|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
The Bible declares that the God-denying state of mind that drives all key developments in postmodern society - the chaos of our time - is built on intellectual dishonesty.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 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.
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man - and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:16-32)
The face and message of atheism have changed radically since my younger days. Gone are the profanity-laced tirades of old lions of the movement like Madalyn Murray O'Hare, that we used to see on television.
The New Atheism is a well-financed missionary movement, and it is represented by increasing numbers of attractive, articulate missionary spokesmen. They are bringing unbelief into the fashionable mainstream, into your community, and even into your home. These missionary spokesmen for the New Atheism preach a deceptively positive message of hope and fulfillment, and they are preaching that message to an increasingly receptive public.
What are the results? There has been a dramatic growth in atheism's numbers and sympathizers. They are exercising rapidly growing influence in our communities.
They have a twofold goal. Number one: to suppress Christianity in this generation. Number two: stamp it out in generations to come. Christians need to be prepared to meet this new challenge. The place where we must seek that preparation is the Word of God. And that brings us to Romans chapter one.
The first chapter of Romans, in its context, speaks of all mankind. "All have sinned." "All have fallen short of the glory of God." "All have gone out of the way." "The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." But in this article I want to focus our attention on this passage as it relates to the atheist, the person who says, "There is no God."
I want to call our attention to four things. The first is our need to understand God's pronouncement concerning the atheist. The second is to understand the nature of the God-denying state of mind. The third is to recognize the fact that atheism is a belief system; atheism has its own body of doctrine. And fourth and finally, I want to call our attention to the fact that even though atheists can be some of the people who are the most resistant to the Gospel, by the grace of God change is possible for the atheist.
God's Pronouncement Concerning the Atheist
So first, God's pronouncement concerning the atheist. Twice in the book of Psalms the Bible declares, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God' " (14:1 and 53:1). The Hebrew word for "fool" is nabal. Used eighteen times in the Old Testament, nabal describes a person who is a deliberate rebel against God, and who thinks and acts accordingly. The Hebrew word for "fool" denotes deliberate immorality in thought, word and deed, not lack of intellectual capacity. As we shall see, this is an important distinction.
You may recall that there was a man in the Bible who bore the name Nabal (1 Samuel 25:2-39). It was said that he behaved in a way befitting his name (verse 25). So obstinate was his state of mind that people couldn't even have a reasonable conversation with him (verse 17). Sadly, the God-denying state of mind is also like that.
And we see, here in Romans chapter one, that God is fully justified in making this pronouncement about the atheist. God has every reason to call the atheist a fool, in the Biblical sense of the word - a person who is a fool not because he lacks intellectual capacity, but a person who is a fool because of his deliberate immorality in thought, word and deed. The Biblical fool is not a dummy. The problem is not that he can't think. That's not what makes the Biblical fool a fool. What makes him a fool is that his thinking is deliberately immoral.
The Apostle Paul develops this thought in Romans chapter 1, beginning at verse 18:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 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. Professing to be wise, they became fools...
God is justified in his pronouncement against the atheist for one simple reason: Every man knows God. Note several things about man's knowledge of God: Verse 21 - The Bible teaches that every man knows God. Here we have the very heart of Paul's argument - "because although they knew God..." They knew God. And the Greek word for knowing here in verse 21 is ginosko. And the essence of the meaning of this word is intelligent comprehension. The atheist is not unintelligent. The atheist has the intelligence to comprehend that there is a God, and does intelligently comprehend that there is a God. The atheist will deny this, but God's inspired and inerrant Word says that it is true. The atheist intelligently comprehends the existence of God. He just isn't very happy about it.
How does the atheist intelligently comprehend that there is a God? We see that in verses 19 and 20. The Bible teaches that God Himself has imparted this knowledge to mankind through the created order. The Biblical fool is neither unintelligent nor does he lack the evidence of God's existence to intelligently evaluate.
Beyond that, this passage teaches that mankind's knowledge of God through the created order is not a nebulous, shapeless, unspecific theism. It is not merely a general notion that there is some kind of "force" (or as Star Wars puts it, "The Force") out there. This passage teaches us that man's knowledge of God is specific. Through the created order, man possesses the inward, God-given knowledge that God exists (verse 19), the inward, God-given knowledge that God is the creator of the world (20), the inward, God-given knowledge that God possesses eternal power (20), and the inward, God-given knowledge that He is divine by nature (that is the meaning of "Godhead" in verse 20).
