What's Wrong with America
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/08/2003
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama
City, California, by John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape, GC
80-112, titled "What's Wrong with America." A copy of the tape can be
obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or
by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the
original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may
appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to
the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in
placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription
to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.
What's Wrong with America
Tonight we are going to be considering a subject that I think is on all of
our hearts. I want, as I always would want to do--to take you to the Word of
God and not just give you some kind of political, or theological,
philosophical speech. I want to address the subject of, "What's Wrong with
America." In order to do that I find myself drawn to Romans, chapter one,
and I would like to read for you, starting at verse 24 and reading down
through verse 32,
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to
impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For
they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and
served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for
their women exchanged the natural function for that which is
unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the
natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward
one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving
in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer,
God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which
are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness,
wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit,
malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent,
arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and
although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice
such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but
also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
Three times in those verses you have the statement "God gave them over:"
verse 24, verse 26, and verse 28. Another way that phrase would be,
[translated is] "Abandoned by God."
One of the most tragic scenes on the pages of Scripture involves the
strongest man who ever lived--the mighty man Samson: the original and
legitimate, and real, genuine "Superman." In Judges 16, verses 18-20, this
is what we read,
When Delilah saw that he had told her all that was in his heart,
she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, "Come
up once more, for he has told me all that is in his heart."
Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought
the money in their hands.
And she made him sleep on her knees, and called for a man and
had him shave off the seven locks of his hair. Then she began
to afflict him, and his strength left him. And she said, "The
Philistines are upon you, Samson!" And he awoke from his sleep
and said, "I will go out as at other times and shake myself
free." (Then this line) But he did not know that the Lord had
departed from him.
Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and
they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains,
and he was a grinder in the prison.
He didn't know that the Lord had departed from him; abandoned by God because
of his sins--what a tragedy.
To the Sons of Israel God said in Judges 10, "You have forsaken Me and served
other gods: therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry out to the
gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your
distress." Not only was Samson abandoned by God, but so was Israel.
Proverbs, chapter 1, verses 24 to 31, records similar sentiment,
Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out my hand, and
no one paid attention; and you neglected all my counsel, and did
not want my reproof; I will even laugh at your calamity; I will
mock when your dread comes, when your dread comes like a storm,
and your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, when distress and
anguish come on you.
Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek
me diligently, but they shall not find me, because they hated
knowledge, and did not chose the fear of the Lord.
They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof.
So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, and be satiated
with their own devices.
To all, not only Samson, not only Israel, but to all who turn their back on
the wisdom of God, they are left abandoned by God to eat the fruit of their
own ways. In Hosea, chapter 4, and verse 17, it is recorded that God said
this frighting sentence, "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone."
Abandoned by God was Ephraim. Ephraim made its choice--God said let him go.
In the New Testament, I think of all the things that Jesus ever said about
the Pharisees, this was the most frighting, He said to His disciples (in
Matthew 15:14) this, "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And
when the blind lead the blind, everybody falls into the pit." "Let them
There comes a point in God's dealing with men and nations, groups of people,
when He abandons them. The consequence of that abandonment is: they will eat
the fruit of their own choices. If I were to simply answer the question,
"What's wrong with America?" I would say, "God has abandoned America, and
America is now feeding on its own choices."
Chosen to sin--they have; chosen to turn their back on God--they have; chosen
to reject the gospel--they have; chosen to reject a Biblical morality--they
have; chosen to disobey the clear commandment of God--they have; and God
says, "Let them alone." This isn't anything new for nations. In Acts 14:16,
listen to these words: Paul said, "In the generations gone by God permitted
all the nations to go their own way." To go their own way.
