In Romans chapter one Paul writes of those ‘who hold the truth in unrighteousness’, verse 18. But what does this phrase mean? Well, whatever it means it is serious enough to reveal that the wrath of God is upon those who do such a thing; for Paul writes, ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness’.
Yet who today betrays any sense of being under the wrath of Almighty God? Surely next to none. So perhaps there isn’t anyone guilty of this deed of holding the truth in unrighteousness after all? But Paul tells us that the wrath of God is revealed; that being the case then obviously it is not presently felt or even perceived by those who do hold the truth in unrighteousness; although one day it will be made all too plain.
For as we are about to discover, just about every human being born into this world quickly comes to ‘hold the truth in unrighteousness’; although there are exceptions: those in whom the Lord plants his fear in early childhood. But as to the vast majority of us, as we shall see, it is not long before we evidence ‘ungodliness and unrighteousness’ in our young lives.
The Truth of God
Before we come to consider what the word ‘hold’ means in this context, we must first look at what ‘the truth’ is which is thus held, and held in unrighteousness. The truth here is ‘the truth of God’; these people have ‘changed the truth of God into a lie’, Rom. 1:25. And if they have changed it into a lie then there must have been a time when they knew what this truth was: perceiving and understanding it without a doubt; and yet, although knowing it, deliberately changing it into a lie.
But this didn’t mean that they ceased to be religious; for we go on to read that having wrought this change they still ‘worshipped and served’ a god; but their god was now ‘the creature’ rather than the Creator. ‘The creature’ here can mean anything in or of the creation, including the individual: that is, ‘self’. Does that ring true? Do people worship and serve themselves? Of course they do; proving that they continue to fall for the ancient lie: ‘Ye shall be as gods’, Gen. 3:1-5.
What then is ‘the truth of God’? It is that which God has revealed to every person: first ‘in them’ and also outside of them. We must understand that we are here speaking of innate knowledge: that which is part of the very fabric of our being, which is common to all – and that regardless of natural abilities, intellect, or education. This knowledge, being inherent, is perceived and understood by all from a young age, whether they are ‘brainy’ or have ‘learning difficulties’. Yes, genius or apparent simpleton, it maketh no difference; all have this innate knowledge of the truth of God; and so all who hold it in unrighteousness – to whatever degree of consciousness – are rightly rendered ‘without excuse’, verse 20.
Firstly, then, Paul says that this knowledge is ‘in them’, Rom. 1:19. He writes that the wrath of God is against them ‘because’ – for this very reason: ‘because that which may be known of God’ – that is, ‘the truth of God’ – ‘is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them.’ That is clear enough, isn’t it? God has manifest the truth regarding himself within each of us, and we perceive, know and believe it from an early age, regardless of whether or not we’ve been exposed to ‘Christian’ influence.
As I said, this is innate knowledge; we have it as we have life and breath. It is not something learnt from others; we do not have to be taught it as we grow up into childhood; we are born with it. Therefore each of us early knows there is a God: that he is great and holy, almighty – ‘Great is our Lord, and of great power…’, above and beyond us; and that he is a Person who knows us – ‘…his understanding is infinite’, Psalm 147:5 – sees us, hears us, and looks into our hearts and minds beholding all that is there; after all, ‘The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding…’, Prov. 15:3. What gives a young child an early sense of right and wrong, of conscience, and presently, as rebellion matures, a ready aptitude to self-justification? Nothing other than a knowledge of God! ‘That which may be known of God’. It is in them! No wonder, then, that he is nothing short of a ‘fool’ who says ‘in his heart’, not just with his lips, but within, ‘in his heart, There is no God’, Psalm 14:1.
Nevertheless it is interesting to observe at this point that the unbeliever and the mocker – though in rebellion and denial – will always inadvertently declare God’s omnipotence. How? Well listen to what they say: ‘If there is a God why didn’t he stop that terrible event happening?’ Or, ‘If he is a God of love why does he let all those children die of starvation in Africa?’ etc. Do you notice how they really do believe that God is Almighty – that he has power over events? But then ask them if he has power over their lives too – and why he doesn’t ‘make them’ or ‘stop them’ from doing this or that, and you will soon hear his sovereignty disappear.
