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Four Fearsome Factors

Romans 1:16–20


Is God fair to let a person die and go to Hell who has never even once heard the name of Jesus?


God is righteous, and God is just. And there is no other way to Heaven apart from Jesus Christ. Don’t get the sentimental idea that all the world religions are somehow connected. Oh, no. Jesus Christ said, in John chapter 14, verse 6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”—now listen to this—and “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Now, if somebody can come some other way, then what does that make Jesus? That makes Jesus a liar. And, if Jesus Christ is a liar, not only is He not their Savior, He’s not my Savior, because a liar is nobody’s Savior. And, what did the apostles say in Acts chapter 4, verse 12, when they said this: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved?” (Acts 4:12).


This puts us on the horns of a major dilemma. Can a righteous, a good, a loving, a holy God let a man die and go to Hell who never once heard the name of Jesus? How are we going to answer that question? Well, the Apostle Paul is going to answer it for us in Romans chapter 1. So, I pray that you will listen and listen carefully, because we don’t have to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Notice how Paul begins in verse 16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16).


I want to write four things upon your heart, this morning. I want to give you four factors that will help you to understand this, and put it all together.


I. The Revelation Factor

Factor number one is the revelation factor. All men have some light.


I want you to imagine that the end of time has come, that time we know as the final judgment, and I want you to see out there what we would call the heathen—those who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. The accusation is made, the indictment is given in v. 18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness … of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The heathen, the pagans, they say, “Your Honor, not guilty! We never heard the gospel, we never knew how to be saved; we are innocent by reason of ignorance. We never heard, we never knew.” Paul says, I call two witnesses to testify against these who say they never knew, they never heard.


Witness number one: Will you take the stand? Witness number one: Give the court your name.” He says, “My name is Creation.”


vv. 19-20

Creation testifies to the fact of God. Psalm 19, verse 1 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Now, if you have a creation, you have to have a Creator, and the Bible says that the Creator is clearly seen by the things that are made. When I see a piano, here, and it’s finely tuned, I know that somebody crafted it. When I see a watch that runs with precision, I say that somebody crafted that watch. When I see a building put together in symmetry and balance and purpose, I say that there is an architect. When you see a painting, you know there’s a painter.  And, when I see this mighty universe put together, when I see creation, I say Creator. When I see order and system, I say intelligence. When I see design, I know there's a Designer! 


That’s the reason the Bible says: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Because, witness number one is creation.


But then, Creation steps down from the witness stand, and the Apostle Paul says, “Now I call my second witness. Would you take the stand? Will you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” “I will.” “Will you give your name?” Witness number two says, “My name is Conscience.” So, there are two witnesses. Number one is Creation; that is, the outward, objective witness. The second is Conscience; that is, the inward, subjective witness.


v. 19

“Unto them” is Creation, “in them” is Conscience.


2:15         v. 14 reveals he’s speaking to Gentiles”—now, another word for Gentiles is pagan, or those who’ve never heard the gospel—“For when the Gentiles, who have not the law”—the law here means the Old Testament law—“For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another” (Romans 2:14–15).


So, there are two witnesses that all pagans, all heathen, and all the people on all the face of the Earth have. One is the outward objective witness called Creation. The other is the inward subjective witness called Conscience. There is a built-in knowledge of God. It's a God shaped void inside of us put in us by our Creator.


Now, what is an atheist? There’s no real intellectual atheist. Atheists are not atheists because of intellectual problems; they’re atheists because of moral problems. “Ah,” you say, “but I know some brilliant people who are atheists.” Well, so what? I know some brilliant people who are not. You say, “Well, I know some foolish people who believe in God.” Well, I know everybody who doesn’t believe is foolish. You see, it’s not a matter of intelligence. The Bible says in v. 22 “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22). Why? Because, you see, all of us have a God-consciousness. It is not a matter of intellectualism; it is a matter of morality. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).


