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(Romans 1:18) Truth Imprisoned

(Romans 1:18) Truth Imprisoned

by Stephen Davey Ref: Romans 1:18

How will God deal with people who have never heard the Gospel


Truth Imprisoned

Romans 1:18-19

We have arrived at that terrifying passage of scripture which reveals an attribute of this almighty God we believe in; and to whom we sing and pray and serve.

It is the attribute of God’s fury or wrath.

It is a side of God that, for the most part is either ignored or unwanted not only by the world at large, but by the church.

The Times of London reported some time ago that fourteen church study groups had been formed in the area of Woodford England.  Their purpose was to study the Old Testament Psalms as it related to the hymns of the church.  After their extensive study, they concluded that 84 Biblical Psalms were “not fit for Christians to sing” 

Quoted in MacArthur, Romans, Moody Press, p. 70

Why not?  They determined this because they believed that wrath reflected in those psalms was not consistent or compatible with the gospel of love and grace.

They evidently didn’t like the sound of Psalm 7:11, “Thus God is angry with the wicked every day.” 

Or Psalm 2:1 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth.  11.  Worship the

Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.   12.  Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you

perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled.  

Or Psalm 7:6  Arise, O Lord, in Your anger; lift up Yourself against the rage of my adversaries, and arouse

Yourself for me; You have appointed judgment . . .11.  God is a righteous judge, and a God who has

Indignation every day.

Frankly, I’m surprised those study groups found only 84 Psalms unfit to sing because they sang of the justice and holy judgment of God.

But God’s wrath has been and always will be throughout human history an unpopular attribute.

The truth is, sinful men oppose this truth of God’s holiness and justice and wrath and judgment because they don’t want to be held accountable for their sin.  Thus, they deny the existence of a righteous God, for a righteous God would naturally be displeased with their unrighteousness. 

So man is busy recreating God into his own image.  He crafts a comfortable deity who is easier to face – or ignore;  he fashions a facilitating god who pats him on the head every once in a while and say, “Boys will be boys!”

No wonder the organized church is wandering all over the theological and moral countryside.  Struggling to vote against homosexual priests, struggling to determine a position on abortion and divorce and fornication and gambling and on and on

Why?  Because when God’s holy, absolute standard of righteousness is thrown out, everything else can come in.

My friends, if you no longer have a standard for what is absolutely right, you will not be able to know what is absolutely wrong?!

The attribute of God’s righteous wrath is an unwanted attribute by the nature of man because man because he wants to behave any way he wants to behave.  That is, he doesn’t want anybody, much less God, telling him he’s wrong in any way, period!

Furthermore, the wrath and fury of God are unwanted by the religion of man because man wants to believe anything he wants to believe.  

And in our day of relative truth, whatever you believe has to be right, because you believe it.  In fact, what a person believes about spiritual things doesn’t even require reasoning or justification – all that matters is that you believe it.  Your sincerity counts, not your reasons.

So while religion and spirituality is bigger and more popular and yet more confusing and diverse than ever, it is, according to one secular source, a religion to be praised.  “Because it is religious expression that downplays doctrine and dogma, and revels in direct experience of the divine – whether it’s called the holy spirit or cosmic consciousness, or the true self.  It is practical and personal, more about stress reduction than salvation, more therapeutic than theological.  It’s about feeling good, not being good.  Most people still say they believe in God, but they are mixing and matching religious beliefs and practices that resonate with their own life experience.” 

Adapted from,5744,5088,00.html

This author thought that was an improvement.

Another author raises the warning however in his book, The New Absolutes,  “We have reached the point where we permit almost everything and stand for almost nothing, except the dogmatic belief that every person is right in their own eyes . . . our beliefs are more a matter of feelings than anything.  Most important, our beliefs are our beliefs, and that, we think, makes them worthy and beyond dispute.”     William D. Watkins, The New Absolutes; Bethany House, 1996, p. 30.