Again, it must be emphasised that this perception of there being a true and living God is not because we have had Christian parents or gone to Sunday school. Go to some isolated tribe – unvisited by ‘missionaries’ – and what will you find? Men bowing down and worshipping something they think to be God. But who taught them there was a God? No one! They know it! Follow Paul to Athens. His spirit was stirred in him because these supposedly intelligent and sophisticated men worshipped just about every god going; and just in case there was another deity they built an altar to this ‘Unknown God’; whom they then ignorantly worshipped – which of course is no worship at all, John 4:22-24. But although they were ignorant of any fuller understanding of this God, yet they knew enough about him to perceive that he ought to be worshipped. Therefore Paul declared him unto them, Acts 17:16-34.
The word ‘manifest’, in, ‘that which may be known of God is manifest in them’, carries the meaning of ‘shining’; therefore we are not talking here of something mysterious. This knowledge of God which we all posses by our very entrance into this world is no vague half-light of perception which we can pretend to be doubtful about; it is a shining revelation, a full understanding. As a light cannot be mistaken or misunderstood when it shines out in the night; so neither is this manifestation of ‘that which may be known of God’ in us. We know. We may grow up to deny that we know it, and hold it in unrighteousness; but still we know what is true and cannot get away from it. We think we can successfully put it away; and most do happily dismiss it for the whole of their lives; but it will suddenly reappear in all its stark and shining presence on the day of judgment when they appear before the God whose truth they turned into a lie.
Be warned, reader. You know this is true. God doesn’t just exist because we choose to believe in him; and he doesn’t cease to exist just because we decide to turn atheist – an atheist simply being one who hates God and his truth (have you noticed how certain atheists, illogically, spend much of their time and energy venting their anger, hatred and rebellion against the God they say doesn’t exist!).
Again, the word ‘showed’, as in, ‘for God hath showed it unto them’, speaks of revelation – and of divine revelation at that: ‘God hath showed it…’ The reason the light of the knowledge of the truth of God shines in us from an early age is because God himself has revealed it unto us. Again, it’s no wonder that we are without excuse when we deliberately go on to ‘hold this truth in unrighteousness’.
But there is a second witness and testimony to ‘the truth of God’ apart from this interior illumination; and that is outside of ourselves in what is known as ‘creation’, Rom. 1:20. Look at the world around you. Even the most casual of observations must bring forth the honest admission from us that it could only have come into existence if a great God had designed, formed and created it. And even though the world is now fallen, under a curse, and is in ‘the bondage of corruption’ because of man’s sin – ‘the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain together until now’, Rom. 8:21,22 – yet it retains much of its original beauty and order.
What about all the ‘natural’ laws which even godless ‘scientists’ have shown exist, and by which they work and make detailed calculations; did these come into being by chance? Surely all the order manifest in the universe on the grandest, down to the most minute scale, could not have arisen out of chaos? Each one of you reading this, for the mere fact that you are a living human being, each one of you knows – intuitively – that there is a God who created all things, whether you will admit it or not. Why? Well listen to the language Paul uses – and again there is no ambiguity here: ‘For the invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen‘, you can easily perceive them, ‘being understood [simply] by the things that are made’ – understood! ‘even his eternal power and Godhead’; even his eternal power and Godhead? Yes, even that: and specifically that. So then creation itself is a sufficient exterior witness to each and every individual of nothing less than the ‘eternal power and Godhead’ – or ‘deity’ – of the God we all know exists. Yes, God is God indeed.
Paul was not backward in declaring these truths – especially when preaching to the Gentiles. In Lystra, for instance, when the people would have done sacrifice to the apostles, Paul, and Barnabas with him, cried: ‘…ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with joy and gladness’, Acts 14:8-18. God left not himself without witness!
We need no other revelation of the knowledge of the existence of God – and of our necessary accountability to him – than these two testimonies which God himself has freely given us with our life’s breath: one within, the other without. (And Paul says nothing here about the testimony of holy scripture – another objective account of the truth of God; nor of the Person and work of Christ – especially of the historical verity of his resurrection – a most stupendous event full of glorious testimony; cp. Acts 17:31.) And so it is said that all those who nevertheless turn this truth of God into a lie: denying what is known to be true, and holding it in unrighteousness; will be without excuse when they are called to appear on the day of judgment before the God who created them.
