Trying to help a family member or dear friend who has gone off the rails can be one of the most difficult things in life. They habitually make poor decisions, and you do everything in your power to try to help them. Yet, no matter how much you try, they keep making the same harmful decisions. You will always be there for them. You will wait for them like the father of the prodigal son, longing for the day of their return. But, also, like the father of the prodigal, you will let them go. You will give them what they want, to be left alone to do what they want to do, hoping that just maybe they will finally come to their senses, see their errors, and come home.
The Apostle uses the phrase “God gave them up to…” three times in Romans 1:24-32 to describe the results of what happens when we tragically exchange our worship of God for other things or people. This language comes from human experience, like when we finally, after many warnings, give up a loved one to their own harmful desires and ways.
God loved us into existence and gave us free-will. To be human includes having free will, but free will comes with great responsibility. Tragically, we have not handled this responsibility well. As anyone who has set out to make all the right choices in life will tell you, sometimes we fail, other times our motives become murky, and sometimes we just get selfish. Instead of using our free will to glorifying God, we start using it to glorify ourselves or other things. We are prone to journey off on our own to some far away country and squander our Father’s wealth, like the prodigal (Luke 15:11-24).
God sent his Son to die in order to put to death this sinful nature that leads us to make poor choices. He rose from the grave to restore our desire to use our free will to glorify God. The Apostle later says in Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).”
Until we prodigals see the tragedy of our situation, we will never return home to the gracious and abounding love of our Father.