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From Glory to Images

Romans 1:18-23 - “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Professing to be wise, they became fools,23and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

2 Corinthians 3:18 - And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Background Notes:

The sad history of mankind’s relationship with the Creator is outlined for us in Romans 1:23, where we read that corrupt humanity exchanged the glory of the incorruptible Creator for images from His creation--distorted images of man and animals--and even crawling creatures. Evidence for the truth of this commentary on mankind can be seen around the world.

On the one hand, evidence for “ancient” man’s brilliance, astronomical knowledge, genius and expertise is clearly seen in his outstanding building achievements. This is exactly what we would expect, in view of the truth that God created humans in His own glorious image (Genesis 1:27). The intelligence of early humans is evident in the splendid monuments of ancient cultures, such as the amazing construction of ziggurats, pyramids and temples, as well as in the artistic artifacts of ancient cultures that can be seen in museums around the world.

On the other hand, evidence of the degradation mentioned in Romans 1:23 is inescapable. Mankind rejected the glory of the Creator God, and created his own “gods” in the forms of distorted male and female figures, animals, and serpents. These images, such as the Egyptian sphinx and other mythological gods, can be seen at the sites of ancient pyramids and temples, and idolatrous artifacts abound in museums of ancient culture.

Let’s look at the context of Romans 1:23. What does God’s Word teach about His dealings with the human race that exchanged the Creator’s glory for distorted images of His creatures?

The epistle to the Romans gives us the good news and the bad news. The good news is that God loves mankind, and He has provided a way of salvation for sinful humanity. Although the penalty for sin is death, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took that penalty when He died on the cross as our substitute. When we believe in Him, we are declared righteous before God. Anyone and everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ receives salvation. This is the “gospel” or good news of Romans 1:16-17.

The bad news is that every person is guilty before God. Everyone has sinned, and the wrath of God is directed against sin. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men...”(v18). The wrath of God is not a pleasant subject. It’s a lot more pleasant to think about the love of God! But the wrath of God is real, and His wrath is directed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

Think of how the wrath of God is revealed against sin in the Bible. Remember the great Flood in Noah’s day? “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The wrath of God was unleashed against the wickedness of the world at that time, and only Noah and his family survived. Remember how the wrath of God was revealed against Sodom and Gomorrah? Those wicked cities were destroyed because of their sin. And think of what our Lord said in Matthew 24 about the coming time when God’s wrath will be directed against mankind’s sin. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21).

The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, and no one has an excuse! Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…” “They” (that is, all people) are without excuse! No passage in the Bible deals more clearly with the perennial question of the skeptics, “What about the people who have never heard about Christ?”

Doctrinal Points

1. God does not condemn people for ignorance of the truth.

Nowhere in the Bible do we read that God condemned someone for ignorance--nowhere! People are condemned for negative volition--that is, for a deliberate act of the will against God and for deliberate rejection of the truth He has revealed.

However, this passage in Romans 1 teaches us that no one can claim to be ignorant! God has given everyone clear evidence of Himself. No one has an excuse for not responding to the one true God. “What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…” (v19-20).

The evidence for God that is seen in creation is called “natural revelation.” We read about natural revelation in Psalm 19:1-4: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

“Natural revelation” is God revealing Himself and His attributes through His creation. “Special revelation” is God revealing Himself through Scripture and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Although every person has not received the special revelation of God’s Word and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, every person has received natural revelation. Romans 1:20 says that there is enough clear evidence of God in creation so that no one has an excuse for not acknowledging the Creator God and responding to Him.

Verse 20 indicates that the creation not only gives evidence of the power of God, but it also gives evidence of His divine nature: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead...”

We certainly see evidence of the divine nature of God when we consider the wonderful design in His creation--intelligent design! Think of the incredible extent of the design involved in establishing the natural laws and the balance of nature! Think of the design of the atom, or the amazing design of the human eye and brain! Is it conceivable that all this design came about randomly, merely through time and chance?

Think about the astonishing design of the DNA molecule! Did you know that your DNA molecule is like an “encyclopedia of you”? Everything about you is contained in your own personal DNA molecule. In fact, the DNA molecule is even more than just an amazing design--it conveys information!

