To Those Who “Never Knew”
Sin, Judgement, Grace
The purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans was to proclaim the gospel or good news of Jesus. It is a message of how we can find salvation from God’s wrath and be in right standing before God. However, before you will grasp the cure, you need to know that you are sick. Before you will respond to a Savior, you must know that you are a sinner.
This is a place where the contemporary church has failed. We ignore messages about topics such as sin, judgment and wrath because they are unpopular. No one wants to be known as a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher. However, no one can adequately proclaim Gods grace until they have first demonstrated the need for that grace. What has happened in many churches is that the full message of the gospel has been replaced with talk only about how Jesus wants to enrich our life. When this is the only message proclaimed, Christianity becomes another in a long line of products designed to cure us or make our life more enjoyable. The true gospel proclaims Jesus as the ONLY way that you can be right with God.
During the next several weeks we are going to talk about sin. Paul is going to hold up a mirror before us and show us our great need for a Savior. It’s not pleasant, but it is important.
When most people talk about sin, they seldom talk about their own sin. The conversation usually relates to the “other guy”
- Their values are messed up
- They are lazy in their discipleship
- They are living against God’s commands
- They are compromising their faith
- Their priorities are wrong (usually because they don’t agree with our priorities)
- They intended to do evil
- They are hypocritical
- They are judgmental (because they are pointing out what I am doing wrong)
However, when we talk about ourselves we tend to say things like
- “I’m doing the best I can”
- “I didn’t mean any harm”
- “I was just having a bad day”
- “I’m sure God will understand”
- “My situation is different”
- “You don’t understand the pressure I’m under”
I think it is safe to say that most people will excuse their own sinfulness by saying,
1. I didn’t know it was wrong
2. I’m not as bad as other people
3. I go to church
We need to see the truth about our own sin. As we study these first three chapters of Romans we will see our sin very clearly. This morning Paul addresses those who would excuse themselves by saying, “I didn’t know.” He also answers the common question: “What about the innocent native in Africa or some other place? Will God really judge them even though they didn’t know?”
Paul answers this question in verses 18-32. We are going to look at verses 18-23 this morning and pick up the remained of the chapter next week. In this first section Paul makes two simple assertions.
THERE IS AN INNATE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IN EVERYONE
Paul says humankind is “suppressing the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (v. 19)
In theological circles this is called the doctrine of natural revelation. It means that we can and should know a great deal about God just by observing the world around us. Obviously, we can’t learn everything (we can’t know about Jesus, the Bible, Heaven, Salvation, Spiritual gifts, the new birth…we learn this through the “special revelation” of God’s Word) but we can know enough to know that we should honor the Lord.
According to Paul, even if you never went to church, read a Bible, or heard about Jesus, you should still know that there is a God who deserves our worship. Paul tells us that “God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”
The New Living Translation captures the idea,
For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. 20 From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.
Let me illustrate. Suppose we had never met but you walked into my office here at the church. You could learn several things about me. First, you could conclude that I believe in the Bible from all the commentaries on my shelves. You would be able to learn some of my favorite authors by looking at those same shelves. You would learn that I have at least two children because of the pictures on my desk. You could know that I attend many weddings from the scores of wedding pictures on the wall. You might notice that I was a Cub fan from the calendar on my desk and the wall. You would be able to conclude that the church was considering building an addition because there are drawings laying around. You might conclude that I was somewhat computer literate from the computer on my desk and that I was not the most organized person in the world from all the notes and piles on my desk and shelves.
Paul says in this same way we can instinctively know a great deal about God just by being in the world He created. Even the native in the deepest jungle of Africa knows that there is a God. By looking at the world around Him this native should be able to conclude many things.
- The order of creation argues for a Creator. The more you know about Creation, the more obvious this fact becomes. As you study the magnificent wonders of space and the intricate workings of a human cell you have to conclude that these things did not happen by chance. There must have been a Designer.
- The magnificence and beauty of creation argues that the Creator is good not evil
- Logic demands that the one who created the world must have been in existence before the world was made.
- The power in nature seen in various storms would indicate that the Creator is much more powerful than we are and implies that we ought to serve Him.
From all of these things we are able to conclude that this Supreme Being deserves our worship and obedience. These facts explain why in every culture there is some belief in a Supreme Being. It is OBVIOUS that there is a God.
MANKIND REJECTS THIS KNOWLEDGE
Even though what may be known about God is plain to us, we refuse to acknowledge God. Paul says we did not glorify (worship) Him, or show Gratitude to Him. In other words, even though we know that there is a God, we refuse to bow before Him as God. We are happy to celebrate the blessings and gifts of God but we refuse to honor and serve Him. Though every good and perfect gift comes from the Father we do not thank Him. We applaud our hard work and astute wisdom, we testify to our good fortune, we celebrate fate but we do not thank God. We give credit to our mentors, to favorable circumstances and to “luck”, but we do not thank God. And those rare times when we do thank God, we often feel that we deserved what we received.
