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1-19 Without Excuse

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MBC - 7/18/2004 - Pastor Doug Thompson

“Without Excuse”

Romans 1:18-21

Ø      ROM 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Ø      ROM 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

Ø      ROM 1:20 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, so that they are without excuse.

Ø      ROM 1:21 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.

Ø      ROM 1:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,

Ø      ROM 1:23 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.

Ø      The renowned British atheist, Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would do if he was wrong about his life-long belief that there was no God. He said that if he ever came face-to-face with God he would say--“You didn’t give me enough evidence.”   

Ø      On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, returned from being the first man in space. He proudly proclaimed that “he didn’t see any God up there.”

Russell died in 1972, and Yuri Gagarin was killed when the jet he was testing crashed in 1968. Hebrews 9:27 says that it is appointed for a man to die once and after this comes judgment, so both of these men had their opportunity to say these things to God’s face.

In my imagination, I picture God asking one of the cherubim surrounding His throne to turn to this passage in Romans and explain it to these men: “This is why God is sending you to hell: you knew the truth, but you covered it up! That which is known about God was evident within you--God Himself made it evident to you. Since the creation of the world--yes, it was created--His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature were clearly seen by you, and you understood what you saw. You are without excuse. You knew there was a God, but you willfully refused to honor Him, worship Him, or give thanks to Him. Instead, you substituted irrational, stupid theories for the truth, and your heart became dark and cold. You have no excuse for what you have done. You are hereby consigned to the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Two weeks ago we began to look at what it is that makes the gospel such good news for lost sinners, and what makes it so very urgent and necessary, and it’s this: God’s awful wrath is right now being revealed throughout creation and throughout history. God isn’t simply waiting for the Day of Judgment to punish sinners, but He is mercifully giving unbelievers constant warnings that this day is coming so that they will repent and turn to Christ. We saw 3 ways that God is continually revealing His wrath:

1.) Through physical death. Every funeral service is a reminder that the one sin of one man--Adam--cost the entire human race its life. That’s how serious sin is to God.

2.) Through suffering and futility: fires, famine, tornadoes, sickness, crime, wayward children, financial problems, marriage problems--The everyday pain and frustrations of life on this planet are constant revelations and reminders of God’s wrath against Adam’s sin.

3.) Through the downward spiral of evil and wickedness. Paul goes on to say that God punishes sin with more sin. Three times in this passage it says that when people choose sin over God, He removes His restraints and let’s them have what they want: less God, more sin--until they self-destruct.

Ø      But there is a remedy and a rescue, and it’s the good news of the Gospel: that God sent His sinless Son to earth to die in place of everyone who will trust in Him as Lord and Savior. And anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ will be saved from the wrath to come--and even though we aren’t spared from all the effects of God’s wrath in this life, for God’s children, all of these things work together for good to make us more like Jesus Christ--even death!

  • But there is a question that I have been asked many times—you’ve probably been asked this same question: What about those who never hear this good news? Will God send them to hell? There are places in the world where kids don’t go to Vacation Bible School in the summer—where Allah is the name of their god, or Buddha, or where the state teaches that there is no god at all. There are as many as 2 billion people living on this planet who have never heard of our Savior, Jesus.

If Jesus is the only Savior, and if salvation is only through faith in Him--what about these people? Are they without excuse too? If God is just, how can He punish them--and if He is so loving, why doesn’t He tell them?

The answer is in this passage: People who have never heard of Jesus or seen a Bible won’t be condemned for failing to believe in a Jesus they never heard about. They will be condemned for rejecting a God whom they did know.

They are not ignorant, they are not innocent. They are without excuse.

I. They know the truth about God.

Look at how many different ways Paul says it--

Ø      ROM 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

Ø      ROM 1:20 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, so that they are without excuse.

Paul is saying that all people have been given a huge billboard, known as Creation, which flashes a message 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: "THERE IS A CREATOR!!"

And he says that we all get the message:

Ø      Ron and I were talking about how difficult communication is. It’s not just a matter of sending a message, that message has to be received. And errors can occur in the sending and the receiving so that there is mis-communication.

But do you see here that God’s message in creation has been received! It’s known, it’s evident—it’s even evident subjectively—within us, because God Himself has made it known. It has been clearly seen and even understood.  Message received!

So the excuse of ignorance is removed.

Theologians call this "general revelation." It’s what God has revealed about Himself in creation, and it’s open to everyone. It isn’t the Gospel, but no one can say, “I didn’t know there was a God! If I had only known—you see, I just needed more evidence!”

God’s Word says, “No, they knew.” Look at v.20: they know there is a God “through what has been made.” That is one word in the Gk., “poie_ma.” It’s the word from which we get our word, poem. The universe is God’s poem! Now have you ever, ever read a beautiful poem and said to yourself, “It’s incredible how these letters just came together on this page, in this book, by chance, and formed this poem!”

No. You say, “Behind this poem, there must be a poet!” And behind creation, there must be a Creator.

