2020 Summer Evening, Romans Series, Part 42, Verses 21-24

  • | Chris McCann
  • Audio: Length: 28:19
  • Passages covered: Romans 1:21-24, Luke 1:21, Exodus 20:1-4, Acts 14:15,
    2Chronicles 16:7-8, 2Chronicles 16:9.

| 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 |

Welcome to EBible Fellowship’s Bible study in the book of Romans. Tonight is study #42 of Romans 1, and we are continuing to read Romans 1:21-24:

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

I will stop reading there. We will pick this up in the second part of Luke 1:21:

…but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

This is what happened when “they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” This is what happened to man. They become “vain in their imaginations.” The word “vain” is Strong’s #3154, and it is only found here, but it is related to another Greek word, Strong’s #3152, and that is found a few times. We are going to look at that word, which is closely related, so let us go to Acts 14:8-15:

And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked: The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked. And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

This account continues, and we read that they “scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.” This is the fallen nature of man. He is a creature who was designed to worship and serve, but he was designed to worship and serve his Creator, the true God, the mighty God of the Bible. If man had worshipped and served the one God of the Bible, all would have been well and good and proper, and he would have found fulfillment in his creature state. But we have to remember that when man sinned, he disobeyed God, so he did not serve God or worship God in that act of disobedience, but he obeyed Satan, the Devil. He served and worshipped Satan. He believed the lie over the truth, and Jesus said to the Jews, in the Gospel accounts, that the reason they did not believe Him was, “…because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” He was strongly implying that if He spoke a lie, they would believe it, and that is characteristic of the people of the world. They love the lie. They are of their spiritual father, Satan, who is the father of lies. And right from that first lie, they served him: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof…ye shall be as gods.” Man has a weakness and a blindness regarding that which is false and deceitful and simply not true. And he prefers it that way. He goes in that direction.

Man, being a creature, was designed by God to serve and worship the true God. And, yet, in his fallen condition, he worships practically everything else – almost anything you can imagine under the sun. He worships cows and all kinds of animals, or gods out of his own mind, like Jupiter and Mercury. There are tales of gods that supposedly exist and bring fruitful seasons, and man will build statues and carve images, decking them with silver and gold, and then bow down to them and worship them. And he teaches his children to do the same, and it becomes engrained in culture after culture. This took place throughout the history of the world outside the true line of believers, as God dealt with Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then the people of Israel. But outside in the world, they were given over to idolatry. They were worshipping just about anything and everything.

It was Christianity and the Lord sending the Gospel into the world, like what we are reading in Acts 14, and it came to the heathen lands, the barbarians, and the idol worshippers all around the world. And the Gospel said that they must stop worshipping these things, but to only worship God. One of the Ten Commandments is that we are to bow the knee to God only, and not to anything else, like a statue of stone or wood, and we are not to worship images of creatures or anything else. We are to worship the Spirit God of the Bible, who is invisible, and He does not want any image made of Himself. You know, that is a big distinction between the true Gospel of the Bible and all kinds of other religions and all kinds of “other gospels.” We know that there are gospels out there that have just continued the paganism and the idolatrous nature of man, as they have built statues of Mary, statues of Jesus, and have images of Jesus in church after church, hanging on the cross. Jesus is God in the flesh. The Bible is absolutely clear about that, and making an image of Christ (whether it is a stone crucifix or a painting) is making an image of God, and it is a violation of what we read in Exodus 20. Since I have referred to it a couple of times, let me go there and read it, in Exodus 20:1-4:

And God spake all these words, saying, I am JEHOVAH thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I JEHOVAH thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them. So, in Acts 14, the Apostle Paul and Barnabas were grieved, and they said, “Yes, a mighty miracle has been done, but that was by the hand of God. That was the work of God!” And that is exactly what the people of God emphasized with God’s salvation program. It is not the preacher during the church age. It is not the noted theologian. It is not the one who delivered or laid out God’s Gospel in a nice way. They do not get any credit or any glory, that they should be lifted up in any kind of way. It is the power of God. It is the miracle-working power of God that saved the soul of a sinner, and raised that dead soul to life and made him a new creature. It was all the power of God. So, likewise, God’s people do not want any praise or honor or glory. We do not want people to look at us and offer sacrifice, as it were. “To God be the glory!” We point to God: “It is good that you are thankful this man is healed, but God did it. The Lord Himself is the One who healed him.” And, again, that is the case with everyone that became saved.

Again, we are looking at the word “vanity,” and it said in Acts 14:15:

We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

These “vanities” are empty. They are void of any real life, meaning, purpose or power. That is the problem with idols. They are not real. They are not genuine. They are not God. They are simply a “tree cut down,” carved and decked; or, they are stone that has been graven and made into an image. But they are lifeless. They are dead things. They have no ability or power. They have no love. They have no care for their worshippers. They have no ability to help them when they are desperate or when they are broken-hearted and almost ready to perish. And people cry to these Gods! What a pitiful tragedy it is throughout the history of the world that man has worshipped such idols. They have no ability to see or hear, and they have to be carried about because they have no life. They cannot help. And that is the difference between the gods of stone and wood that are carved out of man’s vain imagination and the true God of the Bible, the living God. Notice that the Apostle Paul pointed that out: “…turn from these vanities unto the living God.” Turn to God who is real and has life. Since He lives, He sees. He feels. He knows. And He possesses not only knowledge, but power to help, and that is why Paul goes on to say that He is not only a living God but a powerful God “which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein.” That is power. That takes tremendous might to create the whole earth and the whole heavens, and this living, powerful God is the God of the Bible, the God who “is,” the great I AM.

