God's wrath toward humanity. 1:18-25
In 1:18-32 Paul tells us that humanity, in its totality, stands under the condemnation of God. There is no righteous person before God; everyone is under the power of sin and consequently without any righteousness of their own, whether they are godless, or godly, functioning outside God's law, or functioning under God's law. No person is righteous, for no person has kept God's law perfectly. Paul is not actually out to debase human society, rather, he is making a theological statement about the standing of humanity before God. In our particular passage for study, Paul sets out to show that we are all rebels before God, without personal righteousness and therefore undeserving of any blessing from God. When our behavior is considered in the light of God's revelation, it is found wanting. There is no righteousness in us, we all stand condemned, good and bad together.
v18-20. All humanity rightly stands under the judgement of God, for although we possess an adequate revelation of God (of his eternal power and deity, ie., his invisible nature and attributes), we still suppress the truth about him. The world does not honor God, nor gives him thanks, nor gives due recognition to the Divine. As to the degree of knowledge possessed by those without Biblical revelation, Hodge says "the knowledge of God does not mean simply a knowledge that there is a God, but as appears from what follows, a knowledge of his nature and attributes, his eternal power and Godhead (v20), and his justice (v32)."
v21-23. Although humanity has a sufficient knowledge of God from the glory of the creation, we have none-the-less turned from that revelation. This neglect has brought with it a dullness of mind with regard to spiritual things. So, instead of worshipping God, we worship elements of the creation. This idolatry is totally inexcusable. Paul is not suggesting that it was possible for humans to achieve a righteous standing in the sight of God on the basis of obedience to the natural laws revealed in nature. All Paul is saying is that natural revelation has served to expose the real state of humanity. We are all bound by sin and therefore stand under the condemnation of God.
v24-25. As is always the case, corruption leads to further corruption. Because humanity exchanged the truth about God for a lie, God gave us over to our evil ways. Hodge puts it this way, "God often punishes sin by abandoning the sinner to the commission of others. This judicial abandonment is consistent with the holiness of God and the free agency of man. God does not impel or entice to evil; he ceases to restrain. He says of the sinner, 'Let him alone'".
Paul in our passage for study makes an amazing statement about God's revelation of himself in nature. Although he is "invisible", God's eternal power and divinity is "clearly seen" in nature. An artist is not their painting, but they can be known through their painting. An observer of nature can be objectively aware of God in creation. We experience in nature his wisdom, power and generosity. So, not only is it possible to attain a knowledge of God's existence from nature, we can also discern his nature and attributes.
Paul later adds, in 1:32, that God's revelation in nature enables an understanding of "God's righteous decrees". Humans, either from within themselves, or human society, or the natural environment, can discern right from wrong. So, even God's justice can be discerned in nature. cf. Act.14:16-17, 17:22-31.
None of this knowledge can be used to reach God. The revelation of nature serves only to reveal the existence of God while at the same time exposing our distance from him. We learn from nature that there is a righteous God, before whom "there is no one righteous, not even one." The whole of creation stands under the condemnation of God.
The human response to this condition goes one of two ways. On one hand, we may ignore this revelation of God's character. The result is an increased ignorance of spiritual things; a growing desensitizing of the divine presence - "their foolish hearts were darkened." In this state "God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts." Corruption leads to further corruption. On the other hand, we may recognize our lostness in the sight of God and seek his mercy, stand broken before him and cry out to him. It is in this state of loss that the gospel comes to the fore.
The gospel is for seekers. It is a message of hope to those who seek after the living God, but who know that their state of corruption bars their way. The gospel proclaims the way to life through Jesus; it proclaims the sovereign grace of God operative in Christ. Jesus Christ, taken by wicked men and crucified, has broken the bonds of death, ascended on high and now rules in glory. This risen Lord freely offers us the totality of God's blessings. All we have to do is ask.
1. Discuss the different elements of God's natural revelation. Describe where you see God's hand in creation.
2. If it is true that the gospel is for seekers, how does this truth affect the mechanics of gospel presentation?
Print-friendly: Sermon Notes. and Technical Notes: v18-23, v24-32
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