The barbarian’s lack of formal, public education, doesn’t mean that he is stupid. He knew that the one that he killed was a man just like himself. He knew just where to put that blade, because all men have hearts in just about the same place. He knew that the tongue is the organ designed to form words and to spit them out. And he knew that the man could think – or not think – just as he could. He could guess that his victim could love or hate, laugh or cry, do simple math problems, and even vote. He could be reasonably sure that the dead man had a mother, perhaps a wife, and maybe some kids. But he kills him anyway. Despite the degraded state of the American legal system, the man is without excuse for his crime. In the depths of his heart, he knows that murder is wicked, and that he’d prefer not to be murdered himself.
The Book of Romans is primarily a revelation of, and argument for, man’s salvation from sin. And it begins where it must – pointing out the desperate need of man for deliverance and forgiveness. But that assumes that there is a law and a Lawgiver. And even though the barbarians who live around us may plead ignorance, saying that there is no God, and there is no ultimate penalty for murder – actually there is. And even though our tribal chiefs, our educators, and our scientists may tell us that murder is acceptable behaviour for creatures that have recently climbed out of the primordial ooze – it isn’t. Because we are not products of evolution as some people suggest, and because God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Jehovah has revealed to every heart that there is such a thing as sin, and every heart knows that there is ultimately some kind of punishment for that sin. There is no excuse for ignorance of these areas. God is known by His creation, if nothing else, and nothing but sin prevents our admission of that truth.
Ignorance of God is criminal.
There is a God, and He has revealed something of Himself to every man. OF course, the Son of God, is the ultimate revelation of God, but that is not the subject of this scripture. And yes, there is the Word of God, but that is not the subject of this scripture. There are more rudimentary and basic aspects of the revelation of God. For example, there are rules of right and wrong, which every human heart knows to be true, whether or not they are written by the finger of God on tablets of stone. And they are true whether or not man wants to listen to his heart or not. Furthermore there are penalties to pay for breaking those rules and for ignoring God’s revelations. Ignorance is not an excuse – we are all without excuse, says verse 20.
Assuming for the sake of argument, what I believe to be true, really is true…. Why did God create this universe? If God knew that Satan would fall and encourage man to fall as well, why did God create either one? If God knew that mankind would live in rebellion against Him, what was His purpose in creating us? Not only did God know that we would sin and live in rebellion against Him, it was foreordained. This was a part of the plan of the Creator, even if it makes little or no sense to our fallen minds.
We may never have the definitive answer to my question, but we may surmise some answers. For example, I think that it is reasonable to assume that God created in order to bring glory to Himself. It’s not that He wasn’t already glorious, or that He was made more glorious by creating. It’s certainly not necessary that He have creatures like us, or like the angels, for the purpose of glory. God is not really made more glorious, or happy, or honoured to hear us praise His Name. And yet, I think that it was His glory that had something to do with God’s act of creation. And related to that, only in created beings does God have something to whom to reveal Himself. Sure the Word of God is to our benefit, but we are not deserving of that benefit. We haven’t earned that benefit, and even after having it, we haven’t used it as well as we should. And then there is the righteousness of God which has been revealed from faith to faith and heart to heart. “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen.”
Assuming that my assumption is correct, and we have been created in order to receive the revelation of God, to deny that revelation, to ignore it, or to imprison that revelation, is an act of criminality. When a king offers a gift, even if it is nothing more than a gift of knowledge and information, to spit on that gift and to walk away may bring down the wrath of that king. If that gift is an autographed picture of the king’s son, then it needs to be gratefully accepted and enjoyed. The Bible is God’s autographed autobiography, and in addition to the scriptures, the Lord has places ads and announcements all over creation – even in our hearts.
Our first father Adam, knew God more perfectly than any person since. His son, Cain, chose to disregard much of what his father knew about the Lord. And with each successive generation more of the grandchildren of Adam have become wilfully ignorant. “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (verse 21-22). “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). “Wherefore God also gave them up” (Romans 1:24). “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.”
Ignorance of God is an act of criminal neglect worthy of the eternal death sentence.
But ignorance of God will always be with us to some degree.
Verse 19 says that there is “that which may be known of God.” It implies that there is also that which may not be known of God. And the Lord doesn’t hold us responsible for that lack of knowledge, He even tells us not to look. It is a dangerous and foolish thing to stare into the brightness of the sun, but it may be even more foolish to stare into the brightness of the Shekinah glory of God. “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
The universe is a finite place, despite what some foolish philosophers may think. Despite the fact that the universe has its limits, and there is an end to it somewhere, it could be that science will never reach that limit and know its end. As we reach farther and farther out with our telescopes, listening devices and other scientific tools, we keep discovering that there is more to discover. And that it just one of the aspects of God’s finite creation.
What can our minds, our imaginations, our science or even our philosophies learn about the truly infinite? There are a million, a billion, a trillion things which we will never know about God, because we are incapable of knowing those things. Even the number of the Lord’s unknowables is unknowable. He is immeasurable. eternal, unimaginable.
However, ignorance of some divinely authorized things is expected.
Rather than put you all to sleep with a long list, let me try to limit myself to suggestions from the context. In verses 17 & 18 Paul referred to revelations of the righteousness of God and the wrath of God. Verse 20 speaks about a limited revelation of the Lord’s eternal power and Godhead.
