the shameful exposure of the human body in film, television, books,
magazines, billboards and in public. I spoke on shame, the reason for it, and the Biblical standards of
modesty a few weeks ago, so I will not repeat it here. Some people flaunt and expose themselves
because they are proud of how they look. They want to be noticed by others, without even being aware
that it is to their own shame. Others do it for money or fame. Still others, like the woman in Proverbs 7,
do it to entice the naive into greater sin. The consequences of it multiply as people become hardened and
then treat each other as pieces of flesh to be exploited for personal gain instead of as humans made in the
image of God. Prostitution and pornography are not victimless crimes for they lead to all sorts of
physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse. There are also the children who are the victims of
abortion as the adults seek to escape from the consequences of their sin.

As I stated last week, the manner in which men treat one another will be in direct accordance with
how they view God. Those that honor God and give thanks to Him will treat other humans with dignity
and respect because man is made in the image of God. Those who will not honor God or give Him
thanks, but give reverence to and serve what is created, will dishonor, exploit and abuse other humans
because the believe that there is nothing special about man and there is no judge to hold them

But there is a Creator and He is a judge who will hold all men accountable. He is righteous in His
wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, even when it is revealed in abandoning man to his
own sinfulness and its consequences. Man is under His just condemnation. The good news is that God
has also provide a means of salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ.

Those of you walking in faith with Jesus Christ have a wonderful message to proclaim. There is
salvation from sin and its consequences through faith in Jesus Christ. Those of you who are not walking
with Jesus are on a path that leads ever downward into depravity. You don’t have to continue on that
path another day. Talk with one of our church leaders today and let us introduce you to life in Jesus