Paul, in Romans chapter 1, walks us through a process that inevitably leads to apostasy. We recently looked at the dangers of apostasy from the book of Hebrews, but how does such unfaithfulness creep into our lives? In verses 18-24, after speaking to the power of salvation in God’s word, Paul writes about the plainness of the divine in the world around us. He reveals, however, that people gave up the glory of God to place the divine in the objects of Creation. Apostasy crept in, and it can overtake us today as well.
Verse 21 establishes that, at one time, all people knew God. We can look around us and see a greater power at work. We can see the hand of a higher power in the order and magnitude of our universe. Verse 20 calls us without excuse for failing to recognize God’s power over this world in which we live. We can know God, and we can know what He wants for us. This intellectual knowledge of God, however, is not enough to prevent apostasy.
Sliding Toward Apostasy
Many more will acknowledge the existence or possibility of God than will actually follow Him. We cannot rest easy simply in professing the existence of our Father, for, like those in Romans 1:21, we can know God without glorifying Him as such. In John 17:4, Jesus prays about His efforts to glorify God in doing the work of God. I Peter 4:14-16 calls on us to glorify God in our service, even in the face of persecution and suffering. Romans 12 calls on us to live sacrificially to glorify God in service. My place is not to seek honor for myself in this life but to submit to the work of the Lord and glorify Him in this service. Philippians 1:27 puts it this way: “…let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…”
Also in Romans 1:21, Paul speaks of those who fail to give thanks to God. Ungratefulness leads to unfaithfulness. Luke 17:11 tells the story of Jesus healing ten lepers who meet Him on the road, but only one – a Samaritan – comes back to thank Jesus. A Christian’s life must be characterized by thankfulness. I Thessalonians 5:18 calls on us to give thanks in all things, and James 1:17 reminds us that our blessings come from above, coming down from the Father. How often do we remember to show gratitude for answered prayers, for the numerous blessings we have, for God’s preservation of us?
Romans 1:21 furthermore speaks of vain thinking leading to apostasy. Back in Genesis 6, prior to the flood, God is grieved by the fact that every thought of mankind is turned toward evil. We are what we think. Romans 8:5 says we are after the flesh or the spirit depending on what we occupy our thoughts with. In Colossians 3 and Philippians 4, Paul calls on his fellow Christians to set their minds on pure and worthwhile things. We need to be careful of eliminating God from our thinking, which will eliminate Him from our lives.
Paul says all of this will harden hearts in Romans 1:21. Remember Matthew 13:13, when Jesus is asked why He speaks in parables, He references the people’s closed eyes, closed ears, and hardened hearts. They present themselves as a people who do not want God’s healing, and we can likewise be so stubborn. Romans 2:5 then warns that hardening our hearts invites God’s judgment upon us.
Little by little, we can push God out of our minds and out of our lives, and, like Romans 1:22, we elevate self and debase God. I Corinthians 1:18-25 tells of God’s wisdom seeming foolish to our earthly thinking. We profess ourselves to be wiser than God when we look at His word and think we know better. We think we know how to live this life without God, but Jeremiah 10:23 reminds us that it is not in us to direct our own steps.
When we deny God, we open a void in our lives. In Romans 1:23, those people exchanged the glory of God for idols. Instead of those carved images, we seek to worship self. We elevate our reasonings. We justify our investment in secular matters. We refuse to submit in our pride. When we do these things, we squeeze God from our lives, and we begin to fall away. We can prevent this crisis, though, simply by humbling ourselves and submitting to His plan for us. Instead of exchanging God’s glory for that which is corruptible and fleeting, we can take hold of His power unto salvation and draw nearer to Him in faithfulness and love.
lesson by Tim Smelser