C. S. Lewis, writing in his book, "The Problem of Pain," wrote, "The lost
'enjoy' forever the horrible freedom they have demanded and are therefore
self-enslaved." But when you consider all of the Scriptures that talk about
being abandoned by God, none of them is as dramatic as the one I just read
you. Here is the most graphic and comprehensive discussion of being
abandoned by God anywhere in Scripture. And it is this concept of being
abandoned by God that best explains the moral chaos and the moral confusion
that we are experiencing in America. I will go a step further and say, we
are not waiting for God's wrath--we are now experiencing it. God's wrath in
its initial form is simply to allow men to live with the result of their own
choices, to take the restraint off, the protection. That's what's happening
right before you in Romans 1.
Three times, as I told you, in verses 24 to 32, you have the phrase, "God
gave them over." Now that word can have a judicial sense, that is, making a
judgment on a criminal and handing him over for execution or punishment, and
I think that is its intention here, because the whole scene here is "Man
found guilty before God, and God's wrath released (back in verse 18) against
guilty man." The wrath of God then acts judicially to sentence sinners, and
the first phase of that sentence is to just let the restraints go, and let
them go the way of their own choices, turning them over to the uninterrupted
course and its effect that their sinful choices will produce. To put it
another way, they are deprived of "restraining grace."
Sin is so rampant in our country, it is so widespread, it is so tolerated by
people in leadership and even people in the church, it is so widely tolerated
it is pandemic: it is endemic; that is, it is in the very fabric of our life
that I believe God has just taken away the restraining grace that might
preserve our nation, and has let our nation run to its own doom.
Sin is both the cause and the effect. Sin and more sin, and more sin, and
more sin, results in more sin, and more sin, and more sin. Sin causes it:
sin is the result of it. Wrath means that sinning people are allowed the
freedom to sin more blatantly as restraining grace is taken away.
Now lets look more closely; the first statement is in verse 24, and you will
see a progression, "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their
hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them." The
first thing God does in expressing wrath on a sinning society is to just let
them go to their lusts. The first evidence of the wrath of God is not
earthquakes, tidal waves, mass executions, it is just letting people go to
operate in the lusts of their hearts to impurity. Moral perversion, sexual
deviation, pornographic desire allowed not only to exist but becoming
popular, tolerated, being serviced by the society itself. Here what you have
is pornographic hearts, lustful hearts. Man now abandoned by God operates
only out of the passions of his impure heart. It doesn't stop there (verse
24 says), it goes to the body. The heart in its impurity and its driving
lusts will ultimately end up in the dishonoring of the body. It can't stop
on the inside, it has got to show up on the outside--the heart is wicked and
the heart is unrestrained, and the body follows, because as Jesus said, "What
comes out of the heart of man is what defiles him."
Alan Johnson wrote, "In their freedom from God's truth they turn to
perversion. In the end their humanism, or man-centeredness results in
dehumanization of each other." We have already seen that: sex, alcohol,
drugs, abuse, abortion, euthanasia, a low view of everyone else's life that
leads to killings and murders, knifings, shootings, no sense of man being
created in the image of God. No sense of humility, just egos gone wild to
fulfill uncontrolled and unrestrained passion that leads to dishonoring
bodies in every direction.
Look at the second statement in verse 26, "For this reason God gave them over
to degrading passions." Now we go a little deeper into the level this
corruption reaches, "For their women exchanged the natural function for that
which is unnatural." First, there is sort of this general category of
unrestrained vice, and we know that's a part of our culture. Right? That is
the driving force of our culture. That is the dominating force of our
culture. You hate to admit it, but the great cities of America are populated
by men and women who live for nothing but the fulfillment of their lusts.
The second level is the degrading passion. He shows you how far it goes:
vile desires, gross affections so perverted, so degenerate, and so
unrestrained is the heart, that it takes over the body and uses the body to
do an unthinkable thing at the very depth of sin, and that thing is called
homosexuality. Isn't it interesting that it starts with women here, who
really are the minority in homosexuality. A very small percentage of women
are lesbians compared to how many men are Sodomites, or homosexuals. But he
starts with the women. Why? Because, he wants you to see how deep the
plunge is. You see, usually the last to be affected in the decline of the
culture are the women, and that's his point--proof that absolutely all virtue
is gone, that the women have come to this base level.
