Defend The Faith Ministry

How Are We Without Excuse?

As a calculus teacher, I have found that many times my students don’t always struggle with the calculus concepts but struggle with concepts from lower-level math that should have been mastered prior to calculus. Oftentimes their mistakes aren’t in taking an integral or finding a derivative but in simplifying a radical or combining fractions. There have been times where I have had to stop and revisit those “basic” math functions in order to help them progress in more difficult math problems.

It is sometimes like that in spiritual matters, especially when we are trying to witness to unbelievers. We lay out a beautiful description of the work that Jesus did on the cross and how we know He resurrected. But sometimes a person is stuck on a more basic concept of theology than that. Maybe this person doesn’t believe in a god at all. Or maybe this person as a smaller idea of who God actually is.

Before one can come into saving faith in Jesus Christ, two main ideas must first be understood: there is a God and we have violated that God’s moral law. While many people may not have formally thought about those ideas, these two concepts are critical to truly repenting and trusting in Jesus for salvation. If you do not believe there is a God, then there is no one to repent to. And if you don’t think you have violated any type of moral standard of behavior, then there is nothing to repent from. God’s existence and God’s moral standard then are both driving forces that lead us to salvation.

It is important to recognize those foundational ideas, especially as we discuss salvation and Christianity with unbelievers. Many times we may jump right into a Gospel presentation without making sure the person understands those two key ideas. Interestingly, Paul lays out both of those concepts in his letter to the believers in Rome. Even though he was writing to “all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,” Paul still brings up these basic concepts for salvation.

Without Excuse

Paul writes in Romans 1:20-22: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

For context, the rest of this passage reveals how people have gone astray to worship the creation rather than the creator, but it begins by stating everyone should recognize that there is a creator. Paul says people are “without excuse” because the attributes of a creator are so obvious. When we look at the world around us, it is clear that something outside of this world made this world.

Even though Paul was living in a society rampant with Roman (and Greek) mythology and writing to believers living in the epicenter of that religious thought, it was clear that people knew this world was created. Most people were wrongly attributing it to Roman gods and goddesses, but they recognized that this world cannot explain its own existence.

Granted, in our times we have a lot more scientific knowledge to explain certain phenomena that previously were credited to the gods. But we also have a lot more scientific knowledge the reveals the irreducibly complex designs of biological machines. The more we have learned in science the more it reveals the necessity of an Intelligent Designer to create this world and all that is in it.

The ancient world may have not understood the water cycle, but they knew water must have been created and placed here on earth in some way. Ancient thinkers and philosophers may have said water came from the god Apollo, and modern thinkers and philosophers may say water came from ice crystals on a meteor. Both inherently imply that water could not have created itself. It must have been provided by some external source. Therefore, we are truly “without excuse” for not knowing there is a God.

Moral Accountability

However, simply knowing there is a god is not sufficient to finding salvation. Billions of people around the world in some way acknowledge there must be a god without finding salvation through Jesus. Thus, we must not only know there is a god, but how we stand in relation to that god. It means there is a way to know if we are acknowledging the one and only true God. How can we possibly know that if there are literally millions of versions of god offered to us to worship?

This is where Paul again directs us to the proper understanding of God. In Romans 2:14-15, Paul writes, “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Even those who have no head knowledge of the law given by God to the Israelites behave in a way that reveals a law written on their hearts.

Though the millions of gods offered by the world come with their own set of rules, none of those gods explain the origin of the rules written on our hearts. We have a conscience that tells us how we should and should not treat other people, or more realistically, we have a concept of how we think people should and should not treat us. We expect others to tell us the truth, to be loyal to us, and to treat us kindly.

This moral conscience can’t be explained by a natural process, but even more it can’t be explained by the existence of a God who isn’t moral. Most other religions worship a god who is no better really than people. Those gods are just larger, more powerful, more destructive versions of ourselves, yet equally selfish and wicked. That is not the kind of god that could have imparted some kind of moral awareness to its creation.

An immoral god would not be able to create a morally aware creation, and really an immoral god would not desire to create a morally aware creation. If the creator has no moral conscience, why would it create something that did?

The existence of this moral law written on our hearts confirms not only that our God and Creator is morally righteous, but it highlights how morally unrighteous we are. We constantly violate that moral conscience and thus the moral standard given by our creator.

Once we understand that predicament, we can begin to understand why we actually need salvation. So often we focus our conversations on how to gain salvation without explaining to others why salvation is even necessary.

Notice how Paul uses this convincing apologetic, this sound reasoning for following Jesus. He tells the church at Rome that we are “without excuse” because we know there must be a God, but he warns them of exchanging the truth of who God is for a false idea of God. Then Paul reminds them of the law that is written on their hearts that confirms our need for salvation from something other than the law. These are two important concepts, not just for unbelievers in seeing the need for Jesus, but as a reminder to believers to not exchange the truth of who God is for a lie. 

If you would like more information on understanding the evidence of an Intelligent Designer or about the concept of Moral Law, grab a copy of Teaching Others to Defend Christianity at Defend the Faith Ministry Shop.

Cathryn Sterling

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4 thoughts on “How Are We Without Excuse?”

  1. Another really great article, Cathryn – thank you! Ray Comfort is really good about bringing these two points across. When someone tells him that they don’t believe in God, he replies “Oh, you believe that nothing created everything?” Then he goes through the same sort of arguments that you do, Cathryn, to prove that design implies a Designer.

    On the moral issue, he goes through some of the Ten Commandments to prove that we have all broken God’s Moral Law. He is pretty funny about it too. If someone tells him that they have never lusted just by looking or stolen even a paperclip or pen from work, he says “But, you just told me a couple of minutes ago that you couldn’t count the number of lies you’ve told!”

    Your article also demonstrates why our pulpits need to toughen up. Why don’t they preach the Bad News of sin, Judgment, and Hell to convict before they preach the Good News of how to be saved? The Good News is meaningless to those who do not know that they are facing the Bad News. Jesus said that He did not come for the righteous (self-righteous who do not believe that they have sinned) but for sinners (those who KNOW that they have broken God’s Moral law). When witnessing to the woman at the well, Jesus did not even reveal Who He is to her until AFTER she had acknowledged that He was right about her whoring around. When the unsaved hear the words “Jesus loves you,” they take that as “Jesus loves me just as I am so I can keep murdering babies in the womb, dressing up as a drag queen, committing adultery, engaging in sodomy, etc.” That’s why you never see that approach taken in the Bible – there is always a call to repentance first. In fact, the first Ministry Word of Christ was “repent.” I wonder why we don’t hear that from the pulpits much these days? Thus, sin abounds.

    “The Gospel is only Good News when we understand the Bad News.” – R.C. Sproul

    “People on earth hate to hear the word REPENT. Those in Hell wish they could hear it just once more.” – A.W. Tozer

    “People aren’t afraid of the Wrath of God anymore, because ‘preachers’ are out there telling people that God loves them unconditionally.” – R.C. Sproul-

    “There’s one thing we need above everything else: it’s something we don’t talk about these days. We need a mighty avalanche of conviction of sin.” – Leonard Ravenhill

    “We hear complaints that the minister speaks too harshly and talks too much of Judgment. Saved sinners never make that complaint.” – Charles Spurgeon

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