A. Sin, Grace, and Knowledge
The Bible teaches that we are not only God’s creatures, but also sinners (Rom. 3:23). Sin distorts all areas of human life (Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:10-18); therefore it affects our knowledge of God in important ways. We have already discussed the contrast between living by God’s Word and living by mere human wisdom. Scripture teaches that many, sadly, make the latter choice, because of sin within them.
Paul in Romans 1 teaches that God has clearly revealed himself to all persons by means of the created world. This revelation includes God’s divine nature (verse 20), his wrath against sin (18), his moral requirements (32). That clear revelation leaves everyone without excuse for their sin (20). Indeed, because of that revelation, even those without the Scriptures can be said to “know” God (21). But these sinful people “did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God” (28). They “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (18). They “exchanged” the glory of God for that of idols (23), his truth for a lie (25). Their hearts were darkened (21). The result of this is moral degradation, the worst forms of sinful behavior (24-32).
This is the condition of all human beings apart from God’s grace. Sin affects their thinking as well as the rest of their behavior. The point is not just that they reject the gospel. They reject the very idea of bowing before a revelation of God. They reject the very standards of truth by which the gospel is validated. Their minds are darkened (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 4:18). Like Eve in Genesis 3, they reject God’s Word in order to make their decisions autonomously.
The unbeliever, then, in alliance with Satan, puts up massive resistance against God’s Word. Paul says, “The natural man (i.e., the unbeliever) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Scripture presents this resistance sometimes as the sinner’s choice, sometimes as Satan blinding him: “But if our gospel is hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3ff.).
Jesus interrupted Nicodemus, who wanted to discuss theology with him, by saying, “Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). What a put-down for Nicodemus, “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10)! Nicodemus thought that he knew a lot about the kingdom of God; but he knew nothing. He could not even see. He needed the new birth, the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8), the salvation Jesus came to bring. And he needed new presuppositions. Elsewhere in Scripture, we learn that redemption brings a new knowledge of God. Fallen man wants to think autonomously, subject only to his own criteria of truth, free to ignore those of God. But God’s grace takes away our bondage to autonomous ways of thinking and enables us instead to think according to God’s Word (Jer. 31:31ff.; Matt. 11:25-28; John 17:3; 1 Cor. 2:6-16; Eph. 4:13; Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9ff.; 3:10; 2 Tim. 2:25; 2 Pet. 1:2ff.; 3:18; 1 John 4:7).2 The Holy Spirit illumines our minds to know the truth (1 Cor. 2:12ff.; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 1:17ff.; Heb. 6:4; 10:32; 1 Thess. 1:5). The fear of the Lord leads to knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 1:7; parallels).