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The Knowledge of God
Romans 1:18–22
Romans Lesson #012
March 24, 2011
www.deanbibleministries.org

Within Paul’s structure of his discourse in Romans he is stating the righteousness of God and how it relates to human history: to human beings individually as well as human history as a whole which is covered under the concept of what we usually translate as the world, whether it is KOSMOS or AIONOS, and it has to do with the time frame where fallen man is in control of history. So we see that the breakthrough in history is God, in terms of His grace from the time that Adam first sinned and God came to the Garden of Eden to confront Adam and Eve with the fact that they had sinned. And what was their initial reaction? They ran and hid. This sets up a pattern. If it had been you or I we would have done the same thing. If God had come we would have run and hid because we had disobeyed Him and because something happens to every human being because of sin. It happened to Adam who was created without sin and he was perfectly righteous because he was created in the image of God. Being created in the image of God there was something in the immaterial makeup of man that corresponded to similar attributes in the makeup of God so that man could reflect God in a way that is unique and distinct from all other creatures.

When Adam sinned and then God came to walk in the garden that afternoon with Adam and Eve, as He had done on a day-by-day basis, their reaction was to run and hide because something happened to them when they sinned. There is a constitutional impact of sins. Theologians call it total depravity. Sometimes that word is not always used or properly understood. Sometimes, especially in the case of Reformed theology or Calvinism the phrase that is used is “total inability.” That is a major issue that comes out of our study of this passage because in the Reformed camp the idea is that man, because of sin, is so constitutionally affected that he cannot do anything towards God, he can’t even express positive volition toward God. Because of that in their view man is dead and they view dead as something that is completely inoperable rather than being separated from God.

Adam is also a word in Hebrew that means mankind, and refers to all of the human race. So this is a reference to what happens within the human race: the judgment of God in time that is revealed, disclosed, poured out against man who is all under condemnation. Condemnation is the outworking of God’s character. His righteousness establishes the standard of His character and His justice is the application of that standard to His creatures. 

Rom 1:18 NASB “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…” That is a sort of topical statement of how God’s wrath, which is His judgment in time, in history, the outpouring discipline of God on mankind during this life or this age. We are told why He does this in vv. 19, 20: “because” and “For.” Then when we come to the end of the explanation in 1:21, there is the word “For.” Usually the word GAR is used but it is not that here. gar is a word that is building a case; it is adding additional information or explanation for what has just been said. This is a different Greek word here DIOTI which means “because.” It is emphasizing that and is in conjunction with the participle, which reduplicates that. So there is a string causal sense at the beginning of the verse. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” That is the indictment against mankind; it is a rejection of divine authority. That is the very core of what happened at the beginning with the sin of Eve and the sin of Adam. The only sin they could commit was the act of eating the fruit but the thought and the act went together inseparably in that event, and when that happened they were showing complete disrespect and rebellion for the authority of God. He doesn’t know what He is talking about, in essence. So the issue we see here throughout this passage is an issue related to knowledge. “…they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” The word “speculations” in the Greek is another word for knowledge, a word that is related to knowing something or learning something. There is a series of words here that are used that all have something to do with the acquisition of information and acting on it.

 “… but they became futile in their speculations.” The word for “speculations” is the Greek word DIALOGISMOS which has to do with the thought process. They become empty in their thought processes. That is wiped out as a result of their spiritual decisions. That is really interesting and what we are seeing here is the ideas that come out of this passage in relation to understanding who we are, what God is saying about human beings. Our thought processes get completely rewired and screwed up—not the brain but the thinking—because we want to start at the wrong starting point. Because we start at the wrong starting point we end up with the wrong conclusions.

Then Romans 1:22 NASB “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” “Wise” and “fools” are both words that relate to knowledge. [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.” So they go into idolatry.

A break then occurs at verse 24, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” This deals with ethics in a broad sense and morality. The morality is a result of something that took place in their knowledge, or in philosophical terms, in terms of their epistemology. Their epistemology gets messed up and therefore their morality is messed up. What messes up their reasoning and knowledge and their thought machine in verse 21 is what? It is their rejection of God. So it is not a question of do they know that God exists, not a question of at some level and absolute conviction of that knowledge, which is epistemology; but they reject it; that is their volition. And what they are rejecting is the existence of the God who has revealed Himself to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and revealed Himself in the Bible. That is what philosophers call metaphysics: that which goes beyond the physical. As man seeks to understand reality apart from Scripture and seeks to have knowledge and wisdom, that comes under the category of philosophy.

Philosophy seeks to answer the same questions that religion seeks to answer, except that it seeks to do it apart from any claim of any external source of revelation. So the questions: Is there an ultimate reality? Is there something beyond the physical? Is there a God? That is metaphysics, and what you do with that question dictates what you do with the next question, which is knowledge and the certainty of knowledge, and can you know anything. That, then, determines the conscience: sense of right and wrong, morals, ethics, etc. That then works itself out in terms of how you structure society. So if you reject the Word of God and its absolutes, that changes your understanding of absolute reality; and that dominoes down and changes your thought system, your views of knowledge and reasoning. Then that changes your sense of morals and absolutes and right and wrong. Everything dominoes. So if you take God out of the equation then you can’t have a right view of knowledge and you can’t have a right ethic. And ethics is where we get law, politics, government, marriage, family; all those things come under that category. It is important to understand these things because this is how we build our ability to think critically about what is going on if we open up the newspaper, turn on the radio or television and listen to what is going on, and all the things that are happening today in the political sphere.

