This has been an encouraging week. It has been a powerful week. I have learned a lot this week, but perhaps more about service than anything else. I have seen young men, so often the type of people who are proud, joyfully traveling with older men in order to serve them. I have seen a whole church commit itself to the service of thousands of people who are strangers to them. I have met leaders within the North American church who shown not a shred of pride, but have asked me, “How can I serve you?” I have been shown such love and have seen countless examples of God’s love in action. I have seen men who have become the message they study and preach. I have been honored to stand in the presence of so many humble, godly pastors, teachers and leaders, some who preach in the largest churches in the land and others who serve in tiny congregations you and I may never hear of. I have come to a deeper understanding of and love for this body of Christ.
This evening we have the great privilege of listening to the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul. R.C. has long been a stalwart of the Evangelical church – one who is widely respected for his dedication to the cause of Christ. John MacArthur says, truly, “he is a hero to all of us.” His contribution to the defense of the gospel and the spread of the truths of the gospel of grace are almost unparalleled in our day. I look forward to learning what God will have to say to us tonight through the preaching of the Word.
As his text Dr. Sproul read Romans 1:18-25. This afternoon Dr. MacArthur asked the panel during the question and answer session what is the most serious challenge facing the church. They all answered and then Al Mohler stated correctly that all of the other men’s concerns had a deeper problem: the nature of truth. Many people are wondering whether there even is truth and whether it is worth searching for. This situation was, of course, predicted by Francis Schaeffer who wrote about “true truth.”
Historically there have been times when people have questioned the very concept of truth. Prior to the Reformation, people waited for truth to be decreed to them by Rome. This was destroyed in the Reformation. In the seventeenth century, Descartes began searching for a foundational premise for truth – some truth that would be so foundational that do doubt it would be to affirm it. Descartes came up with “I think, therefore I am.”
This evening Dr. Sproul will get back to foundational truth. He will take us to one of the most foundational truths taught by the Scriptures, one that is so important we ignore it to our everlasting peril and the peril of the sheep pastors are called to serve.
Verse seventeen is almost universally regarded to be the thematic verse of the entire epistle. Paul spends the rest of the letter expounding and explaining this righteousness of God. He speaks about a revelation of the righteousness of God – the righteousness that He makes available to us by faith. Paul instantly departs from this positive note and, in verse eighteen, speaks about another revelation and this is the one we will look at tonight. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” The wrath of God is spectacularly unpopular and pastors seem to seek to shield their people from having to contemplate such a negative, pessimistic idea as the wrath of God.
At the time of the Great Awakening the theologians and pastors developed a theology of wrath so that the preaching of this period was defined by speaking of the depravity of man and the wrath of God against man. The nineteenth century gave us liberalism which denied the depravity of man and thus the wrath of God. The twentieth century turned against the optimism of this and again took seriously the wrath of God, but said that this was merely an expression of the demonic within the being of God – the “shadow side” of God.
Paul is talking about a disclosure that comes from God and it is the disclosure of wrath. We should notice here the word Paul uses for wrath. This word, when transliterated into English, becomes “orgy.” The connection to wrath is the emphasis on unbridled passion. What God is saying here is that His wrath is not a mere disturbance, not a slight displeasure, but an absolute fury. God is livid. He is, in a supernatural way, irate about something. When the Scripture tells us God is this angry about something, we need to listen up and learn what it is that can possibly provoke this loving, longsuffering deity to such anger.
We do not need to speculate because God gives us the answer. God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. God’s anger is not irrational. He is not manifesting His rage in an unjust manner. This is righteous indignation because the object of His anger and wrath is ungodliness and unrighteousness. In our culture, the prevailing suggestion towards God is that if He is really loving and good there can be no room for wrath. “But if God is really righteous and sin is really sin, God cannot not be angry.” A judge who is not angry at evil is not good. God’s wrath is not arbitrary or whimsical or irrational.
Paul mentions two things: ungodliness and unrighteousness. We could believe that Paul is speaking of two distinct sins, but this is not the case. It is almost universally agreed that Paul is expressing a single sin that is, by its wickedness, is both unrighteous and ungodly. It is both a blasphemous and unethical response. So what sin is it that is both ungodly and unrighteous that has so provoked God’s anger?
