Romans 1:18-23

Thursday Evening Bible Study

March 13, 2008


Paul has been talking about how he has wanted to come to Rome and preach the gospel.  He felt he had an obligation to share the gospel:

(Rom 1:14-17 NKJV)  I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. {15} So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. {16} For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. {17} For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

Paul saw that God was taking the message, the good news that he preached, and used it to save people.  He saw power in the gospel to save people.
But what are people saved from? Paul goes on to explain that…

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

wrathorge – anger, the natural disposition, temper, character; anger exhibited in punishment, hence used for punishment itself

is revealedapokalupto – to uncover, lay open what has been veiled or covered up; to make known, make manifest, disclose what before was unknown; pres.pass.inf.

ungodlinessasebeia – lack of reverence towards God, impiety, ungodliness; positive and active irreligion, a condition of direct opposition to God.

unrighteousnessadikia (“not” + “righteous”) – injustice; unrighteousness of heart and life; a deed violating law and justice, act of unrighteousness

suppresskatecho (“down” + “hold”) – to hold back, detain, retain; to restrain, hinder (the course or progress of)

The idea of the verse is:

Men hold down the truth through their unrighteousness, their sin.  It is these men who have lives characterized by a rebellion toward God and sinful unrighteous lives, against whom God’s just punishment is disclosed from heaven.

How is God’s wrath revealed?  Some of it will be on the final judgment day, but perhaps some of it even now is being revealed by the things that are described in the following verses such as man being turned over to his lusts…

:19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

manifestphaneros – apparent, manifest, evident, known; comes from the word “shine” (phaino)

has shown itphaneroo (the verb form of “manifest”) – to make manifest or visible or known what has been hidden or unknown, to manifest, whether by words, or deeds, or in any other way

The idea is:

People can’t claim that they don’t know if God exists.  The truth about God has been “shined” in their faces because God has been the one who has “shined” it in their face. How has God “shined” His truth?

:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

invisibleaoratos – unseen, or that which cannot be seen, e.g. invisible

clearly seenkathorao – to look down, see from above, view from on high; to see thoroughly, perceive clearly, understand

How can something that’s “invisible” be “clearly seen”?

eternalaidios – eternal, everlasting; both in time past and time future

powerdunamis – strength, power, ability

Godheadtheiotes (from “theos”, the word for “God”)– divinity, divine nature, His “goodness”

without excuseanapologetos (“not” + “apologetic”) – without defense or excuse; that which cannot be defended, inexcusable

Here’s the way the verse is translated if you take it in Greek word order:

“For His unseen things from the creation of the world, by the things that are made, being understood, are clearly seen; whether it’s His eternal power or divinity, so that they are without excuse”

The idea seems to be:

Even though God is invisible, you can clearly see who He is by the things He has made if you take the time to understand what you’re looking at.  These things have been obvious since the creation of the world.  The kinds of things you will discover are that God has power that has always existed and always will, and that He indeed is God.  When you take all this into account, you will find yourself without an excuse when it comes to understanding whether or not there is a God.


God is Obvious.

In other words, as you study the creation around us, you ought to come to the understanding that there is a God.
(Psa 19:1-4 NKJV)  The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. {2} Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. {3} There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. {4} Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,

Some people have the mistaken idea that Christians should be afraid of science be science is supposed to contradict “religion”.  Just the opposite is true.  If you will truly study the creation around us you will have a difficult time denying that there is a designer, an intelligence behind the design, a Creator.

The problem is that we’ve become brainwashed by a society that refuses to acknowledge their Creator.
We saw a TV show last week where the murderer was a “born-again Christian”, who murdered his daughter’s science teacher because she was being taught evolution.  Absolutely sick.  But this is the way secular society views us when it doesn’t take the time to look at what we’re saying.
In secular education, we are taught that everything we see is a result of evolution and natural selection.  This has entered into nearly every area of science, so that even the theories of the origin of the universe reflect this viewpoint.
Supposedly everything started 6 billion years ago when there was a tremendous explosion, a “Big Bang”.  Slowly energy began to coalesce, elements began to form, cells began to evolve, organisms began to form, and eventually mankind came to be.