An atheist has this idea of God that makes him uncomfortable, so he says, “If I can get rid of this idea of God, I can get rid of this uncomfortable feeling.” But, he really doesn’t get rid of it, not down deep. He’s like the man who bought a new boomerang and killed himself trying to throw the old one away. The idea of God is still there; and, the more he tries to get rid of it subconsciously, the more he knows that God exists, because down in his heart is that conscience.


"Me thinks thou dost protest too much" wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet.  Have you noticed how adamantly so called atheists make their point.  They harp on it so continuously because they are forever trying to convince themselves...and they are so threatened by the truth that they cannot just drop it and step away. They are very defensive about it. Too much...they give away how deeply plagued they are with it all. They have to fight that battle everyday because it won't go away in their conscience!


So, what is the first factor? It is the revelation factor. All men have some light.

John 1:9
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

You can’t get around that. “[Christ is] the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). Two witnesses, Creation and Conscience, testify that the heathen, the pagans, no matter who they are or where they are, have some light. I didn’t say all light, just some.


II. The Refusal Factor

Now, here’s the second proposition. The first factor is the revelation factor. The second factor is the refusal factor. And, what is this factor? Light refused increases darkness.


vv. 21

“Because, when they knew God”—that is, they know by creation and conscience that God exists—“they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). Darkened. All men have some light. But light refused increases darkness. Now, you see, you cannot just simply take light or truth and put it on ice. You cannot put truth in your pocket and say, “That’s very interesting, I’ll use it some day if I need it.” No, when God gives you light, when creation and conscience speak to the heart of any individual anywhere on the face of this earth, when God gives him some light, if he does not glorify God, if he does not believe in God, if he does not trust God, he does not remain stationary; he begins to regress and he loses even the light that he has. His foolish heart will be darkened. 


In the Bible, the opposite of truth is not error; it is sin. Now, the error is the baggage that comes with the sin. Why does he refuse truth? He refuses truth because of the sin that is in his heart.


v. 18        'hold the truth in unrighteousness.'

Now, look at the word 'hold.' You know what that word hold means? It literally means “who resist the truth, who smother the truth, who hold back the truth.” And, how do they hold back the truth? Not just in error, but in unrighteousness. Why does a man not believe in God? Because, to believe in God means that he has to adjust his lifestyle. His lifestyle is his unrighteousness...let's picture it on his left. Creation and on his right...tell him there’s a God. His lifestyle says, “If I admit that, I’m going to have to change this.” So, he’s in a quandary between the two. If he turns this way, he turns from that; but if he turns this way, he turns from that. So, when he says, “I will resist the truth in unrighteousness,” then, when he turns this way, he gets further from that. And, he goes away into the darkness, and his foolish heart is darkened.


The unbelief is the baggage that comes with his sin. Now, I don’t think it’s more graphically illustrated than in the book of 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.

        I want you to listen to it. I think it is some of the most terrifying Scripture in all of the Bible. It speaks of the Antichrist who’s coming, and it says: “Even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved”—now, listen to verses 11 and 12—“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion” (2 Thessalonians 2:9–11). “Hold it, Pastor, hold it! God doesn’t send anybody delusion.” Well, you’d better go back and read it.  It says that God will send them strong delusion. Well, why on Earth would God send them strong delusion? Well, just continue to read: “That they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11). It gets worse, doesn’t it? Well, why would God send a lie? Well, let’s continue to read: “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all might be damned” (2 Thessalonians 2:11–12). Seems to get worse, doesn’t it? God sends delusion; they believe a lie, that they all might be damned. Why? Why would God do that? Well, continue to read: “That they all might be damned who believed not the truth”—they had the truth, they believed not the truth—“but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). They heard the truth; they knew the truth; they turned from the truth; and they had pleasure in their filthy, dirty, rotten sin! And, God says, “All right, that’s what you want. You want your sin, and with that sin, the baggage is delusion, a lie, and damnation.”


