No Excuse for Denying God
Romans 1:21 (ESV)
For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
There can be no question about the Gentiles [non-Jews] not knowing God. It is true that—unlike the Jewish people—the Gentiles did not have God’s special revelation in Scripture. However, this was absolutely no excuse for professing ignorance of God, or for the practice of their godless and impious lifestyles. Even although—at this time—the Gentile nations did not possess the Scriptures, God had still revealed himself to them through his creation. In addition, God had made himself known to them through their conscience and through historical events when the LORD’s almighty and sovereign hand was seen unmistakably.
Such events included the deluge in the days of Noah, which God brought upon the world for its extreme wickedness and violence. They included the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for its homosexual and other immoral practices. They included the plagues brought upon Egypt for its rebellion against God in refusing to release the Hebrew people from the land of slavery. They also included many other situations throughout history. (Gen. 6:11ff; 19:24-25; Exodus 7:1ff)
In the light of the evidence, no one could deny the existence of a supreme and all-powerful God. They could only reject the God to whom the evidence pointed so clearly—and this is what they did. However, by rejecting the only true God, the Gentiles were refusing to give God the glory, or to submit to and worship his majestic and holy Name. They were refusing to acknowledge the only true God as their Creator, their Sovereign and their Judge.
Again, they refused to give thanks to God for all the blessings that he had bestowed upon them daily. This included the blessing of life itself, together with the blessings of fruitful seasons, of rain, sun, and many other gifts of God’s providence and common grace. In fact, instead of praising and thanking God for all these things, they attributed such blessings to their idols and began worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:16-17; 17:23-31)
Why did this happen to these people? Because, as verse 21 makes plain,
21b …they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (ESV)
God had created mankind in his own image: i.e., not only as a physical or biological being, but also as a being with a truly rational, moral and spiritual nature or soul (these latter qualities being the image of God in man). However, when mankind rebels against and rejects his Creator, he also rebels against and rejects his Creator’s moral and spiritual standards for his life. When men and women set aside God’s holy standards, God’s infallible and unchanging truth and righteousness no longer guide their minds. Ultimately, this results in the adoption of relative standards of belief and behaviour. Effectively, this means that their minds begin to condone, or even approve of, the practice of sin. However, this is the very thing that God’s standard of righteousness condemns, and which a person of morally and spiritually sound mind would repudiate.
When a person continues on this downhill slide, his thinking eventually becomes confused and ultimately futile. The rational processes of his mind become so distorted by the acceptance of sin that the person is no longer able to discriminate clearly between that which is morally right and that which is morally wrong. Thus, he often approves of what God condemns, and condemns those things that God approves. (Eph. 4:17-19) His inability, however, to distinguish clearly between right and wrong, affords him absolutely no excuse in God’s eyes. He is wholly responsible for his condition, since he brought it upon himself by his rejection of God and his holy laws.
All of this proceeds from a heart (or mind, or inward being) darkened by sin. This, therefore, is mankind’s ultimate folly—or moral deficiency—in relation to God. By rejecting God in his life, and repudiating God’s righteous standards, his whole inward being has become a pit of darkness, and the source of his moral and spiritual corruption. His entire thought processes have become essentially futile in their outlook.
This does not mean that the entire world has reached the same state of moral and spiritual depravity. Nor does it mean that people are wholly incapable of doing, saying and thinking anything morally good. However, it does mean that their innate sinful nature has corrupted their entire heart, soul and mind. Consequently, nothing they think, say or do is acceptable to God. Indeed, to a greater or lesser degree, unforgiven sin contaminates everything they think, say or do. This, however, does not prevent some such individuals from presuming to be well-informed in moral and spiritual matters—or even to be qualified to sit in judgment upon God himself!
(To be continued)
[Excerpt from Expository Notes: Romans (chapter 1 verse 21). To read or download the full version of these Notes, click on the NT Commentaries menu tab above.]Follow @gordon_lyons