In verse 27, he adds, "In the same way also the men abandoned the natural
function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men
with men committing indecent acts (and listen to this) and receiving in
their own persons the due penalty of their error." Can you see AIDS there?
Of course you can--among other things. See, that base inversion of God's
created order (there is that principle again) abandons them to the
consequence of their own iniquity. That's what it does: they are abandoned
by God. God pulls back all restraining grace. There will be no mitigation
of the consequence of their sin, and their lives are destroyed morally,
mentally, emotionally, medically, and ultimately physically, and eternally.
Look at the third level that this abandoning by God plunges men towards,
verse 28, "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer,
(here's the third time this phrase is used) God gave them over to a
depraved (or reprobate) mind, to do those things which are not proper." What
is a depraved mind? A mind tested and found (are you ready for this?)
useless! In other words, a mind that is disqualified for its intended
purpose. In other words, they are so wicked and they are so base that their
reasoning factually is so corrupt it must be rejected. Their intellectual
faculty, their conscience, is so destroyed that they do those things which
are not, a better word than proper, moral, which are not fitting for men to
do. The point is that the depth of their sin has reached the point where it
has rendered their brains useless. They are not rational; they are not
reasonable; they don't think straight.
When Phil Manley, who is the chaplain at the County USC Medical Center, goes
over there and sees that AIDS ward he has to be startled by what he sees
there. There must be many shocking things to see; none more shocking than
when I was told that one of the problems they have in the ward is keeping the
homosexual males nurses out of the beds of the AIDS patients. All
rationality is gone at that point, and all ability to reason about life and
choices and morality is gone; those are the kind of people in our culture who
are fast rising into positions of leadership, and the Bible says that they
have a mind that is useless.
What comes out of this when it stretches across our culture, and it isn't
just homosexuality, look how broad it goes--verse 29, "They are filled with
unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit,
malice, gossip, slander, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful,
inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding,
untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful." That sounds like a description of South
Central Los Angeles or any other city. You could take the time to go through
all of that: unrighteous, wicked, greedy, envious, murderous, fighting,
deceitful, filled with hate, an intention to do evil to people, and so forth.
That's how you define our culture.
The epitome in verse 32, "And they know the ordinance of God." They know
that. How do they know that? Because, "The law of God is written. . . ."
Where? "In their hearts." They know the ordinance of God; they know what's
right, "That those who practice such things are worthy of death, but they
not only do the same, but they give hearty approval to those who practice
them." They have no conscience; they have no fear; they are without reason;
they are without understanding; they are like beasts--mindless. There is the
lowest point of human descent.
That's all the way from the people living on drugs, and living for "sex in
the street," and the homosexuals, to the sophisticated yuppies who sit on the
Phil Donahue Show and laugh at sexual deviation and moral perversion. You
see, abandonment by God leads to all of this, and I believe what we
experiencing in our country is nothing more than God just letting us go the
way the nation has chosen to go. They chose their leadership, a man who
advocates sin of this proportion: murder and homosexuality. They get what
they ask for. This I see for the time, God taking off His restraint and
saying, "You want it--you got it!"
Why is it that God abandons a society? Couldn't we say, "Well, all societies
are like this?" I mean, "You've got to expect this; this is the way people
are. Why would God abandon us in this situation when we need Him most?" The
answer comes in verses 18 to 23, listen to this, "For the wrath of God is
revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who
suppress the truth in unrighteousness." Verse 19, "Because that which is
known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." You
see, that's the problem. The problem is they had the knowledge of God and
they rejected it.
I have to conclude that the wrath of God is already at work in our society,
and I would suppose that I would have to say that there is no surer, no
clearer token of a society under the wrath of God then when that society
refuses to define and hate sin, and on the other hand, when it tolerates sin
and sinners completely. Listen, when a society reaches the point where it
will not define sin, where it will not hate sin, where it will tolerate sin
and tolerate sinners, but will not tolerate anger towards sin--that's a
society under God's wrath. And that's the society we live in.
