“Hear ye! Hear ye! Court is now in session!” Paul could have used those awesome words at this point in his letter, because Romans 1:18 is the door that leads us into God’s courtroom. The theme of Romans is the righteousness of God, but Paul had to begin with the unrighteousness of humankind. Until a person knows he is a sinner, he cannot appreciate the gracious salvation God offers in Jesus Christ.
In this section, God makes three declarations that together prove that all people are sinners and need Jesus Christ.
1. THE GENTILE WORLD IS GUILTY! (1:18–32)
God’s description of sinners is not a pretty one, but we cannot avoid it. Four stages mark humankind’s tragic devolution.
(1) Intelligence (vv. 18–20). Human history began with people knowing God. God revealed Himself to humankind through creation, the things that He made. From the world around them, humans knew that there was an eternal God who had the wisdom to plan and the power to create. These facts about God are not hidden in creation; they are “clearly seen” (v. 20).
The word translated “hold” in Rom. 1:18 can also be translated “hold down, suppress.” Men knew the truth about God, but they did not allow this truth to work in their lives. They suppressed it in order that they might live their own lives and not be convicted by God’s truth.
(2) Ignorance (vv. 21–23). Humans knew God; this is clear. But they did not want to know God or honor Him as God. They were willing to use God’s gifts, but they were not willing to worship and praise God for His gifts. The result was an empty mind and a darkened heart.
Having held down God’s truth and refusing to acknowledge God’s glory, humankind was left without a god, and humankind is so constituted that they must worship something. If they will not worship the true God, they will worship a false god, even if they have to manufacture it themselves. They exchanged glory for shame, incorruption for corruption, truth for lies.
Note that first on the list of false gods is ourselves. This fulfilled Satan’s purpose when he told Eve, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5 NASB). “Glory to man in the highest!” Satan encouraged humans to say.
(3) Indulgence (vv. 24–27). If man is his own god, then he can do whatever he pleases and fulfill his desires without fear of judgment. We reach the climax of man’s battle with God’s truth when man exchanges the truth of God for “the lie” and abandons truth completely. “The lie” is that man is his own god, and he should worship and serve himself and not the Creator.
The result of this self-deification was self-indulgence. Because of their sin “God gave them up” (Rom. 1:24, 26), which means that He permitted them to go on in their sins and reap the sad consequences.
(4) Impenitence (vv. 28–32). When man began to feel the tragic consequences of his sins, you would think he would repent and seek God, but just the opposite was true. Because he was abandoned by God, he could only become worse. Man did not even want to retain God in his knowledge! So, “God gave them over” this time to a “depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28 NASB), which means a mind that cannot form right judgments. They now abandoned themselves to sin. Men not only committed these sins in open defiance of God, but encouraged others and applauded them when they sinned.
The verdict? “They are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).