Please read Romans 1:18-23 in your Bible.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
Faith can be found in the stars, so there’s no excuse.
CONTEXT: In 1:16-17 Paul shared the good news that God has revealed SALVATION and RIGHTEOUSNESS for EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES. It is available to us BY FAITH.
In our culture, the Church is often content to stop there. We hope to maintain our failing institution by making people happy, causing good vibrations, having positive thinking. We are hesitant to even get into vs. 18-32, the flip side of the GOSPEL, because we fear offending or the censure of the “politically correct.”
Vs. 18-32 deal with the wrath of God against unrepentant sinners, against all kinds of depravity that stems from their rejection of God.
In the interests of public relations, we’ve dropped the “inconvenient truth” that hell is real. We just don’t talk about the fact that a person has to confess being a sinner before they can become a saint. We must be frank about the “bad news” before we get to the Good News. Heaven without hell is just slick marketing; it is not the whole truth.
We’re observing Creation Sunday today, remembering to be thankful to God and give Him the glory for the wonderful world in which we live. One aspect of creation is the truth Paul sets forth here: the existence of creation is sufficient proof that God exists. Because of that, no one can claim ignorance as an excuse. Creation itself tells us all we need to know.
- God’s wrath is being revealed and there are no excuses. (18-20)
THE WRATH OF GOD is His just and righteous sentence of the unrepentant. Don’t be misled by an emotional reaction to the word WRATH. God’s wrath is not about revenge, it is about justice. It would be unjust (and unloving) for God to simply ignore sin, especially the sin of unbelief.
God has delegated enough of His authority to each person to make up their own mind; to decide for themselves and be responsible for their decision to accept or reject his offer of salvation. Accepting it places one on a life-long path of spiritual maturing resulting in heaven. Rejecting it place one on a life-long path of spiritual denial, resulting in hell.
Paul wrote about the WRATH OF GOD BEING REVEALED in the present tense because we live in the time between the Ascension and Second Coming, an age where we’ve been warned what is to come. Those who receive God’s pardon based on Christ’s substitutionary death are no longer under WRATH. Jesus took care of it for us. Those who refuse God’s offer remain under WRATH. It is their choice.
How does God reveal His will? One form of revelation set forth in these verses is General Revelation. Creation testifies to the existence of a Creator. Paul makes reference to General Revelation in v. 20.
Personal Revelation occurs in the person of Jesus Christ. Especially in the three years of His earthly ministry, Jesus’ words and deeds reveal the character and will of God. Specific Revelation is the Bible. As we learned recently, God used human beings to record His words detailing His character and will. Neither of these types of revelation are referred to in this passage.
Individual or Direct Revelation occurs on a personal level through dreams, visions, angelic experiences, God’s voice, circumstances and experiences. Paul makes reference to Direct Revelation in v. 19.
Paul’s point: those under WRATH fully deserve it. They are guilty, worst of all, of GODLESSNESS. That alone condemns them to hell. Unbelief is the only “unforgiveable sin.” Think about it: the only way to be forgiven is by having faith. If you refuse to have faith, forgiveness is not an option. In spite of all the evidence creation provides, some folks stubbornly persist in their rejection of God.
Secondarily, they are condemned by their WICKEDNESS because even the kindest deeds done apart from God are as FLITHY RAGS (Isaiah 64:6). Our minds can be troubled when we think of people we know who are good, moral people being self-condemned to hell. This is worldly reasoning. The Bible rejects any notion we can earn salvation by good deeds or any other means in our control. We can’t redefine WICKEDNESS on the basis of whether or not we like a person or know somebody “that way.” In the end, it doesn’t matter if a person is sincerely or insincerely wrong. Polite unbelievers are condemned just as thoroughly as impolite ones.
They are also guilty of suppressing the TRUTH by means of their WICKEDNESS. Listen to people when they talk about their beliefs. If the word “I” appears frequently in their words that is a sign of making up one’s own beliefs, not receiving what God has revealed. God wants us to use our freedom and our brains to recognize the truth and commit to it, not to make up something because it seems more sensible or excuses our sin.