Let me ask you a question. On many occasions, our country sends troops, supplies, and resources into other countries to help them overcome tyranny or to rise above poverty. This is always very expensive and sometimes comes at the price of human life. In light of this, how do you feel when you see news reports of people from these countries burning American flags, calling us Satan and attacking those who have come to help?
Are you outraged? You should be. These people should be grateful for the sacrifice, provision and involvement. Do you understand why God is angry when we treat Him shamefully?
Our Thinking Became Futile. When truth is rejected, the ability to recognize truth becomes compromised. People who reject the idea of a Sovereign Ruler soon find themselves espousing all kinds of strange ideas. When God is not honored it is not long before our darkened minds leas us to justify other vile practices. When society refuses to submit to the Creator they lose any sense of moral equilibrium.
We worshipped Idols The third step in our rebellion is idolatry. Since we don’t like the God of Creation we create our own gods. The religions of the world are manmade attempts to redefine God in our image. It is a way of seeking to side-step our responsibility before the God of creation.
In Habakkuk the Lord says, “Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trust in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.” (Habakkuk 2:18-20)
Do you see the absurdity? Instead of worshipping the God of Creation and submitting to the Ruler of the Universe, we design and build our own gods! We choose to worship “gods” that can’t respond, can rot, and can fall over. We choose to follow gods we control rather than submit to the God who has revealed Himself.
Most of our idolatry is much more subtle and subversive today. We are guilty of idolatry when we
- Replace God with the worship of success, property, and wealth.
- When family, sports, and career come before the Lord in our lives
- When we build our lives on our homespun philosophies and religions
- When we pray to loved ones who have died
- When we are driven more by politics than Scripture
- When we focus our devotion on trinkets and charms
People who practice such idolatry often conclude that they aren’t doing anything wrong. Their sin, however, is that they have pursued the gods of their own making rather than submit to the Lord.
God has a right to be Angry. After what we have seen this morning we should be able to see why God is not unjust in “revealing his wrath”. His creation has treated Him shamefully. He has revealed Himself in the world around us but we refuse to see. We deliberately ignore Him and profess that we “didn’t know He was there”. We celebrate and enjoy His blessings but we do not celebrate or worship Him. We serve Him with our words but not our hearts. He has every right to reveal His wrath.
There is no such thing as a Free Pass. Inevitably someone asks, “But what about the innocent native in Africa, or the person who has never heard about the gospel even in our own country?
Paul says there is no such thing as an innocent native or anyone else. These people will not be judged because they did not receive Christ (who they have never heard about); they will be judged because they rejected what could be known about the true and living God. The wrath they face may be less because they did not also reject the message of grace . . . but they will still face God’s wrath.
You will not be able to stand at the day of judgment and claim that you were not to blame. You cannot hide behind the fact that
- You never heard the message of salvation (although you have today)
- Your parents never took you to church
- Your home situation soured you against God
- Your professors said there is no God
- You grew up in a foreign country and learned a different religion
None of these things will work as excuses. What can be known about God is clear. If you do not honor God . . .if you have not tried to learn more about Him . . . no one is to blame but you.
The message of salvation has a personal relevance. It is easy for people to excuse their sin, but if we continue to make excuses, we will find ourselves facing God’s wrath instead of celebrating His grace. The good news of the gospel is something that every individual needs to hear. There is not a one of us here today who can make any excuse that would erase our sin and rebellion. We know that God deserves our worship and our service. Most of our lives we have ignored that fact.
The message that we can be forgiven and made new by trusting Jesus is a message and a gift we do not deserve, cannot repay, but need desperately. If you have been putting off turning to Jesus as your only hope . . . please do so no longer.
The Motivation to Reach Out to Others is Greater Than Ever. There are some people who believe Missionary work and sharing our faith with those who do not share our beliefs is a violation of freedom. They believe we should “live and let live”. There are even some Christians who believe “ignorance is bliss”. In other words, they believe some people are actually better off if they do not hear the gospel message.
Paul tells us that every single person is condemned before a Holy God. They have turned away from the only true God. The only hope they have is the message of God’s grace. They must be introduced to the reality that Jesus paid the price for our sin and has given us the chance to be made alive to God once again. If we don’t tell them . . . they will face the wrath of God for all eternity.
Please let this sink in. If we really understood the truth of these statements we would spend much less on ourselves and much more on the work of reaching out to others throughout the world. People in other countries will perish if they do not hear the message of Christ. Those in our own country and in our own communities who have not heard or understood the message of grace are condemned apart from Christ. We cannot be content to maintain our “holy huddle” mentality. We must take the word to anyone who will listen and we must do so in any way that we can.
Paul’s teaching about sin is sobering. For some people, his teaching on sin is aggravating and annoying. However, Paul tells us the truth. He is not trying to be popular, just faithful. He is not being mean . . . he is actually acting in love. He understands that we need to know the problem before we will be open to a solution. Remember, he is not only showing us our sin . . .he is also pointing us to the Savior.