Romans 1:19–21, “19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Apologetics is the discipline that seeks to give an intellectual defense of the Christian faith. Helping unbelievers analyze the evidence for the Christian faith and to think more consistently and logically about their own claims is important work, and at least a basic case for the rational nature of Christianity is involved at some level in most every evangelistic encounter. Seasoned evangelists and apologists will tell you, however, that the fundamental problem that people have with the gospel is not an intellectual one. Non- Christians will try to erect intellectual strongholds against belief in God and His Son, but the evidence is so overwhelming and compelling that there is no such thing as a true atheist. Dr. R.C. Sproul has often noted that the real problem for the atheist is not that he cannot see the truth of God’s existence; the real issue is that he hates the God who does exist.
Paul explains as much in today’s passage. Having noted that the wrath of the Lord is revealed from heaven against human beings “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18), the Apostle makes it clear that men and women can never blame their suppression on ignorance. Resisting the Creator in our sin is so wicked precisely because we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is there. “The things that have been made”— the created order itself—tells us of God’s eternal power and divine nature (vv. 19–20).
In today’s passage, Paul does not tell us explicitly what the creation reveals about the divine nature. For that we must look to other biblical teaching, which the Apostle certainly has in mind. Creation tells us that the Creator is a being of absolute glory (Ps. 19:1). In the movements of the ant, we see that God has connected work with satisfaction, thereby displaying His wise providence (Prov. 6:6–11). By providing for the sparrows and the lilies, we see the goodness of the Lord and His gracious gifts of what we need for life (Matt. 6:25–33).
Given the clarity of God’s revelation in nature, the only appropriate response for us as creatures is to honor Him with our lives and express our thanksgiving to Him. Apart from Christ, however, we do not do that. Our primal sin is to reject the worship of the one true God even though we know better. We do not thank Him as we ought to, and because of that we become “futile in [our] thinking” (Rom. 1:21). It is not that we lose the ability to reason entirely; rather, because we have rejected the right use of our faculties in serving the Lord, our minds become twisted and pervert His natural revelation to our own ends.
Douglas J. Moo writes in his commentary on Romans, “At the very center of every person, where the knowledge of God, if it is to have any positive effects, must be embraced, there has settled a darkness—a darkness that only the light of the gospel can penetrate.” The most compelling case for Christ cannot penetrate a darkened mind unless the Holy Spirit impresses the gospel on the heart. Let us ask Him to do that for all our unbelieving friends and family members.