So we can conclude thus far that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all those who hold the truth of God in unrighteousness only and fundamentally for the denial of these two witnesses. The wrath of God is revealed because we deliberately turn our backs on the interior and exterior testimonies to God’s existence, eternal power and deity. And how striking it is to realise that nothing has here been spoken of rejecting the gospel – the salvation wrought by Christ upon the cross – which is the ‘doctrine’ of most Arminians; for they are likely to tell you that the one only damning sin is unbelief regarding Christ; whereas Paul here teaches that the condemnation is much more basic than that. Thus every one who holds the truth in unrighteousness is counted ‘without excuse’ regardless of whether or not they’ve heard the gospel. Of course, those who do hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ but do not obey it must be rendered doubly without excuse; cp. 2 Thes. 1:6-10, and Matt. 10:5-15, etc. see below.
Holding Down the Truth
By now we should be getting an inkling of what it means to ‘hold’ this truth in unrighteousness. The word here translated ‘hold’ literally means ‘to hold down’ – Tyndale had ‘withhold’: it has at its heart the meaning of forceful suppression. Witness the policeman not only arresting but pinning the criminal to the ground so that he cannot get away. See a pile of papers on a desk with a weight down on top of them to stop them blowing away. Downward pressure has to be exerted in both instances to avoid the ‘escape’ of the thing being suppressed. So does man with the truth of God: he falls on it violently, arrests it, holds it down, stifles and suppresses it so that it – the truth – can be subdued, silenced, and put away according to our ungodly and unrighteous desires.
Oh, how people hate the truth! Why? Because it reveals to them in the depths of their being their inherent sinfulness and rebellion against God. It reveals that they are totally wrong in all their natural inclinations and that, try as they might, they can never bring forth one thought or action which will satisfactorily subdue the realisation that God is going to judge them, and judge them righteously for their very being as sinners. And born of this is a resentment: not a resentment towards themselves because of their sin, but a resentment and hatred towards God for viewing them in all his holiness! Yes, we hate God naturally because he is not like us! Therefore instead of falling under this truth and repenting of our very nature we quickly seek to suppress it.
And what is the result of this suppression? Firstly, verse 21, ‘they glorify him not as God, neither are they thankful’. This must be the obvious first fruit of holding down the truth. Oh, foolish man! Yea, O foolish child! There you are with this innate knowledge: that you ‘know God’! – ‘because that, when they knew God’ – yet you contradict your own knowledge by turning it into a lie and quickly refuse to glorify him as God.
Did I say, ‘O foolish child’? Yes, indeed. After all, ‘Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child’, Prov. 22:15. How early in our lives does ‘I’ come in! Now, be honest. How many children do you know who, having learned to walk, talk, understand and reason, and all by their third, fourth, fifth years, are heard to give God continual thanksgiving and all the glory for giving them their amazing faculties? Is it not rather that the vast, vast majority have already turned the truth of God into a lie, and, holding down this truth in unrighteousness, have begun to assert their own ‘rights’, will, desires and honour? It is. They want what they want, not what God rightly demands. They have already rejected the thought of ever loving the Lord their God with all – the whole of – their heart, soul, mind and strength; and their neighbour has quickly become a second-class citizen in comparison to me and my desires.
Don’t tell me – says Paul in effect – that sweet innocent little children, in whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt! – ‘Oh, she’s such a good little girl!’ – cannot learn early to dethrone Almighty God from their heart’s affections and clamber up onto the vacant seat themselves.
From this earliest age then, the command of God to ‘all men every where to repent’ must be sounded; and ‘all men’ means all human beings who have already shown signs of having held down the truth of God in unrighteousness. Oh, forgetting that ‘childhood and youth are vanity’, Eccl. 11:10, how we are guilty of indulging little children: building up their proud, vain characters into thinking they are someone ‘special’, when in fact they are, at heart, unrestrained little rebels against the God they are already quite content to put away from their thoughts and rob of his glory. It is no wonder that wise Solomon directly exhorted the young person to whom he was speaking: ‘remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth’, 12:1; for he knew that even by the time he’d reached his youth – teens – the knowledge of early childhood had already been held down; after all ‘remember’ simply means to bring back to mind something once known. What an already wretched history of sin a youth has! Yes, it is in childhood that the unrighteousness of suppressing the truth of God occurs.
