"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" (Romans 1:21a).
Thankfulness and worship are inseparable. Romans, chapter one shows us the road away from God into sin. The word "knew" in our text above shows it is a path that has a certain knowledge of God but fails in its inherent obligation to thankful worship. This behaviour is without excuse.
It will not do to plead belief in atheism or evolution while we indulge ourselves in the gifts God has given. Earlier verses in Romans 1 show that the very things God has created and supplied to us are evidences of Himself and His goodness. "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them" (Romans 1:19). When we take in the beauty of the autumn leaves we are witnessing the proof of God's creative power and workmanship. He is showing us "Exhibit A".
"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" (Romans 1:20). God Himself, and His almighty power are invisible but we learn of Him from the things that He made. And according to this verse it is "understood" by us all. An intuitive cause-and-effect consciousness leads us to certain necessary conclusions. Evolutionary theory is speculative and requires a suppression of the evidence and a suppression of our rational natures.
When a crime is committed and a suspect is found to be in possession of a large quantity of stolen goods he may not simply plead that the material appeared on its own, or evolved. No judge would accept this defence. Neither would God. One may not push away from another fabulous Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and dressing, fresh vegetables, pumpkin pie and all the rest of the fixings (compliments of God), and offer the opinion that God does not exist. Unbelief with a full stomach is unthankfulness for God's goodness and suppression of plain evidence. God's goodness should lead us to repentance of sin and acceptance of His Son, Jesus Christ.
"When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison" (Luke 12:58)
We can easily imagine the scene before us. Someone has committed an offence and is being dragged to the judge for legal action. Jesus showed the wisdom of settling with the offended party before it is taken to the courts. Far better to be humble and acknowledge the wrong done. Far better to look for forgiveness and grace, rather than have the court punish you according to the full extent of the law (as the next verse points out). "I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite" (Luke 12:59).
This was a parable. There was a deeper meaning. He was showing the people that they were like the offender in His parable, but in a much more serious context. They had offended God. The crime he had in mind was sin.
His parable reminds all who sin that there is a court date awaiting. The Bible clearly speaks of a day when sins will be answered for. Judgment will be handed down. Punishment will be meted out. John prophesied of this day in some detail. "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them" (Revelation 20:11).
Jesus' parable foresaw the strict justice of this hearing. The records of human sin will be reviewed and the punishment demanded by God's holy law will be passed down. "and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works" (Revelation 20:12c). There is absolutely no leniency, no escape, and all sentences are served for eternity. "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15).
The whole point of Jesus' teaching was to direct the wise to deal with their sin problem now and avoid the judgment of the Great White Throne. He is the Saviour. By His death on the cross, payment was made for our sins. God accepts this as full satisfaction for His offended law for those who repent and receive His Son as personal saviour. The lesson is clear. Settle out of court now.
"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come" (II Timothy 3:1).
Bible prophecy speaks of what lies ahead in eternity for each individual, depending on their relationship to God's Son. Prophecy also foretells the course of world events here on planet earth in the present age, leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. And in a nutshell, the short term prognosis is not good; We are to expect "perilous times".
The rest of II Timothy, chapter 3 goes on to expand on the meaning of this and teaches us that we may expect it to become progressively worse as people increasingly turn from the truth of the Bible on every side. "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (II Timothy 3:13). Those called seducers are people in places of leadership or influence that would promote ungodliness as a viable and even preferred alternative.
The message of many today, in fact, is the exact opposite of the warnings of God's Word. It is amazing to hear the many promises of happiness and peace being offered if we will throw aside all the moral and spiritual values found in Scripture. Western culture has been pursuing this course now for some time, and yet the promised improvement is never achieved. Still, people are not deterred from following the road another step, and another step, thinking satisfaction is just around the corner.
The Bible warns of the insanity of following such a carrot on a stick. Any objective person can look around and see that the state of the world is getting progressively and consistently worse, rather than better, as God is being denied. "We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble" (Jeremiah 8:15). The problems that come from sin in this world, increasingly on a global level, are lessons from God.
We are left with only two choices. We may continue on a global collision course with the displeasure of God or we may have a change of heart and mind and return to God His way.
These are sober words to have to write, but hoping for something better when it is contrary to what the Bible promises is not optimism; it is folly.
"Many seek the ruler's favour; but every man's judgment cometh from the LORD" (Proverbs 29:26). What is left unsaid in this proverb of Solomon's? YET FEW SEEK HIS FAVOUR! Why be more preoccupied with the reward or judgment of men when the final word is the sentence of the Almighty?
