In Romans 4, Paul declared that all of the saving activity of God as demonstrated in Jesus…
- Is only effective for those who are joined to Christ through faith.
- To be the people of God and justified requires faith.
- Without faith, no one is righteoused by Jesus.
Because of this, we need to grasp exactly what faith is.
- However, we first need to really understand just how opposed humanity is to the faith Paul is describing.
- As we discussed some weeks ago, we are all by default under sin.
- And this has a peculiar effect on our faith capacity.
Paul described this effect in Romans 1.
- Romans 1:18–21 (ESV) — 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. 21 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.
I want to take this text in a direction a little different than we did some weeks ago.
- In a minute, we will use it to show us how Paul answers this question…
- Why does a fallen humanity, who can perceive God’s “eternal power” and “divine nature” in their hearts and minds, fail “to acknowledge God” in their hearts and minds?
1) DIVINE PERSPECTIVE OF REJECTION
First lets quickly look at the divine perspective to this question.
John 6:43–44 (ESV) — 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
John 6:63–65 (ESV) — 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
John 8:47 (ESV) — 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
In all of the above, we have Jesus Himself explaining why unbelief exists.
- Remarkably, the unbelief He is explaining is that which exists in spite of His very presence.
- The fact that one could be confronted with the very presence of God and still not believe in Him is startling.
- Jesus’ divine perspective of the reasons for the persistence of this unbelief, even in His presence, is certainly sufficient.
- However, in another sense, to leave it here would suggest that God is responsible for our unbelief.
- Fortunately, Paul gives us the human perspective and makes clear that we are responsible and are without excuse.
2) HUMAN PERSPECTIVE OF REJECTION
Romans 1:18–21 (ESV) — 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. 21 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.
Paul’s words address at least (2) things I want to explore:
- (1) Humanity’s clear perception and knowledge of God.
- (2) Humanity’s unbelief in spite of this clear perception and knowledge.
What is so interesting is that Paul explicitly puts the “perceiving” of “what can be known about God” in one’s “thinking” and “heart“.
- In other words, a fallen humanity can perceive God’s “eternal power” and “divine nature” within their hearts and minds from “the things that have been made“.
- A reason they are “without excuse“.
- And yet, Paul also reveals that the heart and mind are also a barrier to “clearly perceiving” because they operate in “futile” and “foolish” ways.
So, from a human perspective…
- Why does a fallen humanity, who can still perceive God’s “eternal power” and “divine nature” in their hearts and minds, fail “to acknowledge God” in their hearts and minds?
There are a number of answers to this question we all might be familiar with:
- The noetic effects of sin.
- Lacking a regeneration of the heart by the Holy Spirit.
- Our depravity.
But Paul, in Romans 1, specifically deals with the defective way the unbeliever thinks.
- I want to flesh this out.
We have to realize that at its heart, the problem Paul is describing is a moral problem.
- The futile thinking results in a failure to honor God and give Him thanks!
- This is a moral failure.
So, again, how can we clearly perceive and yet be “futile” in our thinking – acting with “foolish hearts”?
- How can we clearly perceive and yet fail morally to honor God?
Deep Conscience and Surface Conscience:
Enter J. Budziszewski’s book What We Can’t Not Know. In Part II and Chapter 4, “Explaining the Lost World – The First and Second Witnesses”, he introduces a useful way to view the conscience, the location of moral knowledge.
- He states that the “older natural law thinkers” differentiated between the “deep conscience” and the “surface conscience“.
What we are going to see is that these two notions of our conscience provide an answer for how…
- We can clearly perceive…
- And yet be futile in our thinking.
This is one way that all mankind can “clearly perceive” God from “the things that have been made”.
- This is one reason why we are all without excuse.
Now, deep conscience “is the interior witness to the foundational principles of moral law“.
- In it resides “the knowledge of basic goods, of formal norms, and of everyday moral rules.”
- It is not a feeling but an innate knowledge of morality.
- It is objective.
In fact, it was “designed as a witness to moral truth” by God.
- Therefore, it “cannot be erased, cannot be mistaken, and is the same in every human being.”
- And knowledge of moral truth obligates us with duties to self, neighbor and God.
Here’s the thing…
- God is the source of this knowledge!
- Paul is saying that this knowledge should point us to God.
- To acknowledge God as its source is a way to honor and give thanks to Him.
However, the unregenerate heart and mind fail to do this.
- Because the unregenerate are “futile in their thinking” and thus foolish…
- They mistakenly believe that their own reason and experience is the source for this knowledge instead of God.
- And they do so in conflict with what they “clearly perceived”.
How can they do this?
- This is where the surface conscience comes in.
Surface conscience, on the other hand, is more subjective.
- Budziszewski says that surface conscience “presents greater possibilities for going wrong. It can be erased, it can be mistaken, and it can vary from person to person.”
