Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
We have looked at this verse around Thanksgiving time, but we would be wise to consider it all year long. In this passage, Paul is giving the Romans a summary of man’s straying from God. He is detailing each step along the way in mankind’s rejection of God.
This verse tells us that, when they did know God, they didn’t glorify Him as God. They knew God, but they didn’t glorify Him. We can see a lot of that in our churches today. Many people know God, but they don’t love Him as they ought, they don’t live for Him as they ought, and they don’t glorify Him as they ought. But we will turn our attention to the next part of the verse: “neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Not glorifying God made them unthankful, which led to vanity, which lead to their foolish hearts being darkened.
It seems odd that a sin we might consider “small,” plays such a prominent role in mankind’s rejection of God. This simple little matter of not being thankful is right in the middle of this mess of sin and unrighteousness. But it seems that the little sin of unthankfulness is right in the middle of a lot of “bigger” sins.
We need to be thankful. We need to be thankful for all that God has given us and we especially need to be thankful for all that God has done for us. When we become unthankful, we become vain. We start to think that we are responsible for our own blessings. We lose sight of where everything we have came from: the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s good to be thankful at Thanksgiving, but we need to be reminded to be thankful all year long!
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heaves shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed.” Isn’t it interesting that the “kings of the earth” are often the ones who hate God the most? They try to “break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords…” They refuse to acknowledge that there is a King above them. They don’t like the thought that they have to answer to someone other than themselves. So, they do what they can to destroy God and His rules and laws.
We see it every day in the nations of the world. Rulers are constantly trying to do anything they can to separate themselves from God, and, by extension, from His people. We see things going on in our governments and we might be tempted to start worrying about it.
But when we see all of that and it begins to weigh heavy on our hearts and minds, we need to remember this passage and this statement by the Lord: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.” God sees all of the governments of the earth trying to reject Him and His laws. God sees all of that and he laughs. The knowledge that we serve that God should make us smile every day!
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools
If there is one verse that seems to sum up our modern world, this is probably it. There has never been a time in which people have been more “advanced.” You can look around at some of the things we enjoy today that wouldn’t have been dreamed of even one hundred years ago. We have computers and cell phones that function as computers. I was talking with someone about Skype the other day. It is a simple live video messaging system that would have been looked at as “futuristic” even twenty to thirty years ago. Now, nearly everyone has it and it’s even free. We are living in a time of amazing technological advancements and scientific innovations. And yet we are living in a spiritual dark age.
With all of our advancements, we seem to have forgotten God. We seem to have surrounded ourselves with things that make us forget or ignore God. We think that we are wise, but we are surrounded by world filled with fools.
“Science” has rejected God and has rejected any notion that there even is a God. The “most brilliant minds” in the world are almost all avowed atheists. If that is not a perfect example of “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,” I don’t know what is.
Man has decided that he is wise. He has decided that he is wiser than the Lord and that he is wiser than the Bible. This “wisdom” is nothing but Godless foolishness. We would be truly wise to avoid it at all costs. Our wisdom should be the wisdom from above, the true wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, as given to us in the Bible. That is wisdom that will never end in foolishness.
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead so that they are without excuse: But that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
God has given man an infinite variety of reasons to believe in Him. He has put in man a natural belief in God. Even the savage in the jungle naturally believes in a higher power. Every civilization since the beginning of history has believed in God. Most of them did not believe in the true God, but quickly got mixed up in worshipping false “gods.” But they still knew in their hearts that there was something. God has also created a complex and beautiful world for us to observe. We can look anywhere and see the handiwork of God.
God has given many things, both in ourselves and in nature, to point us to Himself. But many in the world still reject God. Many have “darkened hearts” because they rejected all of what God has shown them and given them. Man has to try to convince himself that there is no God. Man has to work to convince himself that God did not create the world. But whatever man tries to convince himself of these things, the Bible says that he is “without excuse.”