It isn't new; Schiller wrote, "The history of the world is the judgment of
the world." Great statement: "The history of the world is the judgment of
the world." What does he mean? Nations rise and fall, they come and go, and
that is the chronicle of God's operative wrath. The plunge into unrestrained
iniquity is especially offensive to God because verse 18 says, "They suppress
the truth." Literally it says, "Who are constantly attempting to suppress
the truth by their ungodliness."
There is God: God is, God exists, and God has divinely authored a spiritual,
moral, and ethical standard that must be obeyed or there will be wrath in the
future (we all know about that wrath, we are learning it in
Revelation--aren't we?), but also in the present. In the future, spiritually
and eternally, and in the present--temporarily. But look at our society: we
assault that standard, we ignore that standard, we reject that standard, we
mock that standard, we do everything to suppress that standard, whether it's
in the legislative branch, or the judicial branch, or the executive branch.
They now have joined the movement, haven't they, to suppress God's standard,
We want to tell every man that he is free to do anything he wants to do. The
only morality we have is egalitarianism and that is the right for everybody
to do what everybody wants to do. That's the one moral value that our world
would define. Paul says the problem with this is it is a blatant rejection
of the law of God given to man. It is not man in his ignorance--it is man in
his rejection that brings the wrath of God. Expanding on that reality then
in verse 18, Paul lays out four specific reasons for God's wrath, and I will
just give them to you. I think that you will find them absolutely
Four specific reasons for God's wrath:
Reason number one is revelation. In verse 19 it says, "That which is known
about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." In other
words, God (listen to this) has inlaid the evidence of spiritual and moral
truth what is right and what is wrong, in the very nature of man's being. He
has inlaid also in the nature of man's being the awareness that there must be
a God, and that God must be powerful, and wise, and good, and just. Man is
not without the witness of divine reality and divine morality. Men can't
plead ignorance because entirely apart from Scripture which is "Special
Revelation," God has through "General Revelation" made Himself known. Notice
the phrase there in verse 19, "That which may be known of God," that simply
means "What is knowable."
What is knowable about God, what we can know about Him is made available to
us. Where is this knowledge available? Within them: in the mind; in the
soul; in the reason; in the conscience. You see, the very fabric of
reasoning and understanding is made from the strands of the revelation of
God. That's what Paul means over in chapter two of Romans, in verse 14, when
he says, "The Gentiles who don't have the written Law do instinctively the
things of the Law, because though they are not having the Law they are a law
to themselves." Why? They show (verse 15) "the work of the Law written in
their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately
accusing or else defending them." Conscience, guilt, reason, a rational mind,
those are faculties by which the proper conclusion is: there is right and
there is wrong and there is God.
It is not obscure to believe in God, it's innate; it's readily apparent.
It's not obscure to believe in right and wrong, it's innate; and just like
when you wound your body you feel pain, when you wound that moral, rational
soul you feel guilt. It's normal to believe in God; it's common sense. The
mind dictates there must be a God and this is what He must be like.
Over in the Book of Acts, and verse 15 of chapter 14, just a very important
word there: Acts 14:15, Paul and Barnabas, having an interesting time
preaching in Lystra, "Men, why are you doing these things? (they say when
these people want to come and grab them and make them gods) We are also men
of the same nature as you, and we preach the gospel to you in order that you
should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and
the earth and the sea, and all that is in them." Now listen to this: "And in
the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways;
and yet He did not leave Himself without. . . ." What? "Witness, in that He
did good and He gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying
your hearts with food and gladness."
I mean, reason would tell you that there is:
Somebody sending the rain
Somebody painting the sunsets
Somebody making the flowers grow
Somebody providing this plethora of foods
Somebody making life happy
Somebody bringing a precious, sweet, soft, tender, little baby
into the world
Somebody inventing those immense and overwhelming palpitations
of love from a man to a woman
Somebody bringing the joy of music
The mind and the reason, the very fabric of the soul says there is a God, and
He is a Creator, and He is powerful, and He is good, and He is beautiful, and
He is wise. I mean, that's just woven into the very fabric of reason.
