Any time one approaches the subject of sin, wrath,
judgment and hell, the most frequent question arises about the
"heathen which has never heard." God would not judge
someone who has never heard, would He? How can God hold the person
who has never heard the gospel responsible? Paul deals with this
problem specifically in Romans 1:19-23.
In my last article we saw that God reveals his
wrath against rebellious man because he suppresses the truth of God
in unrighteousness (verse 18). The context indicates that Paul is at
least referring to the truth of the knowledge of God as Creator and
Judge. The reason for man suppressing the truth and Godís wrath
being revealed is found in Romans 1:19-20
The Rebellious Man Rejects the Truth of
"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
The word translated "because" in verse
19 gives us a hint that Paul is explaining and justifying the
statement that men suppress the truth (verse 18). In verse 19 Paul
boldly expresses that all men suppress this truth because God
reveals it to everyone and it is manís natural response to either
actively or passively reject the truth. Notice the expression in
verse 19 "evident in them" (or could be translated
"evident among them") and the phrase "made it evident
to them" imply that this knowledge of God has entered into
their mind and conscience. In other words, no man can legitimately
say, "God did not make Himself known to me." Paul is
saying that men, no matter who they are and where they live among
the world, suppress the truth about God. Paul says, "I know
this because God has made His knowledge plain to everyone."
Now what knowledge of God is Paul talking about?
He explains in verse 20. Paul says that everyone should know
something about Godís invisible character through His visible
creation. Paul says Godís eternality and power is displayed in His
creation. The word translated "Godhead" in the King James
Version is better understood "divine nature" for it refers
to the sum of all of Godís attributes. How many times have you
heard nonbelievers marvel over something of Godís creation and
explain that they believe in a "Supreme Being" or some
kind of God? But they refuse to glorify God or give thanks because
they are content to worship their own speculations of God in the
form of manís ideas or creation itself. David understood this
general revelation in nature when he wrote in Psalm 19:1-6:
"The heavens are telling of the
glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterance
to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a
strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the
heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is
nothing hidden from its heat."
Scientists are constantly in awe of the universe
and it consistently points them to a Creator but so many suppress
the truth. I believe a classic illustration of this is the agnostic
Robert Jastrow, an astrophysicist. In 1978 he stated:
Now we see how the astronomical
evidence supports the biblical view of the origin of the
worldÖ.The essential elements in the astronomical and biblical
accounts of Genesis are the same. Consider the enormousness of the
problem. Science has proved that the universe exploded into being at
a certain moment. It asks: What cause produced this effect? Who or
what put the matter of energy into the universe and science cannot
answer these questions....
For the scientist who has lived by
his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream:
He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the
highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted
by a band of theologians who have been there for centuries.1
Here is a man who accepts the truth about the
creation but still suppresses it because he has not (as far as I
know) submitted his life to God.
Whether you are a highly educated man or the
ignorant tribesman in an untouched primitive land, Paul says that
the knowledge of God through creation is evident to them. Therefore,
no man will be able to stand before God and say "I didnít
know" because the revelation of God through nature will rise up
and declare them guilty. This is why Paul says all men are without
excuse. The rejection of Godís knowledge through his creation is
enough to condemn him to hell.
What if someone responds to the knowledge in
creation, is he saved? If he comes to the realization that he should
not worship the river but the God who made the river, will he be
saved? No. No one is saved unless they believe in Jesus Christ (Acts
4:12), but if they respond to God through the knowledge of creation,
God will send the gospel to him. There have been numerous examples
of this very thing as missionaries go out into the untouched fields
of the world. This is what happened to Cornelius in Acts 10. He had
responded to the light God had given him and God sent Peter to give
him words by which he may be saved (Acts 11:13-14). In other words,
the knowledge of God in creation is enough to condemn man but not
enough to save him. However, if one responds to God, the pattern of
the Scripture seems to indicate that he will receive the gospel
(Acts 10: John 6:37).
