Romans 1:18-32

Romans 1:18-32

SERIES: The Book of Romans

When God Gives Up

Introduction:  Today we have our second Bad News sermon in a row.  The Bad News refers not, I trust, to the quality of the sermon, but rather to the subject matter.  We’re in one of the darkest, most somber portions of the entire Bible here in Rom. 1:18-3:20, which I have chosen to preach under three main headings:  

         Are the unreached really lost and on their way to Hell?  (last Sunday & today)

         Are “good” people really lost?  (next Lord’s Day)

         Are the Jews really lost?  (right after the holidays)

God’s answer to each of these questions is the same, “Yes!”  This will culminate with a terrible indictment against the entire human race, but it will be followed by an amazing solution God Himself has offered to everyone.

We began last week by seeking God’s answer to the question, “Are the unreached really lost?”  First, we noticed that the wrath of God is disclosed against all human sin, and then we learned that heathen idolaters deserve that wrath because they really know better than to follow their pagan practices.  They know better because they have innate knowledge of God, they have empirical knowledge of God, that knowledge has been available since Creation, and that knowledge includes, at the very least, the fact that God is a powerful Supreme Being who deserves man’s worship.  Therefore, the conclusion is given in verse 20 of Rom. 1 that “they are without excuse.”                                                                                  

Today we are going to continue our study of the unreached, but we will see how Paul advances the argument by showing that the unreached not only deserve the wrath of God, but their actions actually demand it.  The first two points in your outline today, then, are just a recap from last Sunday.  We will move directly to the third point following the reading of verses 18-32 of chapter one.  

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, {19} since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. {20} For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 

{21} For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. {22} Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools {23} and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 

{24} Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. {25} They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

{26} Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. {27} In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. 

{28} Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. {29} They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, {30} slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; {31} they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. {32} Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

The wrath of God is demanded in view of the response of the unreached to their knowledge of God.  (21-25)

They repress the truth.  (18)  For decades the news media behind the Iron Curtain served a very different purpose than in the Free World.  While airline accidents in the west got headline coverage, they almost always went unreported in the Soviet bloc, as did crime, crop failures, nuclear accidents, and anything else that might raise a question about the efficacy of Communism.  The truth was suppressed.  By the same token, Paul claims, the unreached know the truth through God’s revelation in nature and their consciences, but they actively suppress it.  

They refuse to honor God as God. (21)  “For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God.”  To glorify God means simply to ascribe to Him the honor He deserves, to give to Him in thought, affection, and devotion the place that belongs to Him by virtue of His power and character, as revealed in nature and history.  

There have been, of course, major challenges to Paul’s assertion here that the unreached know God.  After Charles Darwin sailed to the island of Tierra del Fuego, he returned to England saying that he had found a tribe of savages who had no religion whatsoever.  Immediately the Christians in England formed a missionary society to take the Gospel to that tribe, only to discover upon learning their language and customs that they had an elaborate religion, corrupted certainly, but nevertheless there.  The fact that there are no religion-less people anywhere in the world is a strong argument for the truth of Paul’s statement that they know God, although they do not honor Him as God.  

But once again, lest we subconsciously think of the unreached only in geographical or ethnic terms, may I remind you of ways in which our society, too, is refusing to honor God as God.  In the public school my son attends no Christmas carols whatever may be sung in class or in the school Christmas program.  Halloween is now the most celebrated holiday of the year in the Parkway Schools.  Last week St. Louis County Chief Executive Buzz Westfall ordered a Menorah removed from county property in Clayton, while a creche received the same treatment in Jennings.  Why?  Because of the alleged need for the separation of church and state.  But the writers of our Constitution clearly never intended the Bill of Rights to establish a separation between God and state, only separation between any particular religion and the state.  But modern jurists and supposed advocates of the public welfare have instead instituted a conspiracy of silence about God whereby He is given no honor whatever as God.  