He is the God of His people, the ones whom He has redeemed and restored our souls to life. He has made us new creatures, and we now delight in serving Him and worshipping Him, having a proper relationship between God and His creature restored. The people of God can go to Him in times of trouble, in times of despair, and in times of utter hopelessness. As we look at the world, certainly we know that the world will not help us. Our fellow man will not, or cannot, help us. Nobody can help us. No idol can help us, but there is a living God, a powerful God who has shown and recorded in His holy book occasion, after occasion, when He had come to help. He has come to help in parting seas. He has come to help in defeating whole armies that came against His people in all kinds of ways. Sometimes, He would cause the enemies to fight themselves in order to preserve His people. Or, He helps in incredible ways, like bringing manna from heaven or water from a rock, or He can help a young boy sling a stone and slay a giant. He is Almighty God, and He is our God, and He encourages His people to come to Him. There is a very good verse in 2Chronicles 16, and in this account, there is a king who did not rely on the Lord, and God addressed this matter in this account, and I will read 2Chronicles 16:7-8:

And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, Because thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on JEHOVAH thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because thou didst rely on JEHOVAH, he delivered them into thine hand.

It is odd because God had helped this particular king to fight a battle against a huge host prior to this, but on this occasion, he did not go back to God and trust in the Lord to help again. And this is the verse that just kind of “stays” with me, in 2Chronicles 16:9:

For the eyes of JEHOVAH run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.

You see, he is being chastened because he did do foolishly. Why would he not go to God? Really, the prophet was letting Asaph the king know that it is always God’s attitude and desire – and even a Biblical principle – that God searches the earth. That is what is meant when it says, “For the eyes of JEHOVAH run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” Of course, when God searches the earth, He sees everything. He sees every nation and every city within every nation, and every town, house, family and individual, and, especially those individuals whom He has saved. God searches the whole world, and He knows China; and in China, He knows the various provinces, locales, houses, and individuals. And the same is true for India, Russia, South America, and North America. All over the world, God searches, and He intimately knows every detail about His people, and He knows their struggles, their difficulties, their hardships, their fears, and the thing they need help with. He knows all these things, and it goes on to say that He performs this search of the whole earth “to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” Who would that be? Is it just a couple of super-special people who have hearts that are perfect toward God? These “special people” are all of God’s elect, because when each of His elect were saved, he or she received a new, born-again heart and soul without sin and, therefore, perfect. So God is saying that when it comes to His elect people, He searches. He looks everywhere in the world and, of course, He finds them. He knows exactly where they are, and He knows exactly their situation, and He knows exactly the help they need. And His desire is to show Himself strong on their behalf, because in facing their circumstances in the world, they feel so weak, so alone, and so separated. They are outside the churches, so they have no help there. They are separated from the world (“Come out from among them,” God says.) And, yet, who will help them? God will help them. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” Psalm 46:1 declares. He is our help and shield. And because God is this Almighty God of the Bible, we know He can create worlds and destroy worlds, and we know He has the power to speak a Word and heal leprosy, or speak a Word and raise a child from the dead. We know He has “wonderworking power,” as the hymn says. He has super-human, miraculous power and, yet, He has obligated Himself not to perform physical miracles in that way now. He did perform the miracle of salvation over the course of the New Testament era, but God is still able to work outside of performing miracles. He can work through circumstances and events, and through controlling the steps of men, and He can fight for us. He can fight our enemies. He can fight those that would oppose us and come against us. All it takes is a little help. We do not need God to give His full attention. We do not need Him to send legions of angels. “No, Lord, just speak the littlest Word.” And the littlest Word of God is more help than the whole world. If God were to help us just a little bit, that would be all we would need, certainly, and it is His desire to do so.

So this is a verse to encourage us when we are weak and feel defeated, or whatever the situation is, and we can go to God and pray to Him and ask Him for help: “O, Lord, help us.” This is what the living and powerful God of the Bible is able to do. Idols can do none of that. Idols do not hear our cries and because they cannot hear, they cannot answer. They cannot help. And that is the sorrowful truth, and that is why it was wonderful when the Gospel entered into the nations and men began to put away their idols and become “civilized.” It was very much the Word of God, the Christian Gospel, that civilized the nations of the world and brought about civilization. And man began to develop and grow and obtain levels of success never before seen when he worshipped idols.

But now at the time of the end, there is a return to man’s fallen roots and a return to his idolatrous past, and idols are set up in many more ways than physical idols. There are also idols of mind and imagination and doctrines that set up idols. So by referring to man becoming “vain in their imaginations,” God is giving leeway, and it is just not a carved image from a tree that are idols, but the root cause of idolatry stems from the imagination and thoughts of man, the thoughts that are proceeding out of his heart. And, Lord, willing, in our next Bible study, we are going to take a closer look at this.