By Jon Cardwell, pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama
“Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 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 1:19-20
“That which may be known of God,” that is, known about God, “is manifest in them.” The New American Standard Bible says that the knowledge of God “is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Does that mean that God has made all things about Himself evident to man? No.
We must always remember that when we read the Bible, the three things that are especially important for us to keep in mind are: context, context, and context.“That which may be known of God” (v19) speaks of the wrath of God being revealed from heaven (Romans 1:18) because we have the word, “because” linking v18 with v19. So Romans 1:18 informs us that all human beings have God’s wrath revealed to them from heaven against all their ungodliness and unrighteousness.
This means every human being since Adam, and it also includes Adam, since he was also ungodly in his disobedience, and unrighteous in his fall from grace. Because Romans 1:18 informs us that the wrath of God is revealed “from heaven,” it means that this truth was communicated by God, the heavenly Being, and He revealed it to man and within man; and the first part of Romans 1:20 tells us that God has supernaturally revealed His wrath against ungodly and unrighteous men through His decretive will in the work of creation and providence.
Romans 1:20 begins with the word, “For.” In other words, for this reason “the invisible things of [God] are clearly seen, being understood…” That is to say that those invisible were clearly perceived and comprehended “the things that are made” (by the created products, that thing fashioned or formed, or handiwork): in other words, by mankind; by all ungodly and unrighteous men (Romans 1:18). The apostle uses a play on words here in the Greek language, “for the unseen things of God are plainly seen,” or “for the unseen things of God are seen accordingly, and understood and perceived…”
I don’t believe Romans 1:20 is speaking of the creation surrounding men, as written inPalms 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handywork.” Remember: context. It is not the glory of God we are talking about that is revealed from heaven; it is the wrath of God revealed from heaven (Romans 1:18). Also,Palms 19:1 speaks of the creation work that can be visibly seen, whereas Romans 1:20speaks of invisible things of God, unseen things of God. Now, Romans 1:20 gives us an important place to look at the unseen, the invisible things of God that the apostle is speaking about when he tells us that these things are “from the creation of the world.”
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.—Genesis 1:26
As God, who is Spirit, created man in His own image and after the likeness of the Triune God, one of the things that we may be able to gather from this is that when God made Adam perfectly in the image and likeness of God, He made man with certain attributes, such as reason to be able to think and a will to act upon those thoughts; and although there may be a controversy over which Hebrew word, image or likeness, carries with it the inherent traits that reflect the holy character of God, we do know that man was“created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
Now, as Genesis 2:4-25 is a recapitulation of the sixth day of creation, we are given further details into what God has made evident about Himself in creating man. Adam was formed from dust and had the Spirit of life breathed into His nostrils, Genesis 2:7,
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
After Eden was planted, we’re told that Adam was put into the garden, Genesis 2:8,
“And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed.”
After a description is given of the garden that Jehovah God had made (Genesis 2:9-14), it is repeated that God placed Adam into the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). Then came the Lord’s commandment to Adam, Genesis 2:16-17,
“Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 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.”
God speaks the perfect, infallible straight-forward Word to Adam, the first man, who was made perfectly in the image of God, “in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures” (A Puritan Catechism, A.10). The words of God’s command were heard by Adam’s perfect ears, comprehended by his perfect mind, and contemplated with his perfect understanding; yet, having a completely free, but unstable will (Ecclesiastes 7:29), Adam sinned against God.
God’s decree and handiwork in the creation of man was accomplished in such a way that there is an inherent knowledge in man of the justice and holiness of God. This is in every man, even in fallen man. Every human since Adam has a built-in sense of justice; that is, that there are some things that are right, and that there are some things that are wrong to all human beings: because man was created in the image of God. Even in a newborn infant, there is an exercise of justice, although it may be carnal and bent, it’s still there because what is just, naturally speaking, is that the baby wants to be fed; that baby cries out in injustice when it is not fed the breast or the bottle.
Sure, it’s a haughty, selfish justice; certainly, it’s twisted, but it is there nonetheless. Even in the most extreme, most warped, twisted, and sinful sense, there is a sense of justice in the most wicked of sinners; a mass murderer, say. This murderer will operate under a code of what is right for him and what is wrong according to him; and however perverted and evil it may be, it’s still there. So there’s an awareness of right and wrong in all men.
Moreover, in the next part of Romans 1:20, “…being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead,” God’s eternal power and Godhead, that is, His divinity or His divine goodness, is clearly understood. God has the power to execute judgment and in His divine goodness, He has the right to exercise it. Each bit of this knowledge went into Adam at his creation, and although all his descendents received a sinful, fallen nature, each one has been a recipient of the knowledge that God exists, that He has miraculous power, that He is divine and benevolent, and that in His holiness He has every right to execute His wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.Palms 139:13,“For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (ESV).
Then, why do men claim to be atheists? Why do they claim that they don’t believe in God? Why do men claim that God does not exist? We have already been told in Romans 1:18 that they “[suppress] the truth in unrighteousness.”
Therefore, as this knowledge about a holy and just God, whose wrath is revealed within man against all of his ungodliness and unrighteousness, because it was an attribute built into him from the sixth day of creation, we are told in the last part of Romans 1:20 that all men “are without excuse.” In other words, they are without an apologetic; without a logical defense; literally, without words to speak on their own behalf. Paul tells us later in Romans 3:19, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
CLICK HERE to read the previous article in this series.