They refuse to show gratitude. (21) The text says, “nor did they give thanks.”  Doesn’t that seem like a strange sin to focus upon, especially in light of the unbelievable catalog of sins laid on these people in verses 29-31?  Not if we realize that ingratitude is a “parent sin;” i.e., it produces many “children sins.”  In Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift gives us his opinion of ingratitude when he describes the laws of the Lilliputians:  

Ingratitude is reckoned among them a capital crime; for they reason thus, that whoever makes ill return to his benefactors must needs be a common enemy to the rest of mankind, from whom he hath received no obligation.  And, therefore, such a man is not fit to live.[i]  

Though severe, the reasoning is sound.  God’s awful indictment of the human race is that they do not respond to Him with the gratitude that even a child normally shows to a parent or a helpless invalid to a nurse.  

They resort to bankrupt reason. (21,22) Here I’m picking up on two statements in verses 21-22:  “their thinking became futile” and “although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”  The human mind is an amazing instrument.  It is the ability to reason which, more than anything else, distinguishes humans from other created beings.  However, when reason is pursued independently of God, it invariably shows itself to be bankrupt.  The cause of this is relatively simple.  While the “stuff” or data of reason are facts, available to anyone and everyone alike, the framework and the presuppositions of human reason are provided by God.  When a person tries to reason without the divine presuppositions, he gets it all screwed up.

For example, it is a fact that humans have greater similarity to the ape family than to any other class or specie of animal.  However, the proper explanation of this data comes from God—we and the apes have a common Creator.  Someone who refuses to acknowledge God’s existence, however, is forced to resort to bankrupt human reason, and the very best that human reason can do with the data is the theory of organic evolution.  

Friends, do not kid yourself.  Human reason is always bankrupt when God is left out.  Ray Stedman writes, “Futile thinking means that clever ideas and procedures and programs will fall apart and come to nothing.  In my own lifetime I have lived through the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Society, Peace with Honorand the Great Recovery.  All of them have failed dismally!”[ii]  Mankind is basically so greedy and self-centered that when God is taken out of the equation, virtually any governmental or social system will fail to meet the needs of all except those who are in power, and that includes capitalism.  The sinner’s folly consists in making “man the measure of all things.”  Whenever he does this, his reason becomes bankrupt.[iii]  

They regress into moral darkness. (21) Verse 21 reads, “Their foolish hearts were darkened.”  Humanity was originally clothed in the light of God’s holiness and wisdom.  When Adam rebelled against God the light went out and he became dead in his trespasses and sins, alienated from the life of God and with his understanding darkened.  Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  And Isaiah 55:8, 9 adds, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  

So dark became man’s spiritual condition that when God sent His Son as light into the world, He first had to send John the Baptist to tell the world that the light had been turned on.  You can read about it in John 1:4-8.  But it takes more than light for someone to see.  It also takes sight, and spiritual sight comes only when one’s sins are forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ.  Those who do not believe remain in moral darkness, not because they have no light but rather because they have no sight

They revere the creature rather than the Creator.  (23)  “They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”  It is an incredible thing that anyone would totally reverse the divine order by making God in his own image and then, to add insult to injury, stoop to the point of making God in the image of animals!  The whole concept of idolatry was mind-boggling to the Old Testament prophets.  Isaiah ridicules idolatry mercilessly in chapter 40 of his great prophetic book, telling how the idol maker has to find wood that doesn’t rot and has to make the idol bigger at the bottom than at the top because no one wants his god to rot or to fall over on him.  Then in chapter 44 the same prophet’s words drip with sarcasm as he tells how the carpenter who makes an idol uses the very same wood to cook a meal (44:16-18):

         Half of the wood he burns in the fire;

                  over it he prepares his meal,

                  he roasts his meat and eats his fill.

         He also warms himself and says,

                  “Ah!  I am warm; I see the fire.”

         From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships.               He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god…. ” 

         No one stops to think,

                  no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,

                  “Half of it I used for fuel;

                  I even baked bread over its coals,

                  I roasted meat and I ate….

