My God and My Neighbor

Jun 12, 2024

Is it Wrong to Talk About Right and Wrong?

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“Beyond Good and Evil” is a book written by the German philosopher Nietzsche. He didn’t believe in moral absolutes. Not surprisingly, Adolf Hitler was one of his fans. Are we beyond good and evil today? Do we think these words have lost meaning? There was a time in Israel when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Centuries later the Roman historian Tacitus said that the ancient city of Rome was so immoral that it was like a common sewer into which the filth of the nations flowed. Are we seeing this same experiment today when men test the God of heaven by denying moral boundaries?  One of the most revealing sections of the Bible on moral anarchy is found in the epistle to the saints in that ancient city. The first two chapters of the book of Romans show that men are still making the same mistakes. It also shows us the only hope in a world full of darkness and confusion.


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Kerry Duke: Hi, I’m Kerry Duke, host of My God and My Neighbor podcast from Tennessee Bible College, where we see the Bible as not just another book, but the Book. Join us in a study of the inspired Word to strengthen your faith and to share what you’ve learned with others.

When you think about it, there are only two ways of looking at right and wrong: with God or without God. Morals either come from God or they come from man. And I want to spend a few minutes explaining why this is so important in relation to where we are at this stage of history. First, to see why it’s so vital to look to God for moral direction, let’s contrast these two approaches.

And let’s just put the words God and without God. We could say divine versus human, or we could say God-based versus manmade, but they all mean the same. When you look at the biblical view of the world, for instance, we find that it has purpose. God is the Creator and God is the Designer. God made the world for us and He placed us above the creation according to Genesis chapter 1.

But the secular view says that there is no purpose to the world. Everything happens by chance, not by design, and there is no rhyme or reason for anything. Now these two outlooks have an entirely different way of looking at the nature of man.

According to God, we are made in His image. We are made in His spiritual likeness. We have a soul, and that inner soul is what gives us worth and puts us above the animals. This is why the Bible says in Genesis 9, verse 6 that killing an animal for food is allowed, but killing an innocent person is murder, and it deserves death. The soul is immortal, but the body is temporary. In Ecclesiastes 12, verse 7, Solomon said that when we die, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.”

Now, on the other hand, according to evolution, we are just animals. We have no soul. We have no inherent value except what we place on our lives. We are just matter in motion, with no reason for being here and no hope about where we’re going when we die. Now let’s look at how this shapes a person’s moral views.

Morals are absolute. This means they are the same for every person, in any place, at any time. We’re not talking about indifferent matters of custom. These things vary according to the culture. For instance, the proper greeting in one country may be a handshake, and in another country it may be a kiss on the cheek.

But we’re talking about absolutes like telling the truth instead of lying, saving life instead of taking life. These are absolutes. They do not change. And how could we have a stable and a safe community if morals were always changing?

Now on the other hand, if ethics is purely a human endeavor, then morals are relative. That means they are relative to every person, in different places and different times. Relativism means that moral rules vary from person to person, from time to time, and place to place. There is no one standard of right and wrong that is the same for everybody. This is dangerous thinking to say the least, and yet it’s commonly accepted by many today, and it is taught in most universities.

A slightly different way of pointing out this contrast is to look at two other words. The first one is the word objective. God’s moral law is objective. That means that it is independent of what anyone says or thinks. If everyone disagrees with it, it’s still true. If everybody agrees with it, that doesn’t make it true. It was true before, and it will be true after.

The Bible says this is the power and the authority of God’s truth. In Romans chapter 3, verse 4, the Bible says, “Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.” In John, chapter 12, verse 48, Jesus said, “He that rejects me and receives not my word Has one that judges him, the word that I have spoken the same shall judge him in the last day.”

Now, on the other hand, man’s moral views are subjective. They are just a person’s thoughts or feelings. How many people realize the importance of what we’re talking about? When a person says, I feel that such and such is right, or in my view, that’s wrong. That person is stating his opinion, no more and no less.

What that person feels or says has absolutely no authority. And yet most people talk as if their opinion is final, but it is not. A moral judgment has truth value only if it is based in God’s objective law. Now, these vastly different systems of thought have enormously different consequences. The law of God, for instance, brings order when it is followed.

