When you really dig deep into Scripture, you can’t avoid the hard stuff.
There has been a phrase in the Bible, in one singular verse, that has caused me a whole lot of problems. It’s the phrase that I circled when I read it last month, and put question marks all above it.
It’s in the following verse.
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. – Romans 1:24
God gave them over.
This phrase had been giving me fits. How does a good and loving God give mankind over to the most vile desires and passions that they have? It’s easy for me to do what I did, circle and question it, but never come back to it. Thankfully, I came back to this verse.
I want to share a blog that honestly might make some of you stop following my writing (although I hope this isn’t the case, cause I love y’all). I want to share with you this afternoon an unpopular but no less integral and important aspect of doctrine.
God’s mercy isn’t infinite.
I recently read this in a commentary on Romans and wrote in the margins that I’ve never heard this taught and my gut reaction is to write it off as hearsay and maybe even heresy.
Then I thought about it for a little while. And I must admit, it’s true.
God is infinite, and thus his character can be described as such. But to say His mercy is infinite is to say that there is ultimately no punishment for sin. Infinite mercy is thus an extremely popular belief in our present day in age, even in many churches. The doctrine of hell, of separation from God, is glossed over and removed, replaced instead with the doctrine of his grace and mercy which never cease.
This is why Biblical literacy, or the preaching of the whole of Scripture, is such a passion of mine. It is only when we take certain passages and make them the centrality of our entire beliefs about God that we fall into gross misunderstandings of His character and the reality of the world we live in.
In this passage in Romans 1, we are clearly told and taught by God through Paul that God’s wrath is poured out on all mankind apart from Christ, since all mankind has at some point suppressed the truth of God and have chosen instead to follow their own wisdom (aka foolishness, Romans 1:22) instead (You Deserve Wrath, Not Love) . Romans 1:23 goes on to say that all of mankind has chosen to exchange the glory of God for their own images.
With all of this in the background of our reading of this verse and this difficult phrase, we begin to see what God is doing.
What God does here in that phrase “God gave them over” is the term ‘judicial abandonment’. God is choosing to give mankind up and over to its own desires, its own sin, its own ‘wisdom’.
This judicial abandonment by God ultimately leads to horrific darkness. It is to be totally and completely devoid of God. It becomes intriguing to me the more I think about it to realize that what our culture is begging for, what sinful mankind is begging for, is exactly what God grants in this passage and ultimately what they will receive when they face Him after they die.
Mankind apart from Christ wants life apart from God. Mankind wants to call the shots. God’s wisdom is too overbearing and too narrow, so mankind fights back and exchanges Scriptural truth for personal conviction and opinion. God’s call to suffer and die to one’s self is too insane a calling, so mankind says that to follow one’s heart and live for one’s own desires is the way to go. Jesus saying He is the way, the truth, and the life is too narrow-minded and bigoted, so mankind opens it up to all systems of belief.
What breaks my heart each day is to see so many who have grown up in the knowledge of Scripture doing what verse twenty-two proclaims. They cling to new wisdom, because God is old-fashioned, and thus become foolish in His eyes.
Judicial abandonment by God is horrifically dark. Judicial abandonment by God is Him giving us what we desire in our hearts apart from Christ.
I’m a sinner apart from Christ. I’m prone even as a follower of Jesus to want sinful things. Just look at this list later in this chapter: homosexuality, unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, hate, arrogance, boasting, disobedience, being unloving, being unmerciful, and celebrating all of the above sins. We are all prone apart from Christ to desire and strive towards these sins. So for God to ‘give me over’ is to give me what I want.
The Bible actually closes this way.
Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. – Revelation 22:11
So no, God is not infinite in mercy.
One day, God will give us what we want. Whether it be our sin, or the righteousness of His Son. One day, after we die, God will either give us eternity with Him because of faith in His Son, or we will go through eternity separated from Him in a real place called hell.
This is an immensely difficult truth. But it must be read in conjunction with the other truths of Scripture. Here’s an encouraging one:
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9
God desires for all to come to repentance. He desires for all to receive the righteousness of Jesus. But His mercy is not infinite. If we reject Him here, He will reject us for eternity.
Thank God that He sent His Son to live the perfect life I could not and to die the death I deserve. Thank God that Jesus rose from the grave and set me free from sin.
Thank God for those who told me the gospel.
Notice how this passage says that all of mankind has been judicially abandoned by God apart from the gospel. Apart from Christ, that is our lot, our end game. This is the message we must share.
Let’s get on the ball and share with those who need to hear.
In His Name,