         No one thinks to ask,

                  “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

But there is no more savage and scathing indictment of the gods who are not gods than in the Apocryphal book called “The Letter of Jeremiah.”[iv]  It notes that the gods who are idols have to be dusted like furniture every morning.  Their faces are blackened by the temple smoke, and the bats and the swallows and the birds and even the cats settle on them.  Set them upright, and they cannot move; tip them over, and they cannot raise themselves.  If there is a fire in a temple, the priests can flee, but the gods can only stay and be burned.  The temple has to be locked up at nights, lest robbers steal the jewelry off the gods.  They are no better than a scarecrow or a thornbush in a garden, on which every bird sits.

Once again, however, we must warn ourselves not to think of idolatry as the exclusive province of the unreached in underdeveloped nations.  What are movie stars, professional athletes, and rock stars, if not idols to virtually millions of Americans.  Other things worshiped include military might, sex, beauty, thinness, wealth, and success.  

These, then, are six reasons why the wrath of God upon the unreached pagan is demanded.  So far we have seen how the wrath of God is disclosed, deserved and demanded.  Finally we want to see how the wrath of God is demonstrated.  We noted last week that the wrath of God has been demonstrated in the past in great judgments like the flood of Noah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the captivity of Israel and Judah, to say nothing of the future Battle of Armageddon. However, there is a much more subtle, but equally effective, demonstration of the wrath of God which goes on all the time, and that is the moral degeneration which the pagan experience—just through the consequences God has built into the moral universe. 

The wrath of God is demonstrated by the moral degeneration the pagan experience.  (23-32)

Now this is a most interesting portion of the text.  There is a clear outline inherent in it, as seen by the three-fold repetition of the phrase, “God gave them over” or “God gave them up” in verse 24, 26, and 28.  It means that God took His hands off those who refused to acknowledge Him.  He gave them the absolute right to choose their own course of action and the perfect freedom to live with the consequences.  But the result is unbelievable tragedy in the moral, psychological, and physical arenas.

Each time this phrase, “God gave them over” is used, it is followed by the word “therefore,” or “because,” or “since,” showing that God’s abandonment of the unreached is the direct result of something they have done.  I’ve tried to show this in the outline by putting the reason in italics and the result in regular print.  

         Because they exchanged the glory of God for idolatry,

         God gave them over to degenerate wills.

         Because they changed the truth of God into a lie,

         God gave them over to degrading passions.

         Because they renounced the knowledge of God,

         God gave them over to depraved minds.

Human personality is basically composed of intellect, emotions, and will.  All three, we are here told, become degenerate, degraded, and depraved when God takes His hands off. 

But, you say, I thought God sent the Holy Spirit to convict sinners, and now you’re telling us that God abandons them?  Certainly, the Holy Spirit has a convicting ministry whereby He works to convince men of their sin, of their need for righteousness, and of the coming judgment (John 16:8-10).  But the Scriptures also tell us that God’s Spirit will not always strive with men.  There comes a point in man’s rebellion when God removes His Holy Spirit from His convicting work and abandons a person to his own evil devices.  When God does so, humanity is all the more rapidly sucked into the quagmire of its own moral muck.  

God gave them over to degenerate wills.  (23-24) The reason is that they exchanged the glory of God for idolatry (v. 23).  The result is given in verse 24:  “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.”  In modern times this has been called the sexual revolution, but Scripture calls it abandonment to the wrath of God.  When God removes His restraining influence, man’s will inclines naturally to impurity.  

There’s a movie I’ve seen advertised this Fall called “Natural Born Killers.”  I haven’t seen it, nor do I recommend it for anyone, but it triggers an analogy (no pun intended).  God is describing the unreached here as “natural born sinners.”  When God takes his hands off, there are no longer any restraints on conscience, so promiscuity becomes the norm and people dishonor their bodies.  