The second necessary fruit of this is that they ‘waxed full of vanities in their imaginations’ [Tyndale]: their manner of thinking and reasoning being totally given over to vanity; ‘and their [now] foolish hearts were darkened’, Rom. 1:21. Those little children and, unless grace intervenes and repentance comes, those youths and adults, possess benighted minds and hearts – the ‘shining’ which God created them with beginning to be dimmed. Instead of their thoughts being according to the early perceived revelation of the truth of God, the workings of their minds now become vain: vanity and lies replace the truth as the driving force of their desires and wants; and where existed the light of understanding regarding the nature of God and man, darkness has begun to pervade the heart. At the beginning they ‘knew’ and perceived what was good and true; but now ignorance, confusion, and stupidity rule because of rebellion.
But do they admit it? No. ‘Professing themselves to be wise [no less!], they have become fools’, verse 22. And what ‘wisdom’ is theirs? Nothing but the ‘wisdom of their own conceits’. Now they have begun to lie to themselves – within. Although their conscience tells them one thing – pointing them back to ‘the truth of God’ – yet their darkened hearts and foolish minds not only resist but increasingly revel in lying to themselves that in fact they are growing in wisdom. How worldly-wise they are: ‘You don’t need to tell me anything’, is the language of the heart, ‘I know what I’m doing!’ Yes, you are listening more and more to the serpent, aren’t you: ‘Yea, hath God said?… Ye shall not surely die… Ye shall be as gods…!’ Fools. All of us. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools; and in effect saying in their hearts, ‘There is no God’ but me! But that is the very essence of corruption! Psalm 53:1.
Now don’t think that the religious are immune from, and have escaped this temptation. Do you not know that the worst sinners on the face of the earth – and the most deceived – are the religious hypocrites: those who hide these corrupt workings of the mind and heart behind a supposedly God-honouring and holy-looking exterior? It’s not the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah who will inhabit the lowest hell, you know. No. Jesus said that it will be ‘more tolerable’ for them on the day of judgment than for those who refuse and receive not the words of the Lord Jesus and his apostles – which is ‘the word of the truth of the gospel’, cp. Matt. 10:5-15, Mark 6:7-13. (It is interesting to note that one of the things they preached was ‘that men should repent’, Mark 6:12.) Remember also that it was the religious hierarchy – who would ‘receive the greater damnation’, cp. Matt. 23:13,14 – and the frequenters of synagogue who were most offended at Jesus’ doctrine and sought his downfall – whose children can be found in church and chapel, pulpit and pew to this day.
Yes, more tolerable – by degrees more bearable – for the sodomite than for the professed Christian who contends against and does not obey the truth of the gospel of the grace of God – of the doctrine of Christ; but who instead perverts it with whatever error, lie, half-truth and man-made tradition he can lay his hands on to satisfy his foolish, ungodly and unrighteous mind; and, by the way, to relieve himself of ‘the offence of the cross’ too – in all the fulness of what that phrase means, cp. Gal. 5, etc.
The next fruit of suppressing innate truth regarding God is that the image of the uncorruptible God – yes, despite all that we try to do with his image it does remain incorruptible – is changed by our corrupt minds and hearts ‘into an image made like to corruptible man, and birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things’, Rom. 1:23. (By the way, Tyndale had ‘serpent’ for ‘creeping things’; it’s not surprising that the ‘subtle’ creature would be found in there somewhere, cp. Gen. 3:1, Rev. 12:9.) It was evident to Paul in his day, as it no doubt remains true regarding darkened man in ours, that beasts and images of beasts are worshipped as God. But the first part of this verse renders all us ‘civilised’ people – who would never be so pagan! – guilty of idolatry still; for Paul says that we change the glory of God ‘into an image made like to corruptible man’. There’s your self-worship again!
How many professing Christians love to ‘glory in the flesh’. Free-willers, legalists, traditionalists and letter-Christians all love to think that by their works, or perhaps just by their impressive head-knowledge of scripture, they are going to present something to God which they think, or hope, will count towards their acceptance before him. And the Lord Jesus has already told us that this will be their plea on the day of judgment: ‘Lord, Lord, have we not…?’ That is the cry of all those who have ‘changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man’; but they will go no further: ‘Depart from me, ye that work iniquity’, Matt. 7:21-23. He has warned you beforehand.
