Romans 1:18–23 — “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”
Now in our study of Romans, the Apostle Paul comes to the place why the gospel of Christ is needed, and what the salvation that it is the power of God unto, is salvation from. We read previously that in the gospel of Christ the righteousness of God is revealed, and that the just shall live by faith; but here we read that the wrath of God is revealed. God is righteous, but mankind, both collectively and individually, is ungodly and unrighteous.
So what about that is good news, or “gospel”? Well, nothing! It is bad news. Romans 1:18 and following is the “prosecution’s” case against mankind collectively. Chapter 2 lays out the case against individuals.
Notice at the beginning that the characteristic of ungodly and unrighteous men is that they hold the truth in unrighteousness. It is not that they do not know the truth, it is that they are utterly opposed to it. This also has nothing at all to do with the whole of mankind not keeping the revealed law of God through Moses to the children of Israel. This has to do with a revelation of God to them. God has shown it to them in His creation, and put His law of right and wrong in their hearts:
Psalm 19:1–3 — “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handywork.
“Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
“There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.”
Romans 2:14–15 — “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)”
God has shown enough of Himself, and has given to mankind an inner knowledge of right and wrong so that we all are without any excuse for the degraded condition that we are in. Now notice that these men “hold the truth in unrighteousness”. The word translated “hold” is the Greek term κατέχω (katechō), which is also translated “keep” (Luke 8:15), “possess” (1 Corinthians 7:30; 2 Corinthians 6:10), “withhold” (2 Thessalonians 2:6), “hold fast” (Hebrews 3:6), and a few other ways, and all of these transmit to us the idea that mankind had the truth in its possession, yet we held it in unrighteousness. This is one of the very definitions of sin:
James 4:17 — “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
It is also in opposition to faith. As we read that “the just shall live by faith” in verse 17, and faith is taking God at His word, so faith would answer positively to what God says, and do or act accordingly. By not orienting ourselves to the revealed word of God, mankind’s history, our history, shows an opposition to God and faith in Him, and therefore, again, this is the very definition of sin.
Romans 14:23 — “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
In discussing the Scripture and the gospel of salvation with many people, the question or objection often comes up, “what about the people who never heard the gospel, what happens to them?”. It may be true that people and people groups exist that have not heard the gospel of Christ, but they are not guiltless. The entire world walked around in the dark, but they are without excuse:
“Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…” (vss. 19–20).
Why are they without excuse? Verse 21 — “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Their ignorance was judgment against their lack of faith. Mankind in history did not glorify God as God, and were not thankful. This rebellion is often thought of as having come to a head at the building of the tower of Babel, and that is certainly a manifestation of it, but it is really a commentary on the entire history of mankind. Mankind as such turned away from the true God and made “gods” in their own image and likeness. This then degenerated to birds, beasts, and bugs becoming “gods” and receiving worship that is due, not to the creation, but to the Creator.
Imagine, the only creature that is said to be made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), turning and offering worship to lesser creatures; but that is exactly what the history of man shows, and what the Apostle Paul calls out mankind for in this passage. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”. This is one reason that sinful man does not want to hear the Scriptures, and therefore they (we) turn our back on God. Often, even Christian preachers talk about the dignity of man, but it is this very “dignity of man” that Paul states here is a strike against them! We did know better, we should know better, but our “dignity” only shows us even more guilty.
“… the world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Corinthians 1:21), but God, in spite of their foolishness, offers to all men everywhere salvation from sin and its due penalty by our Lord Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection.
Acts 17:30–31 — “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.”
Mankind, that is all of us, are to repent, or “have a different mind because the old mind is not working” about who and what God is and what He is like. In reading our text in Romans 1:18–23, the current state of our nation and world should come as no surprise. We lack the fear of God, and our natural degeneration has predictable results. What was true then is true now. Degradation of people and nations is the natural result of turning away from the fear of God, and as we will see in continuing our study in Romans 1, further degradation is the judgment of God for this. But even though all the world goes this way, you do not have to. God has made a gracious offer of reconciliation through the cross and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our sins do not have the last word. The gospel of God’s grace is a gospel that states the terms that those whom His law curses can be saved. We must only “BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST”, as our Apostle told his jailor in Philippi, and we are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the Kingdom of the Dear Son of God, “In Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
What do you say to this?