Maybe I can illustrate it this way: Here’s a man who comes to church on Christmas, and we’re taking a love offering for Jesus. He goes away and he says, “Ha! Those Baptists! All they ever talk about is money.” And, he goes away all steamed, hot under the collar. “It’s the last time I’m ever going to go down to that church. All they ever talk about is money, money, money.” That’s a lie. We talk about Jesus here, and we talk about giving to Jesus, and we’re glad to do it. But, you see, this man’s problem is not the truth. He doesn’t stop to ask, “Are we preaching the truth?” That’s not his problem at all. He knows, if he’ll open the Bible and listen to the Spirit of God, that the truth is there. But, the problem is his rotten greed! That’s why he got so upset to begin with. So, he leaves, and he says, “I am never going back to that church again.” Now, his problem, there, is not between truth and error, but between truth and greed. And so, he chooses his greed. Now, what happens? He’s home on a Sunday morning, several months from now. Somebody knocks at the door. He’s sitting there watching television, reading the sports page, got a six-pack of embalming fluid there, by his side, and he’s unshaven—just sitting there, on Sunday morning—wife and kids are off at church. He’s by himself. There’s a knock at the door. He opens the door and it’s two of Jehovah’s False Witnesses. And, he says, “What do you want?” And, to cut to the chase, “we’re here to tell you there is no Hell.” He says, “Come in, come in.” And, he listens to them. They tell him a lie. He believes a lie. He’s damned, and lost, and on the road to the very Hell he says he doesn’t believe in. Why? “[He] received not the love of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). “[He] had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). “For this cause God shall send [him] strong delusion, that [he] should believe the lie, that [he] might be damned” (2 Thessalonians 2:11–12).


Now, folks, you listen to me. All people have some light. That’s the revelation factor. The refusal factor is: Light refused increases darkness.


By the way, these people who are in darkness, really think that they are in the light—if you would look in verse 22: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22). They’re the ones who think we’re the fools. Now, they may have a PhD, but it stands for “phenomenal dud.” They worship science as a god, rather than worshipping the God of science. They never asked, “How did all of this get here?”  Or they worship themselves, because they don't want to humble themselves and worship God.



III. The Reception Factor

All men have some light. That’s the revelation factor. The refusal factor is: light refused increases darkness.


The reception factor is this: Light obeyed increases light.

Neither creation nor conscience tells you about Jesus. And so, when you say that all men have some light, that’s still not enough to save them. Creation and conscience only bring us to the fact of God. But, if a man is not interested in the fact of God, he’s certainly not going to be interested in the way to God. And, God is under no obligation to show any man the way to God who’s not even interested in the fact of God.


So, what is the reception factor? The reception factor is that light obeyed increases light. Light refused increases darkness. Light obeyed increases light.

vv. 16-17

How is the righteousness of God revealed? “From faith to faith”. That’s the revelation factor. God gives you truth. You believe that truth, and God gives you more truth. You see, “unto every one who hath shall be given” (Matthew 25:29). The more you obey the light, the more light you get.


Here’s a man—God speaks to him, thru the witnesses of Creation and Conscience. He says, “God, I want to know You, I need to know You, I believe that You exist.” That’s faith, and he goes from faith to faith. God gives him more light. He says, “I believe that,” and he goes from faith to faith, and he goes stepping in the light until he comes to the Lord Jesus Christ. When a man is ready to receive the gospel, God will get the gospel to that man if he has to wreck an airplane and parachute a missionary in. I believe with all of my heart there’s never been a man who ever lived on the face of this Earth, or a woman who died, without some opportunity to have received Christ, had they lived up to the light that God gave them. While all men don’t have enough light to save them, all men have enough light to damn them. Had they lived up to the light that they had, they would’ve received more light.


You can find illustrations of this in the Bible. What about that Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter 8? He’d been to Jerusalem, the most religious city on the face of the Earth. Why had he gone there? He had gone there to worship. He had come all the way from northern Africa, from Ethiopia, in that day when there were no airplanes. He’s traveling now by chariot—can you imagine that—all the way to Jerusalem. And, why had he gone? It was the most religious city on the face of the Earth. He was seeking for God. But, the wells of religion were dry. He’s coming back. He’s reading the prophet Isaiah. He’s trying to understand. Do you know what God does for this man who’s living up to the light that he has? God goes down to Samaria. He gets a preacher named Philip who’s in the middle of a big revival campaign. He says, “Son, leave that revival campaign. I want you to go out in the desert. I’ve got one man out there, and I want you to tell him how to be saved.” That Ethiopian eunuch, that "opportunity on wheels," got saved, and God brought a missionary to that man to tell him how to be saved (Acts 8). And very cool, when done, God whisked him away...he vanished!