            A. They know it when they look at creation.

It’s a poem that declares God’s eternal power and divine nature. When you look at the power displayed in nature--in a 7.0 earthquake, in a Midwest tornado, in the Flood--you know that something is responsible for that power, and must be even greater in power--

Ø      Our sun burns up 4 million tons of matter each second, and gives off the equivalent of 500 quadrillion horsepower--each second. It is 31 million degrees at the center. And our sun is a relatively small star, and it is one among billions of other stars. But God is greater. Scripture says that He numbers the stars and calls them all by name, and one day He will snuff out every star the way you or I would blow out a birthday candle--or even 50 candles. . .

Ø      Isaac Newton said, “This wonderful ordering of the sun, the planets, and the comets cannot but be the work of an intelligent, all-powerful being.”

Think about the wisdom and design that is displayed in nature. It boggles the mind! Think about the variety of creatures, and flowers, birds, and insects. Man, with his most sophisticated technology can’t duplicate the sonar system of dolphins and whales, or the radar system of bats, or the navigational system of migrating birds, fish, and insects. And think about the built-in self-repair system that exists in virtually every life form. Cut off the arm on a starfish, it grows another. When you cut your finger, it heals. But when your computer crashes--it just sits there staring at you until you call tech support!

Ø      In 1996, Michael Behe, a biochemist, wrote a book that shook up the scientific world, it was called Darwin's Black Box. Behe said that even a single tiny cell is "irreducibly complex," and therefore must be the product of intelligent design, not chance. "Irreducible complexity" means that the immensely complex cell has a large number of parts that all work together in such a way that the absence of one part stops the entire function - which means that the functioning system of the cell could not be built up by small evolutionary steps in which the parts accumulated gradually.

 

Translation: Evolution is impossible.

And then consider the wonder of reproduction and birth. Can evolution explain this? I have never heard an evolutionary explanation for male and female!

Ø      But Ps.104:24 explains it: “O Lord, how many are Thy works! In wisdom Thou has made them all. The earth is full of Thy possessions!”

Jesus said in Matt.6, “Consider the birds of the air, consider the lilies of the field--think about them! They shout out a message about God--not just that there is a Creator, but there is a Creator who takes care of His creation--especially His own children!”

It’s clear. It’s obvious.

When Janice and I were flying out of Chicago last week, after a thunderstorm, we saw out of the windows a gorgeous, breathtaking sunset, and we both thought: “How could anyone look at that and not acknowledge God?”

Ø      PSA 19:1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Ø      PSA 19:2 Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.

Ø      PSA 19:3 There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. [It’s a non-verbal communication, but it’s still loud and clear!]

Ø      PSA 19:4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. [No one has missed it.] In them He has placed a tent for the sun,

Ø      PSA 19:5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.

Ø      PSA 19:6 Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat!

Janice and I have a friend in S. Cal., a godly woman, named Mary, who is blind and deaf--but even she can feel the heat of the sun and know there is a God!

Turn to Acts 14. Listen to what Paul and Barnabas said to a crowd of pagans who had just tried to worship them as gods:

Ø      ACT 14:15 "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

Ø      ACT 14:16  "In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways;

Ø      ACT 14:17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness."

Paul was saying: “You people have no excuse for your paganism! You have no excuse for not honoring the true God and giving Him thanks: He has done good things for you. He has given you rain and crops and happiness—where do you think these things come from?”

And that leads to another unmistakable evidence of God, and--

            B. They see it when they look within.

What do I mean? Because we are created in God’s image, we bear the marks of His Personhood within us--faintly, because we are fallen--but they are still there, and we know that there is a God and He is a moral God--a good God. We know.

Ø      We see it when we see people doing good things: helping the poor, firemen rescuing people out of burning buildings, Jesus said in Lk.6:33 that even sinners do good to each other! Where does that come from? God.

We see it in govt. and laws and the structure of society and marriage and family. Scripture says that God instituted these things, they aren’t inventions of man. Now you say, “But these things are falling apart before our eyes!” That’s the point! There is something to fall apart--and we recognize that we are deviating from something that right and natural and normal. Where does that come from? God.

Ø      ROM 1:32 [after listing a whole slew of rotten sins:] and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

The Bible says, “They know right from wrong--they do! And even if they don’t know it from God’s Word, they know it from what God has stamped on their conscience:

Ø      ROM 2:14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves,

Ø      ROM 2:15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,

I.e., Sometimes their conscience says, “That was good,” and sometimes it says to them, “That was bad,” and that confirms the fact that in all of mankind, throughout all of history, there has been a general consensus as to what is right and what is wrong. Evolution can’t explain this!

Ø      And even in places like S.F. where perversion is the norm, most of the world still recognizes that it is abnormal. It is a deviation. Vv.26,27, tell us that homosexuals know that they are exchanging what is natural for what is unnatural.

Where do “natural” and “unnatural” come from? Evolution? Societal consensus? No. From God. They are without excuse.

Immanuel Kant said that two things kept him in awe: the starry hosts above and the moral law within.

But what do they do with this knowledge of God?

II. They suppress the truth about God.

  • ROM 1:18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

The word “suppress” means to actively stifle—to try to obscure the truth. I.e., they know it and understand it enough to see the implications—and they go to work trying to cover it, keep it away, block it out.

