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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Apologetics and the Suppresion of the Truth
Text:Romans 1:16-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race
 
Preached:10/27/2013
Added:2014-01-09
Updated:2014-05-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray

“Apologetics and Suppression of the Truth”

Romans 1:16-32

As Christians we sometimes seem to think that we need to evangelize because people who don’t believe in Jesus are unaware of who God is. The same point is often made for apologetics: we are to defend the faith from those, and present the need to believe in Jesus to those, who oppose the gospel because they do not know who God is.

There is no doubt that we must indeed evangelize and we need a biblical apologetic, that is, the “defense” of the gospel.  Just as in football or basketball you need both a good offense and a good defense, so, too, as Christians we need both. But as we seek to witness to others, whether “offensively” in our outreach, or “defensively”  in apologetics, it is crucial for us to realize that those to whom we speak know who God is from what He has made.  Did you notice how Paul puts that in verse 19? For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

God Has Revealed Himself

When God makes something plain, it is clearly obvious, without any doubt, because God is the perfect teacher. How has God made it plain that He exists, that He is the Creator of the world,  the Possessor of eternal power, who alone is divine?  Verse 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.

In our Young Peoples’ class we are studying the Belgic Confession. Recently we looked at Article 1, which defines how God is, among other things, “the overflowing fountain of all good.”  We also looked at Article 2 which  describes how He has revealed Himself  both through the world which He created - general revelation, - and the special revelation of the Holy Bible.  One of the questions for discussion was: “Describe how what we see around us in nature is, in the words of the Confession, ‘like a most elegant book, wherein all  creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly (God’s) invisible attributes, even His eternal power and Godhead...’”  Give a personal example of how you have seen God’s identity by what He has made.”

I really appreciated the personal examples that our young people gave. Among the many excellent examples of how they have seen who God is by what He has made are these: No two fingerprints, and for that matter, no two snowflakes are alike.  That wouldn’t happen by chance or evolution, but only would happen by the design of an omniscient God who reveals Himself in all things, even a thumbprint, even a snow flake.

Another example, it was pointed out, is that we know who God is by what He has made as evident in the changing of the seasons. Even the changing color of the leaves reveals God’s identity. It is the Lord Himself who directs the seasons, and Genesis 1:14 tells us how God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky  to separate the day from the night, - and let them serve as signs to mark seasons, and days and years.”

It is self evident, and clearly obvious that the way the earth is put together is not by chance but by the design of the all wise eternal God who created the world and all that is in it in 6 days. The earth is at an angle of 23 degrees. It rotates at a little over 1000 miles per hour as measured at the equator. If it rotated faster or slower, or was tilted at a different degree, life would not be sustainable on earth.  The rotation of the earth and the degree that it is placed on its axis is not by random chance and cannot be a product of evolution.

Even Sir Fred Boyle, an English astronomer who originally coined the phrase “Big Bang” admitted that it was totally impossible that even 1 cell could be  randomly formed, - not just the whole world, but just one cell.  He compared the random emergence of even the simplest cell to the likelihood that “a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747  from the materials therein.”

Boyle, who was an atheist, said that this apparent suggestion of  “a guiding  hand”  left him “greatly shaken.”  But the evidence did not change his darkened heart.  He died on August 20, 2001 an avowed atheist.   You see, God’s eternal power and divine nature – (are) clearly perceived, being understood from what has been made, so that all people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20).

Our young people had many other excellent examples of how we see God’s identity by what He has made. By their answers they showed me that they understand what verse 19 is all about when it says what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

Suppression of the Truth

But the question could be asked, “Since it is plain to us who God is, and that He truly exists by what He has made, why don’t our neighbors, co-workers, perhaps some family members understand this?  Why is the majority of the world unable to see what is plain to us?”  Verse 18 gives us the reason: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

It’s not that your neighbor, or co-worker, or unbelieving family member doesn’t  know that God exists. He or she is not clueless. Who God is, is clear from what He has made. But instead of accepting the truth of who God is, those who are unbelievers suppress the truth.

And in the suppression of truth, there is a progression of error and progression in the hardness of one’s heart.  Verse 21 and verse 22 describe that progression of both error and hardness of heart:  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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

The first step in the suppression of truth is a refusal to glorify God and to thank Him. Although  they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him..

