In the first three Bible studies about Paul’s letter to the Romans, we learned the history, politics, culture, and religious background of the people to whom Paul wrote this letter. They were Jewish-background and Gentile-background believers in Jesus Christ who lived in Rome during times of persecution from the emperors. Besides this, we studied Paul’s opening passages of this letter to the Roman believers. He identified himself and his credentials, gave a general understanding of the gospel, prayed for God’s grace and peace over them, and thanked God for testimony of the Romans’ faith in action and for the encouragement he would get when he met and lived among them. The final part of the opening to Paul’s letter gives the thematic statement of the letter-the righteousness of God.
With this fourth Bible study from the book of Romans, Paul taught the Romans about the need for righteousness among each person. He carried this idea further by showing the universal need for salvation by teaching about God’s revelation of Himself (the evidence for God) to pagans/Gentiles, Gentile-background Christians and God-worshippers, and the Jews and Jewish-background believers. In this and the next Bible study, Paul taught the Gentiles about their guilt and need for justification.
With Romans two through three, Paul taught the Jewish-background believers the same lessons as he did the Gentile-background believers. We will learn in chapter four, Paul compared the righteousness of the Gentiles and Jews with Abraham’s righteousness. Later, in chapter five, he explained how God justifies each person, Jews and Gentiles. Remember, justification means God declares a person as righteous and made right with Him. This justification comes by God’s declaring righteous those people who accept Christ. God credits or assigns Christ’s righteousness to each person who receives Christ as Savior and Lord. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (NASB) He described justification best in Romans 3:21-26. Paul said in this passage, people who believe in Jesus Christ are “justified as a gift by His (God’s) grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” (NASB)
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul specifically taught about the sinfulness of pagans/Gentiles and their need for justification. He explained how, though they had not heard about God, they could know of Him and were, therefore, also guilty of sin and liable to God’s judgment of them. This Bible study will help us to realize God revealed Himself through general revelation in creation and through His creative presence. It will also help us understand the basis of the Gentiles' guilt. This will lead us to our next Bible study next week when we will learn of the results of their guilt.
Evidence of God
Paul’s thematic statement of Romans in 1:16-17 carries over to later verses. He compared the righteousness of God to the unrighteousness of humanity, both Jew and Gentile. In verses eighteen through twenty, Paul did not allow the Gentiles to hold on to the excuse that they did not know God. He explained to them even though they were not Jews, they had no excuse because God revealed Himself to all people. Paul said in chapter one verses eighteen through twenty,
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. (NASB)
With the first word, “for,” Paul began this sentence just like he did with verses sixteen and seventeen. Each of these verses explain why he said what he did in verse fifteen. Paul said in verse fifteen he was eager to preach the gospel to the people in Rome. He next told the readers and listeners of this letter three reasons he eagerly wanted to preach the gospel to them. In verse sixteen, Paul said he was eager because the gospel is the power of God for salvation to anyone who believes. With verse seventeen, he said the gospel reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith. Finally, with verse eighteen, Paul said he eagerly wanted to preach the gospel because “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” (NASB)
Paul’s start of verse eighteen gave the third reason he preached the gospel. With this one statement, he spoke about two things. Paul meant God’s righteousness reveals His wrath against unrighteousness, too. God’s righteousness/holiness requires judgment of unrighteousness/unholiness. Since the gospel reveals God’s righteousness, it reveals God’s wrath, too. God is the standard of righteousness and Paul ensured each person understood he or she was not righteous/holy. The commonality between God’s wrath and His righteousness is His love. Because He loves, He provided a way for people to become righteous. Because God loves, He shows righteous anger and disciplines people to remind them He is God, and to turn them around to return to Him. The other point this statement makes is Paul could not keep to himself the gospel of God. He cared so much for these people, he eagerly sought to tell the gospel to everyone. Because Paul’s heart came from God’s heart when Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and anointed him to be His apostle, Paul cared deeply for the lost who had never heard the gospel. He wanted no one to miss hearing about the gospel and then receive God’s wrath because of their sins. Paul eagerly preached the gospel because of his love for them. He wanted everyone to experience God’s love and grace.
Let’s look closer at the words in verse eighteen. We must understand them well to understand Paul’s message in the rest of this letter. In our world, people do not consider wrath or anger a positive thing. God’s wrath is righteous indignation. Because He cannot sin, His anger is righteous. His cause is to restore peace and balance to life. It is not a prideful anger like from what people often base their anger. God’s angry at sin and sinners because sin separates people from Him. He wants nothing to separate people from Him because He loves each person. God desires to have a right relationship with each person. This desire for a relationship with each person is the reason for the gospel of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross in our place and His resurrection. God provided the sin sacrifice so each person could be in a right relationship with Him. His wrath is righteous and seeks to draw us to Himself because it is based on His love. God’s wrath comes on a person when he or she is not justified to Him through Christ, when he or she is unrighteous. Paul said in Romans 5:9, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him.”