But in reality, have we ever observed order coming from an explosion?  Doesn’t an explosion result in chaos instead of order?

Back in 2001 the Twin Towers in New York collapsed because of airplanes that were flown into them.

Last week they launched a new Navy vessel built from the metal taken from the Towers, it is named the USS New York.

Did the new ship just miraculously appear from the wreckage of the towers?  Was the ship created by the catastrophic damage on 911?  No, we recognize it took design and energy to build the ship.

One of the known laws of physics is known as the “Second Law of Thermodynamics”.  It states that things move from order to chaos. This is directly in opposition to evolution.

According to this law, the universe is “winding down”.  Stars decrease in temperature.  Things slow down.  If we were to wait long enough, everything would stop moving and everything would be a uniform temperature.

There is an exception to this law though.  Things can move from chaos to order if there is an external power source introduced into a system. 

Look at your childrens’ bedrooms.  If you as the parent don’t interfere, will the room become cleaner or more messy over time?  How is it that the room gets cleaned up?  Outside energy source – either you cleaning it up, or a threat for them to clean it up.

If you were to dig through your backyard and come across a watch, would you even think it possible that it just came to exist out of random chance?  Could it be possible that all the parts of this watch just happened to be accidentally formed in a way that produced an intricate device like a watch?  How about the idea that there was an explosion, and as things settled, it just happened to form a watch?  Does this make sense?  No, you see a watch and understand there was a watch maker.

As the Second Law of Thermodynamics implies, the universe is winding down.  And if it’s winding down, then there must have been a time when it was wound up.

Scientist Gordon Van Wylon, in his book Thermodynamics (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1959, pg.169) wrote,

“…the author has found that the Second Law tends to increase his conviction that there is a Creator who has the answer for the future destiny of man and the universe …”

Paul is leading up to a point to show how justly God is going to be to judge the world.

It’s difficult to prosecute a person for disobeying the law of a land if they didn’t know there was a law, let alone whether or not there was even a government to create and enforce such a law.

There are going to be people who say that it’s not fair for God to be judging the world when there are people who don’t know that there is a God.

There’s some good logic there, but the problem with the argument is with the notion that people might not know if there is a God.
Paul is making the point that no one is excused because God has made Himself clearly known to EVERYBODY.


God will judge the world.

You can’t escape it.
 (Heb 9:27 KJV)  And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Everyone dies.  Everyone must one day face God.

It is only those who have chosen ahead of time to ask God to pay the price of their sins, only those who have asked Jesus to take their place in judgment that will last.

(John 3:17-18 NKJV)  "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. {18} "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


No one has an excuse.

Even someone who was raised by an avowed atheist is without excuse.
The knowledge and understanding of God doesn’t come because you are taught it by your parents.  It is evident in the Creation around us.
No one can say that they did not know God existed.
When the last tubes of the tunnels under the Hudson River for the Pennsylvania Railroad were about to be joined, the boring from the two shores meeting under the river, a young civil engineer, named Richardson, was chosen because of his marked ability to make the final survey that should bring the tube ends together perfectly. So accurate was the work that when the tubes were joined the two ends were less than one-eighth of an inch from being exact. But with God the accuracy is so complete that it can be foretold to the smallest fraction of a second as to what time a certain star will raise on a certain evening a century hence, and in that time it has traveled, not the few thousand feet of the length of the tunnel, but through space so vast as to be utterly beyond human thought; and at such speed as appalls us to describe.

The evidence of a designer is so clear.