- In relation to our discussion thus far, if deep conscience is where clear perception of God’s nature occurs, it seems possible that it is at the level of the surface conscience that “futile thinking” and “the foolish heart” corrupt the testimony of moral truth that the deep conscience provides.
- This corruption then warps our desire to fulfill, in the way God ordains, duties to self, neighbor and God and results in a personal, subjective and relative moral framework.
By way of example, Budziszewski cites (9) ways that the surface conscience can go wrong.
- And because it is here, the surface conscience, that we find a possible answer to our question asked above, I think it is worth quoting Budziszewski at length.
Surface conscience “can blur and err in at least nine different ways:
- (1) one way is insufficient experience, where I don’t know enough to reach sound conclusions
- (2) another is insufficient skill, where I have never learned the art of reasoning well.
- Then come (3) sloth, where I am too lazy to reason,
- and (4) corrupt custom, where it has never occurred to me to do so.
- Next come (5) passion, where I am distracted by strong feeling from reasoning carefully,
- and (6) fear, where I am afraid to reason because I might find out that I am wrong.
- Bringing up the rear are (7) wishful thinking, where I include in my reasoning only what I am willing to notice;
- (8) depraved ideology, where I interpret known principles crookedly;
- and (9) malice, where I refuse to reason because I am determined to do what I want.”
These provide, it seems to me, a fairly articulate description of how the depravity of humanity finds expression on a day-to-day basis.
- And as suggested, provide an answer to the question we asked earlier.
One can easily see, for example, someone who abides within a naturalistic framework invoke #8 and claim that moral knowledge is only a subjective, cultural convention.
- Or an atheist invoke #9 because they refuse to admit that they have any moral accountability before a holy God.
- Or someone invoke #1 or #3 simply because in a world where “to each his own” is a guiding principal, who cares about moral knowledge.
- And finally, the person who lives under the illusion that feelings, and not a divinely informed moral knowledge, are the grounding for morality, would surely invoke #5.
Each is an act of a corrupt and depraved will in rebellion to the deep conscience convictions that Paul argues we all have in our Romans 1 text.
- But of our own choosing, we follow the desires of our heart and corrupt the revelation of God by one or all of the examples given.
- And because this corruption is an act of our fallen will, we “are without excuse” before God.
At the end of the day, humanity’s “futile thinking” and “foolishness of heart” with respect to God’s moral knowledge, is, as Paul suggests, a dishonoring of God as God and an exaltation of man as god.
- Budziszewski puts it this way, “we don’t want the freedom of the creature but the freedom of the Creator – not freedom to be good but freedom to determine the good.“
Greg Bahnsen puts it like this:
“[The unbeliever] is a fool because he has forsaken the source of true wisdom in God in order to rely on his own (allegedly), self-sufficient, intellectual powers” – Greg Bahnsen.
Proverbs hammers this home constantly.
- Proverbs 1:7 (ESV) — 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
- Proverbs 28:26 (ESV) — 26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
The result of this foolish “futile” thinking is devastating.
- Proverbs 10:8 (ESV) — 8 The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
- Proverbs 26:11 (ESV) — 11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.
- Proverbs 18:2 (ESV) — 2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Is the solution to this problem to try and convince the unbeliever to change their thinking with good evidence?
- Probably not.
The futile and foolish thinking are merely symptoms of the problem – not the problem.
- We are merely describing how the unregenerate fail in their thinking even though they clearly perceive.
- The unregenerate heart makes the unbeliever foolish!
Proverbs gives us a helpful suggestion:
- Proverbs 26:4–5 (ESV) — 4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Don’t try and “answer” the fool in the realm of his folly – futile thinking.
- This is the surface conscience stuff.
Bahnsen puts it like this:
“The unbeliever should not be answered in terms of his own misguided presuppositions; [We] should defend [our] faith by working within [our] own presuppositions. If [we] surrender to the assumptions of the unbeliever, the believer will never effectively set forth a reason for the hope that is in him. [We] will have lost the battle from the outset, constantly being trapped behind enemy lines. Hence Christianity’s intellectual strength and challenge will not be set forth” – Greg Bahnsen.
- The presupposition of the unbeliever is that he knows things autonomously – God is not needed to know stuff.
- He reasons and knows without proper justification.
But, “answer” the fool where his “folly” really lies – his refusal to honor God as the source of all of his knowledge.
- This is the deep conscience stuff.
Much, much more can be said of all this…
- But hopefully we have answered our question – clearly perceive yet be futile in our thinking.
I hope that all of this highlights even more the barriers that, by default, all of humanity has towards faith.
- And not just in the realm of morality but of knowledge as well.
- Next week we will deal specifically with what faith is and where it comes from.