But changing the glory of God into an image made like to corruptible man, can also manifest itself in the professing but false Christian as he creates an image in his (vain) imagination of someone he likes to call Jesus; but one which does not resemble the true Jesus, though one which the idolater is quite happy to worship. Just go around the churches of our land today and listen to the ‘Jesus’ which is preached, and observe the ‘Jesus’ which is subsequently believed in, and it will not take you long to discover – if you’re honest – that it is more often than not – nay, almost universally – ‘another Jesus’, 2 Cor. 11:4. How? Because Christ’s doctrine is not their doctrine: Jesus’ words have been perverted to such a degree that their Jesus teaches them differently to what the Lord of glory reveals to his own sheep. (I wish I knew of a gathering where the true Jesus is preached in all his fulness and glory.)
Oh, William Tyndale felt these things deeply: listen to him reeling in the pain of it all: these ‘heretics and false preachers ever falsify God’s word, with which the church of Christ shall be thus miserably plagued unto the end of the world.’ It’s the worst plague of all: false prophets preaching another Jesus to the spiritual starvation of the sheep. But these goats will end up on the left hand on the day of judgment, though many of them are popular and ‘successful’ now, Matt. 25:31-46.
‘Wherefore’, in the light of all this, Paul continues: ‘Wherefore God also gave them up…’ Also? Why, what else has he already done to them to cause Paul to say ‘also’ here? Well, God has revealed his wrath from heaven against them; subsequently he has ‘also given them up…’ They have failed to give him the glory due to his Person; have refused to render thanksgiving to him for their very lives; have usurped his rightful position as king in their hearts; have changed his glory into their own; and turned their backs on the shining revelation of his truth in them; so, he also has given them up: ‘given them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves’, Rom. 1:24.
Oh, how clean is the truth of God; and how clean it is to fall under and live in the light of it! But once hold it down in unrighteousness – when we are barely five years old! – and how unclean we manifest ourselves to be. Uncleanness is what results in following ‘the lusts – desires – of our own hearts’. This is the very spirit of the world and worldliness: ‘the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life’, 1 John 2:15-17. We’re guilty! All guilty! And so we ‘dishonour our own bodies between ourselves’. This goes far deeper than sexual perversion; this has to do with fundamentally degrading our humanity – made in the image of God – by putting him away, going after what we want, living our own lives, indulging our lusts, being our own masters, corrupting ourselves from the way that God intended man should live in union with him, cp. Gen. 6:11,12.
Man, the pinnacle of God’s creation; in whom God breathed the breath of life, causing him to become a living soul. Man, made uniquely in the creation of God to walk with God uprightly; to glory in his Creator; to delight in his works; to praise and worship him for giving him life, and breath, and all things. But no. Adam fell, and we in him. And before you think to blame Adam for your wretched state then just remember that although it is true that ‘by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men…’, you are just as guilty because the apostle’s doctrine goes on to say, ‘…for that all have sinned’; confirming not only our generation in Adam but also our happy delight in continuing in his sinfulness, Rom. 5:12. Make no mistake: you love your sin, and you love to sin. No one will turn and blame Adam on the day of judgment for their condemnation and damnation; for ‘all have sinned’ knowingly, deliberately and constantly from the moment they perceived they could hold down the truth of God in unrighteousness. This is the condemnation, John 3:19.
Yes, we ‘dishonour our own bodies between ourselves’. What is this ‘between ourselves’? Well, it is our encouraging of one another in this ungodly and unrighteous path. Paul later writes of these who have at length fallen completely into ‘all unrighteousness’ – as must be the consequence of holding down the truth in unrighteousness – that though they ‘know the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but consent with, and have pleasure in them that do them’, Rom. 1:29-32. There you are. Not only do they deliberately suppress the truth of God, but knowing full well that they are going to be judged by God for it, still, they seek out, delight in, and actively encourage the same in others… Until eternity; when they will curse one another for glorying in holding down the truth – which each knew they were doing; for lying to one another in their ‘fun’ and pursuit of happiness in the things of the world – ‘life’, as they called it; and for not being plain honest with each other as they followed after the lie. But then it will all be too late. Husbands and wives, whose gravestone read, ‘Reunited’, if they had both died in unrighteousness, will curse and scream at each other for all eternity because of their mutual folly of ignoring the two witnesses God had given them, and for their continued encouragement of the other in the same.