One needn’t read too many National Geographic magazines or see too many missionary slides to see the proof of this.  Irreparable scars are inflicted upon the body to keep the spirits away; the lips or ear lobes are stretched to enormous proportions; people are buried alive; children are sacrificed on altars.  Nor do more civilized nations necessarily escape the indictment of this passage.  The heathen idolater’s abuse of his body is not inherently more evil than much of what we see today in tattooing, body piercing, unnecessary cosmetic surgery, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, tobacco poisoning, abortion, you name it.  These too result in the degrading of the body. 

The human will is a necessary element in avoiding such habits, but when God gives a person up, his will is left without a moral rudder.  But not only does God abandon the heathen to degenerate wills; he also abandons them to degrading emotions or passions.

God gave them over to degrading passions.  (25-27) The reason is given in verse 25, while the result is found in verses 26 and 27.  The reason is that “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”  The result is “shameful lusts.”   This tells us that there is a great lie that leads to perversion.  What is that lie?  It is that a person is the master of his own fate, the captain of his own soul, and is capable of providing the “good life” for himself, irrespective of God.  

Sexual pleasure has always been desirable, but when freedom and pleasure become “liberated” from the truth of God and subjected to “the lie,” the consequences can be seen starkly and unmistakably.  While in the previous verse the issue was sexual promiscuity, now it is sexual perversion.  Look at verses 26, & 27:  

Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  Men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty of their perversion.  

There’s absolutely no question but that the Apostle Paul is speaking here of the sin of homosexual behavior, and he says it is rampant because God has abandoned to divine wrath those who have exchanged the truth for the lie.  Yet it is amazing that there are many religious leaders and some entire denominations who have declared homosexuality to be a normal and acceptable lifestyle.

I’m aware, of course, that there are degrees of homosexual inclination.  The Apostle here is denouncing those who commit the indecent acts, not necessarily those who, for one reason or another, are struggling with their sexual identity.  Such individuals are deserving of compassion, and help is available if they want it.  But the practice of homosexuality or any other sexual perversion can find no justification whatever in the Scriptures—either Old Testament or New Testament.  

The last phrase of verse 27 is instructive regarding the nature of homosexual sin.  The Apostle says such people receive “the due penalty of their perversion.”  That penalty was described by Wm. G. T. Shedd as “the gnawing unsatisfied lust itself, together with the dreadful physical and moral consequences of debauchery.”[v]   And that was written a hundred years before the advent of the AIDS plague!  

I know it is not popular to speak of AIDS as a judgment of God upon homosexuality or drug addiction.  In fact, some respond indignantly, “What about hemophiliacs and AIDS babies and those infected by blood transfusions?”  Of course, one of the great tragedies of sin is that there is always collateral damage; innocent people always get hurt.  Drunk drivers don’t only kill other drunks—lots of innocent people get killed too.  But that doesn’t lessen the fact that there is moral culpability on the part of those who practice the sinful behavior.

The Apostle Paul was living in a time of monstrous immorality, much like our own.  Historians tell us that 14 of the first 15 Roman emperors were either homosexual or bisexual.  Perversion was the name of the game.  Is there any wonder that the wrath of God is evident, Paul asks?  And should we wonder at the consequences today when God gives up on a person or on a society?  

Not only does divine abandonment affect man’s will and emotions, but also his mind.

God gave them over to depraved minds.  (28-32). Verse 28 cites for us both the reason and the result.  “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.”  The reason for divine abandonment here is that they renounced the knowledge of God.  They pushed him out of their minds.  The result is that God lets them go the whole nine yards to a reprobate mind.  There is a play on words here not easily produced in English, but the thought is this:  “they abandoned God, so God abandoned them.”  

The next three verses then proceed to give us an incredible catalog of sins which characterize those who are of a depraved mind.  One writer sees here “twenty-one fruits hanging on the cluster of man’s disobedience and sin.”  Every one of these sins involves the mind to a significant degree.  The really amazing thing about this list is that it is not only characteristic of the unreached pagan.  With the exception of perhaps one or two of these sins, nearly every one of them could be found in the average Christian church.  But they are, in fact, characteristic of heathenism.  

