Evidences of the Sinfulness of Man – Romans 1:19-23
Pastor Mark Hardy December 11, 2011
Last time in our study of Romans 1:18 we saw that the terrifying wrath of God is targeted at the sinfulness of the entire human race. But someone might ask, “Do people who didn’t ask to be born, let alone born sinful, really deserve the harsh fate of spending eternity in hell?”
Although the topics of man’s sinfulness, his deserved condemnation, and the wrath of God are difficult to discuss, it is crucial we understand that if people are not lost, hopeless, and incapable of glorifying God apart from Jesus Christ, then there is absolutely no reason for them to be saved by Him. The gospel of Jesus Christ has no meaning whatsoever unless there is something to be saved from.
Therefore, in Romans 1 Paul shows the biblical order in the presentation of the gospel. Before unbelieving people can understand the love of God they must first understand the wrath of God; before they can understand the meaning of the death of Christ they must first understand why their sin made that death necessary; before they can understand the way of escape they must first understand the warning of danger; before they can understand the means of pardon they must first understand the judgment on sin; before they can understand the offer of forgiveness they must understand the message of condemnation; before they can understand the Good News of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ they must first understand the bad news of their sin and guilt before a holy God. Wrath is the only just response a perfectly holy God could make to unholy men.
Therefore, it is the bad news of the sinfulness of man that Paul focuses on in the passage we will be looking at this morning. Turn with me in your Bibles to Romans 1.
In Romans 1:19-23 we see three evidences of the sinfulness of man that explain and prove why God is perfectly justified in inflicting His wrath upon all of humanity.
The first evidence is this:
I. People Suppress God’s Truth about Himself in Creation
A. Look at v. 19: Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
1. Having just seen in v. 18 that all mankind “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” Paul uses the word “Because” to explain further what he is talking about. He says, “…that which is known about God is evident within them.”
2. The word “evident” (phaneron—present tense) means “open to sight, visible, and manifest. There is a certain knowledge or truth “about God” that is continuously manifest “within them,” which is probably better translated “among them” or “to them.”
3. Why is this knowledge about God visible? Paul says, “…for God made it evident to them.”
4. There are certain things about God that are openly visible and manifested to everyone in the world because God Himself took the initiative to reveal them. Nothing can be truly known about God unless He chooses to reveal it, and here we see that He has.
5. But what exactly has God revealed to all mankind here and how did He reveal it?
B. Look at v. 20: 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… (Stop there)
1. Here we see that what God has revealed is a real knowledge of Himself and He has done so in “the creation of the world.” The word “world” (cosmou) here means “universe.”
2. This knowledge or truth about God, known as General or Natural Revelation, has been revealed to all mankind since the time He created the universe in His six literal days of creation in Genesis 1. Notice that this knowledge about God has to do with “His invisible attributes.”
3. The “attributes” of God are the inherent qualities, characteristics, and perfections of His Person. These are “invisible” because, since “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24), all of His attributes cannot be perceived by human senses (Jn. 1:18; Co. 1:15-16; 1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 11:27).
4. However, Paul focuses on two of these invisible attributes that God specifically revealed in His creation. Paul says, “…His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.”
5. God’s “eternal power” is His perpetual, never-failing omnipotence whereby He not only spoke the world into existence, but also continuously sustains it. His “divine nature” refers to the totality of His attributes that make Him alone God.
6. Therefore, in the created universe God’s unseeable attributes are “…clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” In other words, the universe itself screams out that God exists and made it all!
7. God has revealed Himself plainly in His creation to all people. Even without the benefit of a telescope to observe the vastness of space or a microscope to see the intricacies of microscopic life, the atom, and sub-atomic particles, everyone can clearly see with their senses and understand with their minds this real knowledge of God, though limited to certain attributes, which He has revealed in creation.