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.” Verse 20 ties a couple of understandable words together creating something beyond our understanding. What is God’s “eternal power”? God’s power is called “omnipotence” – all powerfulness – but has any imagination ever grasped that? For example, our solar system is powered by the energy of the sun. But our sun in comparison to some other stars is like comparing a tiny poppy seed to the big beach ball that we sometimes us at camp. And the omnipotent God is the source of ten million of those beach-ball-type stars. It is impossible for man to grasp the immensity of God’s power – that is problem #1 in these two words. But doesn’t it seem that the word “eternal” not quite the right adjective to use with “power”? It’s not the word to use in describing the depths of God’s power, where we might prefer terms like “explosive power” or “megatons” of power. But “eternal” is correct in thinking about the length of God’s omnipotence. God’s omnipotence is like the largest nuclear explosion created and which has yet to come to an end. “Omnipotence” and “eternality” are two of the things about God which man will never be able to fully understand, and we probably won’t even after we are resurrected, glorified and dwelling with the Lord for ten million years. Perhaps we can begin to imagine their meaning, but never will we fully understand them. But the Lord will not punish us for our limited knowledge and this kind of ignorance.
There are a couple of Greek words in this passage which can be found nowhere in the Bible but here. One of those is translated “Godhead” – “theiotes” (thi-to’-ace). It apparently is referring to Jehovah’s divine nature. The creation, which surrounds us, and of which we are a part, whispers to every thinking heart that there is a Creator.
In your church bulletin this morning I printed half of an article, which was taken from a secular newspaper in Pennsylvania. I plan to print the second half next Sunday. It may not be the perfect article and end all the debate, but it’s reasonably good. In essence it says that the man initially responsible for breaking the chromosome code of the human body, has been forced from an atheistic evolutionary position to one that demands the existence of and intelligent Creator-God. The 3 billion parts of the genetic code are so well organized that they demand a Designer. Francis Collins, has now published a book, in which he testifies that all our genes and chromosomes speak the language of God. He says that through his search for truth, mixed with a bit of religious reading, and then with a dash of the beauties of Washington’s Cascade Mountains, he could no longer resist declaring the reality of God. The order of the universe, from the solar systems to the smallest parts of our chromosomes are so well organized that it took an infinite Mind to bring them about.
And I am constantly learning new things which make this same declaration. The other day I was talking to a man about veins and blood. He told me that, like our heart, throughout our bodies veins and arteries have check valves which guarantee that our blood flows in only one direction. If I ever knew that I had completely forgotten it. These valves stay open to blood going the right way, but if for some reason that blood is forced backwards, these valves close and no harm is done. I immediately mentioned the wisdom of the Creator, but it didn’t get any response from the man. I cannot believe that accident or evolution could have thought to put valves in our veins and arteries. That required design – intelligence – a Creator. In other words, it required God to design and install them.
That murdering barbarian with which we began this morning, would after time, learn things about the way that the human body functions, and without an evolutionary bias, he would be forced to acknowledge some sort of God. Not professing himself to be extraordinarily wise, he wouldn’t be as foolish as our evolutionists today. But he would be just as responsible for the knowledge that he had been given. Creation doesn’t just state historical facts, but some of our duties as well. The first of those duties is to acknowledge the existence of the Creator.
Something else which the Lord requires of us, based on the revelations that He has universally given, is thanksgiving. “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” What we know of the Lord in natural revelation should make us marvel and look for the Creator. And it should also fill us with thanksgiving. There are ten thousand, perhaps a hundred thousand precisely moving parts in this creation which work together to put food on our tables. Things such as the cycles of the weather, the seasons, the snow and the rain. Things like the way that plants germinate, grow, reproduce and permit us to harvest them. The way that animal flesh can become food. The way that our bodies can assimilate spinach, potatoes, fish and beef, reducing them to their basic parts and turning them into fuel. Then there are larger things like the earth’s rotation and relationship to the sun and the energy that it provides. None of these things are random accidents, but the design of the Almighty God – Elohim Jehovah. And these things should draw from our hearts thoughts, words, and songs of praise. When man in selfishness and pride withholds his praise, he poisons his own soul. He earns for himself the wrath of the Creator.
Ignorance of God and the basics of God’s law is a fatal flaw in man.
Not only are we all without excuse, but when we bury the truth of God, we loose the opportunity to be blessed by it. Changing the glory of the uncorruptible God into things sinful & corruptible, brings about rejection by God. “For this cause God gave them up” – verse 26. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind” – verse 28. And the wages of such sinfulness and foolishness is death.
It doesn’t matter where in the world a person might live. It doesn’t matter how well educated that person is. We all have at least one aspect of the revelation of God before our hearts. We are all both witnesses and parts of God’s creation, surrounded by the natural testimony of the Lord. Admittedly there is more. I was raised in a reasonably religious home, with a copy of the King James Bible in my hands. Through the scriptures, the righteousness of God had been revealed to me, and I knew that I was a sinner. But I remained a sinner – a religious, sometimes church-going sinner. Creation is not a sufficient enough revelation to save our souls, we need the Word of God. But it also takes another revelation to bring us to our knees – the revelation contained in the gospel.
The gospel is the place to which Paul is headed in this book. You and I are sinners. Sinners because we are children of Adam, and sinners because we have chosen to be. God is righteous and just, demanding that sinners pay the penalty for their sins. But He also provided a way of escape, by sending His only begotten Son into the world to die the sinner’s death. The good-news, the Gospel is that – those who acknowledge God, acknowledge their sin by repenting of it with a broken heart, and who begin to cling to the Son of God and his sacrifice on Calvary – those souls, God acknowledges and delivers from death. Until we repent of our sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator/Saviour, we will forever remain in our sin and suffer for that sin throughout eternity.