The dark side of disbelief

Years ago, I was in a hardware store and from a distance I saw someone I knew. Typically, when that takes place, I'll take the time to say "hello", but on this particular occasion, I didn't want to. The man I saw had just created a lot of conflict for some mutual friends, and I didn't want to engage him in conversation because I didn't want to get drawn into the drama. So I pretended like I hadn't seen him. I kept shopping and tried not to be seen. To my knowledge, he never knew I was there, but it felt very strange to try to walk through the aisles of the store while actively hiding from him and pretending I didn't know he was there.

In many ways, that's the way a large percentage of humanity lives their lives in regard to God. Instinctively, they know He's there, but they're doing their best to pretend He isn't while doing everything they can to avoid running into Him. There are consequences for doing this, and a dark side to living with this kind of disbelief that Romans 1:18-32 illustrates.

I. Are we suppressing the truth?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  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. 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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
— Romans 1:18-22, ESV

One of the greatest gifts God can bless us with is to help us finally admit that we need to experience His salvation. It can be a difficult and sometimes confrontational process to go through, but in the end, it's for our benefit. That's something I believe the Lord was doing through Paul's teaching in this passage. He uses this teaching to show us just how desperate our condition is without Him. He's helping us recognize our need to be rescued and redeemed.

God wants to be known by us. If He chose to, He could have hidden Himself from us or made us incapable of perceiving His presence. But that's not what He's done. In fact, He utilizes some of the biggest and most obvious tools He can to convince us of His existence. Creation itself, and the many elements that comprise God's design of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it and the orderliness of the systems He's put in place (in our bodies and in the universe), offer obvious proof of the existence of an intentional designer.

For someone to look at His creation, study the details, and then deny His existence, requires active suppression of truth. The Scripture is telling us that this goes beyond pure ignorance. No one can claim to have been blissfully unaware of the reality of a Creator. We all instinctively know He exists and we can either embrace that truth or try our best to suppress it. But there's a mind-altering danger we set ourselves up for experiencing if we suppress truth.

If we dedicate our lives to suppressing the truth, our thinking will become futile, our hearts will become darkened, we'll become foolish, and we'll eventually begin worshipping created things instead of worshipping their eternal Creator. And, on top of that, there will always be a part of us that remains hardened. Our hearts will harden toward God, and that hardening will eventually extend toward our fellow man. This is the path many have selected throughout history, and this is the path that many continue to choose today.

Have you chosen this path? Can you honestly say you've never attempted to suppress the truth? The suppression of truth happens every time we choose to ignore the voice of God. When He testifies to the reality of His power through creation, speaks to us through His word, reveals Himself to us through His Son, or makes an impression upon our conscience through the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit, we can openly embrace His attempts to communicate with us, or we can shut Him out. And when we shut Him out, we show, beyond a shadow of a doubt, just how deserving we are of being on the receiving end of His righteous wrath toward wickedness and willful defiance. This is what Paul was explaining in this passage. So what does God do about it?

II. Do we want God to prevent us from going in a harmful direction?

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
— Romans 1:24-27, ESV

Growing up, I often wished my parents would have allowed me to do whatever I wanted. I bristled against their attempts to offer me structure or place restrictions on me. Now I see the parameters they placed upon me as evidence of their love.

Imagine a life without parameters. Imagine if you really were permitted to go in whichever direction you pleased, even if there would be real consequences in both the short-term and the long-term. Would you want God to stop preventing and protecting you from embracing what might harm you or would you rather remain ignorant of the harm?

When we look at this passage, Paul makes it clear to us that while God's patience is perfect, there's a limit to its application to our lives. It's possible to come to a place where God will give us over to the lusts of our hearts. As we suppress the truth He has revealed, and continue in our fantasy where we pretend He doesn't even exist, we can come to the dreadful place where God allows us to embrace our sinful cravings.

Recently I was watching a commercial that was produced by a credit card company. In the commercial, they were espousing the virtue of two men living in a homosexual relationship. Why has their been such an embrace of homosexuality in this generation? The answer is very simply because we have chosen to suppress the truth instead of embracing it, and God has given us over to what we've chosen. We should be embracing Him, but we're currently rejecting Him and embracing the very things He has assured us will bring us death, disease, and depression.

This isn't the first time in human history this has taken place. If you take a short time to examine the practices of humanity through the centuries, you'll see the same pattern Paul discussed in this chapter taking place. People and nations who suppress the truth of God are eventually given over to their passions. They begin worshipping the creation instead of the Creator, and they become enflamed with lust for one another in ways that conflict with God's design for human sexuality. This is the fruit that is produced in a life that rejects the Author of Life.

But for a moment, consider the ways in which the Father has blessed you if you have come to Him through faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. At the moment you believed, you were indwelled with the Holy Spirit who convicts your heart and restrains your passions when they're dishonorable. He guides us into all truth so we won't be numbered among those who spend their lives suppressing it.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
— John 16:13, ESV
“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.”
— 2 Thessalonians 2:7, ESV

So, the question remains, do we personally want God to prevent us for going in a harmful direction? If He is Lord over our lives, the answer is an absolute, "YES!", because the fruit of our lives apart from Christ would be dreadful.

III. What will the fruit of our lives look like apart from Christ?

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
— Romans 1:28-32, ESV

If you consider yourself a believer in Jesus Christ, have you ever considered what this season of your life might have looked like if you never came to faith in Him? Paul paints that picture vividly in this passage. In doing so, he is displaying a powerful contrast between the person who operates with the "mind of Christ" and the person who continues to live in the darkness and confusion that spring from a debased mind.

Scripture teaches us to be people who are "filled with the Holy Spirit." To be filled with the Spirit is to yield ourselves to Him, be under His direct influence, and spill over with the fruit of His presence in our lives like a cup that can barely contain the water being poured into it. A believer who is filled with the Spirit is one who isn't holding any area back from His presence and influence.

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,”
— Ephesians 5:18, ESV

The alternative to being filled with the Spirit is to be filled with unrighteousness or evil, and Paul makes sure to tell us what that looks like in this passage. He says that a person who is filled with unrighteousness will make that evident in many ways, including things like; covetousness, malice, slander, boastfulness, disobedience toward parents, heartlessness, and gossip. This is the fruit of a life that's being lived without Christ at the center, and admittedly, it can be much easier to notice this fruit in everyone else other than ourselves.

There is a reason that Paul is bringing this issues up in the first chapter of this book. As we continue looking at the content of his letter to the Romans, we'll see that the solution he will present to address this mess is Jesus Christ. Jesus has defeated evil. Jesus has defeated unrighteousness. Jesus has defeated the lies we once tried to embrace because He is the way, the truth, and the life. The fruit of our lives will look spoiled and poisonous apart from His righteous presence within us. For that reason, He invites us to trust in Him. He invites us to believe.

“I would recommend you either believe God up to the hilt, or else not to believe at all. Believe this book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing place between the two. Be satisfied with nothing less than a faith that swims in the deeps of divine revelation; a faith that paddles about the edge of the water is poor faith at best. It is little better than a dry-land faith, and is not good for much.”
— C.H. Spurgeon

There is a dark side to disbelief that I hope we can see is a very real danger. And if we've come to see that, I think it's worth asking ourselves introspective questions to determine if we've been attempting to embrace that disbelief in any area of our lives. Are we suppressing the truth? Do we want God to prevent us from going in a harmful direction? What will the fruit of my life look like apart from the righteous presence of Christ within me?

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”
— Philippians 3:8-9, ESV

© John Stange, 2018

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