For what does God’s anger come on people? Paul told the Romans in verse eighteen. God’s wrath comes because of ungodliness and unrighteousness. The word “ungodliness” seems self-explanatory: acting, thinking, speaking, and being unlike God. “Ungodliness” comes from the Greek word asebeia and means to lack respect and show impiety, irreverence, and wickedness in thought and deed. It means to turn your back on God and become your own god. Asebeia means refusing to give honor where it is due, a refusing to accept God’s existence and His authority over all life and creation. The word “unrighteousness” comes from the Greek word adikia and means injustice and violating God’s standards. Because ungodliness is attitude against and unacceptance of God, unrighteousness is acting upon the unacceptance of God, acting out. Ungodliness is against God and unrighteousness is against other people, but also against God’s standards of living, the Law. These two words correspond to the Ten Commandments-the first four commandments against God and the next six against other people.
Besides God’s wrath being on the ungodly and unrighteous, Paul said it came against those who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. “Suppress” comes from the Greek word katecho and means to bind, restrain, arrest, or detain. The people upon whom God’s wrath would come were irreverent and dishonored God. They acted out against God and His laws regarding Him and other people, and they restrained the truth. They kept it from being shared or providing a way of life. This means their ungodliness resulted in unrighteousness affecting other people because they would not share or allow the sharing of the truth of God-His reality, righteousness, love, and grace. These sinful people kept other people from living godly and righteous lives because of the way they lived and the laws they enacted and enforced. This reminds us of the prophets of Baal, Molech, Asherah, and the other gods some Israelites followed in the Old Testament. They led people away from God by not teaching about Him and leading them not to follow His laws.
Paul went further to say, even though people may have kept others from knowing about God, God made Himself evident to all humanity. No one has an excuse for not believing in God. In verse nineteen, Paul explained why-because of creation/nature. He said, “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” (NASB) The original Greek translation says, “Because the known of God manifest is among them God indeed to them has revealed [it]” (Interlinear Bible) Paul said, God’s attributes are evident and can be known through what He has revealed. The word “known” used here comes from the Greek word gnostos, an adjective, and means literally “because-through”. It expresses and emphasizes experiential knowing from personal experience. Paul said they knew God already. This knowledge came through something evident to each person because God makes it evident, clearly visible to them. This knowing is not the natural theology of reason where God is evident in the design in nature. Instead, He is the God who is a Presence active in the created order now. God did not just make the world and step back letting us see evidence of Him from what He created. He creates and keeps on creating and maintaining the world. We see and can know God personally because of His revealing Himself by and through His creative working.
How did God make Himself evident even to non-Jews? Paul explained in verse twenty the evidence of God for each person. He said, since time began when God created the world, His invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity were seen clearly. Paul explained that from before the creation when time began, God showed Himself. This word “creation” comes from the word ktisis and means created out of nothing-ex nihilo. Ktisis is always a divine creating. From before He created anything, God purposed to show Himself-His attributes of power and divinity, through what He created. He purposed before He created humanity that each person knows Him and be in a relationship with Him because of His love. That explains God’s wrath against sin. Sin separates people from Him, from being in a right relationship with Him. With this comes the other thread of thought from verse twenty. Since God purposed to show Himself to humanity through creation, He realized people would sin and need to see Him readily. The logic follows that God also made a way from the beginning of creation to bring people back to a right relationship with Him since His purpose was to be in a relationship with them.
What He revealed to people through creation and His continuing creative presence was not a simple trick, but to show His grandeur and power. Paul said this when he used the word dunamis. Dunamis is a great power. From it comes our words dynamite and dynamo. God’s great power would show His mighty and marvelous ways, ways which people could never achieve in their own strength and could not explain away. The other attribute God revealed in creation, Paul said, was His divine nature. Each person God ever created can know Him experientially (gnostos). From living in His created world watching Him create and maintain it, this God of the world and creation must be divine. Paul said, it is this God who would could be “clearly seen.” This verb is third person singular meaning each person can “clearly see,” as from above when the perspective gives total sight, that God is all-powerful and divine. God is real and should cause awe, reverence, and faith in Him because He was visible in what He made and is visible in His creative acts still. Acts 14:17 and 17:24 say God left a witness with the rain, fruitful seasons, and the world because He is the Lord of heaven and earth and not kept in temple made by hands. Job 12:7-9 said the beasts and fowls will tell you who made them. Psalm 19:1 said the heavens declare the glory of God. Jeremiah 5:21-22 says God tells the people He is the one who places the sand as a boundary for the sea. God made Himself evident in creation and in His continuing creative presence in the world.