But, verse 21 tells us, fallen mankind in general, and the atheist in particular, has made the conscious choice not to glorify God or accord Him the honor that He deserves as God.
And so first, we have God's pronouncement concerning the atheist. He is a fool - not because he is unintelligent, but because he is in denial.
The Nature of the God-Denying State of Mind
And that brings us to our second point, which is the nature of the God-denying state of mind. Like Nabal of old, it is often difficult to have a reasonable conversation with them - in their case, a conversation about the existence and attributes of God. And in Romans chapter one, we see that the God-denying state of mind has five characteristics.
First, verse 18, the atheist suppresses the truth of God's existence and attributes. That word that is translated "suppress" in the original language means to hold back or restrain something. The truth exists. And the atheist, deep down in his heart of hearts, knows the truth. But the atheist is trying to hold it back. The atheist is trying to restrain it. The atheist is trying to hinder the truth from being made known. That's the first characteristic of the God-denying statement of mind.
Secondly, verse 21, they exhibit futility of thought. Futility of thought. The force of the original language is worthless reasoning. And, it says, "their foolish hearts were darkened." And the idea of the heart in that verse is the seat of understanding, the seat of intelligence within the human being. It's not that there's a lack of intelligence, but there's a darkened intelligence.
Thirdly, verse 22, they openly insist, in their God-denial, that they are the ones who are wise, when in fact they are fools. We're going to talk about this more in the Sunday school time this morning, when we talk about how the New Atheism markets itself today. The missionary atheists market themselves as the wise men of this world, the ones who can save the planet, when in fact God has pronounced them to be fools.
Fourthly, going down to verse 28, our passage tells us that they want to "free" themselves, and free society at large, of any knowledge of God because they believe it is worthless and even harmful. This is the force of the statement that "they did not like to retain God in their knowledge" in verse 28. The force of the original is something active. The God-denying state of mind isn't merely a passive denial, it is an active denial. And we see this with the missionary atheists today. They don't merely want to deny the existence of God on a personal basis and give everyone else the choice to believe in God or not believe. Their goal is for the entire world to no longer retain the knowledge of God. Freedom from religion.
The "freedom from religion" movement suppresses the truth of God by seeking to remove acknowledgment of God and instruction about God from education, government, business, the media, and even the family, and now, as we see with the new law passed in Colorado, even from the church. They want to take our Christian apologetic away from us.
The fifth characteristic of the atheist, verse 25, is that they worship and serve the created order rather than the Creator. Because he denies God, the atheist has no choice but to be a naturalist. The atheist by his own illogic must belief that the world came into being by time and chance. The atheist must believe that the universe operates without the intervention of a Creator. The atheist has painted himself into an intellectual corner. And so the atheist in fact worships and serves the material order, and he worships himself as the pinnacle of that order.
This God-denying state of mind drives all key developments in postmodern society - the chaos of our time.
The Apostle Paul writes in verse 25 that those who deny the one true God have "exchanged the truth of God for the lie." The force of the original language is that they have exchanged the intelligent understanding of God and His attributes - creatorship, power, divine nature, and right to be worshipped as God, an understanding which corresponds to the facts of the case as shown to them by God Himself through the created order - they've exchanged all of that for the denial of the facts about God and His attributes. In other words, professed atheism is a belief system that is the product of intellectual dishonesty resulting from spiritual darkness.
Christian biologist and author Dr. Gary Parker, himself a former atheist, puts it this way: Everyone believes in the Creator God. It's just that Christians are really happy about it, while professed atheists are really unhappy about it! He points out that the atheists' anger against God reveals their intellectual dishonesty: "Who's the maddest and the angriest against God? The atheist...You don't get that angry at Somebody who doesn't exist!" But that is the God-denying state of mind.
Atheism Is a Belief System
For the sake of time, I'd just like to briefly address my next point, and that is that atheism is a belief system. Atheism is a belief system. In fact I would say without hesitation that atheism is a religion, and that the created order is its deity - its pantheon of deities - with man at the pinnacle of its deities.