The judgment of the Lord is sure. The rulers of this earth, despite their higher position, are limited like other men in their ability to bring to pass their intentions. They have plans to do good and to do bad that often cannot be carried out. "There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand" (Proverbs 19:21). There is no way to overturn what God determines in His judgment. "There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD" (Proverbs 21:30). No wonder some people would like to believe there is no God.
The judgment of the Lord is eternal. This world's rulers' favour, or their punishment, cannot extend beyond the things of the present, but God's sentences matter forever. "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
The favour of the Lord must be through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, since sinners have no personal merit. He paid the penalty for our sins when He died on the cross. God now extends favour to those who trust in His Son for salvation from sin, and He promises them a home in heaven for all eternity.
Isaiah's words complete the thought of the Proverb we began with. "Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7).
"But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you" (Luke 11:20).
When Jesus came into the world as the Messiah foretold in the ancient Scriptures, He demonstrated the reality of His claims in many ways. In Luke 11 we can read of a great victory over the powers of darkness by Him casting a devil out of one who had been robbed of the power of speech by the devil. However, when the Lord's enemies saw the remarkable miracle and heard the man speak in proof of his deliverance they accused Jesus of doing the miracle by the power of Beelzebub.
The Lord's answer was that the miracle was not the work of Satan but in fact had the fingerprint of God upon it. It was the kind of thing only God could do. And if their hearts had been honest they would have recognized both the miracle and the claims of the miracle worker. Jesus' ability to set this possessed man free from the power of the devil confirmed His claims of being the One who came to solve man's spiritual problem.
The works of God are unmistakable to the honest judge. His creation of the universe left a great testimony of omnipotence and wisdom. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork" (Psalm 19:1). Romans chapter one further assures us that our rational constitutions must lead us to a certain realization of God's existence and powers if we consider the Creation.
At times God intervenes in the course of human history so that we are constrained to confess that it can only be the providence of God. Even the magicians of Egypt came to a place where they were forced to recognize God's miracles and plagues He brought upon the country. "Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19a). What had happened was outside the sphere of natural explanation or imitation.
We can be very thankful that there is one Book that we can believe unreservedly because it also shows the unmistakable mark of God's hand. In fact the very first transcript of God's law is described as, "tables of stone, written with the finger of God" (Exodus 31:18b). The whole Bible is the very written Word of the Living God.
"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17).
Adam should have given more careful consideration to God's solemn warning of the consequences of sin. God said he would surely die. Despite the countless millions and billions of human deaths since that first transgression, most people still live their whole lives in denial of what God says about sin.
Eve fudged on the solemn warning from God when she misquoted it to the serpent. "God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die" (Genesis 3:4b). "Lest ye die" sounds more like a forecast calling for chance of showers. This kind of substitution no doubt takes place in the minds of many who read God's absolute statement, "thou shalt surely die".King Ahaziah, the son of Jezebel, is another example of someone God sent these words to. Ahaziah had just sent out messengers to enquire of a Philistine god whether he could expect to live after injuring himself in a bad fall. God sent him Elijah the prophet with a message instead. "And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast sent messengers to enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron, is it not because there is no God in Israel to enquire of his word? therefore thou shalt not come down off that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die" (II Kings 1:16).
God was pointing out that by his own choice Ahaziah was denying the God of Israel. Since he had refused the one God of salvation, there was no hope. He would surely die.
While this may seem like a gloomy topic, it is God's desire that people know where they stand with Him as a result of their sin. The warning gives an opportunity to turn to God and receive eternal life through the sacrifice provided by Jesus Christ. The spiritual leader that fails to give clear warning has blood on his hands. "When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand" (Ezekiel 3:18).
"By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house" (Hebrews 11:7a).
The Bible puts a great deal of emphasis on the historical reality of the Great Flood, referring to both the flood and to Noah multiple times.
The record in Genesis tells us that the world became so wicked God's wrath was poured out in the waters of the flood upon everyone, but eight persons. "And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). The reality of the Flood is confirmed in planet-wide geological and fossil evidence. So God passed judgment on sinners on a scale that staggers the comprehension, and then left marks of the event all over the earth, along with a written record in the Bible.
In the New Testament this is cited to remind people of God's fearful wrath against sinners. "And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly" (II Peter 2:5). The subject of God's wrath today is avoided, evaded, mocked, argued with, and denied. Nevertheless, God will not be shouted down, and according to Romans, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven..." (Romans 1:18). For God to have shown so clearly His wrath against sin leaves us all guilty and without excuse.
