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“Without Excuse” (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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February 20, 2024 3:00 am

“Without Excuse” (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 20, 2024 3:00 am

God doesn’t grade on a curve or compare our sins and deeds to others’. Scripture teaches that no one’s “good enough” to pass God’s judgment by merit. Is that unfair? Find out why it’s actually merciful when you listen to Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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God doesn't grade on a curve. God doesn't compare our sins and deeds to others and let the higher percentage pass while the others fail. Scripture is clear that none of us is good enough to pass God's judgment by our own merit.

Now, does that seem unfair? Well, today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explains why it's actually merciful. We're going to read again from the Bible in the New Testament in Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 1, and reading from verse 16 through to verse 23. And Paul writes, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith. 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 their mortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Amen. Father, what we know not, teach us. What we have not, give us. What we are not, make us.

For your Son's sake. Amen. Well, we're continuing this brief series of studies here in the second half of Romans chapter 1. We began a couple of weeks ago on what we refer to as Reformation Sunday by looking at these verses which fit so clearly in the whole story of the Reformation, the rediscovery of the gospel by grace and through faith, solely Scripture, solely Christ, and so on.

And what we're doing is simply working our way through this text. We have been aware of the fact that Paul is writing to these people because he is eager, he says, to be able to tell this great story to them in Rome, a privilege that he hasn't yet had. His eagerness to preach the gospel, he tells us in verse 16, is because he has a clear understanding that it is the power of God for salvation. At the beginning of the letter, he explains to the readers that he has been commissioned to the work of the gospel. Now here he says he's not ashamed of the gospel, and he explains why he's not ashamed—because it is the power that saves everyone who believes. He's making it very clear, something that he discovered for himself. The testimony of Paul is an amazing testimony, isn't it? Because he hated Jesus, hated the followers of Jesus, was a religious zealot, was able to tick many of the boxes of his Judaistic orthodoxy, and yet he suddenly realized that it was all to no avail. And when he writes to Timothy, he says to him, you know, Timothy, the amazing thing is that formerly I was a blasphemer, I was a persecutor, I was an insolent person, he says.

So he's got a pretty clear grasp of what he was—a persecutor, insolent, a blasphemer. But I decided to change. No. No. Good.

That was a very good no. But I received mercy. But I received mercy. Now, you see, that is the testimony of every genuine believer. He then goes on in verse 18, as we saw, to make clear to anybody who says, Well, I don't need the gospel. I think it's a nice idea for you. I'm glad that it's helpful to you.

It's just not something that is in my space. Well, he says in verse 18, what we need to know is this, that the wrath of God is revealed—one day it will be revealed in its fullness. He comes to that later on in the letter.

But he's pointing out to these people who are living in first century Rome, remember. He's saying the wrath of God is revealed. It is presently there to be encountered, and the way in which it is revealed, he says, is according to the fact that heaven reacts to all the ungodliness and all the unrighteousness of men who, by their unrighteousness or by their wickedness, suppress the truth. God's anger is not simply a principle, as we said last time, built in, if you like, to the moral order of the universe. Or, as somebody I read this week put it, it is not an automatic judgment by an anonymous cosmic computer.

So much happens in a day in the realm of banking, in the realm of stocks, and so on. It's happening not as a result of somebody personally engaged, but it is happening as a result of these vast computers making determinations. Well, he says, you need to know that God is personally and intensely involved in the expression of his wrath—not in a human manner, not in the way that we would get angry, petulant, fitful, bad-tempered. But the wrath of God is the inevitable reaction of divinity to sin. It is the right reaction. It is the only reaction.

It is the settled reaction. It is the inevitable reaction. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven.

And he is justifiably angry on two counts. One, on account of ungodliness. Ungodliness is simply this—men and women attempting to reject God's right to rule and living as if God did not exist. Rejecting the rightful rule of God and living life as if God does not exist.

Ungodliness. And unrighteousness. That is, the wickedness—if you like ungodliness or if you think in terms of the vertical plane, where that relationship with the living God is broken by sin.

Then, on the horizontal plane, in relationships with one another, unrighteousness then takes hold. So, impiety always precedes, if you like, idolatry. The disengagement from a true understanding of God and the worship of God then reveals itself in the unrighteousness of men and women. The misery and the heartache of life lived turning your back on God. So God says, If you turn your back on me, then there are inevitable consequences.

And it's not just cause and effect in the universe. It is that I, out of my righteousness, respond in this way. And that's what we find from the very beginning of the Bible. That's why it is relevant pre-Romans 1, and it is relevant post-Romans 1, because the message is a timeless message. The gospel remains the gospel. All who know God savingly know him through the work of Jesus—Romans 16 and 17—and all in need of God on account of the fact of unrighteousness.