8. David declares in Psalm 19:1-2, “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.”
9. And Isaiah 40:26 states, “Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He call them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.” (Job 12:7-9; Ps. 8; 94:9; Isa. 40:21-22; Acts 14:15-17)
10. Through His created universe, though itself distorted by the fall and cursed (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:19-21), the Creator God continuously reveals to all of humanity His unseen character as the all-powerful God. God has left the imprint of His glory on His handiwork for all to see.
11. Thomas Schreiner said, “God has stitched into the fabric of the human mind his existence and power, so that they are instinctively recognized when one views the created world.” (pg. 86)
12. And Charles Hodge stated, “God therefore has never left himself without a witness. His existence and perfections have ever been so manifested that his rational creatures are bound to acknowledge and worship him as the true and only God.” (pg. 37)
13. However, although this real knowledge of God is continuously revealed in creation for all to see, as we saw last time, people continuously “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” They hold down and imprison this basic knowledge of God in order to live their own way.
C. Therefore, Paul says at the end of v. 20, “…they are without excuse.”
1. To be “without excuse” (anapologetous) literally means, “defenseless.” Since everyone knows the existence and power of God from creation, everyone is morally responsible and accountable before God.
2. Nobody can claim ignorance and say, “I didn’t know.” Whatever ignorance they do have is a culpable ignorance.
3. This real knowledge of God in creation though not sufficient to save anyone, for this must come through Special Revelation of the Scriptures and the ultimate revelation of the Person of Christ (Heb. 1:1-3), it is sufficient to condemn everyone because they continuously suppress the knowledge that they have.
4. Therefore, everyone stands guilty, defenseless, and condemned before the holy Judge of the universe. Because people suppress God’s truth about Himself in creation God is perfectly justified in inflicting His wrath upon them.
5. The second evidence of man’s sinfulness is this:
II. People Spurn their Creator who deserves their Worship
A. Look at vv. 21-22: 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.
1. Even though all of humanity “knew God,” in the sense of having a real but limited knowledge of His existence, power, and deity in creation, not a saving knowledge (Gal. 4:8; 1 Thess. 4:5; 2 Thess. 1:8), they did not respond to Him appropriately.
2. They spurned or rejected Him. Paul says, “…they did not honor Him as God.
3. William Hendriksen said it well, “But even though they have been constantly surrounded by the evidences not only of God’s existence but also of his infinite power, adorable goodness, and incomparable wisdom, they have refused to acknowledge him as their God, and to worship him.” (pg. 70)
4. The word “honor” (edoxasan) here means “to glorify, to ascribe supreme worth, and exalt.” This is the reason for which we exist (Lev. 10:3; 1 Chron. 16:24-29; Ps. 29:1-2; 148; Rom. 15:5-6; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rev. 4:11).
5. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” I like how John Piper tweaks this in saying, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”
6. In other word, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
7. Now by not honoring or glorifying God here we see mankind’s root sin. The essence of sin is the prideful rejection of God as God.
8. It is refusing to give God the honor and glory due His name and His proper sovereignty in one’s life. This is the essence of the sinful Adamic nature that has been passed on to every single individual of the human race since the fall in Genesis 3.
9. Therefore, not only are we sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners. And it is out of this inherent sinfulness that everyone is born with that people continuously “suppress the truth” about God in creation, as well as, reject His Word and Jesus Christ Himself.
10. Paul goes on to say that people also did not “…give thanks. Since people do not honor God for who He is, they also do not thank Him for all He has done for them in the daily common grace blessings that He has bestowed upon them.
11. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 that God “…causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Lk. 6:35; Acts 14:17)
B. Now in stark contrast to living to glorify and thank God, people exhibit the radical affects of the fall in every part of their being, particularly in their thinking faculty in three ways:
1. First, Paul says in v. 21, “…but they became futile in their speculations…”
• The word “speculations” (dialogismois) here refers to all of man’s godless thoughts, reasonings, and imaginations (Matt. 15:19; Mk. 7:21; Lk. 5:22; 24:38). When you reject God, He is not in your thinking.
• Notice that all of these thoughts are described as futile” (emataiothesan), which means empty, vain, useless, worthless. This word is also used for turning to vain idols (2 Kgs. 17:15; Jer. 2:5; Acts 14:15).