Dr. Ryrie illustrates:
For instance, if you offered to give
one dollar to a man whom you knew needed one hundred dollars and if
he rejected your one dollar gift you would doubtless consider his
refusal sufficient grounds for declining to give him further
assistance. If on the other hand, the needy man accepted the one
dollar gift gratefully, you might try to give more. The dollar would
be insufficient to meet his need, but if refused it would be
sufficient to condemn him.2
The dollar is like the knowledge of God in
creation which is not able to save, but is able to condemn, if
rejected. Therefore, the wrath of God is revealed because men, even
the unreached man, suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness.
Since this is the case, Scripture declares all men without excuse
The Response of a Man Who Suppresses the
"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."
So far Paul has told us the fact of
the wrath of God against rebellious man (1:18). Then he has given us
the reason for the wrath of God upon men who suppress the truth. Now
in verses 21-23, we see the response of the man who suppresses the
truth. In the first part of verse 21 we see that man willfully
ignores God. They do not want to glorify God or give Him thanks. I
believe this is the first sign of spiritual deadness. The chief end
of man is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31) and to enjoy Him forever
(Ps. 73:25-26) and part of glorifying God is giving Him thanks. What
do we mean "to glorify God"? The late Professor John
Murray says, "It means simply to ascribe to God the glory that
belongs to him as God, to give him in thought, affection and
devotion the place that belongs to him in virtue of the perfections
which the visible creation itself makes known."3 Manís
willful neglect of God brings Godís wrath.
The second response of a man who
suppresses the truth is found in the latter part of verse 21 and
verse 22. Here we see that man reasons against God. In verse 21 Paul
uses the aorist tense with his verbs which suggests in this context
that Paul is writing of a historical event and interpreting the
story of man after the Fall.4 Their minds were affected by sin so
they became futile in their thinking. The word "heart" in
Scripture is the seat of feeling, intellect and will. This passage
tells us that menís hearts are darkened which means their minds
cannot reason straight; their emotions cannot function properly
imparting peace and joy, and their wills do not even try to be in
harmony with Godís law.5 They profess to be wise, but they are
Finally, men who suppress the truth totally
replace God (verse 23). They replace the eternal, powerful God with
men and their ideas. We call this wisdom today in higher learning.
They also may begin to worship cows and snakes. Man turns to the
creation instead of the Creator. Therefore, the wrath of God is
revealed upon those who worship such thingsĖwho rebel against the
knowledge of God.
Paul will give us three sources of the knowledge
of God in Romans. In this article we see Godís knowledge in the
general revelation of His creation. This knowledge cannot save
someone, but its constant display throughout the universe leaves
every person without excuse before God at the judgment. The second
source of knowledge is the "work of the Law" of God on
manís conscience which is stated in Romans 2:15-16. This gives all
men some sense of the will of God concerning what is right and
wrong. However, because of the effects of manís sin nature, his
conscience cannot be a reliable guide. It too cannot save sinners,
but it is enough to condemn men. The third source is the divine
revelation of the Scripture which gives us the gospel whereby men
may be saved. If the wrath of God is revealed upon those who
reject the knowledge of God in creation, how much more will it be
revealed on those who hear the special revelation of Godís gospel
and reject it! My friend, will you take heed and not reject the
knowledge of God? "For God so loved the world, that He gave His
only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish,
but have eternal life." (John 3:16) "He who believes in
the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not
see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)
Our next two articles will address the judgment of
God upon those who reject the Truth.
1. In the July 1980 issue of Readerís Digest
there is an article reprinted and condensed from the June 25, 1978 New
York Times magazine by Robert Jastrow. It is titled, "Have
Astronomers Found God?"
2. Charles Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, p. 63.
3. John Murray, NIC on Romans, Vol. I, p.
4. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Bib. Sac. Vol.
129, No. 513, p. 72.
5. William Hendricksen, New Testament
Commentary, Romans Chapters 1-8, p. 72.