There was another man in Acts chapter 10; his name was Cornelius. The Bible says he was a Gentile, he was not of the household of Israel. But, Cornelius, an army officer, had a hunger to know God. He looked up in the starry heavens, one night, perhaps, as a private on sentry duty, and he said, “Oh, that didn’t just happen. O God, whoever You are, wherever You are, whatever You are, I want to know You.” And, God gave Cornelius a vision. And then, God got Simon Peter over here in the house of Simon the tanner, and said, “Simon Peter, I want you to go over there. There’s a man named Cornelius. I have spoken to him in a vision. You go tell him and his house how to be saved.” And God got the two together (Acts 10).


When you obey the light that you have, God will give you more light. Now, I want to say this to all of those of you who are saved: The reason that some of us don’t understand the Bible any more than we do is that we have not been living up to the light that God is already giving us. Why should God show you more in the Word of God until you obey what you already know? Some have never submitted to believer’s baptism. They know what the Bible teaches. But they say, “Well, I’ve got a hairdo I don’t want to mess up.” And then later, they’re wondering why things are going wrong in their life. They want answers.  And God says, “Why should I show you more? You haven’t obeyed what I’ve already showed you?” “Unto every one who hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away from him” (Matthew 25:29). What I’m trying to say is: Light obeyed increases light. And, if you want to understand the part of the Bible you don’t understand, begin to obey the part you do understand, and you’ll understand what you didn’t understand. [ATM:  attendance / tithing / ministry]


Again, the problem is not in the head; the problem is in the heart.


Listen to this story I heard Dr. Adrian Rogers share:

"When I was in the Space Center, down at Merritt Island, I was in my office, one day, and a man came up in a big Cadillac, parked his car, came in, and said, “Mr. Rogers, I need to talk with you.” He was one of the big shots out at the Space Center, helping to put a man on the moon. I said to him, “Well, what do you want to talk about?” He said, “I want to talk about my wife. She wants to commit suicide, and I don’t want her to.” Well, I thought that was nice—he didn’t want her to commit suicide. So, he said, “Would you talk with my wife?” I said, “Well, I will if you’ll come with her.” So, the two of them came and sat down, and I said, “Tell me, lady, what your problems are.” And, her problems were this man! This man was a liar. He was a drunkard. He was an adulterer. He was a gambler. He was a blasphemer. A wife abuser. I mean, he was rotten. And, that’s mildly put. And so, I just stopped talking to her, and I started talking to him. I said, “Sir, I want to ask you a question. Are you a Christian?” He laughed a scornful laugh, and said, “No! I’m not a Christian; I’m an atheist.” I said, “Oh, an atheist.” I said, “An atheist is a man who says there’s no God and he knows there’s no God. Do you know there’s no God?” And, he said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, that’s interesting.” I said, “Of all there is to know, how much do you know? Do you know half of everything there is to know?” He said, “Of course not.” “But, you said you know there’s no God. Wouldn’t you have to admit the possibility that God might exist in that half of the knowledge you don’t have?” “Well,” he said, “okay, you got me. I’m not an atheist, I’m an agnostic.” I didn’t tell him the Latin equivalent of agnostic is ignoramus. It’s the same word in Latin or Greek: agnostic in Greek, Latin ignoramus. It means just, “I don’t know, I’m ignorant.” I said, “That’s just a fancy word for a doubter. Are you a doubter?” He said, “Yes, and a big one.” I said, “I don’t care what size; I want to know what kind.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, there are two kinds of doubters: There are honest doubters and dishonest doubters. Which kind are you?” He said, “Well, what’s the difference?” I said, “An honest doubter doesn’t know, but he wants to know, and therefore he investigates. A dishonest doubter doesn’t know because he doesn’t want to know. And, he can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a policeman. Jesus said, ‘They hate the light, and they will not come to the light, because their deeds are evil’” (John 3:20). He said, “Well…” I said, “Sir, would you like to find out whether you’re an honest doubter or a dishonest doubter?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Would you sign this statement: ‘God, I don’t know whether You exist or not. I don’t know whether the Bible is Your Word or not. I don’t know whether Jesus Christ is Your Son or not. I don’t know, but I want to know. And, because I want to know, I will make an honest investigation. And, because it is an honest investigation, I will follow the results of that investigation wherever they lead me, regardless of the cost?’” I said, “Would you sign that statement?” He said, “I’d like to be honest.” I said, “Wonderful!” I gave him an assignment. I said, “I want you to begin to read the gospel of John. He said, “But, I don’t believe.” I said, “That’s all right. You just make an honest investigation. You say to God, ‘God, I don’t know whether this is Your Word or not. If this is Your Word, show me, and I’ll make up my mind before the fact that I will obey You, only if you show me this is Your Word and speak to my heart.’” He said, “That’s fair enough.” What happened? In a few weeks, he came back, said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” got on his knees like a little child and wept his way to the arms of Jesus. That was many, many years ago. I got a letter from him a while back. He’s up in Bangor, Maine now. He has a tape ministry and is teaching the Bible. And, this is what he said to me: He said, “Mr. Rogers, I want to thank you for spending time with this general in the devil’s army.”