The creation that God has put together is put before us as a beautiful masterpiece so that we know Him and praise Him for creating it. That’s why David, in that eloquent 8th Psalm, writes: When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? ­ And he breaks out into praise, ending the Psalm just as he began it, O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

But instead of thanking God for the creative masterpiece that He has placed before us, instead of thanking God for the fearful and wonderful way He has formed us, instead of thanking God and glorifying Him for His revelation of Himself, both in nature and in Scripture, fallen humanity, Paul tells us, Although they (know) God, they neither glorify Him as God nor give thanks to Him. Because of that, their thinking becomes futile.  Verse 21 continues by saying, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

How apropos to our culture!  As we have legislated God, His Word, His commandments, even the celebration of the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ, out of our public life, our thinking has become futile and our hearts darkened.  Verse 20 pronounces a striking  social commentary on our culture and our nation: Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

The Three-fold Lie

Third, in our defense of the faith, apologetics, as well as in evangelism, we must understand that those with whom we interact have exchanged the truth of God for a three-fold lie.

One of the greatest exchanges of Scripture is in a text that each one of us should have imprinted on our hearts,  2 Corinthians 5:21: God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

That describes the heart of the gospel. But instead of grasping onto the exchange that God puts before us, the sacrifice of His Son accepted by faith which leads to our righteousness and acceptance by the Father, - instead of that exchange, this passage describes how by suppression of the truth fallen humanity exchanges the truth of God’s Word for a three-fold lie.  Three times in this passage we read about an exchange:

The first mention of an exchange is in verse 23, (they) exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

The second description of an exchange is in verse 25, …they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

The third use of exchange is in verse 26: For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature…

In each exchange something that is good, truly a blessing, is exchanged for something evil: The glory of God is exchanged for idolatry (v. 23), the truth of God is exchanged for a lie (v. 25), and in this 26th verse, the beauty of marriage and the natural relationship between a husband and a wife as God ordained it is exchanged for unnatural relations: men with men and women with women.

God ordained marriage and placed His blessing on it, even commanding in Hebrews 13:4 that Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  But a fallen rebellious culture, which suppresses the truth and exchanges the truth of God for a lie, seeks to redefine marriage. Which leads to our first observation: Sexual preoccupation  for the same sex is evidence of God’s wrath against a society.

The Revelation of God’s Wrath

A week ago Monday, beginning at 12:01 in the morning, same sex marriages were held in the state of New Jersey, as it became the 14th state to approve gay marriage. In one series of three ceremonies Rev. Thomas Pivinski a retired Catholic priest who conducted the same-sex weddings, read from the 10th amendment giving Americans the freedom of marriage and said that we have been waiting over 200 years for the fulfillment of that right.

As we witness this so called “marriage equality” unfold, we need to realize that we are witnesses to more than a cultural change. We are witnesses to more than the acceptance of an immoral lifestyle.  We are witnesses to God’s wrath.  Romans 1 is very clear in stating that God gave them over because of His wrath against them for rejecting His truth and exchanging it for lie after lie after lie.

As we address this change in our culture, 1 Peter 3:16 tells us to do so with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…  But even as we are called to be respectful in the defense of our faith, we must never gloss over the seriousness of sin.

God’s wrath against sin is an important point in both evangelism and apologetics, yet many professing Christians try to gloss over the wrath of God. We don’t need to apologize for God’s wrath. His wrath is a result of His righteousness, His holiness and His purity.  And although He will consign unbelievers to hell, He will do so with justice, according to the measure of  knowledge they had of Him in special revelation, that is, knowledge of the Bible.

Thus Jesus says in Luke 12:47-48: “That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

A defense of the faith - an apologetic -  that tries to skirt around the reality of an eternal hell, and God’s righteous punishment on those who refuse to acknowledge Him and repent of their sin isn’t a biblical apologetic because it doesn’t deal with the righteous and proper wrath of God.

Given Over to Destruction

A second observation drawn from this passage: When a culture no longer retains the knowledge of God they are destroyed as God gives them over to destruction. We read in three different verses that God gave them over (24, 26, 28). Those verses are impressing on us that there comes a time when God simply allows a nation to be destroyed because of their wickedness. As verse 28 says, And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased  mind to do what ought not to be done.  And the verses that follow go into a detailed description of the greed, depravity and other wickedness that consumes any culture or society which rejects God.