Paul says, “…who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” There is the sin – the universal sin. The sin that every human being in the world commits. The force of the verb translated “suppress” is that there is a truth God reveals to the whole world and that this truth is willfully suppressed and pushed down by all human beings. All human beings will not have God in their thinking. It is like a giant spring or coil. It takes all of my effort to push down, but I am determined to push it down and I have to work to keep it down, because if I take the pressure off, it will spring right back at me, right in my face. God hates it when people suppress truth!
The most fundamental basis of human guilt for which the gospel is the only remedy is the universal sin of fallen humanity of suppressing the truth of God.
“For what may be known of God is manifest in them.” When God speaks of the revelation of Himself to every human being, He is not talking about a vague, dim, obscure, hidden, cloudy idea. What God is saying to us is that His revelation of Himself is clear, manifest. So clear, so manifest you can’t possibly miss it. This text is the death blow to all agnosticism. Paul is saying that this revelation is clear, so we cannot blame God for not making Himself more clear. No one will be able to say on the last day that “the student didn’t learn because the teacher didn’t teach.”
“Since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen.” There are no contradictions in the Bible, but there are paradoxes. In this verse we see that God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen. How is this possible? That clear, manifest revelation makes itself know through the things that are made. I can’t see God, but I see the works of His hands, for the heavens declare His glory and the firmament shows forth His excellence. His invisible attributes are clearly known and revealed through the visible.
Every person on the planet knows that God exists, that He is eternal, that He is immutable, that He is self-existent, and that He is holy. This leaves people without excuse. What does Paul have in mind? What excuse does he anticipate? What excuse does every sinner harbor in his heart that he will use on the day of judgment? “If only I had known…” “I had no way of knowing…” Every unrepentant sinner is depending on using the excuse of ignorance to get them by. But Paul says that the clarity of God’s self-disclosure to every human being, leaves every human being without excuse.
Now we are getting to this foundational premise. “Because although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were they thankful…” When we contemplate the sinfulness of our humanity and ask what it is about our corruption that is so hateful to God, the foundational sin of the human race, is the sin of idolatry. It is there in the beginning. It is in the hearts of all those who stem from Adam’s sinful race. It is not that God is mad that they shut out this revelation of God, or that they shut out the light. The sin is that the light got through so that despite knowing God, they refused to acknowledge God. The fundamental sin is the refusal to acknowledge what we know to be true. It’s not that we don’t know God – it’s that we don’t honor Him as God! We honor Him, not as God, but in the way we want to honor Him. We honor Him as a bird, a totem pole, a golden calf, or some other idol.
“Their foolish hearts were darkened…” Do you ever wonder why it is that many of history’s titanic intellects managed to come to radically different conclusions? The answer is simple: If you begin your system of thought by refusing to acknowledge what you know to be true – if you start with a lie – the more brilliant and consistent you are in following that premise, the further from truth you will go.
“Professing to be wise, they became foolish…” It is the fool that says in his heart “there is no God.” In biblical categories, foolishness is not a question of intelligence but of one of a mind that is darkened and that embraces a lie. He claims wisdom despite being foolish. What can be more foolish than to have a clear manifestation of God and exchange that truth for a lie?
The essence of idolatry is found in this concept of an exchange, a swap, a trade – trading one thing for another. You’re trading the glory of the unchanging, holy, omnipotent God for the glory of a bird or a totem pole. No wonder the prophets made fun of the pagans of their day! This is what we do, though perhaps in a more sophisticated way. We use our minds to cut away God’s righteousness, holiness, sovereignty, and wrath, and we give people what they want to hear.
“Our propensity for idolatry is the most foundational, basic sin of the human heart. It is not instantly cured by conversion. There is nobody who has a perfectly biblical understanding of God, and to whatever degree we have discounted the biblical God, we have replaced God with a creation of our own imagination.” If you are in ministry and are not proclaiming the whole counsel of God, and are thus hiding the truths of God, you are exposing yourself to the fury of God.
“What our churches need more than anything else is worship. Worship where the hearts and souls of the people are lifted in a spirit of reverence and awe as they contemplate all that God is. Nothing less will do.”