Passion for God’s Glory and for knowing Him and His Word
Preached by Jason Abbott, senior pastor
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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.
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. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
1. You and I are not good.
First of all, let me point out that this is what the text is saying.
In Romans, Paul is heading toward an explanation of how God saves people; Paul is moving toward an expression of God’s Good News love for the world. However, before he can go there, he must first explain the reason it is Good News. He must express the bad news against the backdrop of which the Good News is demonstrated to be Good News.
What is this bad news? It is that we are not righteous or good people. The bad news is that we are sinful men and women. We are constantly rebelling against God; we are constantly trying to steal his glory; we are constantly trying to set ourselves up as kings and queens of his world!
Because of our sin and rebellion, Paul explains that God’s wrath is revealed. Because of human ungodliness and unrighteousness, Paul explains that we readily suppress the truth and that we refuse to glorify God who alone deserves praise!
Now I imagine there might be two objections at this point: first, we might object to the assertion that we are sinful and argue that we are basically good people, and second, we might object that we most certainly don’t worship something other than God. The first is a typical secular objection, and the second is a typical theistic objection.
Are we basically good people? There is an organization—The Foundation for a Better Life—whose purpose is to promote good values for the betterment of the world. You can find their ads on television and on the radio, and you can find their billboards around Harrisburg. They’re not a religious organization, but they do have a rather “religious” belief about human beings. On their website they explain, “We believe that people are basically good and often benefit from a simple reminder.”1
Let me offer their very statement as evidence against those who would suggest that people are basically good. If people are basically good then why would they need a “simple reminder” to be good? Did someone unfortunately forget to give Nazi Germany a “simple reminder” to not build and run death camps for the Jews? Perhaps someone forgot to give Syrian president Bashar al-Assad a “simple reminder” not to use chemical weapons against his own people?
No… In opposition to this line of thinking about humanity’s inherent goodness, the Bible tells us that we need more than a simple reminder in order to be good. We need a new nature! We need divine intervention!
Do we, as Christian theists, find it easy to worship God? Well, no more picking on non-profits here! Let me focus the magnifying glass squarely upon my own sinfulness. For, I worship idols every single day. I am, as John Wesley and John Calvin explained, a “veritable idol factory.”
- I worship educational success.
- I worship human approval.
- I worship physical beauty, both my own and other peoples.
- I worship material objects and material possessions.
- I worship food and sex and sensual pleasures.
- I worship idols!
I could continue to list more and more of my own idols! But, I wonder if any of those struck a nerve with any of you. I’ll bet I’m not the only one who is prone to worship the created rather than the Creator. I’ll bet I’m not the only Christian at Community EFC who struggles with idolatry. We are all “veritable idol factories!”
We fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)! There is no one apart from God who is good (Romans 3:10)! You and I do not naturally worship God.
Yet, that is not all of the bad news. The bad news darkens still:
2. Without God’s intervention, you and I will get worse.
This isn’t merely a wakeup call in Romans chapter one. As if once we know the problem (that is us—that is our sinful nature), we can somehow make a kind of mistake-free comeback victory on our own! We cannot win on our own!
Instead—apart from the steading and uplifting hand of God—we will ever mar the image of our Creator in us, and sin will abound increasingly in our lives. We will not get better; we will get worse and worse. So Paul writes:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (vv. 24-25).
This is a picture of God’s removal of his gracious hand from those in pursuit of sin and his allowance of them to spiral into a deeper and a deeper sinfulness. About this exercising of God’s wrath, C. S. Lewis explained, “The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded” from God.2
If this is the case—that God can give us up to the horrible freedom of our sinful desires that increasingly enslave and destroy us—then we recognize that what Blaise Pascal observed nearly 400 years ago is still true today. Namely that: “It is not good to be free. It is not good to have everything one wants.”3
Let me illustrate how such divine-less freedom, such an abounding of sinfulness apart from God’s grace, often looks in our time and in our context.
Today one of the highest goods preached in our society is the pursuit of personal happiness. We are told that we should feel fulfilled and enjoy life to its fullest. Consequently if we are not happy then we are encouraged to do whatever is in our power to be happy.