Paul ended this section stating God is evident because of and through His creative presence so people are without excuse. For this reason, Paul said, their argument against God or about not knowing Him has no rationale. “Without excuse” comes from the Greek word anapologetos. Anapologetos literally means “not arguable.” Paul said the pagans/Gentiles’ argument about not knowing God lacked a defense. The pagans/Gentiles could not excuse themselves from believing in God by saying they did not know about Him. God can be evidenced, seen and experienced, by and through creation, a creation that continues as He creates and re-creates daily. God is known still today like the Israelites knew God in the Old Testament and Christians knew Him in the New Testament.
No one can raise his or her hands and shrug saying he or she did not know about God just so they can excuse their wrongdoing and irreverence. Paul, the apologist and apostle of Christ, explained to them and to us in detail how we are not guiltless. Each of us sins and God jealously wants us to be in an eternal relationship with Him. He is angry about our sin and wants us to be in a right relationship with Him. His love for us causes His anger, His wrath. God’s love for every person caused Him to provide a way for each person to return to a right relationship with Him. That way is through Jesus Christ.
Before Paul arrived at this point in his teaching to the pagans/Gentiles, after explaining each person could know God by and through creation, he showed the foolishness of humanity. Let’s consider a few relevant questions for ourselves before we continue with verses twenty-one through twenty-three.
· Do you realize you have done wrong things and are not righteous?
· Have you wondered and been in awe of the power of waterfalls and storms and the miracle of rainbows and birth? Have you recognized it as God’s hand in the world?
· Do you praise God and give Him honor for what you see and experience in the world?
· Do you reason away the evidence of God and refuse to believe God exists?
The Foolishness of Humanity
Once again, Paul begins his verse with the word “for,” which means we need to relate it to his earlier statement. Verse nineteen is the statement to which this “for” refers. In verse nineteen, Paul said God made the truth of Himself evident to humanity. In verse twenty, he explained God made evident His invisible attributes of power and divinity through creation and His creative presence in the world. With verse twenty-one, Paul relayed the foolishness of humanity to think they could reason God away and dishonor Him. He said in verses twenty-one through twenty-three,
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. (NASB)
In verse twenty-one, Paul used a different word for “know” than he did in verse nineteen. In verse nineteen the word for “known” came from the Greek word gnostos, an adjective. Gnostos means in that verse that which may be known of God or the knowable God active in the physical universe. God made Himself knowable to humanity by and through His creation and in His continuing creative presence. The word “knew” in verse twenty-one comes from the Greek word ginosko. Ginosko comes from the same root word as gnostos and means to come to know, recognize, or to understand through personal experience-experiential knowing. In the past tense, it often means to realize with definiteness the things relating to the one, true God and Christ, in contrast with the multi-god worship of the pagans/Gentiles, their polytheism. Paul said, “for though they knew God,” which means they knew God personally because of His active presence in creation and accepted Him truly as the one, true God.
When faced with this reality of God, a person can choose to acknowledge God then walk away as if He makes no difference in his or her life or the person can accept the reality of God, and worship and obey Him. Walking away from God after knowing of Him as the active presence in creation means denying Him, disobeying Him, and making one’s self one’s own god. Paul said that in the rest of this verse. He said, “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” The “honor” Paul spoke of comes from doxazo and has the same root as the word “doxology.” Paul said people did not glorify, honor, or thank God as if He was God. They acted as if He was merely mortal and could ignore or heed Him. People did not acknowledge God’s grace, power, and divinity. When faced with the reality of God, one of two decisions must come from that encounter. The person can deny God-His power and divinity-or can accept Him and glorify, honor, and thank Him with his or her words, actions, and thoughts.
Instead of honoring and thanking God, Paul said people “became futile in their speculations and their foolish hearts became darkened.” (vs. 21) The word “futile” comes from the Greek word meaning vain, foolish, or perverted in one’s mind. Paul meant people considered their own back and forth (debated) speculations and reasonings as having more value than the obvious evidence for and of God in and through creation and His continual creative presence. When someone thinks they know more than all-knowing (omniscient) God who created him or her, that is vanity and foolishness. A prideful person thinks he or she knows more than the One who created a thing or that person. Paul wrote about this foolishness in Ephesians 4:17b-18 when he said, “Walk no longer just as the Gentile also walk, in the futility of their minds, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” (NASB) This foolishness that denies the divinity and power of God after having seen and experienced it comes because of pride, ignorance/foolishness, and a hardened heart. This foolishness of which Paul spoke came from not putting facts together and being unwise. The people who had foolish hearts chose their own vain ways and kept the light of God from convincing them of His reality. The person obscured God’s light and did not focus on God’s sovereign action, but on his or her own desires.
