“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.”
Romans 1:21 NLT
In some ways the first sentence today doesn’t make much sense. But it all depends on the meaning of the word “knew”. People might know things about God, perhaps like a Professor of Theology in some University or academy somewhere, needing to teach about various religions but not believing in any of them. Such people might know that He exists, or that He is worshipped in that building just down the street. They might even read the Bible from time to time. But they lack a personal relationship with their Creator. They just think that He has no relevance in their lives. And they go on living a sinful and independent life, seemingly impervious to what that will mean long term.
Before we pilgrims take the moral high ground and discount such behaviour in our own lives, we should pause and think. Does the following scenario seem familiar or is it nothing like us personally? Imagine a person, a Christian, who claims to have a personal relationship with our loving Heavenly Father, but expects it to be on their own terms. Perhaps they have a “Quiet Time” in the morning, with prayer and Bible notes. But for the rest of the day they keep God in a box of their own making, lifting the lid when they need help, or when it’s time for going to church, or the prayer meeting, or Bible study. The rest of the time they try and protect areas of their lives from God’s penetrating stare, just in case He puts a finger on something uncomfortable in their lives and suggest some changes. If necessary such people may even move on to a different church before the real person is exposed. Is this fact or fiction?
Is our imaginary person someone who Paul had in mind, at least in part, when he wrote our verse today? Perhaps there were a few people like this in the Ephesian church. In Ephesians 4, Paul wrote, “With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17-19).
There is no middle ground in being a Christian. In Revelation 3, the Apostle John wrote down the words of Jesus, to be delivered to the church in Laodicea. We read, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Revelation 3:15-16). We cannot claim to know God and then ignore Him.
In today’s verse, Paul goes on to say that the people he had in mind, “began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like”. Isn’t it strange how our minds can rationalise our thoughts, to get us out of uncomfortable places. We can end up watching an unsuitable TV programme, rationalising that we would never use language like that, or behave in that way with someone of the opposite sex. Or we may click on a link to a news article that, really, we shouldn’t have. We can have a tendency to think up a picture of a God who won’t mind. Who will turn a blind eye to such behaviour. After all, we think, a loving God would never reject us because of such things. But, of course, we pilgrims would never behave in those ways to think up these “foolish ideas” about God. Would we?
Thankfully, we have a loving and gracious God, who never turns away a repentant child of His. The Psalms are oozing with words and songs of thanks and worship. We have Psalm 7:17, “I will thank the Lord because he is just; I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” Or Psalm 103:1, “Bless the LORD, O my soul: And all that is within me, bless his holy name.” (KJV). But God’s heart is encapsulated in Isaiah 55:6-7, “Seek the Lord while you can find Him. Call on Him now while He is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that He may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for He will forgive generously“.
The remedy for those people Paul had in mind when he wrote Romans 1:21 is to turn back to God in repentance. We pilgrims are included, because in this life we get tainted by the world and its systems. So, we take all our rationalised baggage, stuffed full of sin, and leave it at the Cross. And, cleansed once again, we can give God all our thanks, and all our worship, our minds “dark and confused” no more.
Dear Lord. At the foot of Your Cross today we gaze upon Your face in worship, with deep thanks for all You did for us at Calvary. Amen.