I've been reading a lot, actually, in Genesis 1–11, because we've been doing this, and I've been struck again by the clarity of what is stated there, that Adam and Eve are made to trust, to love, and to obey God. But what happens is they believe a lie. They believe a lie.

Someone comes and tells them, This is not what you want. You want the very thing that God says he tells you not to do. And the reason he tells them not to do it is because he wants them to trust him. He wants them to obey him for no other reason than he is God.

Don't do that. Trust me in this. And they believe a lie. And as a result of the lie, they discover that to go on through life without God is to discover pain and guilt and disappointment and shame. What a picture it is—a pathetic comic picture, almost, in Genesis chapter 3 and in verse 7, when all of a sudden, Adam and Eve, the lights go on for them, and they realize that they are naked. They realize what has happened to them. And you have the picture there of man in the original state trying to sew fig leaves together—sewing fig leaves together—to cover up their nakedness. Men and women will try all kinds of things to cover up the fact that we are now naked and exposed before the wrath of God. Paul goes on through Romans, and he'll explain the implications of this by the time you get to chapter 5, and you can read ahead.

We're not going there right now. Adam and Eve hid because they knew they had sinned, and we hide because we know the same. Despite what you find in the media, men and women in Cleveland are not seeking for God. They're not seeking God. We're actually hiding from God, seeking to suppress the truth about God, seeking to stifle in our conscience any notion that we are by nature accountable.

And that's what he's going on to say, isn't it? For what, verse 19, can be known about God is plain? God is not the one who is hiding. What can be known about God is plain? It's plain to see, because, verse 19, God has put it on display.

Now, I don't have a structure for this this morning with three notes or three points. I'm just going to try and make my way through these verses and hoping that you can track with me, and that's why it's good to have your Bible open. You look there. What can be known about God is plain to them, because he has shown it to them. And then he goes on in verse 20, For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen. What an oxymoron that is! That the invisible has been clearly perceived.

Don't you like that? Well, of course. God's invisible attributes are clearly perceived. How are they clearly perceived?

Where are they clearly perceived? They're clearly perceived in creation. In creation.

His power and his divinity. So creation is not just an announcement of itself. Creation is the work of God, and in the work of creation, God's power and his divinity, his eternity, his otherness, is now perceived. If you would like a sentence, any of you who take notes, I have a wonderful sentence for you.

Here it comes. This is from the late Professor John Murray. Phenomena disclose the numina of God's transcendent perfection and specific divinity. Phenomena disclose the numina. The numina, or the numinos, is that which is only experienced by intuition, by a perception that is not tied to the physicality of things.

But the phenomena discloses the numina. That's what he's saying here. He didn't say it like Professor Murray, who has some amazing sentences.

I usually have to read them about three times, and you can go home and think about them if you want. But let's just reduce it to the Sunday school song, In the Stars, his handiwork I see. And on the wind he speaks with majesty, and he rolls over land and sea. That's what we're singing.

That's what we were singing earlier, wasn't it? The thunder that shakes the sky. I mean, my parents used to say to me, I'm afraid of the thunder.

Don't worry, that's just the clouds. God is banging their heads together, they used to tell me. He's banging their heads together.

My, they must have big heads to make that kind of noise. But in actual fact, Calvin in his Institutes, he begins in that way, and he works his way right down this very list. He said, he gives us the thunder to shake the sky, the lightning to set the air ablaze, a variety of storms to bring terror to the earth. This is very, very different from the Weather Channel, isn't it?

Why is the Weather Channel so predominant? Because men and women suppress the truth. It's much easier for us to deal with Mother Nature, an invention, than to deal with a living God who is the one who sets the seas in motion, who controls the tides, who is ultimately in charge of everything.

People say, no, I don't go for that at all. He not only surrounds us with the evidences of his power and his divinity and his might and his majesty, but we are aware of the fact that we have been made by him and made for him—that we are actually, as his creation, stamped with a divine imprint, that into our very psyche, into the very core of our being, we are stamped with an awareness of God. Our restlessness, the restlessness of the human heart, as Augustine finally figured it out, is due to the fact that our restlessness is due to our suppressing the truth about God, and we can't find rest anywhere, says Augustine, until we find our rest in thee. Because we were made by you, we were made for you, to trust you, to love you, to obey you, and we don't want to. We are ungodly. We live as if you do not exist on a day-to-day basis. We seldom give thanks for our food. We act as if somehow or another Heinen's is in control of things. They have nothing in there apart from the God who makes things grow, apart from the cows that produce the milk.