Paul continued describing this person with a foolish heart. He said in verse twenty-two the person professed to have wisdom. He/she attested he/she was wiser than the conviction God placed in his/her heart of His power, divinity, and grace. By setting aside the wisdom of God for human reasoning, Paul said he/she became a fool. He spoke plainly here. The word “fool” comes from moraino, which means taint or make useless. Paul said this person made him/herself foolish-useless-with this untrue and unfounded reasoning. He said something similar in 1 Corinthians 1:20 when he said, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of this age?” (NASB) Jeremiah reiterated this in Jeremiah 10:14. He said, “Every man is stupid, devoid of knowledge. Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols; for his molten images are deceitful, and there is not breath in them.” (NASB) Whatever people make that means more to them than God and upon which they put more reliance than God shows their foolishness and their darkened hearts. Paul said in this verse while professing themselves wise, these unrighteous and ungodly people became fools and showed their stupidity and foolishness.
In verse twenty-three, Paul said, these ungodly and unrighteous people who knew (ginosko) God, but did not honor Him as God or give Him thanks, in their professing their own wisdom and becoming fools, “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.” Instead of worshiping and thanking the God revealed in creation and active in creating, these people, in their reasoning and speculation, turned their backs on Him and worshiped created things. They chose to worship the creature, not the Creator. Though they recognized God as incorruptible, that is immortal and imperishable, ungodly and unrighteous people chose to worship an image, something perishable that reflects its Source-Creator God. These people turned their backs on Him and worshiped man-hewn images of man, birds, animals, and reptiles (serpents). Luke spoke about man-made images to worship in Acts 17:29. He said, “We ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by art and thought of man.” (NASB) God told Moses to relay to people His message about this in Deuteronomy 4:15-18 when they did not see an image of Him on Mount Horeb, yet wanted to worship one. He said,
So watch yourselves carefully since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in water below the earth. (NASB)
· Do you recognize God with your life or debate His existence and turn away from Him?
· Is there an idol you worship instead of the one, true God?
· Do you give your job, your house or car, or your family more priority than God?
· Do you care more about what you can do or make with your hands than giving honor, glory, and thanks to the Creator who made you and all that you work with in your creating?
Paul explained to the pagans/Gentiles of Rome no excuse exists for denying the reality of God and knowing Him in a way that honors and glorifies Him through righteous and godly living and worship. God’s righteousness means His wrath will come upon those who are ungodly and unrighteous because He loves each of His created people and wants a relationship with them. Reasoning and rationalizing God’s existence, His might, and His divinity is foolishness and stupidity, Paul said. Why worship man-made idols in the shape of created things. Instead, worship the One who created all things and continues to be active in the world. Don’t worship the images of the creation, but instead, the Creator.
Relevance and Conclusion
God realized from the beginning of time humanity would gravitate toward worshiping what they could see even though people could recognize Him through creation and His continuing creative presence in the world. Still, Paul made sure pagans/Gentiles understood they were without excuse for turning away from God. He made sure they realized their guilt because of their sins that separated them from God. By writing this letter to Christians in Rome, Jewish- and Gentile-background believers, and God-worshipers, he said they were each guilty and without excuse. Paul would highlight even more the Jews' guilt because they had the Law from God (chapters 2-3). Evidence for God exists in creation and in the world God made and re-makes. People who strive to deny His existence so they do not have to face their own sin and guilt chase folly. Even pagans/Gentile are without excuse. God is present in the world. His presence as Creator comes as general revelation of His existence.
Each person must decide to recognize the one, true God-Yahweh, the I Am who was, is, and will always be. He is evident in the world. David declared this in Psalm 19:1 when he wrote, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” (NASB) We each must decide to acknowledge Him and be in a relationship with Him. God made a relationship with Him possible providing our justification by His Son’s, Jesus Christ’s, death on the cross. Christ’s death declares us righteous because He was the perfect sacrifice for sins because He did not sin. Each person must decide for him or herself if he or she will go beyond recognizing God in the world and acknowledge Him (confess) and accept His gift of righteousness so he or she can be in a righteous and eternal relationship with Him.
What will you do? Will you recognize God and turn your back on Him or will you acknowledge Him as God and accept the grace He offers of righteousness through the life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ?
Consider this verse by Paul-
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand and we exult in hope of the glory of God. [Romans 5:1, (NASB)]
Do you have this peace?
You can have it today, now, if you accept Jesus as Lord and ask for His forgiveness for your sins.
You can listen to this song declaring the existence of God by Hillsongs. Just click on the title below.