         1.  Wickedness – basic unfairness

         2.  Evil – callous cruelty

         3.  Greed – a desire to accumulate which knows no boundaries

         4.  Depravity – premeditated maliciousness

         5.  Envy – a grudging resentment at someone else’s good fortune

         6.  Murder – the unjustified taking of an innocent person’s life, or the 

intention to do so.

         7.  Strife – contention for prestige, place, or prominence

         8.  Deceit – operating with ulterior motives and devious methods

         9.  Malice – a spirit which always supposes the worst in other people

         10.  Gossips – those who delight in destroying reputations

         11.  Slanderers – the same thing, only publicly rather than secretly

         12.  God-haters – those who desire for God to leave them completely alone

         13.  Insolent – a sadism which delights in inflicting mental pain on others

         14.  Arrogant – an open contempt for other people

         15.  Boastful – a bragging whose goal is to impress others

         16.  Inventors of ways of doing evil – the seeking out of new and creative 

ways to violate God’s laws and then justify the disobedience.

         17.  Disobedience to parents – self-explanatory

         18.  Senseless – the fool who refuses to use his mind

         19.  Faithless – the one who breaks agreements wholesale

         20.  Heartless – the one who has no natural bonds of affection

         21.  Ruthless – the one who views human life as cheap

Bringing the list to a conclusion in verse 32, the Apostle tells us once again about the knowledge the unreached have.  “They know God’s righteous decree ….”  What righteous decree?  “That those who do such things deserve death.”  They know they deserve hell for their actions, yet, in spite of such knowledge, they do them anyway, and on top of that they support and encourage others who do the same.  To put it bluntly, these people are not only bent on damning themselves but congratulate and applaud others who join them in their condemnation.  How else can you explain the “in-your-face” actions of ACT-UP, or the frequent editorials of Amy Adams Squire Strongheart in the Post Dispatch, or the absurd pronouncements of our thankfully former Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders?  

In conclusion this morning I would like to return to that phrase we have seen three times in our text, “God gave them over,” or “God gave them up.”  Don’t ever get the notion that God gives up in frustration.  When God gives up, He does so in judicial wrath, but also in great sorrow, for He is not desirous that any should perish.  Nor do I wish to give anyone the impression that God ever gives up on one of His children.  Those He hands over to degenerate wills, degrading passions, and depraved minds are those who have refused to receive His offer of salvation from sins through His Son.  

God is in the saving business but even today He is abandoning some individuals and perhaps even some nations who persistently refuse to honor Him or give thanks.  However, there is hope, friends.  Do you remember I Cor. 6:9-11, where Paul lists a number of perversions and gross sinners, asserting that such people will not inherit the kingdom of God?  But then he adds that amazing statement, “And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  

One of the gross sins listed there is drunkenness, and I’m here to tell you that God can make a drunk a former drunk.  Several weeks ago you kindly recognized my tenth anniversary as your pastor, but there’s someone here this morning who celebrated a tenth anniversary last Wednesday that is far more important than mine.  Last Wednesday Paul Koenig celebrated ten years of freedom from alcohol addiction and chemical dependency.  Praise God that He can take any sinner and say of him, “And that is what he was.” 

Two weeks ago tomorrow Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered in a Wisconsin prison.  Perhaps there has never been an individual who demonstrated more clearly the moral perversion and degeneration described in Romans 1.  As I watched an extensive television interview with him and his father taped some weeks before his demise, I was struck with how this man allowed the vicious cycle of sin to get him in its grip and turn him into a virtual animal.  Talk about a degenerate will, degrading passions, and a depraved mind—here may be the classic case of all time.  

But I noticed something else in the interview and in subsequent stories that received a lot less press coverage.  Jeffrey Dahmer confessed his sins to God last spring in the presence of Rev. Roy Ratcliff, who was his only regular visitor in prison.  He claimed to have put his faith in Christ, was baptized in a prison whirlpool last May, and was attending a weekly Bible study.  During this time he went from being a weird recluse with a death wish to a rational, humble person who, in the words of the chaplain, “looked forward to serving the God who had forgiven him.”  

