Holding Down The Truth:
How?

In a Brief  Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services by Ps JJ Lim, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 5b of 83


“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.  20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:  21 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. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 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” (Romans 1:18-23).

[God is not unconcerned about what goes on in the world. God’s Word informs us that He is angry against the ungodly and the unrighteous, and especially so because they hold down the truth in unrighteousness. What is this truth? We saw in the last issue that this truth is essentially what may be known of God; and what God has revealed concerning himself in His creation. In this second instalment, we must consider how the wicked hold down the truth; and then we will wrap up in the third article by discussing the consequence of holding down the truth.]

2. How is the Truth 
Held Down?

a.   Paul says. “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Now, the word rendered ‘hold’ may mean ‘keep’, ‘hold fast’, ‘hold back’ or ‘restrain.’ But it is clear that in the context, it has the meaning of ‘holding down’ or ‘suppressing.’

Ever seen a Jack-in-a-box? This is a toy that children in earlier days like to play with. It has a little puppet attached to a spring. And what you do is press the puppet into the box; and then put the lid over it and latch the box. As long as the lid is latched, the puppet remains in the box, but along comes an unsuspecting child who opens the box, and out pops the puppet to the fright or delight of the child.

Well, the truth about God that is revealed in nature is found in every heart; but it is being held down like this Jack-in-a-box. It is all ready to spring out to stir the emotion and will so that we would seek and love God our Creator. But it is being held down by the weight of sin and the hardness of our hearts.

b.   Ungodly and unrighteous men “hold [down] the truth in unrighteousness,” says Paul. What does it mean to hold down the truth? It means that man is not ignorant of the truth. Rather he chooses to ignore the truth. He chooses to disbelieve the truth.

The voice of truth is speaking daily in all our senses, in our sight, our hearing, our touch, our taste, our smell.

·    We look and we see everywhere written in large ‘made by God Holy and Omnipotent’, but we quickly cover our eyes and refuse to see.

·    We hear the beautiful singing of the birds or the insects and they are saying “God made us by His power and wisdom,” but we cover our ears and refuse to listen. We stroke the fur of a beautiful animal or the hair of a little baby, and it tells us “God made us,” but we ignore the message.

·    We smell the flowers and scent of freshly-cut grass, and it tells us: “The Holy and Omnipotent God made us,” but again we ignore it.

·    We taste the sweetness of a juicy apple or a durian, and it tells us: “God made us,” but again we refuse to acknowledge the truth.

By nature, we refuse to acknowledge the truth not because we do not know the truth, but because we hate the truth. “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” (v. 21).

By nature, fallen man hates the truth that there is a being greater than he is, and that he is accountable to Him. You will remember how Satan tempted Eve saying: “Ye shall be as [God], knowing good and evil.” Man by nature wishes to be autonomous. We are a proud race. Our sin-darkened hearts cry out for freedom. We want to be in control of everything. When we are not in control or things do not happen the way that we wish them to happen we become upset and angry. We want things our way.

·    We do not like the fact that God has eternal power and is in control over all things that happen in our lives. Yes, for believers this is a very comforting doctrine, but for unbelievers this doctrine hurts the pride too much. So the natural man tries very hard to ignore and suppress the knowledge of the existence of God who is sovereign.

·    We do not like God to be all glorious or holy because it emphasises our insignificance and sinfulness too much. The fact that God is all-glorious shows us too clearly that we do not have any real glory and therefore deserve no praise from fellow men. The fact that God is holy exposes our sins too clearly for our comfort. Yes, man by nature wants glory. We want other people’s attention. But we do not want too much attention, for that would expose our faults. If God is all glorious, our glory is insignificant. If God is all-holy, we know our sin stands out starkly, therefore we hate a glorious and holy God, and we try to suppress the knowledge of the existence of such a God out of our consciousness.

·    We do not like God to be incorruptible or unchangeable,—not only because we are not, but because if He is changeable, His glory, power and holiness may not be so offensive. He will be vulnerable and not so perfect, like us. And besides, if He is changeable, one day He may lose His power, or His glory or His holiness, and then we would not look so bad. But He is unchangeable; there is no way His standards are going to be lowered.

c. The natural man, therefore, tries to suppress the truth about God. But the fact that God exists is a truth that is very hard to suppress. Because we are created in the image of God, our very nature cries out that God exists. There are no natural atheists. Animals may grow up without the knowledge of God, but man will always grow up with a  knowledge of God written in his heart. Man, by nature, knows that God exists.

But he hates God for His sovereignty, glory, holiness and unchangeableness. He cannot get rid of the knowledge of the existence of God, but he hates this God that nature reveals in his heart. What does he do? He creates substitutes.

[He changes] the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (v. 23).

In other words, he creates idols. In the most basic manifestation, idolatry takes the form of images of God that look like man, birds, mammals or insects. These idols are manageable by the natural man. They are powerless. They are neither glorious nor holy. They are changeable and limited. These idols can be carried about. They can be used to ease the conscience whenever the conscience reminds us that we must worship God. But best of all, these idols do not condemn us for our sins. They make no law, and demand no righteousness. It is no wonder idols are so popular!

But idolatry does not only take the form of physical images. It takes the form also of every kind of gods of human imagination. These gods, likewise, fall short of the glory and power of the living and true God. There is no god of human imagination that is anywhere comparable to Jehovah. The gods of man’s imagination are manageable. And so a large part of the world loves these gods instead of the glorious, holy and incorruptible God who has revealed himself through his creation.

This then is how man hold down the truth about God. But…

… to be continued next issue