Romans 1 is a graphic depiction of human depravity, which is not a steep vertical fall, but a descending spiral of ungodliness that begins with rejection of God’s revelation and ends with a fateful last step into outer darkness.
It’s a story we should tell more often because it cuts to the chase. Paul doesn’t promise happiness, wealth, or comfort to the sinner who receives Jesus as Savior. Rather, he warns those who persist in rebellion against God of the peril they face when the divine hand of grace finally lets them go.
First, Paul makes it clear that no person stands before God with a valid defense for unbelief. God has revealed Himself to all people in at least two ways: creation and conscience.
In creation, He has shown the wicked His eternal power and divine nature, “being understood through what he has made” (v. 20). A simple gaze into the heavens on a starry night reveals the vastness, beauty, and intricacy of the universe, so that any reasonable person must conclude a divine Designer is behind it all.
Further, God has placed in every heart a knowledge of His holy standards. Regardless of geography, religion, culture, or historic era, everyone knows intuitively that certain deeds are always wrong for all people at all times, and certain deeds are always right (Rom. 2:14-16).
This universal moral compass points inextricably to a divine Law Giver.
Scholars generally break down the arguments for God’s existence into three broad categories: scripture, nature, and philosophy. Arguments from philosophy – such as the cosmological, design, and moral arguments – often go over our heads. And unbelievers may reject arguments from scripture as nothing more than myths and legends.
But the apostle Paul makes a good case from nature in Romans 1. The argument is so clear that Paul states emphatically every person will stand before God one day without excuse. That’s because God has revealed Himself to all people in at least two ways.
Previously: The kings … hid in caves (Rev. 6:12-17)
Rev. 6:12 – Then I saw Him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair; the entire moon became like blood; 13 the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; 14 the sky separated like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?” (HCSB)
“Fall on us and hide us …”
The earth’s wicked cry out to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb …” (v. 16). There is an interesting parallel between this verse and other places in scripture where the wicked, who have shunned God in favor of idols made of earthly elements, are left calling upon these elements for help.
One such example may be found in the apostate people of Israel in Jeremiah 2. Take note:
- First, the leaders get comfortable in God’s grace and stop seeking the Lord. “They [the fathers] stopped asking: Where is the Lord … The priests quit asking: Where is the Lord? The experts no longer knew Me, and the rulers rebelled against Me. The prophets prophesied by Baal and followed useless idols” (Jer. 2:6a, 8).
- Next, the people embrace idols. “My people have exchanged their Glory for useless idols….For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:11b, 13).
- Then, they insist they have done nothing wrong; in fact, they celebrate their religious diversity. “[Y]ou have said: I have not sinned” (Jer. 2:35b).
- Finally, God’s judgment falls. “Have you not brought this on yourself by abandoning the Lord your God while He was leading you along the way … Your own evil will discipline you; your own apostasies will reprimand you. Think it over and see how evil and bitter it is for you to abandon the Lord your God and to have no fear of Me…. The stain of your guilt is still in front of Me” (Jer. 2: 17, 19, 22b).
- Rather than acknowledge their sin, confess it and repent of it, the people are left invoking their idols for deliverance. “They, their kings, their officials, their priests, and their prophets say to a tree: You are my father, and to a stone: You gave birth to me. For they have turned their back to Me and not their face, but in their time of disaster they beg: Rise up and save us! But where are your gods you made for yourself? Let them rise up and save you in your time of disaster if they can” (Jer. 2:26b-28a).
In Romans 1 the apostle Paul describes a similar spiral of descent for the Gentile world. Having rejected the evidence for God in creation and conscience, the wicked suppress the truth, embrace unrighteousness, celebrate ungodliness and, as a result, are without excuse. In fact, Paul writes that God delivers them over to “sexual impurity … degrading passions … [and] a worthless mind” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).
As the sixth seal is opened in Revelation 6 and God’s wrath falls on the wicked – both those who boast “a form of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5 KJV) and those who openly embraced paganism – there is clear recognition that God is the author of this judgment. Just as it is clear to the apostate Israelites in Jeremiah 2 and the wicked Gentiles in Romans 1 (“they know full well God’s just sentence,” Rom. 1:32), there is no escaping the reality that a day of reckoning with the Lord has come. Yet they would rather be covered by tons of rock and dirt than cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. The utter depths of man’s depravity are echoed in the mountain caves as the wicked respond to God’s wrath the only way they know how – by calling on the mountains and rocks to hide them.
“The contents of chapter 6 should put to rest the false teachings that God, being a God of love, could not judge a wicked world” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 6:15–17).
From whom do the wicked wish to hide? From “the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (v. 16). Obviously, this a reference to God the Father – the One seated on the throne – and His Son, the Lamb. There is a singular wrath from these two Persons of the triune Godhead. Our sins offend a holy God, who exists as three co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14) and then sent the Holy Spirit to convince lost sinners of their desperate need for Christ (John 16:7-11).
Those who reject God in spite of His gracious offer of salvation have chosen God’s wrath and preferred to cast their eternal lot with “the ruler of the world” for whom hell was created (John 16:11; Matt. 25:41). God is angry at sin – so angry, in fact, that He judged sin in His own Son on the cross. Should not His wrath be poured out on those who both sin and reject God’s provision for forgiveness?
Next: The great day of Their wrath has come (Rev. 6:12-17)
When it comes to discussions about the existence of God, everyone comes to the table with a bias. Parents that have lost an infant child may question whether a God who allows such tragedies is good, if He exists at all. Evolutionary scientists may reject the notion of God because He does not meet the demands for purely naturalistic explanations. A disillusioned student of history may see the amount of evil done in the name of the Christian God and conclude that He is either a fiction or a monster. And those ungrounded in scripture may graciously — but naively — determine that everyone worships the same god, and that all religious paths ultimately lead to him (or her, or it, or them).
Christian pollster George Barna recently released a study that showed the “unchurched” in America – those who have not attended church in the last six months except for events such as weddings and funerals — have risen from 24 percent in 1991 to 37 percent of the population today. “America is headed for 310 million people with 310 million religions,” he said.
And then, what right do we, as Christians, have to claim the God of the Bible is the only true God? There are many arguments for the existence of God: the moral argument, the cosmological (first-cause) argument, the teleological (or design) argument, and the ontological (or reason) argument, to name a few. But the apostle Paul gives us three reasons to believe in God that leave every person “without excuse” (see Rom. 1:18-20). In fact, Paul would argue that everyone should believe in the God of scripture because He has revealed Himself in three ways: 1) conscience, 2) creation, and 3) Christ.
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