So, what are we left with?  The behavior and beliefs in a persons life are his sacred idols.  Man is as guilty of idolatry than ever before.  And he would rather worship his self-made, self-styled, self-satisfying, self-vindicating, self-promoting, self-serving god than the one true and living God with Whom they must give an account one day.

But while the wrath of God is an unwanted attribute, it is an undeniable attribute

Isaiah 13: 9.  Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a

desolation;  And He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations

Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light.  11.  Thus

I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the

proud and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.  12.  I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold and

mankind than the gold of Ophir. 13.  Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken

from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts in the day of His burning anger.

Now Isaiah was communicating the truth of God’s coming wrath.  The Apostle Paul talks about God’s wrath as if it has already come.

If you’ll notice again in Romans chapter 1, verse 18, he announces, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.”

The tense could be translated to read, “For the wrath of God is continually revealed from heaven.”

What does he mean?

There are two categorical types of revelation from God:

The first is what we call General Revelation.

General revelation is that kind of revelation that every human being has access to – thus it is general.

And there are two kinds of general revelation: the first is the natural world or creation.

General revelation effects an awareness of God’s existence.

We’ll come back for greater detail in another study, but for now notice how Paul expounds on this form of general revelation.    Romans 1:19.  “...that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  (how?)  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

In other words, creation naturally leads mankind to an awareness of a Creator; the beautiful and complex design of our universe implies a designer.

Listen to David as he sings about the creation pointing open hearts toward the truth of God’s existence.

Psalm 19:1-6  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.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

In other words, no matter how remote that tribe of Indians; no matter where you travel – around the world and into outer space, there is the loud persistent declaration of creation.

Creation points to a Creator.

In the town hall in Copenhagen, I have read, stands the worlds’ most complicated clock.  It took forty years to build at a cost of more than a million dollars.  It has ten faces, fifteen thousand parts and is accurate to two-fifth’s of a second every three hundred years.  The clock computes the time of day, the days of the week, the months and years and the movements of the planets for twenty-five hundred years.  Some parts of that clock will not move until twenty-five centuries have passed.  The more you know about that clock leads you to say, the designers were very intelligent people to design something so sophisticated and intricate.  You would never assume that it just came together over millions of years.

Even Charles Darwin once admitted, the complexity of design within the human eye is enough to cause him to consider a Creator.

Such an incredible creation implies the existence of an incredible Creator – David put it in verse 1.  The heavens

declare that God is glorious!”

One Puritan wrote, “God has left large footprints though out the universe.”

That argument is used by King David and the Apostle Paul.  God exists and everybody knows it!  We’ll see in a moment what most of the world does in spite of it.

So the first kind of general revelation is Divine creation.  The second kind of general revelation is human conscience.

You might notice verse 19 as Paul says, “because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them.”

That which is evident to them is creation.  And that which is evident within them is conscience.  Revelation available to all of humanity is creation without and conscience within.

Look over at chapter 2 verse 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,  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.

When a man lies and steals and cheats and fornicates and murders, he knows without ever having read the Book of Exodus that he has violated some unknown, objective  standard – his heart tells him; his guilt assures him.

Where could this sense of right and wrong come from?  Where did that gnawing in his stomach come from?  It is, in fact, part of God’s general revelation that makes a man aware of morality.  And even if a man or woman has never read the Bible, they intuitively know that that it’s wrong to murder and to adulterate and to lie.

God has written that law on their hearts, and conscience is the voice that teaches all of humanity right from wrong.

So General Revelation comes in the forms of creation and conscience.

Now, the other form of revelation from God is what we call, Special Revelation.  

That happens to refer to explicit  communication from God.  You probably have a copy of it on your lap.  It’s called inspired scripture.

While General revelation allows humanity to know about God, special revelation allows humanity to worship God.

By the way, you need to know that general revelation through creation and conscience are not enough to save a person.  It is sufficient however, according to Romans 1, to render every person guilty and without excuse.  Paul will go on to say (in verse 21) that in spite of general revelation, men still choose to worship the rocks and the trees and the moon and man made gods and ignore, and suppress and silence the voice of their conscience. 