For instance, what happens when people follow the golden rule? Jesus said, “All things therefore, whatsoever, you would that men should do unto you, do you even so to them; For this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7, verse 12). What would result if most people followed the law of loving your neighbor as yourself as Jesus taught it?

In Mark chapter 12, verse 31, and many other verses, they would get along with each other. They would support each other instead of trying to tear one another down. They would work together and accomplish good things. They would respect God’s chain of authority by obeying parents and rulers. But, if people leave God out, their lives will be thrown into chaos.

And if you want to see a horrifying example of this, read the book of Judges in the Old Testament. That book describes numerous cycles where the people of Israel turned away from God. Then they suffered, then they were conquered, and then afterward they cried out to God and God restored them. These people committed idolatry, murder, and all kinds of perversion.

The nation of Israel was filled with turmoil and conflict every time they left God. And the last verse in this book tells us what was behind all this moral confusion. It’s Judges chapter 21, verse 25, and it still describes how many people today think. It says this: “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

There’s also a devastating personal difference in these two approaches. Living for God brings peace of mind and fulfillment. Now this doesn’t mean that all you have to do is obey God and you’ll never have any trouble. You will have problems in this life first of all because you’re human.

Job chapter 14 verse 1 says, “Man that is born of a woman is a few days and full of trouble.” And if you’re a Christian, you will have unique trials in your life. In 2 Timothy 3, verse 12, the Bible says that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

But still Doing God’s will is best for a man, even in this lifetime. Many times in the book of Deuteronomy, God told the Israelites that if they kept His law, then it would go well with them and they would live long on the earth. And Paul showed that this principle applies today when he told children to obey their parents. In Ephesians 6, verses 1 through 3, Paul said, “Children, Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and your mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may go well with you, and you may live long on the earth.” God made us. He knows what will make us truly happy and content in this life.

But then, on the other hand, man’s moral philosophy brings just the opposite result: emptiness and grief. All you have to do is start reading the first pages of the Bible and you’ll see that sin never satisfied anyone. It never made anyone truly happy. Adam and Eve found that out the hard way. So have billions of people ever since. The Bible says disobeying God brings misery. Isaiah 57 verses 20 and 21 says this, “But the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, Whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” Proverbs 13 verse 15 says, “The way of transgressors is hard.” In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that earthly things like money and pleasure will not give you satisfaction. In fact, he said they will only bring emptiness. As he put it, they will give you vanity and vexation of spirit.

When you look at these contrasts—and these are only a few; we haven’t even mentioned the fact that one leads to heaven and the other to hell—but when you compare these two approaches, you would think that the right choice should be clear to anyone. But as the Bible and history both show, this is oftentimes not the case.

One of the clearest and one of the most important passages in the Bible showing the consequences of leaving God is found in Romans chapter one, verses 18 through 32. This is a very important passage, so let’s delve deeper into it. It begins in Romans one, verse 18, saying, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

Now, Romans chapter 1 verses 18 through 32 is a central passage of what is sometimes called natural revelation. That’s in contrast to special revelation. We’ll explain more about that in just a few minutes. The context here of this book is that Paul has said in Romans 1 verse 16 that the gospel is God’s power to save Jew and Greek.

The first thing that he does is to point out that these people need the gospel. In Romans chapter 1 verses 18 through 32, he shows that the Gentiles need the gospel, and in Romans chapter 2 beginning in verse 1, he shows that the Jews need the gospel, although they didn’t think that they needed it. So, our attention now is directed to Romans 1, verses 18 through 32.

Here the Bible says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” The first word for is a conjunction, and this comes from a small Greek word, the word gar, which gives the cause or the reason of a preceding statement. Well, the preceding statement in verse 17 is that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel.

The righteousness of God is revealed because the wrath of God is being revealed in verse 18. Notice that he says for, that is, for this cause, here’s the explanation of what he just said in verse 17. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven. And he says that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

The word hold here in the King James Version comes from the word katecho, which means to hold back or to detain or retain, and it’s used in several different verses in different ways. It can be used in the sense of holding something, but it oftentimes means to hinder or restrain. Now in this passage of Scripture, the translation hinder is probably a better translation of this word.