Now when I speak of Dahmer’s apparent conversion, I stress “apparent,” because there is no con artist like a real con, and I certainly have no way of seeing into Dahmer’s heart.  However, I do know that he was not eligible for parole for 938 more years, so I don’t know what the purpose of a phony conversion might be.  Besides, I was struck all through the interview with the calmness, rationality, and vulnerability this man exhibited, as compared to his demeanor at the time of his trial.

Many would respond to Dahmer’s eleventh -our conversion with a degree not only of skepticism, but of outrage and claim that he absolutely does not deserve to be forgiven.  He was a despicable, evil, vile man.  And I’m a little embarrassed, frankly, to be associated with a Gospel that could apply to people like Jeffrey Dahmer at the end of his life.  If I were God, I would be a lot more picky about who I would allow to call himself a believer.  In fact, I would probably not allow death-bed conversions at all, for what is the pay-off for saving someone who has only hours or days or weeks to live?

But the outrageousness of God’s grace is exactly the point.  The vilest person you can think of who genuinely believes that Jesus loved and died for him or her, and who turns to Him for a new heart to replace their wicked and evil heart, receives eternal life.  By the way, how does the thief on the cross fit into your theology?  No baptism, no communion, no confirmation, no speaking in tongues, no mission trips, no volunteerism.  He couldn’t even bend his knees to pray.  Jesus didn’t take away his pain, heal his body, or smite those scoffing at him.  Yet, even though he was a thief deserving death, he walked into heaven the same hour as Jesus simply by believing.  He had nothing more to offer than his faith that Jesus was who he said he was.  No time left to serve or to worship or to testify.  No ego or arrogance.  Just a naked dying man on a cross unable to even fold his hands to pray.[vi]

The real marvel, of course, is that the vilest thing we have ever done, the most wicked thing of which we have been guilty, the hidden crimes that are ours and no one else knows anything about, are forgiven, too, as we put our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.  The Gospel borders on scandal precisely because it is powerful enough to give new life to someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, or Paul Koenig, or me.  

The second verse of “To God Be the Glory” says it all:  

         O Perfect Redemption, the purchase of blood!

         To every believer, the promise of God.

         The vilest offender who truly believes,

         That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Let’s sing the first two verses of that hymn.

Our benediction is found in 1 Timothy 1:15-17:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. {16} But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. {17} Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

DATE: December 11, 1994





Homosexual behavior

[i] Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, Part1, Chapter 6.  

[ii] Ray C. Stedman, Expository Studies in Romans 1-8, From Guilt to Glory, Vol. 1, 23. 

[iii] Atheism and agnosticism are popular viewpoints today, particularly on the radical left, but God’s Word says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”  In fact, Donald Grey Barnhouse makes a good argument (in Romans, Vol. 1, 295-296) for the fact that there are no true atheists, and those who claim to be are like palimpsests.  You probably have never heard of a palimpsest, but let me explain it to you.  In ancient times books were written on paper made from papyrus.  Papyrus was very expensive, so at times someone would take an old volume whose ink had faded and write a new work across it, in lines perpendicular to the first writing.  Today the blacker ink of the second writing is the more legible, but the text underneath is still clear enough to read, and scholars frequently take more delight in deciphering the older writing, sometimes with the help of X-rays.  These doubly-written documents are called palimpsests.  

Such is the heart and conscience of the human race.  Across the fresh page in the youth of the race, God wrote the eternal truths of His being, His holiness, His justice, and the certainty of His wrath against sin.  People turned the page sideways and wrote with blacker ink the history of their own doings until, in some places, the earlier writing is almost effaced.  But the day will come when the acid of God’s judgment will eat away the writings of man, and the strong X-ray of the light of God will bring to the surface the original writing by which people will be judged.

[iv] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, 95-98.

[v] Wm. G. T. Shedd, Commentary on Romans.

[vi] I came across this anonymous illustration in 2022 on Facebook, edited it somewhat, and added it to this sermon.