Now when this is the idol to which we bow-down and when God gives us up to the pursuit of such an idol then—apart from God’s gracious re-intervention—sin most certainly will abound. We will most certainly (from a biblical perspective) get worse and worse, not better and better (or happier and happier)!
- We will leave spouse after spouse looking for fulfillment.
- We will betray and lie and steal to achieve happiness.
- We will degrade our own humanity—even valuing ourselves no better than mere beasts—to gain what we want:
I once ran a breakout session with 10 to 12 high school senior guys at a large Catholic high school. We were to discuss what the Bible said about human sexuality. One young man argued adamantly that sex was merely instinctive. He had grown up on a farm and had watched the animals copulate fairly indiscriminately so he reasoned that he, like the animals, could not be blamed for doing so too.
I asked him if it was then ok for people to eat their own feces or vomit, as I had often seen my dog do when I was growing up. He quickly objected that it was not ok to do that!
You see!? This young man was willing to make himself nothing more than a beast in order to justify the things that he wanted—in order to have his pleasures. Yet, he nevertheless hoped to retain some of the dignity of being made in the likeness of God when it came to the less attractive side of animal instincts.
This is merely an example of how (I believe) we might spiral into ever greater and greater sinfulness—and justifications for sinful indulgence—apart from the gracious hand of God in our lives.
So, Paul (and the Bible in its entirety) makes a case here that we—without God’s gracious intervention—do not have a passion for God or his laws. Furthermore, Paul argues that we do not seek God’s glory but our own glory!
The Bible clearly tells us that we were created for the purpose of bringing glory to God and that we will never be happy or fulfilled or satisfied unless we are serving the purpose for which we were created!
3. Therefore, you and I need God’s intervention, in Jesus Christ, in order to get better.
This is where Paul is going in Romans. He is going to point us to Jesus Christ, and the salvation offered in him through faith in whom he is and what he has done. Paul is going to argue that the gospel is central for our good and for our pleasure! Paul is going to argue that the gospel is the central message that makes sense of all of human history and that brings purpose to all of our individual lives as well! Paul is going to argue that we must praise God!
And this is not just what Paul argues that he believes, but we also believe this message at this church! We believe this at Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg!
What is your concept of good? What is your idea of righteous? What is your idea of perfect? It is not enough!!!
Notice at the end of this passage that Paul breaks into a statement of praise when he contemplates who God is. Notice that he comes to the point where he cannot hold back from expressing God’s otherness—his holiness. He goes through the ways in which you and I, and all humanity, neglect to praise God and then he says: [God] is blessed forever! Amen (v. 25).
Later on in Romans he will breakout into another song of worship. He ends with a statement about the necessity of praising and worshiping God. He sings:
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen (Romans 16:25-27).
Clearly, Paul believes that the right response to God is praise! Paul ends his teaching in Romans with an exclamation of God’s glory! But, from where does Paul’s song of praise spring?
It comes from:
- God’s initiative to strengthen sinners (not abandon sinners) through the preaching of Jesus Christ—the preaching of the gospel (v. 25).
It comes from:
- God’s initiative to make known to all the nations his mysteries—mysteries revealed in both the Old and New Testaments (vv. 25-26).
It comes from:
- God’s initiative to use those scriptural truths to bring about faithful obedience in formerly rebellious sinners—rebels like you and me (v. 26).
This is where Paul’s praises originate, and it must be where our praises originate too! Such gospel centered feasting on God’s word is what feeds our transformation from rebellious sinners to faithful saints.
Consequently, here at Community Free Church, we passionately want to know God more and more. So we are committed to continually opening up his word—from Genesis to Revelation—in order to dig into the mysteries of his character and his purposes for us! For in that endeavor, we believe that God initiates his healing purposes in our lives. He solves our bad news problem!
Moreover, here at Community Free Church, we believe that knowing God’s gracious character ever more deeply and knowing his good news purposes for us ever more clearly will cause us to worship him ever more sincerely.
Such worship, by the way, never simply manifests itself in one or two areas of our lives. Rather, it invades every area of our existence—our family lives, our work lives, our play lives! In short, having a passion for God’s word and for the knowledge of God will inevitably drive us, at Community Free Church, to intentionally live our lives in a constant state of the worship of God! Simply put, we will become authentically worshipful missionaries in our community!