:21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

they knew – it’s a past tense, something that took place in the past.  This knowledge of God is so obvious that no one can claim that they haven’t known.

glorifydoxazo – to think, suppose, be of opinion; to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate; to honor, do honor to, hold in honor; to make glorious, adorn with luster, clothe with splendor

thankfuleucharisteo – to be grateful, feel thankful; give thanks


Response to a Creator

These are the two most obvious responses man should be making when he realizes there is a God.
1. Glorify
We have a “high opinion” of God.  We ascribe to God greatness.
We also live in the light that we will one day be judged by God.  We glorify God by the way we live.  If I learn to live in a way that is according to God’s standards, then I bring Him glory.
(Rev 15:4 KJV)  Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.
2. Give thanks
If I acknowledge that there is a Creator, if I acknowledge that there is a purpose and design in creation, if I understand that He has made me and has purposes for me, then I need to learn to respond with thanks.
(Luke 17:15-17 KJV)  And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, {16} And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. {17} And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
(Psa 50:23 NKJV)  Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God."
In contrast…

(2 Tim 3:2 KJV)  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

became futilemataioo (based on the word for vanity, emptiness) – to make empty, vain, foolish; devoid of force, truth, success, result; useless, of no purpose

thoughtsdialogismos (our word “logic” comes from the root of this word; the word “dialogue” also comes from this) – the thinking of a man deliberating with himself; a thought, inward reasoning; questioning about what is true

were darkenedskotizo – to cover with darkness, to darken

foolishasunetos – unintelligent, without understanding, stupid; don’t think of foolish as in “silly”, but as in lacking intelligence.

There seems to be a progression here.  When man refuses to acknowledge that God exists, he gets stupid.


Corrie Ten Boom used to tell the story about a proud woodpecker who was tapping away at a dead tree when the sky unexpectedly turned black and the thunder began to roll. Undaunted, he went right on working. Suddenly a bolt of lightning struck the old tree, splintering it into hundreds of pieces.  Startled but unhurt, the haughty bird flew off, screeching to his feathered friends, "Hey, everyone, look what I did! Look what I did!"

:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,

professingphasko – to affirm, allege, portend or profess; present participle, they are constantly reminding us that they are …

wisesophos – wise, skilled in letters, cultivated, learned

they became foolsmoraino – to be foolish, to act foolishly; to make foolish; to prove a person or a thing foolish; from moros (“moron”) – foolish; impious, godless

The idea is:

These people who have had their hearts darkened, while they are busy telling us that they are indeed wise and cultivated, in fact they have become morons.

The Psalmist wrote:

(Psa 14:1 NKJV)  The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good.



As men try and figure out reasons for existence without God, they don’t realize what is happening to their reasoning.
But, here's the important point. Those strange forms still fit clearly within the same basic categories known today.  Elephants were still elephants, reptiles were still reptiles. The same gaps exist in the fossil record that exist in the living world today.
Some paleontologists have faced the problem head on and come up with an alternative to Darwin's theory of slow, gradual change. Stephen J. Gould at Harvard suggests that evolution happened in sudden bursts, too fast to leave behind any fossil evidence. This theory, called punctuated equilibrium, places scientists in a very awkward position. If you ask why we don't see evolution happening today, they tell us it happens too slowly to be observed.  If you ask why we don't see evidence in the fossil record, they tell us it happens too quickly to leave a trace in the rocks.

-- Charles Colson, Dangerous Grace (Word, 1994), p.93.

When the evidence doesn’t prove what they believe, do they follow the observable evidence?  No.  Just more unbelievable stuff.
Paleontologist Stephen J. Gould concluded: We are because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of million years ago, had managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook.  We may yearn for a "higher" answer but none exists.

-- Stephen J. Gould, Quoted in Donald M. Culcough, The Trivialization of God (Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1995), p. 16.