These people hindered the truth. Now, obviously it doesn’t mean that they were able to successfully keep the Word of God out or keep the truth about God from reaching other people, but it means this is what they attempted to do with their lives. This is the effect or the end game of their lives. They hindered the truth. That is the truth about God in their lives.

This is the truth of God’s existence that he’s talking about here. Look at verse 19. “Because”—and notice these connecting conjunctions here in verse 18, 19, 20, and so forth—in verse 19 he says, “because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them.” Notice these words again for emphasis.

He says in verse 18, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” In verse 19, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them.” Now, what he’s talking about here in verse 19 obviously is God himself. In verse 20, he explains further “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen.”

The New King James translates this, the invisible attributes. These invisible things are clearly seen. This is a play on words. He’s not saying that you can see these things with your physical eyes, but you can clearly perceive them with your mind. He says that these invisible things “of him,” that is, of God, are clearly seen from the creation of the world.

Some translations would give the idea that. The creation of the world is the source of this knowledge. Others would say that this gives the time frame. That is, it measures the time frame from the point of creation up until the time that he’s writing, and he’s saying, in essence, that the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen. And that’s probably a better translation.

He says by explanation even further “being understood.” Now, what is understood? The invisible things of God are understood. First of all, he says that they are clearly seen. Not just seen, but clearly seen, being understood, and here’s how: “by the things that are made.”

Now this is in contrast to being understood by the Word of God. You see, the Word of God tells us in much more detail the nature of God. But nature itself, that is the creation, does give us an idea of God. It does show us the one true and living God. It doesn’t give us all the details that we need, because we need to study the Bible to find out All that we need to know about God’s attributes.

And we certainly can’t learn the plan of salvation from nature itself. But the Bible does say in Psalm 19, verse one, that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork.” And here he says that “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made.”

And then he points out “even his eternal power and Godhead.” Now his invisible things or his invisible attributes which are clearly seen are his eternal power and Godhead. Now before we explain more about what this means, let’s notice that these things are clearly seen and understood by the things that are made.

That is nature, things that God has made. The creation, the sun, the moon, the stars, the animals, the plants, mankind, himself, everything that we see in God’s creation clearly shows the things that we cannot see, and that is, we cannot see God because He is a spirit. John 4, verse 24. So what can we tell about God?

What can we know about the Creator from His creation? First of all, He is eternal. He never had a beginning and will never have an end. Secondly, we can know His power. Sure, we can’t know the depths of it. We can’t comprehend the omnipotence of God, but we can know that He is all-powerful, even though we don’t understand and can’t comprehend that power.

He has to be all-powerful to have made all of this and to sustain all this great creation. The word Godhead in the King James and in other translations does not mean the concept of the Trinity. Because you see here, he says that the Godhead can be clearly seen from the creation. There’s no way that we can see the concept of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from nature.

The word Godhead here in the King James Version means divinity or divine essence. It means that God is divine, that He is infinite, that He is not human. We can see these things from nature itself. And so this passage shows that there is no excuse for a man being an atheist or for not living for God, and actually living like an atheist.

There are people who are atheists in a theoretical sense, and there are atheists in a practical sense. And he says here, in Romans chapter 1 verse 20 that the evidence for God in creation is so clear and so plain that there is absolutely no excuse for a man not believing in God or for a man who believes in God not living according to that knowledge.

Now, what happens? And this is the key. This is the main reason why we’re looking in more detail at this passage. What happens when a person or when a nation, when a culture departs from the knowledge that God is the Creator? And this is where it gets very interesting in regard to what is happening in our own civilization at this point in time.

First of all, the Bible shows that they become filled with foolish speculation. Verse 21, because that, and notice this is one long sentence here, he’s continuing this 20. He says the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven. Verse 18. There’s no excuse for these people turning away from God. Verse 21: “Because that when they knew God.” So there was no shortage of revelation.