Mankind suppresses the truth of general revelation and what it reveals about a wonderful Creator.  They assault the truth – they deny the truth – they resist the truth.  And so men and women whether they had a Bible or not will be without excuse one day because they chose not to seek after this Creator and instead worked hard to cover up the truth about Him.  And, in so living, they also violated their consciences and sinned at will.

I also believe that anyone, anywhere in the world who sees creation and believes in a Creator and listens to conscience and desires to unburden their guilt and they do not turn to false gods and evil spirits and nature itself, I believe God will provide the necessary special revelation so that they can hear the gospel and believe.

This is a part of the mystery between Divine election on the one hand, and man as free moral agent on the other hand.

John MacArthur writes, “No matter how little spiritual light a person may have, God guarantees that any person who sincerely seeks Him will find Him.  “You will seek Me and find Me,” God promises, “when you search for me with all your heart.”  (Jeremiah 29:13)

John MacArthur,  Romans,  Moody Press, 1991; p. 67

Now Paul makes it even clearer that general revelation is not enough for salvation but that there must be special revelation through God’s word for apart from Biblical truth, no one can be saved!  Paul writes in Romans 10:13 Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  14.  How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a messenger/preacher?   v. 17 So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17)

Our passion for world missions emanates from our desire to serve as God’s agents of special revelation throughout the world.  So those who know about God can hear the gospel and worship God as the only true and living, Creator God.

That takes care of our review.  With that as our introduction, let’s go back to the original question.  And the original question is, “Will we ever get out of verse 18?” 

“Yes, if ye faint not. . .”

We’ve talked about how God reveals Himself.   But Paul says in verse 18, that the wrath of  God is constantly being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” 

Question is, “How is the wrath of God being revealed?”

Let me very quickly give you the five-fold demonstration of God’s Wrath

1) The first way God’s holy anger against sin is enacted or revealed is through civil punishment of sin.

In other words, His anger is demonstrated when civil courts punish offenders.  Romans 13 will inform us that civil authority is ordained by God to wield the sword against sin.

So the punishment of crime is actually God’s holy standard being carried out.

2) The second way God punishes sinners is found in the built in tendency of moral evil to produce misery 

This is a fascinating thought we don’t have time to explore – suffice it to say that sinners do not find lasting satisfaction in their sin.  Moral evil produces misery. 

3) God demonstrates his displeasure through the voice of conscience within each human heart.

4) God’s wrath against sinners is found in the consequences of breaking God’s law

This is seen on several fronts:

You break one of His created physical laws like the law of gravity – and something will break.  No matter how you feel.  Like the proverbial man who decided to fly by jumping from the roof of an office building, 50 stories high.  He was heard announcing as he passed the 20th floor window, “So far so good.”  Eventually the law will catch up to his feelings.

William Barclay wrote, “You break the law of agriculture and your harvest  fails.  You break the laws of architecture and your building collapses; you break the laws of health and your body suffers” 

       William Barclay, Romans, Westminster Press, 1975; p. 27

There are consequences to violating God’s moral law –  venereal diseases proliferate – the world doesn’t want to accept the message it is trying to convey.  I read where one actress complained, “It is infuriating to me that something so beautiful as two consenting adults sharing a bed results in disease.”   God’s moral law designed one woman and one man for life – and the moment you go past that limit, you run the risk of consequence. 

There are consequences to disobeying spiritual laws – The Bible says things like, “Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath...let all malice and bitterness be put away. . .love your neighbor. . .forgive 70 times 7 – these are not just wonderful suggestions, they are spiritual “laws” that have corresponding consequences when they are not kept. 

Read the Book of Proverbs and discover the physical and emotional consequences to things like envy and pride and bitterness and stinginess.  The truth is suffering follows sin.

Finally, God’s wrath is revealed against sinful humanity through death.   For the wages (the penalty) of sin is death.  (Romans 6:23)

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all have sinned (Romans 5:12, 13).

So the constant, ongoing demonstration of God’s wrath can be observed in everything from disease to despair to death.

