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Sizing one's self up

14 July 2011 by Frank Turk

There is an obvious comparison when we consider the relationship between sin and punishment. Those who choose not to continue knowing God -- which is the only way to get real wisdom -- Paul says that God gives them a perverted mind which therefore chooses nothing at all which is right.

So when Paul says "they chose not," it is the same as saying that not only did they not do what they ought to have done (seek to know God), but they have determined actually not to know God, to quit God if such a thing is possible. And it is this choice, says Paul, that begins all manner of vain choices -- "vain" in the sense of self-exalting, self-exaggerating, rather than sizing one's self up against God, who is much greater -- and therefore sinful or self-serving (rather than God-serving) choices.

And because they want to turn from God, they want to turn from what is right.

So Paul, rather than leave it to the imagination by saying "all kinds of abominable things," instead gives us a list of the things men do to this end. This is not a common practice -- to make sure the reader would know exactly what he was talking about. Because though every fault isn't found in every person, everyone is guilt of these kinds of things, and we should know it -- because each of us are guilty of some of it, we are all guilty of all of it.

And note: Paul says these things are not right, meaning not only are they against God's judgment, but they are also against our own good judgment, and a bad idea just from the perspective of our common obligations to each other. This is the evidence of how badly our minds are bent, he says, that we are not just attracted to these violations of God's law, but that we are addicted to them. If we had any common sense we'd renounce them, but we never think about that.

Paul's wasn't trying to puzzle these vices together, as if they were dependent on each other. He simply made a list of them. But what each of them points to is this: Because we have given up the God in God, we have also given up on the image of God in man, and are resigned to all manner of vices.

- John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 1:27-30

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