Like any other religion, atheism has its own body of doctrine.
Atheism has its own doctrine of God: There is no creator God. Man is god.
Atheism has its own doctrine of origins: All that we see in the universe came about by random processes of time and chance over billions of years.
Atheism has its own doctrine of man: Man and all other forms of life evolved from lifeless matter.
Atheism has its own doctrine of sin: All of the evil that we see in the world - all the death and suffering and wars, man's mistreatment of his fellow man - all of this is simply because it's the way we evolved. Evolution involves endless cycles of suffering and death, suffering and death, suffering and death, over billions of years. The evil that we see in the world, the atheist says, is simply the evidence of evolution.
Atheism has its own doctrine of the afterlife: There is no afterlife. This life is all there is. Or, increasingly, atheists teach that the kay to an "afterlife" is transhumanism. As a leading atheistic website describes it,
Transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.
Transhumanism is a loosely defined movement that has developed gradually over the past two decades.
Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values. - Max More (1990)
Humanity+ [http://www.humanityplus.org] formally defines it based on Max More's original definition as follows:
The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies.
Transhumanism can be viewed as an extension of humanism, from which it is partially derived. Humanists believe that humans matter, that individuals matter. We might not be perfect, but we can make things better by promoting rational thinking, freedom, tolerance, democracy, and concern for our fellow human beings. Transhumanists agree with this but also emphasize what we have the potential to become. Just as we use rational means to improve the human condition and the external world, we can also use such means to improve ourselves, the human organism. In doing so, we are not limited to traditional humanistic methods, such as education and cultural development. We can also use technological means that will eventually enable us to move beyond what some would think of as "human". 
Atheism also has its own doctrine of eschatology. Philosophers and scientists like the late Stephen Hawking have declared that the earth is going to be destroyed. They cannot agree on how - whether it's going to become too hot and burn up, or too cold and freeze up, or man is going to blow it up. But they all agree that this earth is going to become uninhabitable. But by that time, they say, man will have colonized other livable planets in the universe, so the onward, upward evolution of the transhuman being will just go on someplace else.
Atheism has its belief system. We as Christians, as part of our answer to atheism, can line up what the Word of God says about each of these things alongside what the word of fallen man says, and we can answer with authority.
Is Change Possible?
his brings us to our final question: Is change possible? Is it possible for a professed atheist to become a believer - not merely a theist, but a believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Yes, of course - but this radical change must be brought about by the God the atheist denies! Christians can present all the evidence for the existence of God. In fact, as Romans chapter one tells us, God has already placed such evidence within every man. But in the end, for everyone who is not a true believer in Christ - whether theist or atheist - understanding must come to the darkened heart. And it is God the Holy Spirit who brings that understanding.
In 1 Corinthians 2:14 we read this: "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can be know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Man in his natural, unredeemed state is incapable of accepting God's Word as true, because he is a rebel.
As Jesus said in John 3:18-20, "He who does not believe is condemned already...and this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light..."
Man in his unredeemed state lacks the ability to understand God's Word properly, because he refuses to come to the light. Understanding the truth about God and His Word is only possible when God the Holy Spirit brings an individual to spiritual light through His work of regeneration.
Often Christians tend to think about this matter backwards. We think that an unsaved person - especially a professed atheist - needs to come to a deeper understanding of God's Word in order to be saved; all of his objections must be dealt with first. But that is not what the Bible teaches. The unsaved man, it says, is incapable of accepting God's Word as true without God's help. New life, by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, must come first; saving faith, the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8) comes first. The rebel must bow the knee in faith before the God of the universe.
"Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). Saving faith comes first, then the fuller, enlightened understanding of God's Word, comes as the Author of the Book, God the Holy Spirit, takes up residence in the individual. Only a Christian is capable of being taught, "not in words which man's (false) wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual (literally, "things from the Spirit with things from the Spirit", i.e., comparing Scripture with Scripture)" (1 Corinthians 2:13).
If you have friends or acquaintances who profess to be atheists, the best thing you can do is to recognize the spiritual bondage the Bible says they are in, and pray for them to be delivered. Pray that God the Holy Spirit would bring light to their darkened hearts. Pray for opportunities to bear witness to them about that light, using God's Word as your sole authority. And trust God for the results.
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