What an amazing fact that is! Here's the point that Paul is making. There is no one to whom God has not made himself known.

There is no one to whom God has not made himself known. Atheism is a choice. Humanism is a reaction.

It is a stifling, it is a suppressing of a truth that man knows. Have you ever figured out why it is that people who deny the existence of God are so angry about God? They're so angry! If they talk to you, they get mad that you would raise this.

Raise what? Because inside there is a divine imprint. They're not the person in the world that has never had God disclosed to them.

See, we all know—and we need to say this to people—we all know, regardless of what we say to ourselves or what we tell ourselves, that there is a Creator upon whom we are utterly dependent and to whom we are entirely or completely accountable. Now, Paul is writing this as a letter, but when he goes on the road, he takes the message on the road. Let me just illustrate it from two places, one in Acts chapter 14. Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra, they are involved with the healing of somebody, and the people there start to bow down to them and worship them as if they were gods. And so Paul has to deal with this.

The priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance, he got so excited about it that he brought oxen and garlands and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their garments, they rushed out into the crowd, crying out, Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of like nature with you, and we bring you good news that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways, yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good.

And now look at this. He's teaching them the providence of God. By giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. He does the exact same when he has the opportunity in Acts 17, where the religious people are.

They are in Athens with all of their statues and all of their monuments, in a kind of first century depiction of what is present in the twenty-first century in a very different way but equally real. And how does he begin? Well, I can see you're very religious, and I want you to know that the God who made the world does not live in temples made by hands, nor is he dependent on any one of you. He is the God who made the world. You know that, he says. You know that because you are stamped with his divine imprint.

None of us are self-made, all created by God. Now, Paul is able, then, to say, Therefore, therefore, so they are without excuse for our ungodliness, for trying to live without him, for our unrighteousness, by all our misery that we cause to people around us, whether to our wives or our work colleagues or whoever it might be. But notice—and this is in keeping with the way we finished last time, talking about general revelation—creation does not provide sufficient knowledge of God to save us.

It provides sufficient knowledge to make us accountable for our ungodliness and for our unrighteousness. You know, Paul's later, when he writes to Timothy again in 2 Timothy, he says to him, You know, and you know from … I want you to continue in the things you have become convinced of, Timothy, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. So Paul is now suggesting for a moment that you can discover all that is to be discovered of God by a walk in the woods, and that if you just walk in the woods and feel a little bit better about yourself, you could call that your conversion. No, you go walk in the woods with a humble heart, and you realize you're saying, Meh, who could ever come up with this? Who could ever create such variety?

How could there be all these leaves? How could there be such intricacy? Oh, your divine power and your majesty is revealed. Calvin says, We are justly deprived of every excuse, seeing that we stumble around like lost souls, while everything around us points to the path we should take. Is that not a picture of contemporary society—stumbling around like lost souls, suppressing the truth, living as if God does not exist, denying the things that are before us in order that we might please ourselves? You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg with the message he's titled Without Excuse.

We'll hear more tomorrow. I often mention to you that our passion at Truth for Life is to teach the Bible. We know that God works through the faithful teaching of his word to bring unbelievers to faith, to strengthen the faith of believers, and to build up local churches. We strive to reach as many people as we possibly can, and I'm excited to tell you that there are thousands of people who were unfamiliar with this ministry, who are now benefiting from the daily Bible teaching they hear on Truth for Life. Many have subscribed to our free multi-day reading plans, or they download free teaching, including sermon series, ebooks, audio books from Alistair.

We heard recently from Lynette in South Africa. She said, I first heard about Truth for Life when I downloaded Pastor Begg's study on the fruit of the Spirit. I then started printing the daily devotions each day. Thank you for making God's word available to me and so many others.

Even though I am 64, I'm a baby Christian, I need all the prayers I can get. Thank you Pastor Begg and team for making God's word available to so many. We love getting letters like this one from Lynette.

It's one of thousands we receive from listeners from all around the world. There are so many people who have lacked access to clear relevant Bible teaching and are so thankful for what your support makes available to them through Truth for Life. So on behalf of all of these people, thank you for your financial and prayerful partnership. You make this global outreach possible. You can give a one-time gift today at slash donate or you can arrange to set up an automatic monthly donation when you visit slash truth partner. I'm Bob Lapine. Tomorrow we'll find out how the grim reality of God's wrath is more than matched by His amazing grace. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-20 05:21:17 / 2024-02-20 05:29:42 / 8

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