With Dale Ratzlaff
We pick up our study in Romans 1:18-23.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Starting in Romans 1:18 through 3:20, Paul lays down a powerful argument why all of us need the gospel of God’s grace. In his commentary on Romans, Leon Morris states,
“Salvation means being saved from real peril. It is only when we realize in the depths of our being that we are lost that we are ready to receive the salvation that God gives. Not until we come to see that our search for God is and must be completely unsuccessful will we discover that God is searching for us.”
Today’s passage from Romans could not be more relevant. Our society, including centers of learning, political parties, and even some religions are suppressing the truth of God’s word in so many ways: the hatred shown against moral purity, traditional marriage, using the name of Jesus, believing in creation, and the list could go on and on. Before Paul gets to the good news of the gospel, however, he demonstrates that God’s wrath is alive and well. In this letter God’s wrath is described as God “giving them up”—letting them reap the consequences of their own wicked ways. We discern a series of cause and effect relationships. Paul shows that this wrath is “revealed”, and yes, we see it today in people who suppress the truth. I just read an article in the news telling how many of the “scientists” who are doing government research “doctor” their evidence to support their preconceived findings, findings which may support a political agenda and/or pave the way for them to receive more government grants. The extent to which man’s activities influence global warming is a case in point. If a scientist disagrees with the established political narrative, he or she are expelled from the scientific community.
God has made Himself know to all men in the wonders of creation. Paul states that all men know God’s invisible attributes:
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse (v. 19-20).
His eternal power
Here in Arizona where we live and travel in the western lands, the geology revealed is astonishing. Strata laid down by water has been uplifted, often to 20–60 degrees—evidence of unbelievable might and power. Go out on a clear night and gaze heavenward; try to get your mind around the billions of galaxies, stars, and the infinity of distance space. Then think of the power of God’s word, “He spoke and it was so!”
His divine nature
Next Paul reasons that we all know about God’s “divine nature”. Here again he ties God’s divinity to God’s revelation in nature. I believe this connection refers to the numerous life sustaining factors that must be present for life to exist on this planet. There are hundreds—probably millions—of factors that must be exactly right to support continued life: the tilt of the earth’s axis to create the seasons of nature; the distance from earth to sun for the right temperature to sustain life; the speed of the earth’s rotation so we won’t freeze in the night or burn in the day; the pull of the moon’s gravity creating the tides which wash the beaches of the world. Then think of the verity and beauty of life. Realize how often in nature there is one plant, animal, fish, or insect that is interdependent on another. As I write Carolyn and I just returned from our daily walk. We stopped for a few minutes to check out our early peach and apricots trees that are in bloom. We were thankful that the bees were busy pollinating summer’s crops—all by the Creator’s design.
Considering the overwhelming evidence that there is an “Intelligent Designer” behind what we see and experience, there is no room for not believing in the God of Creation. Those who do, as Paul says, “are without excuse”.
Next Paul shows the cause and result of purposeful unbelief.
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Turning away from God is like driving in a rainstorm at night and turning off one’s headlights. You are an accident just looking for a place to happen. It won’t be long until cause and effect come together. I am reminded what the Apostle John wrote in the introduction to his gospel.
In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him (Jn. 1:5,5,11).
There is real danger in turning one’s back on truth. Nowhere is it stated more clearly than right here in the first chapter of Romans; “their foolish heart was darkened”. The rejecters of God now start on the downward path to perdition.
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Here is the genesis of idolatry. The Creator designed man for worship—for good reason. We become like the person or thing we worship. And here is a spiritual truth beyond the scope of this article yet at the same time it is at very center of Paul’s thought.
But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:14-18).
While the topic of the covenants is not the issue in Romans one, nevertheless the concept here in this verse is applicable—we are transformed by the focus of our attention on God’s glory—“But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” We become like the person or thing we worship.
No primitive culture has been found that is without its God. Mankind’s rejection of the truth about God has resulted in its “darkened” mind and heart, and man turned its attention to “corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” In today’s society we need look no further for proof of these things than what is promoted in theater, film, and TV. Political groups are determined to impose their anti-God thinking and their immoral conduct demonstrating their “worship of corruptible man”.
Mankind in general has no excuse for the perverted condition in which it finds itself. It turned its back on the truth revealed by the God of creation. As part of the human race we must accept the fact that we, too, are by nature under the “wrath of God”, and we have no excuse for our wandering in sin. We need help from an outside source—the God of creation. Human knowledge, massive self-discipline and the ideal environment will not make us free from God’s wrath.
I believe the main points of application in this section are these: We have divine insight into the moral collapse of our society. We must be careful not to turn our back on truth so that we will not receive a darkened heart and start down the wide road to corruption. Moreover, the antidotes to suppressing the knowledge of God and developing a hardened heart are acknowledging Him as God and giving thanks.
Finally, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn. 8:32). “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
Lord Jesus, help me discover the truth and live by the truth. Help me keep a clear conscience. Keep me from the influence of the corruptible society in which I live. As I worship you in all your glory, please transform me into your likeness. Keep my eyes centered on you. Make me free in your love and grace.
In Jesus name.
1 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 73.