2. Second, Paul says, “…and their foolish heart was darkened.”
• The “heart” (kardia) is a comprehensive term for all man’s faculties. It is the mission control center of the entire inner life, including the mind, will, and emotions.
• Notice that man’s heart is described as “foolish” (asunetos), which means morally senseless.
• Woodrow Kroll accurately states, “The foolish heart is not one simply deficient in intelligence; it is a heart deficient in moral understanding of who God is and therefore incapable of righteousness and godliness…” (pg. 24)
• Not only is the heart described as foolish, but also “darkened” (eskotisthe). Historically in the fall, the lights went out of the human race with the first Adam.
• As a result of the fall, all mankind since is born with an Adamic sinful nature and is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:3). Unbelieving people are destitute of spiritual understanding and have absolutely no hope of coming to spiritual truth and reality in themselves.
• Because of the fall a settled spiritual darkness entombs all of humanity, so that everything they think, will, and feel in their heart is tainted by sin. This is known as Total Depravity.
• This is why 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. Spiritually darkened and dead people cannot understand spiritual truth.
• Paul said to the believers at Ephesus in Ephesians 4:17-18, “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts.”
• This is why even the most brilliant presentation of the scientific facts and evidences of divine creation in the fossil record or the beauty, order, and design by the “Intelligent Designer” in and of themselves have absolutely no affect on unbelievers. Whereas these evidences are greatly encouraging to believers, unbelievers merely suppress the truth in their unrighteousness because they have rejected God and their foolish heart is darkened.
• The only hope of any spiritual lights coming on is through the gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which is the power of God for salvation. (2 Cor. 4:6)
3. Third, Paul says in v. 22, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
• Notice the contrast between illusion and reality. Although spiritually darkened people keep on “professing (present tense) to be wise,” in reality “they became fools.”
• The word “fools” (emoranthesan) here refers to one who is completely lacking judgment. It is the word from which we get our English words “moron” and “moronic.”
• People today can make all kinds of bold claims about God, themselves, the origin and meaning of the universe. They can say that God doesn’t exist, man evolved from monkeys, truth is relative, morality is stifling, and personal expression and self-fulfillment is the path to enlightenment, freedom, and happiness.
• But just because someone professes something doesn’t make it true. According to God, aperson can be an intellectual genius, such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and others, and at the same time be a “fool,” a spiritual moron.
• David declared in Psalm 14:1: The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God…” (Ps. 53:1)
• Proverbs 9:10 makes it very clear that, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 15:33; 1 Cor. 1:18-25)
• To be truly “wise” is to honor and glorify God having trusted in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, not to spurn or reject Him. True wisdom is found only in God, the Source of wisdom, and in His Word.
• Therefore, when a person rejects God who is ultimate truth, wisdom, and reality they not only lose the true meaning, purpose, and understanding to everything else, but they also go into deeper spiritual darkness and enslavement of sin.
4. When people spurn their Creator who deserves their worship they are merely living out their futile, foolish, and darkened heart, which they have inherited from Adam. This is why God is perfectly justified in inflicting His wrath upon them.
5. The third evidence of the sinfulness of man is this:
III. People Substitute an Idol for the living God
A. Look at v. 23: 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.
1. Since people are spiritual, worshiping beings, when they spurn their Creator and suppress the truth about Him, they will naturally turn from the one true God to a false god of their own making. This is the sin of idolatry, which we see throughout the world with all of the man-made religions and cults.
2. Paul says that people “…exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for an image…” that is corruptible. The word “exchange” (ellaxan) means to change, replace, or substitute.
3. The statement “the glory of the incorruptible God” refers to the splendor and majesty of the eternal, self-existent God Himself who is not subject to decay of any sort. Therefore, how absurd to substitute anything else for the living God!
4. And yet, that’s exactly what people do! The ultimate insanity of man is that he rejects God and substitutes a non-god made in his own image, and then calls himself “wise.”