When we stand before the Lord, we will have no excuse. God has showed himself to us in a variety of ways. If we reject them all, we have no one to blame but ourselves. He has given us all that we need, and we will have no excuse.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness: Because that which my be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
Much is made (and rightly so) of the goodness, mercy, grace and longsuffering of the Lord. He is a good God. He is a merciful God. He is a graceful God. And He is a very longsuffering God. All of those things are true and all of those things need to be talked about. But God is also a righteous God who will judge sin. The Bible has much to say about the wrath of God, and these verses tell us quite a bit.
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…” God is “plenteous in mercy” if we will turn to Him and we can find forgiveness with Him. But we do need to remember that there is reason we so desperately need mercy and forgiveness. We need to remember that God a holy God. And we see His wrath wherever we see unrepentant sin and unrighteousness.
Just as the mercy, grace and love of God are so wonderful that they may be difficult for our human minds to understand, the wrath of God is so terrible that it may be difficult for our human minds to understand. The wrath of God is something we never want to experience. It is something that we never want to see anyone around us experience.
When we read the Bible and truly get a glimpse of the wrath of God, we will be even more thankful for all of His mercy, grace, love and forgiveness. And we will work even harder to stay away from the things that we know will bring the wrath of God on our lives!
So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
“The just shall live by faith.” Faith is an important part of our lives. We all, of necessity, have to have faith in something. Some have faith in their themselves and in their own abilities. Some have faith in their religion. Others have faith in their belief that there is no afterlife and nothing beyond the physical world. Then there are the Christians. In this passage, they are referred to as “the just.” The just shall live by faith. But what is the object of their faith?
The object of the faith of the just is found in verse 16, “the gospel of Christ.” Jesus Christ is the object of the faith of the just. His substitutionary death, burial and resurrection are the objects of the Christian’s faith. While others may have faith in a million other things, the just have but one object of faith – Jesus Christ. “The just shall live by faith.”
Not only do the just have the correct object of faith, but they live their entire lives by faith. Everything the Christian does is a matter of faith. Everything the Christian believes is a matter of faith.
Do we really understand this level of faith in our personal lives? Do we really understand this level of faith? Do we, as the “just”, truly live our lives by faith? That is the Bible way and it is the Christian way!
I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
In these verses, Paul says that he is a “debtor.” He owes somebody something. He tells us to whom he owes it; “both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.” The Greeks were the cultured and educated people of the day. The Barbarians were neither of those things. The wise and the unwise are two groups of people we all deal with every day. This list of people basically includes everyone on Earth. So what does Paul owe all of these people? He owes them the gospel.
He goes on in the next verse to say that he is ready “to preach the gospel.” Paul had received the gospel. He knew Jesus. And having that knowledge automatically made him a debtor to all of those who did not have that knowledge. If God had not been gracious and merciful to him, he would have still been mired in his self-righteous sin. But God was gracious and merciful to him, and he knew that others needed to hear of this gracious and merciful God.
If we know the Lord Jesus as our Saviour, we are also debtors. We owe it to anyone that we come across to introduce them to Jesus. We owe it to our family and friends to be the witness that we should be. Just like Paul, we have a debt to others. Are we paying it?
The Old Rugged Cross
George Bennard (1913)
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.
“The Old Rugged Cross” is a great and classic hymn. It might be one of the most popular hymns ever written and for good reason. The old rugged cross is everything to a Christian. We should cling to the old rugged cross. The cross is despised by the world, but loved and cherished by the Christian. What a wonderful tribute to it is found in this hymn!
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
Why do the heathen rage? That is a good question. Why do they rage? The heathen do whatever they want. They live lives completely dedicated to themselves. They give in to whatever lusts of the flesh they have. They have no restraint on doing whatever they want. Yet they still rage. They still hate God. They still reject Him and rebel against Him.
The heathen can have and do whatever they want. And that is the problem. They want to go their own way and they want to reject the wisdom of the Lord, but then they get angry and “rage” when things go wrong. Their way brings heartache and destruction, but that is the way they want to go. And when they get to that heartache and destruction, they want to blame God for it.
One of the “punishments” of fools in Proverbs 1 is that they will “eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.” The wicked get their own way, and it destroys them.
Why do the heathen rage? They rage because they hate God, but there is nothing that they can do to change His laws. They rage because they have no hope and no peace. It is a sad existence, and one that we would be wise to avoid.