God Gave Them Up, Continued
And now for the third time we read those dreadful words, “God gave them up.” We read in several places in Exodus that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the Israelites go (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). But we also read in other places that Pharaoh hardened his own heart as well (8:15, 32; 9:34). (Other references simply tell us that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened without telling us who was directly responsible for the hardening: 7:13, 14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 35.) At any rate, we may be certain that the heart God hardens is a heart already cold and bitter, a heart against the things of God and of man, a heart bent doubly in upon itself. And so upon such hearts, such hearts that do “not see fit to acknowledge God,” God renders that terrible judgment: He gives them up.
Now I use Pharaoh as an example of what it means when God gives someone up: In short, it is a hardening of the heart which begins with man’s own turning away from God, which God then verifies by giving him up. But what I must now hasten to add is that this condition of which Scripture speaks is universal to all people without exception. There has never been, is not now, nor ever shall be, such a person who turns not away from God to follow his own sinful path. Paul will illustrate this further in 3:10-18, but let us now own that we each are Pharaoh in our natural condition born with sinful natures. It is inescapable and is our just sentence decreed at the time of our failure in the Garden. We are indeed born sinners, but now we add to that nature our own sinful choices and actions rendering ourselves sinners both by nature and by choice.
And this is the unflattering description Paul makes of us in this passage; indeed, it seems he leaves no sin out. And whereas he said earlier that God gives us up to impure hearts and dishonorable passions (i.e., unnatural desire of which we spoke yesterday), he now adds debased minds completing the constitution of man in each of his faculties (i.e., mind, will, affections). The list is too long to enumerate here, and we each see ourselves some place, if not every place, mentioned therein. (I almost find humor in “inventors of evil,” as if there were not already enough evil to go around.) The last four words seem to sum up the whole: “foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” And thus does Paul submit unto us the truth about every man before coming to faith in Christ—man against God, given up by God, and completely without hope in this world or the next. But do not despair; he’s building his argument for God’s gracious offer of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.