Ps.14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God!” But actually, the Hebrew says, “The fool says, “No, God!” I.e., he knows there is a God, but he stops us his ears, and covers his eyes to suppress that truth.

Ø      The other day Janice and I were out walking on Daryl Mills’ property on Spruce Grove Rd. and we were looking down in the dust at all sorts of different kinds of footprints. Now we didn’t think that it was a great leap of intelligence to assume that those footprints were made by--feet!

But that’s just what people do when they don’t acknowledge a Creator God.

Ø      Yuri Gagarin didn’t see God, but He saw God’s poem in the stars and constellations and galaxies. And where there is a poem, there has to be a poet! Even the atheist Voltaire said, “The world is a great embarrassment for me, for I cannot suppose that this clock exists without there having a clock-maker.”

Ø      Someone said that the best reply to an atheist is to take him out for a good dinner and then ask him if he believes there is a chef who prepared it!

To use the words of Paul, the clear truth of God's poiema in creation must be consciously and constantly suppressed, or you will be brought face to face with your Maker and your obligation to glorify Him as God and give Him thanks.

            A. They substitute foolishness for truth.

  • ROM 1:21 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.

Doesn’t this explain the theory of evolution? I mean how in the world could any sane person believe that everything they see is the result of blind, impersonal chance? Chance is not a force--it doesn’t do anything. It’s not a thing--it is no thing! Do cars and houses come together by chance? Kids: What are the chances that your room will clean itself? Not a chance!

And where did the stuff that has to come together come from originally? Well these same brain waves have to say, “It was self-created.” Now think about that. In order for something to be self-created it would have exist and not exist at the same time: It would have to exist--to create itself; but it would have to not exist at the same so that it could be created!

And this doesn’t even touch on the most difficult question of all: How can impersonal stuff, by chance, form personal beings, who love, and feel, and think, and ponder?

Francis Schaeffer: “The assumption of an impersonal beginning can never adequately explain the personal beings we see all around us.”

Ø      Professor Christian B. Anfinsen, Ph.D. in biochemistry, Harvard University and Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, made this profound statement:  I think only an idiot can be an atheist.

Isn’t God’s Word so clear and true: They know the truth, but they suppress it, and substitute futile speculations out of their darkened hearts:

Ø      Richard Dawkins, an "arch-Darwinian" said, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."

Ø      Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA, said, "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved."

One evolutionist said, “I refuse to believe in God, so what other alternative do I have but evolution?” You see, It wasn’t evidence for evolution that led him to reject God, it was his rejection of God that led him to embrace evolution.

            B. They refuse to honor or thank God.

 

This is where it gets personal: They rob God of the honor and gratitude that He deserves for being their Creator.

How many times have you heard people say, “Well, I’m not sure I believe in God because of all of the pain and suffering in this world. I mean if there is a God, why do babies die?” Well we know the answer to that, don’t we? The answer is, because of sin in this world, God has allowed all of these things, for a time, then He will do away with all evil and suffering and death.

But I have a question for these people that they need to answer: “What about the problem of good?” Yes bad things happen, but how do you explain good things? Babies die, but most babies are born healthy and happy--how do you explain that? Why will you criticize God and blame God for the bad, but you refuse to honor Him for the good??”

Ø      What do they think when they bite into a soft, ripe, juicy peach? How do they explain that apart from a good, loving, creative God? Evolution can’t explain a peach! Why does it taste good? Why is it that people all over the world like the taste? If it just evolved as food, why does it have any taste at all?? But why do we even have tastebuds?

Oh, natural selection! Peaches that didn’t taste good stopped evolving; and people without taste buds couldn’t reproduce!

No, Genesis 1 explains the peach and the peach-eater. And Romans 1 explains the atheist and the unbeliever: They know there is a God, but they refuse to honor Him or give Him thanks.

I feel sorry for an unbeliever who would see that sunset that Janice and I saw the other night. Someone said: The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”

Well, what have we learned? What about those who have never heard God’s Word? What about those who will never hear the gospel? God’s Word is clear:

III. Four lessons from this passage:

1.) They are not ignorant: If they can’t read His Word, they can read His poem in creation. They know.

2.) They are not innocent: They sin against what they know because they don’t honor the Creator. They don’t give Him thanks. Instead they substitute ridiculous theories for the truth they know--and beyond that, they substitute false gods for the true God. We’ll see more of that next week.

So what about those who have never heard the gospel? They have heard enough. Paul’s point here is that general revelation--God’s poem in creation--is not enough to save a person, but it’s enough to condemn a person. They are without excuse.

3.) We have a profound common ground with unbelievers: we both know that there is a God! And beloved, when you witness to unbelievers or atheists, don’t feel that you need to prove the existence of God--they already know that He exists. Don’t get sidetracked: Tell them how God has unmistakably shown His goodness and power in this world--pull out a peach--great witnessing tool! And then take them to the cross, and show them how much God hates sin, and how much He loves sinners. Pray that God would open their eyes to see what they know.

4.) If those who have never heard are without excuse when they withhold from God honor and worship, and thanks and praise--how much those who have heard?

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