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What's Wrong with America

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/08/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

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.

                                                    Tony Capoccia


                          What's Wrong with America                               (Romans 1:18-32)                                     by                               John MacArthur

            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       forever.  Amen. 

      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 alone!" 

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, God's truth. 

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 fascinating. 

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 moron! 

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 it. 

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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