The Bible says the first thing that characterized these people was they did not glorify him as God. They didn’t recognize him as God. They did not honor him as the Creator and as their sustainer. Secondly, neither were they thankful. Sometimes we seem to look at this as a minor. Or an innocent character flaw.

The Bible says that the second thing that is mentioned about these people who left God is that they ceased to be thankful to the Creator. They didn’t recognize him. They didn’t thank him. They were ungrateful. And then the Bible says they became vain in their imaginations. Some translations would say that they became futile in their thoughts.

Now this is an apt description of Greek philosophy in many different ways. Greek philosophy tried to answer questions that could not be answered by man without the revelation of God and even with the revelation of God because Greek philosophy tried to delve into matters that even God himself doesn’t reveal in the Scriptures.

They became vain in their imaginations, and not only that, not only was their intellect dulled, even though they thought that they were brilliant. The Bible says their foolish heart was darkened. And the word heart here would not only refer to the intellect, but also to the mind, to their emotions. And so their intellectual side, their emotional side was darkened and instead of increasing, instead of progressing in their advancement as far as society was concerned and in their education, in their knowledge, they actually went backward. Their “foolish heart was darkened, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” And again, that is a very, very fitting description of Greek philosophy. Now, what happened to these people? What did they do as a result of leaving the knowledge of God? We see in verses 23 through 25 that they turned to idolatry.

It is ironic that these people who relied so much on human wisdom turned to something that could be so foolish. And yet, this is very typical of people that turn away from God. What other approach or what other option is left? Once a person leaves the idea of God being the Creator, then the door is open to just about any kind of foolish speculation imaginable.

Verse 23 says that these same people” changed the glory” (some translations say “exchanged the glory”) “of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, to birds, to four footed beast and creeping things. Wherefore also God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts.”

Now remember that not only has their intellect been dulled, but their consciences have been dulled. And now the Bible says that God gave them up. There are three times in this section where the Bible uses the same expression in Greek to refer to God’s reaction to their response to Him. Verse 24 says that God gave them up to uncleanness.

Verse 26 says God gave them up to vile affections. Verse 28 says God gave them over or gave them up to a reprobate mind. We’ll get to that in just a few minutes, but the Bible says that he gave them up to uncleanness verse 24, through the lust of their own hearts to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.

He will say more about that in just a few minutes. The Bible says in verse 25, that they changed the truth of God into a lie and worshiped and served the creature, that is,  the creation more (that is, rather than or instead of) “the Creator who is blessed forever. Amen.”

Now the next thing that we see that these people did as a result of leaving God was that they turned to homosexuality. Look at verse 26 and 27. The Bible says, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections. For even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” Notice these words that I’ve already emphasized with my tone, but I want to repeat them again.

The Bible says that there is a natural use. And the Bible says that there is a sin which is against nature. Notice, as we continue to read in verse 27, “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men, working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet,” that is, which was fitting.

These people changed the truth of God. They worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. They changed their view of the nature of deity. See, this is one of the first things that happened. When they left God, they replaced Him with another idea of God. And after they changed their view of the nature of deity, they changed their view also of the creation itself and started worshiping it.

And as a result, they changed their view of man himself. Once people abandon the concept of God found in and revealed in nature, the foundation for moral order is abolished. Amen. Amen. It’s impossible to have any consistency and any kind of objectivity to morals once God is left out of the picture. So the Bible describes the sin of homosexuality in verse 26, first of all, by the expression vile affections.

There are some affections or some feelings that are natural. He talks about natural affection later in this chapter in verse 31, and that refers to the natural love that you have for your own flesh and blood. But then there are vile, unnatural feelings and affections. And this is what he’s referring to here that is expressed in this sin in verse 26 where the women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.

Does the Bible teach that homosexuality is a sin? Yes. In 1 Corinthians 6, verses 9 through 11, and other passages, the Bible plainly shows that this is sinful in the sight of God. But even if a person doesn’t understand the Bible, even if a person doesn’t know anything about the verses which condemn this sin, nature itself still shows that homosexuality is against creation and therefore against the Creator.