That God gives nations over to destruction when they suppress His truth and replace it with lies is evident in the Old Testament and the New. For instance, Ezekiel points this out in Ezekiel 14:12-14, where he writes: The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, if a country sins against Me by being unfaithful and I stretch out My hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its men and their animals, even if these three men - Noah, Daniel and Job - were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness,” declares the Sovereign LORD.

Does that mean that the writing is on the wall for our nation?  After all, in many ways our culture has become like Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet consider that God was willing to spare Sodom if only 10 righteous people were found in that city.  Not even 10 were found and God rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. But how many millions of Christians are in America?  Could not God use the faithful witness of His people in this nation to defend their faith and to reach out with the gospel - apologetics and evangelism - to bring spiritual revival?

Without Excuse

Third observation: All humanity is without an excuse before God. The evidence is there. On judgment day, there will be no excuses offered.  Every mouth will be silenced.  The philosopher, Bertrand Russell, claimed he was agnostic. He couldn’t make up his mind because there just wasn’t enough  evidence.  He died on February 2, 1970.  Bertrand Russell has now found out what he refused to acknowledge before:  He has come face to face with the reality that this earth and all that is in it testifies that there is an Almighty God who is known by what He has created, leaving all humanity without excuse.  And all people, as 1 Peter 4:5 declares, will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

By contrast, Sir Isaac Newton, who formulated the law of gravity and built the reflecting telescope, when asked why he believed in creation, replied, “If I had nothing more than the human thumb I would believe in the Creator...”  Newton observed how the thumb was placed in just the right position on the hand to work effectively with the fingers, how it is protected by the thumbnail, how even in something as common as the human thumb we see the creative genius of Almighty God.

There is more than enough evidence.  The word translated “excuse” is from the Greek word for apologetics.  The unbeliever, literally, is without  an  apologetic. The unbeliever has no defense for their suppression of the truth.  As the Psalmist declares not once but twice, it is the fool who says in his heart, there is no God. (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).

The Power of the Gospel

Our world is a fallen world. Our culture in the United States of America is putrefying. The stench of our sin rises up and is a disgrace, as Proverbs 14:34 says, Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people. But that doesn’t mean that there is no hope. That simply means, by way of application, that both the defense of the gospel - apologetics - and the  offense of the gospel - evangelism - must be vital parts of our lives since we are witnesses to this fallen world

Jesus is the ultimate Light of the world, but who else did Jesus say is the light of the world?  Who is the salt of the earth?  Who is a letter from Christ?  Who serves as an ambassador for Christ  on earth?  It is you.  And it is me.  Rather than being discouraged by the sin-stained world in which we live we should be greatly encouraged that we have the only tool to counteract all the evil of this fallen world.

Paul writes about it in verse 16 and 17:  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith - from first to last, - as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

How powerful is the gospel?  Is it really powerful enough to change those who suppress the truth of God?  Is it powerful enough to change those who exchange the truth of God for a lie?  Is it powerful enough to change the homosexual?  Can the gospel really impact our corrupt culture?

Writing to the Corinthians the same apostle who was not ashamed of the gospel but boldly spoke it - defensively and offensively - in apologetics and evangelism, writes:  Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you once were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

The power of the gospel, by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence, transformed lives in Corinth, a place so notorious that to “play the Corinthian” was a euphemism for immorality. The gospel, by the Holy Spirit’s power, still is transforming lives and bringing revival in cultures and nations around the world.

And it is, of course, by the Holy Spirit’s power that we have eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to respond to the gospel.  Had God not in sovereign grace brought the conviction of the Holy Spirit into your life and mine, we also would still be suppressing the truth of who God is.

May we who by God’s grace profess Christ with our lips and trust Him in our hearts be ever faithful in apologetics, the defense of the truths of the Bible, and always faithful in evangelism, leaving the results with our faithful God who will never allow His Word to return to Him void, but promises that it will always accomplish the purpose for which it was sent.  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 10/2, Rev. Ted Gray

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