No matter what we do we can’t get away from the fact that people are either suppressing the truth in unrighteousness or they are trying to learn the truth and conform to righteousness. There is no middle ground; it is either one or the other. That is what Paul is developing here in his foundational statement in Romans 1:18-23. This paragraph has so much, not only in terms of its immediate content and interpretation of these verses but in terms of its implications for who man is, who God is, why man has the problems he has, and understanding why bad things happen to good people, why we have bad things such as natural disasters, why these things are allowed to take place, it goes back to this concept of divine discipline from God. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” It is the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men that is the moral cause of all of this. Based on Genesis 3 it is all caused by a moral, ethical problem, or what we would call a spiritual problem: the rejection of God.

What is interesting is that when we get to verse 24 and following we have statements that are made: v. 24, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” In v. 26 the next level of intensification, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions…” Then v. 28 the third level, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind…” What is God doing? This chapter explains all the problems of history, whether social or physical, and that is that as man rejects God, God gives him enough rope to hang himself. That is basically what this is saying: “I am just going to let the leash loose a little bit more and give you a little more room to destroy yourself and show that when you reject Me it is the most self-destructive thing you can do.” What it does in turn is just confirm them in their rebelliousness and goes to the next level. What we will see when we get into vv. 24-32 and look at all of these various things described that are the result of God just basically taking His hands off the controls a little bit more, each time He takes them off there is more sinful activity. In the first stage there is an increase in idolatry, in the second there is the increase of homosexuality—that is the judgment. We are not going to be judged for homosexuality; homosexuality is the judgment for negative volition. The third stage, being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, etc., describes modern culture.

This is what happens when people are negative to God. God begins to remove the cultural restraints and there is the increase in immorality, violence, role reversal takes place, the men become feminized and the women become masculinized. What always happens when there is role reversals in the culture is that women become treated less and less like people and there is physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse of women which increases because of the dominance of pagan thought. So the irony is that when we are living in the devil’s world are operating on human viewpoint instead of divine viewpoint, as the feminist movement seeks equality for women what they have done is produced for a couple of generations now increasingly feminized males, and what has happened as a correlation to the promotion of their feminist goals is that it has led to greater and greater abuse of women. We have to learn to think biblically or we are just going to be swept along with the tide that goes with that culture.

Romans 1:18 NASB “For the wrath of God [discipline on man during human history] is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”—“the truth” has an article with it and it shows that even in this discussion there is something embedded here, something that is presupposed and assumed by the biblical writers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; that is, there is an absolute truth that controls and governs all thought, and that that absolute truth which ultimately comes from an understanding of God is being suppressed by means of unrighteousness. This idea of suppression: as a kid seeing if he can close his eyes tight enough and put his hands over his eyes to see if he can shut out all the light and have total darkness. It can’t be done; ultimately light comes in. That is what happens in this illustration. God is always present. There is something that resonates in the soul of every human being because they are created in the image of God, that no matter how sophisticated their arguments may be, no matter how intelligent and intellectual they can be, God’s reality is always popping up at various inconvenient times. That is the real “inconvenient truth”! God exists and He is in control.  

Romans 1:19 NASB “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” There it is very important to understand that God built it into the makeup of every human being. There’s nobody you can talk to that doesn’t have something, long before he ever saw the stars in the sky or had examined the details of a cell, long before any of the intelligent design arguments came along, when a little baby is two or three years old there is something that is vibrating in his soul and he knows God exists. Then once that child grows up and sees creation, he sees that creation bears the stamp of God’s ownership and creativity on everything. But man says, I am not buying that, I don’t want God to make me. If God made me then I am accountable for the decisions I make and I am accountable spiritually. So I have to reject that, I have to suppress it.

Romans 1:20 NASB “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 excuse.” It is not written out for them but they have so many pictures that they have enough information about God that people are spiritually accountable for their relationship with God. This is what is called general revelation. We have two books—this is how this has been understood: one is a picture book, general revelation, the non-verbal disclosure from God as contained in His works of creation and in His acts of providence in human history; second is special revelation, the direct verbal self-disclosure of God to His creatures. What is the difference between the two? One is verbal; one is non-verbal. The verbal has precision; the non-verbal can be misinterpreted at levels. But we see in the Scripture that the writers go to general revelation in order to illustrate principles in special revelation. One example is in the Proverbs. We read there that we are to observe the ant and how he works. There are patterns that God has built into revelation but you have to have special revelation to interpret general revelation, otherwise you can misinterpret it. No matter how much general revelation Adam had it was the special revelation, "Thou shalt not eat of this tree", that told him which tree not to eat of. All the general revelation would not have told him the specifics he needed. These aren’t equal books. The picture book is interpreted by the wordbook and the wordbook has authority over the picture book.

An Old Testament truth: Psalm 19:1 NASB “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” We can look at creation and learn something about the creator. [2] “Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.” There is communication there. The Bible is consistent; we can learn things from the picture book. We can also make more mistakes looking at the picture book so we can’t ultimately make the picture book our authority. [3] “There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.” General revelation is universal to every human being on the planet. But as Paul says in Romans there is a problem, and the problem is clearly stated in the Old Testament. Two of them are Jeremiah 17:9 NASB “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Man can’t discern the machinations of the human heart because it is inherently evil. That is what the Old Testament teaches. Does that mean that man is as bad as he can be? No. What is evil in the Old Testament? Idolatry: replacing the worship of the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with something else. That is the essence of evil. Evil is rejecting God and substituting something else. So the heart’s orientation is to replace God.

Ecclesiastes 9:3 NASB “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they {go} to the dead.” It’s not a very happy picture. But without God, without the intrusion of grace, it isn’t a happy picture. That is why the gospel is so important, because with the intrusion of grace God is going to say that you can’t be righteous, it is impossible, but I am going to give you righteousness; and it is the righteousness of Christ. And that is what Romans is all about: how God gives us righteousness and the implications of that righteousness to us in terms of our spiritual life and our service to God.