Verse 27 says that the men left “the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another.” And notice in the last part of verse 27 that he says that they were “receiving themselves that recompense of their error which was meet” or which was due. This refers to the fact that in their lifetime, they God gave them some kind of punishment.

We don’t know exactly what that was because the Bible doesn’t point it out here. But it does say that they received a repayment for their sin. And what we find also in this description of the consequences of leaving God is that these people ended up with a worthless mind. Look at verse 28. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not convenient.”

Let’s look into the Greek to find out what he’s saying here because it’s very interesting. The Bible says they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. Now this actually comes from a word in the Greek which means to recognize as genuine after examination, to approve and to deem worthy. This is what they did not do.

They did not accept God. The idea is that they tried the concept of God that they saw in nature. That is, that God is the Creator, that He’s the all powerful, eternal, divine Creator. They tested that, but they didn’t like that. They didn’t want that. They didn’t want the kind of God that they had to answer to.

They didn’t want the kind of God that was all powerful and would hold them accountable for their actions. In other words, they experimented with the idea of God. And isn’t it interesting? That today, to a large extent, we are in the middle of the same kind of experiment. It has been tried many times, and the results are always the same, and that is that man tries, he tests out, the very idea of God, and then he rejects it.

That is what these people did when it says that they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. It simply means that they tested him. And after having tested him, they rejected Him. As a result of their rejecting him, God gave them over to a reprobate mind. Now, the interesting thing here is that this comes from a word—the word reprobate comes from a word—which means tested and therefore rejected. So they tested God, but God in turn tested them and delivered them over, gave them up to a worthless mind, a mind that is worthless as far as making moral judgments is concerned, a worthless mind that is basically on the level of an animal.

Amazing isn’t it? In verses 29 through 32, we find an even further detailed account. of what happens when people leave God. You see, the floodgates are now open. And the Bible says in verse 29 that these people became “filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whispers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful, who, knowing the judgment of God that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but have pleasure in them that do them.”

Again, there was no excuse for these Gentiles doing these things because even the Gentiles who were without the Bible, for the most part (there were some Gentiles that had copies of the Old Testament or some portions of it; but by and large, in general, the Gentiles did not have access to the Scriptures like the Jews did), but even then, they were hey could know enough about right and wrong from nature to hold each other accountable and to be held accountable by God for their actions.

Read Romans chapter 2, verse 14 and 15. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” Now, when the Bible says they are a law to themselves, that doesn’t mean that they make moral laws for themselves. They are a law to themselves in the sense that they, as the Gentiles, were accountable to this system of law.

Whereas the Jews were accountable to the Old Testament, the Gentiles were accountable to this moral law that they could discern from nature. He says in verse 15, “Which show the work of the law written in their heart.” The word law here means the law of Moses. The work of the law refers to the moral requirements of the law of Moses that these Gentiles could discern, that they could know, from nature itself.

Now, this doesn’t refer to the fact that they were held accountable for observing the Sabbath or that they were to observe the Passover or to offer sacrifices at the temple like the Jews were. That is not the work of the law that he’s talking about here. The work of the law of Moses that he’s referring to refers to these moral requirements that we have just discussed.

He also points out that their conscience would bear witness to these things and their thoughts. The mean that is between themselves would give them the basis whereby they could either accuse or excuse one another. So this was actually the basis for not only their moral law, but also their civil law.

  1. L. Whiteside, in his commentary on Romans in Romans chapter two, verse 14 and 15 says this, “The Gentiles never had the law of Moses, but there are certain fundamental principles that inhere in the nature of our existence. And in our relations to one another. Some things are right and some things are wrong within themselves. If a man never had a revelation from God, he would know that it was wrong to murder his fellow man, or to rob him of his possessions, or in any way to infringe on his rights. Cain sinned in killing his brother and felt his guilt. Though we have no record that God had told him not to kill. God’s moral law is the same to all nations. The moral requirements of the law of Moses are the things which the Gentiles might do by nature. The Jews did them, by revelation, the Gentiles by nature, that is, insofar as they did them at all.”

So, in this great book of Romans, Paul gives us a vivid picture of what happens when people depart from the moral law of God.

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