Romans 1:24 Commentary and application
Romans 1:24- Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts….
The beginning of this verse needs to be broken out into its own section of commentary. Much of the gospel and what today is termed “Calvinism” hangs on a proper understanding of the first part of this verse. Many people wrongly accuse John Calvin of teaching that God forces men to be sinners and then sends them to Hell for it. This verse expresses three main points about fallen man. First it expresses that fallen man has lust for sin within their own hearts. Secondly it expresses that at times God will give men up to the sinful lusts in their hearts. Third it also passively teaches that God restrains men from fully executing the evil that is within their hearts.
Man is born in a state of “depravity”. This is one of the effects of the fall in the garden. When Adam was told “You will surely die..” it was not just a physical death but was a spiritual death as well. Men are born spiritually dead, with a desire to choose sin, and they have absolutely no natural desire for the true God within their hearts. Paul further explains this in chapter 3 of Romans. He states,
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17 And the way of peace have they not known: 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes. Rom 3:10-17
Notice Paul points out that NONE of humanity is righteous and that NONE seek after God. This is not a new idea that Paul creates. In Romans chapter 3 he is simply quoting what the Psalms said in two different spots (Psa 14:1-3, 53:1-3). The underlying message in the bible from the garden of Eden to the book of Revelation is that man is born spiritually dead and on a path to Hell. Being that they are born spiritually dead they will always choose sin and never choose God. Their hearts are full of a lust to do evil. As this verse shows God restrains that lust; but at times God does give men up to the lusts of their own heart and they fall headlong into evil.
The reason fallen men are not doing more evil than we see in the world is that God Himself restrains them from doing the full desires that are within their sinful heart. Notice though God does not put that lust there or force them to do it. He simply lifts His restraints and allows them to do the evil they already desire. In Romans chapter one we see three times the idea that God gives man up to the sin that they already desire to do. Neither the gospel nor “Calvinism” teaches that man is forced to do evil by God. They do not teach that man is not responsible for the evil he does. They both teach that man is born a spiritually dead sinner and from this natural state freely chooses to do evil and will never choose to follow God. The only interference God has with this “free will” (which is enslaved to sin) is to restrain it from doing the evil it desires or to lift His restraints and allow the full expression of that evil.