The Bible also tells us that our present time will lapse into a worldwide practice of sin on a scale comparable to the conditions preceding the Great Flood. "But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Matthew 24:37). God's solution to deteriorating conditions in our time will be the Second Coming of His Son to destroy His enemies as described in Revelation.
Before that time, we are commended to the example of Noah and his preparation for the never-seen-before calamity. He escaped God's wrath by taking the warning seriously and trusting himself to the provision for safety prescribed by God. Our provision today is not a large boat, but a great Saviour, Jesus Christ who came the first time to die and rise again that He might be the saviour from sin for all that receive Him by faith.
"We trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" (I Timothy 4:10b).
This verse tells us there is a sense in which God is the Saviour of everybody, and also a special sense in which he is the Saviour of those who believe. It helps to understand this distinction if we realize that the word Saviour has the connotation of "Preserver" in a number of ways.
In the first sense, God preserves life on earth from being snuffed out. History records many miraculous interventions and providences that have made the difference at critical times. He brings restraints that keep the evil of man from destroying himself and others. It is because of God's preservation that we have not had a nuclear holocaust. There have been terrible plagues, but never one which destroyed mankind.
This preservation is active as well as preventative. "Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). In the final analysis, it is God that feeds us. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45b).
God's preservation is particular as well as general, for each one of us is alive today by the preserving hand God. Many will tell of remarkable escapes from death, sometimes as answers to their prayers. We should understand, however, that this general preservation is temporary, and nobody knows how long this life will continue.
There is a second kind of preservation. It is the provision God made for us spiritually and eternally through the saving work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the "special" sense in which God is the Saviour.
This preserves us from the wrath of God that was occasioned by our sins. By His forgiveness of sin, our greatest problem is solved and we are restored to God's favour. This preservation is distinctive also for its promise of eternity. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). It is only those who believe that can call themselves preserved (saved) in this full sense.
"Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:1-2). Seven hundred years before Jesus came, the prophet Isaiah told the Easter story. He foresaw the general unbelief of the people. Though Jesus fulfilled the report of Israel's prophets, yet He was rejected. He was God's saving power, the "Arm of the Lord", yet the people refused Him because of his everyday appearance.
"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Verse 3). We know that those who were needy and humble were drawn to the Lord. But His refusal of sin and worldly values caused the people to despise and reject Him. The world wants to meet friends that fit in at a party, not a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.
"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted" (Verse 4). Reflection tells us that the griefs and sorrows He encountered were not His own but ours. He could have stayed in heaven instead of coming to this vale of sorrows. Yet, when His hour came to be nailed to a Roman cross, the people thought he was getting his just desserts.
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Verse 5). The real truth is the punishment He received was for my sins. It was by this payment of the sinner's debt that God made a way to provide forgiveness of sin and salvation from wrath for me.
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Verse 6). Who could give the Easter message better than Isaiah did here? Ours is the guilt. His was the punishment. All so salvation can be ours. We need only turn from our sins and receive the resurrected Saviour by simple faith.
"LORD, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth. Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men" (Psalm 26:8-9).
Verse 8 gives a present testimony. David declared his relationship to the Lord in terms of his love for God's house. He is speaking of a place of true worship, a place where God's honour was upheld, a place that God could bless with His presence in a special way. This life of communion with God also meant David refused those worship places that did not honour the Lord. "I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked" (Psalm 26:5).
Verse 9 gives his future expectation. He looked for salvation from that judgment of God that would overtake sinners. Death is compared to a harvest, but there are two different gatherings. "Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn" (Matthew 13:30c). David looked to be gathered with the children of God. Where do you fit into this harvest?
The connection between verses 8 and 9 is clear. A walk with God in this world will end with the last step taking God's child to His house above. Jesus confirmed this truth in Matthew 7:14 when He said "narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life". The narrow path of holiness is the road that ends in heaven. There is no need for surprise or mystery about your eternity. "The desire of the righteous is only good: but the expectation of the wicked is wrath" (Proverbs 11:23).
The only thing remaining to make clear is Jesus' instruction about how to get on that narrow road. In Matthew 7 we read, "enter ye in at the strait (narrow) gate". We must get off the broad road that leads to destruction by going through the narrow gate. We need a personal experience of salvation to set us on the road to heaven. Jesus is this narrow gate. One at a time we must repent of our sins and receive Him as our Lord and Saviour. We are never taught in the Bible to trust our own works, but to trust His work of dying for our sins on the cross and rising again to be the living Saviour.