If you have never met someone calling himself an “atheist” then you have led a sheltered life. If you’ve never met someone who LIVED like an atheist then you had better check your pulse. They are just about as common as mosquitos, and they bear other similarities as well.
Among other things, our text describes the modern atheist. From these words we can paint a verbal picture of that man or woman. And in doing so, I’d like to help you spot the atheist in your society. But additionally, I would also like you to see that there lurks a little atheism in each of our hearts.
The Holy Spirit said through Paul that “perilous times” were coming. I believe that what he predicted are here today. They are hard, troublesome and dangerous times – which is the meaning of the word Paul used. These times are not necessarily perilous because of global warming, nuclear waste or the man who is in the White House. These are spiritually perilous times, and the cause is rooted in open, rampant sin. And these are perilous times because of runaway atheism.
The twenty items mentioned in this text make up a description of the average atheist. It is not required that every point be found in a person before we have an actual atheist. There are confessed atheists who appear to be outwardly beneficial to society. And perhaps you are thinking, “I know a man who claims to be an atheist who is good, decent and helpful. He doesn’t appear to be overtly guilty of any of the things Paul mentions. Pastor, you are building a straw man, and that is deceitful. That makes you just like so many others who attack Bible Christianity.” But I answer – outward appearances are just that – outward appearances. There are usually reasons why your atheist friend appears to be such a fine fellow.
Atheists, like all unbelievers, are first and foremost lovers of their own selves. And to put it bluntly, sometimes a good facade is selfishly beneficial. We all need to remember the scripture which says, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” “Eat and drink he (may say) unto thee, but his heart is far from thee.” Unbelievers usually do whatever is necessary to get their way, altering their outward appearance when necessary to accomplish their purpose. Yes, Paul DOES give us many of the characteristics of the modern atheist.
Before we proceed, we need to understand that there are different kinds of atheists.
There are different ways to use that most negative of words. For example there are DOGMATIC atheists. This is the man who says that he has thoroughly studied theology in all its branches. As a professed “expert” on the subject, he denies the reality of God – that God exists. He has calculated his perceptions and the risks, determining that he is “a” or “anti” – “theistic.”
The truth is – there are very few dogmatic atheists. In fact, there are some experts who believe that there never has been a true dogmatic atheist. No one can thoroughly study Jehovah, creation, science and the Bible, and come away without some concept of deity. And even if that person rejects the God of the Bible, he will still end up with some sort of god – something he venerates and worships. It may eventually be his mind – what he considers to be his exceptional mind, but he worships something.
A second kind of atheist is one that we might call the CLASSICAL variety. Before the 18th century, dogmatic atheism was rarely ever found. It took Voltaire and later Robert Ingersoll to try to popularize it. And for a while the word was used just as commonly, if not more than it is today. But when that word was uttered before 18th century, it was usually applied to someone else. Almost never did someone self-assertively say, “I am an Atheist.” It was said about others. It was an accusation, not a boast. For centuries, the classical usage of “atheist” was applied to someone who denied the NATIONAL god. Socrates was called an “atheist,” because he was not so sure of Grecian religious scheme. The Jews were “atheists,” because they believed in only one God, rather than many. And early Christians were hunted and hounded because they were “atheists” in the eyes of the Romans. Those people were castigated because they denied what other people called “gods.” Today, in our world of modern ecumenism, multi-culturalism and pluralism this use of the word is rare.
But then we come to the PRACTICAL atheist. For most atheists today, their religion has nothing to do with faith or intellect. For atheists today it is about the way they live – LIFE. This kind of atheism is what we see here in this text. And this is where the real danger lays – in this is the great peril. Like all kinds of atheism, practical atheists are entirely negative, only destructive. Since there is no God as far as they are concerned, there is also no universal standard of good and bad. They do not necessarily deny the existence of right and wrong – they have their standards, their morals. Those morals are determined by their own consciences – what is convenient or inconvenient. But what is convenient to one person may mean death to another person. Abortion
in is a perfect case in point, and euthanasia is an upcoming second point in our society.
Atheism leaves man with no sure foundation for human government. It boils down to “every man for himself.” Unless out love for his own neck he agrees that he and his neighbors should not do certain things. People should not use meth because society has temporarily agreed that it’s crime. But as soon as the majority society doesn’t care any more, then it will no longer be a crime. Marijuana is an extant example. Forget about eternal principles, forget about God, forget spiritual altruism. Atheism is perilous and unavoidably destructive.
So what ARE the characteristics of THESE atheists?
Why should we be careful of them, if not actually fear their atheism? First, because these people deny the PERSONALITY of God. Jannes and Jambres are mentioned in verse 8. Evidence suggests that these two were the primary Egyptian priests who opposed Moses and Aaron. Would they call themselves “atheists?” Absolutely not. They were priests of the hundreds of things classified as Egyptian gods – from cats to crocodiles. So then why are they mentioned in this passage? Because they resisted the truth; the truth of the God called “Jehovah.” They worshiped hundreds of deities, but not the one true and living God. And their faith, or lack of faith caused them to oppose the ambassadors of God, Moses and Aaron. For all intents and purposes they were atheistic. Practical atheists deny that God is a person, with will, with authority, with infinite power. The Hindu in his pantheism, his belief that creation is in itself god, is an atheist in his denial of Jehovah.