5. Notice the four things that Paul says people substitute for the living God. First, people substitute the “incorruptible God” for “an image in the form of corruptible man.”
• The idolatry of man first involves self-worship, whereby in clinched fist arrogance man proclaims, “I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.” When God is no longer the center of the universe, I am. In one way or another, every form of idolatry is a form of self-worship.
• We see this with the Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Emperors, and others throughout history who demanded to be worshiped as “god.” The Antichrist will epitome this self-worship when he demands that the entire world worship him (2 Thess. 2:3-4; Rev. 13).
• But the idolatry of man also involves worshiping human relationships whereby people are put in the first place position in one’s heart, which belongs only to God. This can be a parent, spouse, child, boyfriend or girlfriend, or anyone else.
• People at their best can never be everything our souls have been built for. If they could we would have our god in them.
6. Paul goes on to portray the progressive downward spiral and degeneration that the perversion of idolatry brings, and he does so by following the order of the creation account in Genesis 1:20-25.
7. Second, people substitute the living God for “birds.”
• A couple of the birds worshiped in the ancient world were the stork and hawk in Egypt and the eagle in Rome.
8. Third, people substitute the living God for “beasts.” Paul says, “…and four-footed animals.”
• In ancient times there were all kinds of animals that were worshiped. Remember that Israel worshiped the golden calf (Ex. 32:1-6; Ps. 106:20).
• Other animals included the cow, bull, cat, hippopotamus, wolf, mice, rats, elephants, crocodiles, and monkeys.
9. Fourth, people substitute the living God for “bugs.” Paul says, “…and crawling creatures.”
• The ancient Assyrian and Egyptian empires had all kinds of reptile worship, such as: the worship of beetles, snakes, and flies.
10. Paul will refer to all of these idolatrous things again in v. 25, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever…” The common denominator is that idolaters worship the things God made rather than God Himself.
B. Now not only does God forbid all forms of idolatry (Ex. 20:3-5; Deut. 4:15-19; 5:8-9), but He also declares that idolatry is inherently futile, for it promises what it can never deliver.
1. Speaking about the idolatry of Israel, God through Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 2:5, “…That they went far from Me and walked after emptiness and became empty.” (Verse 11) “Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory (i.e. God Himself) for that which does not profit.” (Isa. 44:9-20)
2. Although Satan holds out all kinds of things for people to put in the place of God, but when they do they merely substitute corruption for incorruption, emptiness for fulfillment, darkness for light, shame for glory, lies for truth. It’s not worth it!
3. No wonder God calls us “fools!” Now the sin of idolatry is much more than merely bowing down or burning incense to an idol made of wood, stone, or metal. Ezekiel 14:3 says that men “…set up their idols in their hearts.”
4. An idol is anything or anyone that takes the first place of love, loyalty, and allegiance in our hearts that belongs to Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, in addition to the things that Paul mentions here, idolatry can also include such things as: one’s career, success, power, prestige, wealth, possessions, pleasure, sex, sports, education, entertainment, celebrities, comfort, health, and the list goes on and on.
5. Now since believers continue to struggle with the hangover of indwelling sin, we too must continually watch out for the sin of idolatry. This is why John said to believers in 1 John 5:21, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” And why Paul commanded the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians 10:14, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
6. Since the one true living God is a jealous God, He will tolerate no rivals. Therefore, God is perfectly justified in inflicting His wrath upon all of the unbelieving who substitute an idol for Him.
In closing, these three evidences of the sinfulness of man clearly explain and prove that God is perfectly justified in inflicting His wrath upon all of humanity.
Let me ask you: Are you living to honor and glorify God? You can’t even begin to do this until you put your trust in Jesus Christ who, as your Substitute, paid in full the penalty of sin by taking upon Himself the holy wrath of God against the sinfulness of man that you and I deserved.
But as a believer, is Jesus Christ first in your life? Is there any priority greater than Him? Is Jesus truly the Supreme Treasure of your heart or have you put someone or something else in His place?