A World Without Excuse (before God)

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Romans 1:18-32

What’s wrong with the world, and whose fault is it?

Welcome, dear friends, to this second in our series on the heart of the Christian faith, messages from the first eight chapters of the letter to the Romans. Last time we spoke of the gospel, the good news, what it is, the gospel of God, promised and planned by God about Jesus, God’s Son, the risen living Lord. We saw how this gospel is God’s power, power to save through simple trust, faith from beginning to end, God’s way of making things right between sinful humans and himself. We saw how Paul was not ashamed of the marvelous good news. He was eager to preach it, sensing a great obligation to all unbelievers, and understanding God’s purpose for all people.

Today we focus on the world of people into which the gospel came. I’m calling this today, “A World Without Excuse (before God).” Listen to these words from Romans 1, verses 18-20 (NRSV):

For the wrath of God is [being] revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.

What’s Wrong with the World?

Our question today is: “What’s wrong with the world?” We think about Iraq and Darfur, and Iran and North Korea, about American culture – debased sexuality, corruption in literature, films and pornography. We think about child abuse and disintegrating marriages, millions of evils done every day. And think of the unhappiness around us. I read a recent study of happiness. It shows how great prosperity doesn’t make people happy.

Suppose you ask people on the street, in a coffee shop, on a plane: “What’s the greatest problem with the world today?” Everyone will offer an opinion!

We heard about the good news last week. Today we look at the background for it. Not now the good news about God and what he has done, but the bad news about us and what we have done.

Do you remember that theme in Charlie Brown, the comic strip boy? “We have met the enemy and he is us!” The problem is with us. Remember Alexander Solzenitzyn, what he said from his captivity in a Russian prison camp, about the evil in the world? “The line between good and evil does not pass between nations and cultures or groups but runs right through the middle of every human heart.”

When I ask about what’s wrong with the world, as I sometimes do, I ask others what they think is the biggest problem and then I say, “What do you think about this idea of Jesus, that every kind of evil comes from within, from the human heart?” And as we begin to talk about that, we get right into the gospel.

We Have Rejected God’s Self-revealing

According to this passage that we read a moment ago, the root of the human problem is our ungodliness, our rejection of God’s revelation of himself. Our wickedness appears in our suppressing, putting out of mind, refusing to recognize the truth about God.

The point here is that in the creation around us, and in the very fact of our existence as creatures (people made by God), we have been shown a great deal about God. The evidence and proof is all around us. Paul says God’s eternal power and divine nature are evident everywhere. As the Psalm (19:1-2, NIV) says,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

Think of it – the stable light and warmth of the sun, the refreshing rain that waters the earth, the fruitful soil that grows all manner of food, the beauty of flowers and trees, sunrise and sunset, the miraculous nature of the human body, the eye, the ear, the speaking voice – all of this fairly shouts that a great Creator to whom we owe everything has made it all.

But in spite of this, vast numbers of people never give God a thought, never thank him or honor him in any way. They act as though they had made themselves, as though the vast and marvelous creation of God were only a cosmic accident. They don’t want to think about an almighty Creator. They would rather believe that they belong completely to themselves.

And because we have ignored God, in spite of all this amazing evidence, we are, as Paul says, “without excuse.” We are the guilty ones. No one else is to blame. In God’s sight we have all messed up badly. We are responsible for ignoring and putting an end to the knowledge of the wonderful God that’s all around us.

The Tragic Consequences of our Rejection of God

Now for the tragic results of this turning away from the knowledge of God. First, there is no use and darkness in our thinking. Whenever we leave God out of consideration something centrally important dries up. Suppose you plan out what you’re going to to do for the next month and forget that you are married! Your plans will be ridiculous and you’ll be in big trouble at home with your family. The sin of ignoring and rejecting God brings darkness to our thinking. Even philosophers and research scientists come up with empty conclusions when they leave God out of the picture. They may profess to know a great deal, but in reality they become foolish in their outlook on life.

Second, the next step is a fall into idolatry. We are made, all of us, to worship God. There’s a God-shaped place in every human heart. If we don’t worship the true and living God who made all things we’ll always end up worshiping something else. People who do not worship God the Creator exchange his supreme glory for images of human beings or other creatures. We worship something God has made, the sun, the moon, the mountains, the trees, the lions, the snakes, or we worship something we have made or our school, or our team, or our country. Idolatry is always exchanging the truth about God for a lie. It’s worshiping something created instead of the Creator, who as Paul says, is “blessed forever.” And out of this refusing the knowledge and fall into idolatry comes a muddy swamp of moral shame and failure.

The Question of God’s Wrath

Now we need to look at what Paul says about the wrath (anger) of God. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all of this that we have been talking about. What is the wrath of God?

First, what wrath is not. It’s not what we usually think of as wrath: anger that is confusing and hate-filled. God is not a fuming, raging tyrant. His wrath against moral evil is not a while emotion; petty and spiteful. In fact, we wonder if God could be just and loving if he did not react strongly against some things. Remember how Jesus when he was about to heal a man with a withered hand and saw the scribes and pharisees waiting to condemn him for doing it on a holy day, he looked around with anger because of the hardness of their hearts. Jesus was grieved. That is what is in the heart of God when his will is scorned and his people are treated wrongly.

You know, anger against wickedness is an essential element in goodness. If we know, for example, about the injustice and cruelty of something like slavery or apartheid, and are not angry at such heartless wickedness, we can’t be thoroughly good people. We are failing to care for and to love suffering people, failing to be moved by their undeserved mistreatment.

God is angry about sin! He is totally against all corruption – of mind, body act, and misuse of what God made. We know this in our hearts but we often refuse to think of God’s anger. It frightens us.

God’s Gracious Purpose

Now we need to look at God’s design in all this. We’ve already seen how we won’t really celebrate the gospel, the good news, until we realize the depth of our sin and need. But what about the matter of God’s “giving us up” and “giving us over” to our own God-ignoring ways? In a way, God punishes sin by giving us over to more sin. Why do you imagine he would do that? We choose to walk down a sinful path, and he lets us go further down that road. It sounds like a fearful kind of judgment.

But we need to see that he does it with a loving goal. Giving us up is not necessarily permanent or hopeless. Think about Saul of Tarsus, the one we know as Paul. God let him go down the path of rejecting Jesus, blaspheming, and persecuting his followers. But then one day he stopped Saul in his tracks, and made him into a great missionary. Jesus said to him, “Saul, why are you so cruel to me?” (CEV). When God lets us go down a wicked path, I hope we’ll see that “the way of transgressors is hard.” Like the wayward son (prodigal), we’ll come to our senses and head home for God!

One of the things this passage makes clear is that the gospel is greatly needed. We’ve all wandered away from God. All are without excuse. When that becomes real to us, we should be ready to welcome the good news of the Savior, Jesus Christ, the one in whom the gospel, the good news of God, is revealed.

So when we’ve wandered away from God and have left him out of our lives, we may find ourselves under God’s discipline, with a troubled conscience, thoroughly miserable. But God doesn’t discipline us out of vengeance or ill will. He wounds us in love so that in our brokenness we may find a great healing. We will find a great love that calls us home. That’s what we know of in Jesus Christ. That is what we’ll be thinking about and celebrating in the rest of these studies. God bless this word to your heart!