Practical atheists deny their personal accountability to God. That is, they deny that the personal God, Jehovah, has a right to establish and enforce His standards. So atheists refuse to admit that there is Jehovah-defined sin in the world or in themselves. This is the explanation for each of the items mentioned in our text.
David, was not only king of Israel and a psalmist, but he was and a prophet of the Lord. In Psalm 36, he said, “I have seen the transgressions of the wicked.” At that point he could have made a list just like Paul’s here in II Timothy. But he skipped that saying only, “The conclusion that I have reached is that they have no fear of God.” What robbed those people of that very important fear? The thief was atheism. The reason we have atheism in the world is due to fact that men are lovers of their own selves, wanting to gratify that love in sinful pleasure rather in the purpose of man’s creation, the love of God – verse 4. They are atheists because they want to hide from their accountability before the Creator.
And parallel to that is their denial of the ACCEPTABILITY of God. It is an undeniable fact that mankind has in his soul an empty place which only deity can fill. Every society since the beginning time been has been forced by its own soul to worship some sort god. When as humans we find that the extent of sin within us means that we can’t worship the One True and Living God, then we go out of way to find one more acceptable to our fallen natures. That too is atheism in practice.
And what is the most preferable god to the practical atheist? Himself, of course. For the atheist, love which should be given to Elohim, is usually spent upon himself. I’m not saying that professed atheists are more guilty than unsaved Baptists or Catholics but…. They are covetous, rather than generous and sacrificing. They are proud, rather than humble before the Giver of all good things. They are blasphemers, rather than worshipers. They are lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God. Man, from the beginning, has wanted to make himself his god. That was the essence of the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve. So we have come up with an atheistic theology of self-propelled origination – “evolution.” And the atheist has his own self-determined standard of morality. Unfortunately it flaps and fluctuates more than Old-Glory in the wind. The atheist has his own self-satisfying self-love. And like most other kinds of sinners, he has his own self-designed means of forgiveness.
He has his own brand of divine omniscience. Consider this: for someone to say that there is no God, he must know all things. He declares that he’s been to every galaxy and beyond the universe. He says that he knows the beginning and the end of all things. He has plumbed the depths of every atom. He knows all that there is to know. And through his infinite knowledge, he knows there is no God. Isn’ that just a little presumptuous? Psalm 10:4 says: “The wicked, through pride will not seek God; God is not in his thoughts.” Psalm 14:1 says that despite his profession of intelligence, the atheist is a fool. A DOGMATIC atheist cannot properly exist, because in order to prove there is no God, he himself must have the mind of a god – omniscience. But the PRACTICAL atheist on the other hand, just doesn’t care about such details of logic.
Another characteristic of the atheist is that he forces himself to live the black-hole of despair. I have heard that a black hole in astronomy is a place of such density that than nothing can escape it. It is so strong that even light cannot pass by without being swallowed up in it. Some atheists are characterized as ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth. They are rarely satisfied with anything, being characterized by covetousness for more and more. If you have an atheist friend, don’t be surprised to find yourself used-up and cast away at some point. First, because they live for themselves above all others. And secondly, because they have only self-made rules for friendship and loyalty. Atheists are only temporarily and spasmodically happy people. They know nothing of genuine peace and tranquility in a world of chaos. Read the biographies of the well-known atheists of the last two centuries. They cannot be content with such things as they have. They may say that death holds them in no fear, because it’s just a cessation of life. But as death approaches, fear usually fills their hearts. Few can look death in the face who do not know the One upon whose waist hang the keys of death and hell.
And whether the atheist successfully denies the reality or not, he shall spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” We might paraphrase Psalm 9:17 by saying, “The wicked shall be turned into hell and all those who deliberately forget or deny the Lord.”
What am I trying to do this morning?
I want you to see that there is a reason for fear in this society of growing atheism. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, two millennia ago, Paul told Timothy, “Perilous times shall come.” Atheists – practical, classical, dogmatic – whatever – these people do not live by the same standards as the child of God. And as a result there could be an open hunting season on Christians some day.
But something else I’d like you to notice: Isn’t there a tendency towards atheism even in your own heart? I don’t mean that you are willing to throw your Bible away and declare that God has died. But don’t you sometimes wish that there were no God with His laws and standards? We must not look down our nose at that befuddled atheist. Because we have been just as guilty as yearning for licentious liberty as the god-denier. “There go I, but for the grace of God.”
How essential it is for the Christian to work on his love for the Lord Jesus Christ. How important it is to set our affection on things spiritual and things above. Set your affection on the Bible and the revelation that we have there of Christ.
If you are currently living without love for Christ, you are for all practical purposes an atheist. Deny it if you like, but Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the Life, no man cometh unto the Father but through me.” Every Christ rejecting sinner is an atheist of sorts. But, “Why will ye die, O house of Israel; turn yourselves and live ye.” God is not some terrible idea to be avoided at all costs. God in Christ Jesus is the greatest gift available to us in this world. Put your faith in Him.