My momma told me a little secret. She said that when she was young they knew all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Imagine my shock at learning that this younger generation had not invented rebellion. Furthermore, my history books exposed the nasty reality that America has always had serious problems with sin and depravity. The “greed” was a huge motivating factor in the settling of the colonies. The curse of the slave trade hung around our necks for generations before the bloodiest war in American history finally ended it, while the rest of the west ended it without war. Reading the dialog between politicians and leaders of the revolution make it clear that the rhetoric of their day was not a bit more civil than it is today. Fast forward through the 1960’s and you’ll find plenty to make you think that each generation was dealing with, what they believed, was the most depraved generation in our history. In short, this nostalgic idea that America was a “Christian” nation back in the good old days is a myth. Every generation has manifested new ways of expressing a sinful nature and this one is no more or less lost than the others. The hope for this generation remains the same. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most likely you’ve heard a preacher proclaim, “We are living in Romans 1” because of the decay of our culture and the slide of this current generation into sin and depravity. Exclaiming with great conviction that we’ve been handed over to a debased mind to experience the wrath of God. Well, the rhetoric does sound convincing and we certainly have our share of open depravity today. However, Romans 1 was not written to cause us as believers to throw our hands up in despair and lead us to start looking for the next new world. It was written to teach us just how powerful the gospel of Jesus Christ was in dealing with the cultural decay of the first century. In fact, reading Romans 1 should be one of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible to Americans for three reasons.
First, Romans 1 is an historical description of culture, not a prophetic one. Certainly human depravity will run its course in each generation and any culture left to itself by God would come apart at the seams. However, as the Apostle Paul writes the first chapter of Romans he is describing a culture right in front of him and explaining how it came to be the way it was. He was not writing a prophetic description of America 2,000 years ahead of time. Get this! America today is a far better place to live than first century Rome was and being a Christian in America today is much easier than it was during the reigns of Nero and Domitian. Believe it or not, America is way more “Christian” today than any place on the planet during the Apostolic age. Romans 1 describes a culture with even greater challenges than we face today.
Second, the Apostle Paul saw the gospel as the only remedy for such a culture. It is the power of God unto salvation. The Apostles went into a depraved culture without the Bill of Rights, armed with nothing but the gospel and prayer, and in one generation turned the world as they knew it on its head. The effect the gospel and Christianity has had on the development of western civilization is impossible to measure. You simply do not have the West of today without it. The atheist, Friedrich Nietzsche, once observed that Gandhi would not have been successful at achieving India’s freedom had he not been appealing to a nation with a Christian conscience. He was right and it is equally true that the world would not know the blessings of western civilization had it not been for the influence of this same conscience. The gospel has saved billions of souls over the last 2,000 years and the influence of those souls on their surrounding culture has permeated every fiber of society for the good.
Thirdly, Romans 1 teaches us that there is hope for even the most depraved communities. Communities are made up of sinful individuals. Those individuals make up sinful communities. The remedy for the manifestation of sin in culture is to address it at its heart. The heart of a sinful community is the heart of its sinful people. The only remedy for a sinful heart is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, as in our father’s day, what is needed is the gospel. If we, like the Apostles, will devote ourselves to supporting the ministry of the Word and prayer, we will be doing the one and only thing that is effective at transforming a sinful culture. We must take to the sinful hearts of our culture the hope that is found only in Jesus Christ. As we lead others to Christ and assimilate them into local churches and teach them to live in Spirit-filled churches/communities we will build the cities on the hills of our land that will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
In conclusion, the good old days didn’t exist. Sin has always manifested itself in every culture and in every generation. However, the influence of the gospel and the church has had such a profound effect on our culture that it is a far better place to live than anywhere on earth has ever been that has not enjoyed its permeating influence. The hope for America is the gospel. Always has been, always will be.