Holding the Truth in Unrighteousness
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” – Romans 1:18
In the opening chapter of Romans, beyond his greeting, Paul transitions from an opening of universal obedient faith to discussing men who knew the truth but did not follow it. It is my conviction that Paul did so with eyes on his chief nemesis, Judaizing Christians. This is not surprising as he had just written the Galatians addressing the false teachings of the same. These were Pharisaic Christians, who continually pressed men to hold on to the guilt of their imperfections and to follow the traditions of men. Such things lead to a heavy burden on the shoulders of men. Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Christ took away the sins. He released man from captivity. The Gospel Paul preaches is one of transformation and lovingly following Christ with the heart. However, this was not what the Judaizing Chrisitians taught or lived.
Paul wrote of men who despite knowing the truth (Romans 1:18) and God’s judgment (Romans 1:32) changed the truth into a lie (Romans 1:25) and did not retain God in their knowledge (Romans 1:28). Instead of walking in truth, they basked in sinfulness and the glory of fleshly honor and power. These men so wise in their own eyes felt it necessary to lay the burden of guilt upon others who committed the same sins. Yet rejecting the goodness of God, rather than repent, these that judged others continued right along in their iniquities. Paul declares judgment would come upon all who failed to have an obedient faith regardless of who they were or who they claimed to be (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). Whether they lived under the Law as Israelites or without it as the gentiles, men who “in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality” would find reward and all those who did not obey and “work good” would see God’s wrath.
The early Church had many Jews who claimed Christ. They knew the history of God and man through exposure to the Law of Moses. Who better than to instruct the early church? Fortunately, the wisdom of God provided the Holy Spirit to endow men with knowledge to direct the churches, not those who simply held a knowledge of a dead covenant and walked in darkness according to their own traditions. It would have been so easy to follow Jews who saw themselves as instructors in truth and had the DNA of Abraham. Yet, according to Paul the conduct of those Jews was blasphemy (Romans 2:24). Paul writes the Romans and speaks of the danger of their influence. Salvation comes from a heart which is devoted to following God’s precepts, not from perfection in following law or falsely presumed preference from the hand of an impartial God.
Today, many still look for the way of salvation in the nation of Israel and the Law of Moses which was given to it. There is no physical nation of God anymore. That nation was rejected by God. Their law, not applicable to Christians, has been taken away (Hebrews 10:9-10). Salvation cannot be found in the behavior and teachings of those who are not walking obediently in the faith of God once for all delivered (Jude 3). Salvation cannot be found in unrighteousness, even when the source claims to be one who espouses the truth. Evil is not good (Isaiah 5:20)! Paul unfailingly proclaimed this to the people of the first century. He directed the faith of the Romans to God and not man. Judaizers were trying to establish their prominence in Rome and Paul wasn’t about to let that happen. God will not let anyone holding the truth in unrighteousness go unpunished.