Now Paul wants us to know that God’s fury is not without focus.  Notice that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against al ungodliness and unrighteousness.

This is the direction of God’s wrath – that is, it is directed first against ungodliness.  The Greek word is asebeia (asebeia).

That word normally refers to rebellion and dishonor, or impiety toward God.

But God’s wrath is also revealed against unrighteousness – that word is from adikia (adikia) which normally refers to mankind’s unjust action toward other people.

Ungodliness, or the lack of respect for God, is the cause.  The effects are seen in the way people treat other people.

In other words, the reason man can’t honor and respect man is because he doesn’t honor and respect God.

The problem isn’t racism.  That’s the symptom.   The problem is rebellion.  Rebellion against God produces racism among people.

Everywhere I’ve traveled in the world, I’ve discovered prejudice and hatred between groups of people.  The Japanese and the Chinese don’t like each other; the Bosnians and Serbs hate each other; African tribes hate each other; the Arabs and Jews can’t get along with each other; the blacks and the whites in America have their fences too;  I’ve discovered that the English and the French don’t like each other.  But that isn’t the real problem. Their hatred for each other is a symptom of a deeper problem.

It isn’t a matter of human relationships.  It’s a matter of spiritual relationships.

Because there is ungodliness (show hand up and down) toward God; their is unrighteousness toward man.

Because man is not right with God, he usually is not right with other people.

And the world system is constantly insisting on finding a way to get people to treat each other better, and the world doesn’t get very far. 

Oh, but when a man or woman gets right with God, now, he can gets right with everybody else.

Now what, according to the Apostle Paul, is the common ingredient shared by ungodly and unrighteous sinful mankind no matter where in the world you travel. 

They all are involved in a systematic denial of the truth.

God has revealed Himself through general revelation –creation and conscience.  But mankind Paul writes in the last part of verse 18, suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.

In other words, there is, at this very moment, a universal cover up of the truth!

The truth is suppressed.  The word is from katecho (katecw) which means, “to hold fast, to hold down, to hold firmly” Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Zondervan, 1980, p. 349.

It could be amplified to read: “ who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” Word Meanings in the New Testament, Ralph Earle, Baker Book House, 1989, p. 138

The Jerusalem  Bible translates this phrase, “who keep truth imprisoned in their wickedness.”

The truth is imprisoned, held down, kept out of sight.  But still, the truth of God’s creation shouts the news of a creator – and the conscience of man whispers there is a holy standard you must follow. 

Some will listen, and be poised to hear further revelation from God which leads to salvation.   One of those was a girl named Helen Keller.  She was born without the ability to see, hear, or speak.  I can not even imagine the horror of that little girl growing up in such a dark, silent world, as if sealed in a box, or locked away in a closet.  But, as you may know, a  dedicated teacher named Anne Mansfield Sullivan came into Helen’s life and refused to be pushed away.  Anne Sullivan slowly, painstakingly taught Helen Keller to communicate by pressing into the palm of her hand the alphabet.  Frankly I find that mind-boggling, how little Helen Keller would even understand what the pressing meant, but for more than two years, Anne Sullivan was dedicated to Helen Keller learning how to communicate, and she persistently taught Helen letters and words.  Finally, after two years, the light dawned, so to speak, and Helen connected the pressing of her hand with reality.  She quickly learned how to communicate back as well as receive more and more information.  And so, Anne Sullivan sent for a preacher of the gospel.  And they brought the preacher in and he, through Anne’s interpretation, shared with her the gospel of Jesus Christ with Helen Keller.  And, as he was sharing it with her she broke into a smile and then quickly communicated back those startling words, “I’ve known about Him for a long time.  I just didn’t know His name.” 

General revelation told Helen Keller that there was a created world, even though she couldn’t even see it, she could feel it – breath it – touch it.  Her conscience also told her when her actions were sinful.  And she believed that general revelation.  And special revelation came in the form of the gospel message – and that introduced her to the Savior, and she believed that message and was saved.

She had known about God, but now, she knew His name.


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