And this is true for any relationship in this world: family, friend, work or business. I sometimes think of people like Laurel and Hardy – the comedy duo of the 1930s – who I loved to watch as a child. If they both died in rebellion against God their creator then the laughter ended a long time ago.* No, they won’t be in eternity now patting each other on the back for their successful careers in making the world laugh. They will have found that ‘the end of that mirth is heaviness’ indeed, for having held down the truth in unrighteousness, Prov. 14:13. I’m sure that if we could hear them now they’d be screaming with horror and regret that they’d made even one film; that those who watch them and love them for their comedy would stop at once and seek out the truth of God instead of wasting their time in their entertainments. But we can’t hear them; just like we can’t hear all those writers, artists, actors, musicians, and every other notable person who has ever lived who, though highly esteemed still in the eyes of modern man, nevertheless died holding down the truth in unrighteousness. So, what good their ‘art’ and fame now?
(*Just moments before he breathed his last Stan Laurel voiced his desire to be skiing. When his nurse asked him if he skied, he replied, ‘No, but I’d rather be skiing than doing this’, and he was gone. What a terrible ‘this’ to come to.)
Another fruit of this rebellion is that some also manifest what Paul calls ‘vile affections’, whereby they act ‘against nature’, ‘working that which is unseemly’ – a polite way of describing indecent, shameless, perverted and filthy behaviour, verses 26,27. And don’t think that the not doing these things outwardly renders you guiltless, for God looketh upon the heart and sees the root of every unrighteous lust there.
And then perhaps the most fearful fruit of ‘changing the truth of God into a lie’: they go the last step and arrogantly abandon the knowledge of God altogether, with the most dreadful consequence, verse 28: ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient’ – those things which are not becoming of a human being created in the image of God; why, no beast of the field ever sank this low in its nature.
These minds which were once so enlightened with that shining of divine revelation in those early days of innocence, have now become ‘reprobate’: totally devoid of reason, right judgment, and any real common sense. How man in sin denigrates himself in his rebellion! What a miserable debased being he is: filled with all unrighteousness. Godless, self-centred, full of deceit and utterly conceited. Hypocritically self-righteous; judging and condemning others for doing the same things that he himself indulges in, see Romans 2:1-3. Totally ignorant of the fact that he is sold out to sin, a helpless serf of Satan, and under the wrath of Almighty God.
How often do we hear today of ‘mindless acts’: like ‘mindless violence’ or ‘mindless destruction’. Well, the ‘mindless’ actions of human beings is because they have been given over by God to a reprobate mind. And the reprobation is also manifest in the intent or imagination though it may never be brought to outward fruition: so the ‘decent’ among us are still as reprobate within. What a dreadful state to arrive at when there was a time when man ‘knew God’: had him in his knowledge, believed in him, feared him, and knew that he was accountable to him. But now, with his reprobate mind, he becomes ‘filled with all unrighteousness’ – which is an absolute state; for you cannot get much fuller than ‘filled’, verse 29.
No, none are without excuse in their sin and rebellion. We hold down the truth of God in unrighteousness from an early age and pay the price in being given a reprobate mind. Thus we arrive at true atheism: the state of being totally ‘without God’, Eph. 2:12.
Therefore we must repent. We must turn back to the early-known God and his truth which we have held down all this time. While we have life and breath there is yet hope if we will turn. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners – yea, even the chief of sinners. None of us who know and feel our sinnership need despair if we will turn and seek the true and living God. He will teach us the truth; reacquainting us with the knowledge we once had – but now to a much greater degree; for, ultimately, he will show us Christ and his salvation; which is what Paul called, ‘Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’, Acts 20:21.
And in it all God will have all the glory: as we begin to detest sin in ourselves; flee from those sinners in whose company we once delighted; lose our reprobate mind – for we will now have the mind of Christ, 1 Cor. 2:16; turn from all our unseemliness; be rid of our vile affections; cast down the image of self which we so passionately worshipped and served; learn real wisdom; be no longer foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is; be cleansed from vain imaginations; get understanding; flow with thanksgiving and glorification of God our Creator whom we now ‘know’ savingly: ‘For this is eternal life: to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent’, John 17:3.