In Acts 17, verse 23, we find Paul on Mars Hill talking to some philosophers
and he follows the same path, he says, "You got this altar here inscribed 'TO
AN UNKNOWN GOD', well, (he camps on that and says) let me tell you who He
is, (verse 24) the God who made the world and all things in it, since He is
the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands." You
see, he assumes something, he is going to evangelize a bunch of pagan
philosophers, but he assumes one thing: their rational minds must require a
creator--that's his assumption; that's where he starts. He knows that they
believe that somebody made everything because not to believe that is
irrational. Nobody times nothing equals everything is the equation of a
So the assumption is that they believe that the effect has a cause, and so he
assumes that and he starts with the God who made everything: "Look at the
effect--let me tell you about the One who made it." He says, "He isn't
served with human hands (verse 25), as though He needed anything, since He
Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; and He made from one,
every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. He designed
the world and created everything in it; sorted out the nations as to where
they are to be, and their boundaries and their times, in order that they
should seek Him." In other words, the very existence of a universe and an
earth, and boundaries and nations, creation, should drive people to seek Who
it is. "If they would grope for Him and find Him though He is not far from
each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist. As even some of your
own pagan poets have said, 'We are also His offspring.'"
See, even pagan theology said, "Somebody made us!" That points out again the
idiocy of evolution that "nobody made us!" That's his point, "Being then
(verse 29) the offspring of God we ought not to think the Divine Nature is
like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of
man." Now think about it gentlemen, he's saying to these philosophers, you
look at this entire universe and are you assuming that rock over there with a
face on it made this? You chiseled it! Are you assuming that wooden statue
over there made it? You formed it! You must assume that whoever made it is
greater that it! Pretty powerful stuff. That's just reason.
He approaches those pagans on a rational basis, because in the fabric of
human reason is the obvious reality that this world demands a creator and it
reflects something of His person in the creation. That is why (go back to
Romans 1) Paul says at the end of verse 20, "That men are without excuse."
Because verse 20 says, "Since the creation of the world (since the very
beginning when creation was first done, way back then--since the very start)
the invisible attributes of God: His eternal power, something about His
divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been
made." In other words, it's the creation that tells the reason there is a
Creator, so that men are absolutely without excuse.
Do you realize that this is in ancient times even before the microscope and
the telescope? Men weren't even able to comprehend the macrocosm and the
microcosm like we are today. That is what is so blatant about evolution. It
is "flat-out" blatant rejection of God. It has nothing to do with science.
It defies the single greatest scientific principle, cause and effect, and it
reflects an evil intent to pursue sin without responsibility. Even in those
days they could look at the stars; they could look at the incredible
arrangement of the petals on a flower; they could look at leaves on a stem;
they could look at the cycle of water; they could see the mystery of human
birth; the mystery of growth; they could see the glory of a sunrise and the
glory of a sunset; they could understand the roaring and the rolling of the
seas; they could understand the rush of the rivers and the trickle of a
brook; the flight of a bird; they could understand that incredible
transformation of a worm, a caterpillar into a butterfly. Even then the
heavens were declaring the glory of God and the firmament was showing them
His handiwork. Even then the beasts of the field were giving Him glory.
But, today it is even more potent isn't it? I mean, think about it. We now
know that birds navigate by the stars while they migrate. Birds with this
little tiny brain. Birds raised from eggs inside a building where they have
never seen the sky can be released to flight and instantly orient themselves
towards home. They can even be shown an artificial sky representing a place
their species has never been and orient themselves to it in flight. Archer
fish shoot drops of water with great accuracy at insects for no other reason
than the fun of it. They get their food like all the rest of the fish and
nobody has yet figured out why God had them doing that just for the fun of
Do you know that mites occupy only one ear in a moth? Because if they
occupied both ears the moth couldn't fly. How do the mites know if somebody
is over in the other one? I love the Bombardier Beetles. They produce
chemicals which mix perfectly and at the right moment explode in the face of
their enemy, but th
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