Suppose we took all the letter tiles from a Scrabble game, sorted them out and then piled all the A’s together, all the B’s together, all the C’s together, and so on. We certainly would have created order and design in this arrangement. No one would say, “The design and order of those piles of letters just happened by chance.” Clearly there was a designer! But now suppose we take those letters and spell words with them and put the words into sentences. Now we have more than design--we have information. That’s what the DNA molecule is. It’s much more than just a wonderful design- -it’s an encyclopedia of information and instruction! Do you think that the amazing DNA molecule could possibly have come about by chance? No way!

This amazing creation not only reveals the power of God--it reveals the mind and nature and being of God as well. For example, God’s creation reveals the loving and caring aspects of God’s nature. Look at the parenting instincts in the animal kingdom of God’s creation. That parenting instinct to care and protect the young offspring was created by a loving and caring God. The parenting instinct in animals could not have just “happened” through time and chance and natural processes! It’s much more than just the physico-chemical interaction of material molecules.

Our text indicates that God designed humans with the ability to appreciate and respond to the overwhelming evidence of God that is seen in creation:“...what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them”(v19). God does not condemn people for ignorance of the truth--but no one can claim ignorance!

2. God does condemn people for willful rejection of the truth. 

Romans 1 continues, “...although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…” (vs 21-22). Notice that even though people knew God, they willfully and deliberately turned away from Him!

Now look back at verse 18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…” Unbelieving people, thinking themselves to be “wise,” not only reject the truth--they suppress the truth! Notice that the verb “suppress” is in the present tense. Ancient man suppressed the truth and turned away from the glory of the incorruptible God in the past. Modern man continues to suppress the truth today.

Examples of the suppression of truth abound. For example, we now know that human life begins at conception. This truth has been clearly demonstrated, and yet it has been suppressed by people who want to perpetuate the horrible sin of abortion. God will judge people for this sin--and for all willful rejection and suppression of truth.

Consider another example. Recently an article entitled “Blood from Stone” was published in the magazine, Scientific American. The article discussed the fact that organic blood cells have been found in dinosaur bone fossils, and the evidence of blood cells is now so plentiful that it cannot be denied. However, if dinosaurs indeed lived 65+ million years ago (as the theory of evolution postulates), these blood cells should have disappeared thousands of years ago. Organic matter cannot exist intact for millions of years!

So rather than face the obvious conclusion that dinosaurs may have lived in more recent times (as the Bible indicates), this logical conclusion of the evidence was suppressed--it was not even mentioned as a possibility! What conclusion was drawn from this powerful evidence of recent life? The article’s subtitle states, “Mounting evidence from dinosaur bones shows that, contrary to common belief, organic materials can sometimes survive in fossils for millions of years.” Can you believe it?!

People who refuse to believe in God consistently suppress the evidence that this universe is the creation of a Designer- -even though overwhelming evidence of design in the universe is readily available. Why? Because acknowledging evidence for the existence of a Designer means that mankind would have to submit to the authority of the Divine Designer!

God does not condemn people for ignorance of the truth, but He does condemn people for willful rejection of the truth-- especially when that truth is staring them in the face! This includes rejecting the overwhelming evidence in creation for the existence of God, and the evidence in the created world that confirms the truth of God’s Word.

Practical Applications

1. Don’t be brainwashed by “man’s religion”!

It wasn’t too long ago that every major college and university in our country had a Theology Department where students could study about God--as God had revealed Himself in nature and Scripture. No longer! Now our major colleges and universities have departments of “religion.”

What’s the difference? In departments of religion, you don’t study God; you study about man’s search for God and man’s idea of God. Religious studies today teach that man came up with the idea of God. According to secular religious studies, “primitive man” started with animism and then moved up to polytheism, and finally arrived and emerged at monotheism.

This is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches! Romans 1:23 states emphatically that man exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Man started with the truth, but turned away from God.

So don’t be brainwashed by the study of man’s religion. When you visit the museums around the world and see the images of the gods that ancient people worshipped, don’t get the idea that this is the way man started out. No! This is evidence of the departure and degeneration from the original knowledge of the one true God of the Bible. Man’s religion has progressed downward, not upward, as we saw in verses 21-23. Man exchanged the glory of God for images.

2. Be changed from glory to glory!

2 Corinthians 3:18 says: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” What a wonderful truth to know and experience! This great reality is true of every believer who is walking with the Lord and living in the light of His Word.

What a great contrast this is to man’s sinful exchange of God’s glory for images. By God’s marvelous grace, we, who were created in the image of God to reflect His glory, can now, in Christ, be changed from “glory to glory.” What we lost when mankind exchanged God’s glory for images is now regained as we are "transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory."
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