No one can use the excuse of ignorance. As Paul wrote, WHAT MAY BE KNOWN ABOUT GOD IS PLAIN TO THEM, BECAUSE GOD MADE IT PLAIN TO THEM. Here is Paul’s reference to Direct Revelation, as we defined it earlier. No one else may perceive God’s revelation to them, so we accept by faith what Paul says here is true: God, in some way, makes the truth PLAIN to every person. Again, no one has an excuse.
Paul asserted God MADE IT PLAIN because the visible qualities of CREATION point to GOD’S INVISIBLE QUALITIES. This is Paul’s reference to General Revelation as we defined it above. The universe offers testimony that God exists and that He may be found. This is an article of faith, so we don’t need science to verify this teaching. However, to the degree that science increases our understanding and appreciation of creation, it is useful to our faith.
For example, the beauty of creation ought to give us a sense of God’s love and attention to detail. In this way, visible aspects of creation give us insight into the INVISIBLE QUALITIES of God.
The bottom line is THAT MEN ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE. This is the purpose of Paul’s argument; to show that no one can use the excuse of ignorance to justify their unbelief. To put it another way: there is no fence to sit on. There is no “neutral” position on this issue. A person either chooses to believe or to disbelieve.
People can show a lot of creativity when it comes to excuse-making. However, on Judgment Day God knows the truth perfectly and will not be fooled. He will act in perfect justice.
- Those who deny God put them-selves under His wrath. (21-23)
People who reject God cannot claim ignorance as an excuse. The truth is, we choose to recognize God or refuse to recognize him. There is a set of knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that come with acceptance of God. People who truly recognize God can, themselves, be recognized by the way they live. We don’t live this way in order to be saved, but because we are saved.
On the other hand, people who reject God tend to behave in ways that betray their refusal to believe. Their behaviors may not be vividly sinful, but they trend toward selfishness and sin.
Since they have no excuse, their rejection of God is their choice. That they have made a choice can be seen in two ways. First, they refuse to glorify Him AS GOD. Instead, they live to glorify creation (self or the world). They give no heed to God, doing nothing to honor Him. Indeed, their life has been spent drawing attention away from God, instead of drawing attention to Him (which is what “glorifying” means).
Second, they refuse to give THANKS TO HIM. All that exists owes its existence to God. Gratitude is certainly appropriate.
Being thankful is also good for us.
– It puts our focus on God and His supply rather than our needs and our perceived lack.
– It requires us to pay more attention to solutions (which come from God) than to problems (which we create for one another).
– Thankfulness prompts us to pray and worship; both needful activities for spiritual maturity.
– An attitude of gratitude motivates us to serve God and others, to witness gratefully to what God has done for us. Service and witness make us more mature and they also essential means by which we share our faith with others.
Before heaven is denied them, Paul listed earthly effects of being under God’s WRATH: the futility and darkness of their inner life. THEIR THINKING BECAME FUTILE in the sense that it did nothing to produce true spirituality. Their resistance to the truth guarantees their beliefs and decisions will ultimately end in frustration and destruction.
THEIR FOOLISH HEARTS WERE DARKENED: darkness is a biblical symbol of ignorance and evil. In the Bible, a “fool” is someone who is ignorant of God and behaves poorly because of it. Biblically, the HEART is a figure of speech for the inner life of a person, not really separating thoughts and emotions or making the rational and sentimental distinctions we tend to make when we draw a difference between “head” and “heart.”
ALTHOUGH THEY CLAIMED TO BE WISE, THEY BECAME FOOLS. So many people reject God out of pride; on the basis of their big brains they think they’re too smart to believe in God. We see examples of obnoxious atheists and even antitheists in our own time. They have no interest in a respectful public dialogue, merely using media to condemn believers.
An especially damning proof of their foolishness is the “fool’s bargain” they made in exchanging THE GLORY OF THE IMMORTAL GOD FOR IMAGES MADE TO LOOK LIKE MORTAL MAN AND BIRDS AND ANIMALS AND REPTILES.
The other effects Paul describes here are SEXUAL IMPURITY (vs. 24-27) and every other kind of depravity (vs. 28-32). We don’t have space to address those items in this post. I believe they are self-explanatory of one is willing to cast off the blinders put in place by political correctness and moral relativism.