Many years ago, while on a visit to America, a wealthy Chinese businessman was fascinated by a powerful microscope.  Looking through its lens to study crystals and the petals of flowers, he was amazed at their beauty and detail.  So he decided to purchase one of these devices and take it back to China.  He thoroughly enjoyed using it until one day he examined some rice he was planning to eat for dinner. Much to his dismay, he discovered that tiny living creatures were crawling in it.  Since he was especially fond of this staple food in his daily diet, he wondered what to do.  Finally he concluded that there was only one way out of his dilemma -- he would destroy the instrument that caused him to discover the distasteful fact!  So he smashed the microscope to pieces. 
"How foolish!" you say.  But many people do the same thing with the Word of God.  They hate it and would like to get rid of it because it reveals their evil nature.

:23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

changedallasso – to change, to exchange one thing for another, to transform

NAS has “exchanged” here, exchanging God’s glory for a stupid image.

It could also carry the idea that in their heads they trying to transform God’s glory into something far less spectacular.

glorydoxa – opinion, judgment, view; in the NT always a good opinion concerning one, resulting in praise, honor, and glory; splendor, brightness

It might mean that Paul is talking about people changing their opinion of God, it might be that Paul is talking about changing the bright shining glory of God into something like an idol.

incorruptibleaphthartos – uncorrupted, not liable to corruption or decay, imperishable

an imageeikon – an image, figure, likeness

made likehomoioo – to be made like

corruptiblephthartos – corruptible, perishing

God is “incorruptible” – He never changes, He never gets sick, He never tires out.  We, on the other hand …

creeping thingsherpeton – a creeping animal, reptile; used chiefly of snakes; “herpetology” is the study of reptiles and amphibians.


Man needs to worship

It seems that man has this thing inside him that wants to worship.  When man removes God from the picture, then man finds something else to worship.
Things degenerate as man tries to make up an idea of something to worship.
We see this happening at Mount Sinai – Ex. 32 – the golden calf
When Moses took too long up on the mountain, the people became impatient.
(Exo 32:1b NKJV) …"Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."
My dad has been listening to the studies in Exodus.  When I was talking about all the various “gods” of Egypt, he was reminded of the kinds of things that we as Americans “worship”.  Cars, money, power, our jobs, sex, anything that keeps us from having to face the True God.
God warned Israel with the second commandment (of the big Ten) was:
(Exo 20:4-6 NKJV)  "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; {5} you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, {6} but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.


Wisdom comes from worshipping God.

The smartest thing you can do is to recognize that there is Someone much bigger than you.  You have a God who created you, and to whom you will one day be accountable to.
Why don’t you become a scientist?  It’s not at odds with Christianity.  True science compliments faith.
I used to struggle with [overconfident intelligentsia] while living in Boston. I would leave the town of Lexington, where my family and I lived, and I would drive past the towers of Harvard University. Another mile down the road, on the left, sits the campus of MIT, and to the right, the campus of Boston University. Straight ahead were the towering headquarters of many great multinational corporations.
There were moments when I was tempted to be intimidated by these unmitigated, unadulterated symbols of power. Here were great world leaders being trained in the business school at Harvard. Over at MIT, signals bounced off Mars every 30 seconds. In those towers, decisions were being made that created and destroyed the economies all over the world. And who was I? What was our congregation with this Christian gospel trying to preach?
That's what was happening in the Corinthian church. They were intimidated by all the talk of so-called intelligent people who said the Cross is silliness. Paul tells us not to buy it. It has never been true, and it's not true today. God is going to show the wisdom of men and women to be rank foolishness. For the wise, the Cross must be in its central place.

-- Gordon MacDonald, "The Centerpiece of the Gospel," Preaching Today, Tape No. 137.

What’s the implication of worshipping something other than the True God?

Darwin knew…

An interesting quote …
“A man who has no assured and ever-present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution or reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones.” -- Charles Darwin, cited by Philip Yancey in Books & Culture, Vol. 4, no. 1.
Do you see this at work in our world?  Absolutely.  People doing whatever they want, whatever they think is right.
It’s one of the few logical conclusions left.  We’ll see this all played out as the chapter continues next week…