Where was that man’s problem? He thought his problem was intellectual. His problem was his will. When a man surrenders his will, God will speak to him. Light obeyed increases light. Live up to the light that you have and God will give you more light.


IV. The Reckoning Factor

When God comes to judge us, what is God going to judge us by? Do you think that God is going to judge us by the sin that we’ve committed? No! God is going to judge us by the light that we’ve rejected.

2:5, 11

He’s just simply saying that God knows how much light you have. Many of us have far more light than other people. Not because you necessarily sought it; you just happen to live in America where there’s a church on every street corner. There are Bibles everywhere. And, it’s not so much because you sought it; it’s just simply by the providence of God that you have more light than others. Now, what is God going to do? God is going to hold you accountable more so than the person who’s never heard.


Luke 12:48
But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

It would be bad enough for the pagan in darkest Africa to die and go to Hell, who never heard the name of Jesus, who refused to live up to the light that even he did have. But, how much more for a person who would sit in an auditorium like this, air-conditioned, with a Bible in their hand, hear a preacher tear his heart out and beg people to be saved, and say “no.” If I had to go to Hell, I’d much rather go to Hell as a pagan never having heard the name of Jesus than to go to Hell from FBC, from a service like this.


Listen to me: The burning question is not, “What is God going to do with the heathen who never heard?” The burning question is, “What is God going to do with you who heard the gospel of Jesus?” You’ve heard the message that Jesus died in agony and blood upon the cross, and you said “no” to the Lord Jesus. Do you know what our Lord said? Our Lord said to a soul winner, “When you go out soul winning, you knock on a door and the people won’t hear you”—He said—“shake the dust off your shoes. Shake the dust off your shoes” (Matthew 10:14). Well, why would He do that? God says, “Because, there’s coming a judgment, and in that day, in that judgment, you may stand before God and say, ‘O God, O God, have mercy. I didn’t have a chance.’” And God can say, “Officer, would you bring the evidence into the court?” “What is that evidence?” “Would you look at that, sir?” “What is that?” “That’s the dust off Jerry’s shoes. Those are the shoes he was wearing when he preached the gospel to you.”

        And, Jesus said to Capernaum, His headquarter city, It would be better for Sodom and Gomorrah in the judgment than for that city where He preached and taught, and yet, they turned their back on Him and never received Him. All men have some light. Light refused increases darkness. Light obeyed increases light. And, men are judged according to the light that they have.


Step into the light.  Walk in the light.  Shine it to others.



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