“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28).
ALL OF OUR BLESSINGS HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES ATTACHED TO THEM, AND THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE OF OUR FREE WILL. Right now, we can use our freedom in any way we wish, but the blessing of freedom has a responsibility attached to it: there is coming a day of reckoning, and when it comes, we’re going to have to answer for the use of our freedom. So as we exercise the gift of our free will day after day, tremendous consequences hang in the balance.
In this life, it is possible to refuse God and reject His rule over us. Having given us a will that is free, God won’t make our choice for us. He loves us, but He won’t force us to love Him back. And insofar as eternal salvation is concerned, God won’t compel us to be saved. “Now then,” Paul wrote, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Such an appeal would be meaningless if we had no choice in the matter.
In Romans 1, Paul used some vivid language to describe those in his day who had rejected God. They had “suppressed” the truth about God (v.18). “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God” (v.21). They “exchanged the truth of God for the lie” (v.25). And they “did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (v.28). These expressions reflect not simply an ignorance of God but a willful ignorance, a deliberate rejection of God’s authority.
In view of this, God “gave them up to uncleanness” (v.24). He “gave them up to vile passions” (v.26), and “gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (v.28). In effect, God withdrew His restraining hand and let them plunge to the depths of their desired rebellion. God abandoned them to their sinful choice, and we can hardly imagine a more terrible thing.
Yet there is a more terrible thing: the final abandonment when God withdraws Himself forever from those who have rejected Him. At that time, God turns away, for eternity, from those who have turned away from Him. And that will be the anguish of hell: being abandoned by a God who would have loved us if we’d let Him.
“The gnashing of teeth . . . despair, when men see themselves abandoned by God” (Martin Luther).