The apostle Paul, beginning in Romans 1:18 began to explain the reason that the gospel must be preached if men are to be saved. This is a courtroom scene where the charges are made and then the evidence to prove those charges is given. From Romans 1:18-3:20, both the Gentiles and the Jews are charged as being sinners and therefore this is a case against the whole world so that the whole world may become accountable to God (see Romans 3:19).
The truth of the guilt of the whole world is of utmost importance in establishing the truth of justification by faith and therefore the truth of the guilt of the individual is of utmost importance if he or she is to receive justification by faith. You see, the guilt of the whole world (which means every individual in it) creates a dilemma – how can a Holy God forgive sinners and still uphold His law? Put another way – how can a Holy God of pure and undefiled justice, which demands that the penalty for breaking the law be upheld, forgive sinners and still be just and not a liar?
There is only one answer that will properly resolve the dilemma of how a Holy God can forgive sinners and still remain just in the process – Penal Substitution. Penal Substitution simply means that the penalty for violating the law is paid by a willing and able substitute in order to pardon and forgive the guilty party. This is the heart of the gospel; this is the only way that a Holy God can forgive and remain true to Himself; and this is the reason that Jesus Christ is the only way for men to be saved.
As long as we believe that God can save and is saving some other way besides through the gospel of Jesus Christ then we do not have to be concerned about missions and evangelism. But as soon as we believe God’s truth that He cannot and will not save any other way then missions and evangelism of the genuine biblical sort are absolutely necessary.
Since it is true that God cannot and will not save any other way, the Holy Spirit made it plain that all men are guilty before God and that no one will be saved apart from hearing the gospel and believing the gospel. God wants us to know that the whole world is guilty before Him; that He cannot save apart from faith in Jesus Christ who paid the sinner’s penalty; and therefore we are under obligation to all men to eagerly preach to them the gospel (Romans 1:14-17).
Our text reveals that the heathen are without excuse; that they are guilty before God; and that they are in need of the gospel if God is going to forgive them.
First we see the charge that the heathen are under sin and that they are not truth seekers but are truth suppressors (Romans 1:18). This verse teaches us that not only do men love sin but that they also will not on their own turn from sin. Instead, this verse charges that they suppress the truth – they do not seek the truth, they do not want the truth, but they actually suppress or hold down the truth.
This charge is a serious charge – it indicates that men don’t love what God reveals about Himself and therefore they don’t love the true God. Do you see a problem in that? Well if they don’t love Him they won’t obey Him and neither will they glorify Him nor will they worship and serve Him. This is the essence of sin so therefore the charge that men suppress the truth is a charge that men are by nature and by choice sinners.
Next we begin to examine the evidence that the heathen are truth suppressors and not truth seekers (19-25). Here we see that although men come up with may different forms of religion, it is because they are suppressing truth and not seeking truth. They are fashioning a god of their own making to their own liking. Judging by appearance we would conclude that all the various religions of the world prove that men are seeking God and seeking truth. However the evidence actually points in the other direction – that men are suppressing truth – for if all men everywhere were seeking truth and receiving the truth that God is revealing then all religions everywhere would be based on the same truth. So to say that all the religions of the world prove that men are seeking God then the truth that God has revealed concerning this not only from nature but also from His Word would have to be suppressed (Romans 3:11).
God has given revelation of Himself to all men through two primary avenues:
The inner revelation of conscience (19) – the law of God and His moral code is written on the heart of all men everywhere (Romans 2:14-15).
The outer revelation of creation (20) – reveals the truth of God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature.
With the combined witnesses of conscience and creation, every man is without excuse because every fact shall be established on the basis of two or more witnesses.
Suppressing the truth always leads to idolatry (21-25)