We are presently working through a section of Romans that starts in verse 18 and runs through verse 23. In my last blog post, we covered the first half of it. This week we will continue to unpack this paragraph, and in my next post, we will look at the next section which covers some of the results of the things that we cover this week.
When we read Romans we need to remember that Paul dictated this letter during his stay in Corinth, just before he brings the famine relief offering to Jerusalem but after dealing with the issues in Corinth. It is important to remember that because that means the fight he just had with the church in Corinth and the sins they faced are likely fresh in his mind while he is composing this letter. It also means that the trouble he will be facing in Jerusalem has not happened yet, but he may be looking forward to it with some concern. Because this letter was dictated it will have a stream of consciousness feel to it at times, after all Paul is just talking.
Keeping that in mind, we need to watch for the logical connections in his wording. For example, Romans 1:21 starts with “for”, and as we have discussed a few times the little word “for” serves as a connection back to a previous thought. In this case it brings us back to Romans 1:18. Connecting those two sections directly give us something like “For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven…because although they knew God they did not glorify Him.” Rephrasing the passages this way helps to show that the actions of humans are directly connected to the wrath of God.
Paul now brings forth a charge against the nonbelievers in a devastating manner. He bluntly states, “they knew God.” This scripture makes it clear again that nonbelievers cannot claim ignorance, everyone has all the knowledge they need. This connects back to the previous verses where Paul explained that God Himself made Himself plain to all people everywhere.
Next Paul tells us what humans, all of whom know God, did with the information they had. In our modern era we can see this just as easy as Paul could in his era. Humans in all eras have in general have either admitted to there being a God, but then marginalized Him, or have out right denied his existence. Today, they use the philosophy of evolution, secularism, or humanism in place of God. In Paul’s day it was legalism, and other pagan religions, but the end result is the same. They failed to give glory to their creator, and failed to give him thanks.
Paul expands this thought further with the next phrase. He states they exchanged God for created things, such as animals and bugs. This timeless truth hits home with us today. People around the world do this and have done this in every age that has come and gone on this earth. I think I can safely predict that people will continue to do this until the end of time.
For people like myself, Romans 1:22 comes as a gut check in this section of scripture. There was a time when I was not a Christian and I was very wise. I did very well in school when I bothered to apply myself in even the smallest way. I way out paced even my teachers in subjects from all areas of learning, to that point that for some classes I would only show up for the tests, ace them and not bother with the books or other requirements.
I was so wise, that I could understand why some people still believed in God and went to church even though it was obvious to me that God was not real. I understood that life was hard and many needed an imaginary friend to lean on, and I was okay with that, just too smart for such a crutch for myself.
This is the state of many in the world today, especially in America. They have the created world around them screaming at them that God is real, and they worship creation instead. Sure, most of them would not admit it, and may not even think of it in those terms, but they worship the created world through their science. This is not to say that science is bad, in fact I firmly believe the opposite, just that many have put science on God’s throne and call themselves wise.
The inescapable truth in this section is one that is very hard for most to accept. That is that all humans have no excuse not to be Christians. This means that everyone has a choice to make, and that is to follow God, and receive the free gift of His salvation or to reject God and keep the place in Hell they have chosen. As we read back in Romans 1:20, everyone is without excuse. God has made a way for all, and everyone will accept or reject Him. To put it another way, God does not put anyone in Hell; instead many choose to go there.
In this there is also a warning for Christians. Throughout the Bible we can see places where God’s people choose things over God and God had to deal with them. Many times we even see great men of God, such as King David, choose things of this world over God, and because of it faced God’s anger. King David never lost his place as “the man after God’s own heart,” but there were consequences for his actions.
The same could easily be true for us today. Do you have things that you put before God? Most Christians would say no, but if they really got honest, there are things they elevate above God. For some it might be a sport, food, or a relationship. For many it is their career or desire for nice things. Check your own life, and ask yourself this question, “If God asked me to get rid of this thing, what would I do?” An honest answer to that will show if you have exchanged God for something else in your life.
I am not saying God does not want you to have nice things, a good job, or anything of that nature. God may call you to be rich so that you can further his cause among the rich, or he may call you to be poor so that you can reach the poor. What I am saying is that we cannot let whatever things we have get between God and us.
If you find that there is something between you and God, the very first thing you need to do is repent of it. Then seek God’s advice and help in putting it in its proper place, and restoring God to his. In some cases He may ask you to give up whatever that thing is, but in many cases He may not. Leave that decision up to Him, and strive to let nothing else come between you and God. I am sure that God will bless an effort like this. We just have to let Him reach us directly.