And then what fulness; what completeness; what a wonderful state we will find ourselves in: a possessor of a knowledge which views now with unsurpassed wonder ‘the eternal power and Godhead’ of Almighty God! Godhead? Yes, Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Ghost – the Deity. He is known; the work of each is revealed; we will become a recipient in experience of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the love of God, and of the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. The Father has drawn us; the Son is shown to have saved us by his blood, and the Spirit has regenerated, taught, and applied the blood to our hearts and consciences.
Salvation – what a word! – Salvation: a rescue from imminent death; is known and experienced to be ‘of the LORD’: of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit. No works here; no glorying in the flesh permitted. All the glory is God’s. All the praise belongeth unto him. We are saved. Sin is put away; sins are forgiven; and as recipients of this wonderful work we now live, no longer under the wrath of God, but in the light: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
And now the opposite state of ‘holding down the truth in unrighteousness’ has been entered; for now in Christ we are those that ‘do righteousness’; as it is written of those who know the Father: ‘And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him’, 1 John 2:13,28,29. What a transformation! Yea, what saving grace!
How needful it is for ministers to be preaching these truths; after all, they constitute the beginning of the gospel of Christ. How so? Because Paul in this Romans epistle has just written that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, 1:16, which statement leads him directly to declare that the wrath of God is revealed against all who hold down the truth in unrighteousness.
But where are these things being expounded among the gatherings of professed believers today? Are they in your meeting? In some places they may be brought out to a degree in the letter, with people in the congregations avidly taking notes to aid their learning the doctrine in the head – though usually remaining strangers to the truth of it applied to their experience. But once hear a man declare these things in the power of the Spirit and you can be sure that he will be despised and rejected in the churches; for the truth is that the vast majority of church- and chapel-goers just don’t want to hear them. No, they want only what they call ‘the gospel’: by which they mean the work of Jesus upon the cross, accompanied by what they imagine to be faith, believing and salvation. But when Paul started expounding the doctrine of the gospel – having introduced it in verses 16 and 17 – he didn’t commence with the cross but with the condemnation of man in sin: there is no mention of Christ and his salvation till a long way into chapter three.
But the modern church is bent on skipping these thoughts of being condemned in sin and just wants to hear the ‘lovely’ or ‘precious truths’ about God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice. But the whole concept of, and need for, salvation is totally irrelevant to those who do not feel their own guilt before the eyes and under the wrath of Almighty God. Many people may be readily enticed into ‘committing their lives to the Lord’, or ‘accepting Jesus as their Lord and personal Saviour’ in a created atmosphere: usually under the sound of sweet ‘spiritual’ music – perhaps enhanced by soft lights – and beguiled by persuasive gospel salesmen or youth leaders, without ever feeling one scrap of condemnation in their souls.
But when Paul set out to write to the Romans – under the direct inspiration, leading and power of God the Holy Spirit – his exposition of the gospel of Christ was no wooing exercise designed to deceive the lost into wandering effortlessly through a wide gate of false conversion, but was a systematic exposition of the doctrine of the gospel from the very beginning: and the beginning was then, as it remains today – if ever a soul is to be truly saved – ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness…’, Romans 1:18-3:20.
And you can be sure – by the testimony of the apostles’ doctrine – that no other gospel is worthy the name; and that no one can rightly be drawn, called and saved but under the sound of this gospel. As that is the case then where does it leave the ‘salvation’ of all those who say they ‘believe’, though they have never heard the doctrine of the gospel rightly expounded? And furthermore, what does it say about the legion of preachers, ministers, evangelists, youth and children’s ministries who never start where Paul did? Well, you can answer the questions for yourselves. And by the way, I have used the word ‘legion’ deliberately.
And while you consider that, also remember these words of the Lord Jesus already alluded to: ‘…wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat…’ Matt. 7:13ff. And yes, the word Jesus used was ‘many’.
Therefore we can say categorically that, still, from its very beginning ‘the truth of God’ is being held down by the ungodly and unrighteous, as much, if not more so, within the churches as without; and that this holding down is what Paul calls ‘unrighteousness’. Yes, whatever replaces a knowledge of, and a walking in the truth, is called ‘unrighteousness’. How dreadful it will be on that day, then, for all those who continue to do such a thing.
Repent, lying preachers, repent.
And flee lying preachers ‘my people’, flee.