Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)
These unbelieving sinners that Paul has just spoken of in verses 28-31 know that what they are doing is wrong. Paul never speaks of the law in these verses, which is significant. This communicates to us that all humans are under the same judgment, even if we haven’t received the Ten Commandments or a list of do’s and don’ts from God. We all suppress God’s truth. We all exchange his glory and truth for idolatry and lies.
God has built it into the hearts of human beings to obey a moral code. That is why in nearly all cultures over all time murder and rape are wrong. What other explanation can there be? People “know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die” (cf. Rom. 3:23). This verse tells us that all people have some knowledge of God, as verses 19-21 tell us. It shows that even if people do not have a Bible or a missionary, they are still held accountable to God. Of course, Paul himself is talking about people without a Bible, since nearly all of the known Gentile world in his day did not have written Scripture and did not read the Old Testament.
Not only do people do such things as those listed in verses 28-31, but they also give approval to those who practice them. This means that they congratulate evil and hate what is good — a gross inversion of God’s intention (see Rom. 12:9). Our modern minds probably immediately go to a man bowing down to a golden idol and congratulating others who worship with him. But consider the businessman on Wall Street who has committed fraud and is laundering money. He defies the decree of God. And his business partner has joined him, risking his job, credibility, integrity, family, and friends. Instead of coming to his senses, this man congratulates his partner and tells him, “This is the only way you’ll get ahead, make money, and make something of yourself in this company.” He not only does evil, but he is approves others doing it as well. He is doubly guilty.
This can also happen with much “smaller” things. And it can be passive, not active. Take pornography, for example. Instead of hating the sin and actively fighting against it, a man may rebuke his friend because he himself is fighting the same sin of pornography. Instead of lovingly rebuking his friend who sinned while on the Internet yesterday, he says, “It’s okay. I’m right there with you. God forgives.” Though that is true, it is not actively engaged in the battle against sin. It’s passive and communicates a lackadaisical attitude toward the self-destructing ability of sin. “Approving” sin may come in many shapes and colors. And we must be careful to watch out for it at all times.