For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.Romans 1:21-22
The Jewish leaders missed Him.
When the Messiah arrived to Jerusalem, they killed Him as an imposter. They knew all of the prophecies that pointed to Him–they were the “experts”–but they missed Him. They knew that Daniel 9 pinpointed almost exactly when the Messiah would arrive, but they missed Him. They knew Isaiah 53 predicted the sacrificial death of the Messiah in detail, but they missed Him.
Because they thought they knew better.
This kind of thinking has infiltrated the Church today, just as it did in Judaism. Churches are becoming willing to accept things that disregard the Bible, because they think they know better. Some passages of the Bible make us uncomfortable in the society we live in, so we jump to this conclusion: “that can’t be what that verse means!”
The problem is, if we change the message in scripture, we are no different than those who never accepted it in the first place. When Peter speaks of false teaching infiltrating the Church, he says it would have been better if those people had never heard the truth: They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them (2 Peter 2:19-21).
Paul talks about this state of being, in which we know good, but we have become so filled with the world, mortal things and idols, that our “hearts have become darkened.” This is the state for all who do not believe, including those within the Church who have let bad teaching take over, like what Peter mentioned above.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Romans 1:19-23).
Every one of us can see God in the world around us. We have no excuse but to believe. However, much like the Jewish leaders, we think we know better. Whether it be as extreme as atheism or just accepting some bad teachings within the Church, we miss God. We claim to have so much knowledge that we are completely ignorant. God says: For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). We have flipped this and made the claim that our human wisdom is higher than His wisdom. What an awful place to be in. At some point in our life we were all in this place, where God had turned us over to our flesh.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen (Romans 1:24-25).
We see this in the world all the time. People worship creatures in the form of money, sex and pornography, hate, power, selfishness, and many others. In fact, Paul lists some things in the next verses.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless (Romans 1:26-31).
These things sound familiar because this passage is describing humanity’s brokenness as a whole. They all represent the original lie from Satan that said we can become like God. By participating in these sins, we are claiming to know better than God. Until we know Jesus, this is where we are: fully responsible rebels against God.
The problem is that more and more, the Church is looking no different. They claim to be reborn, but are actually still lost. The sins listed above (homosexuality and other sexual sins, jealousy, lies, gossip, pride, etc.) are constantly in headlines involving Christianity. In addition to accepting these sins, many churches’ response to sin often matches this verse: Although they know God’s just sentence — that those who practice such things deserve to die — they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them (Romans 1:32, CSB). If a church leader is displaying this response to sin, they have never been reborn; their heart is still darkened. If these idols and lusts are accepted among God’s people, then they are not God’s people.
I’ve heard church leaders and others ignore plain scriptural interpretation because they claim to know the original culture or language better, or they’ll say that we can’t take everything in the Bible so literally. Don’t get me wrong, we need to study cultural context and original languages in depth, and there are parts of the Bible that are poetry and symbolism used to represent a deeper truth. However, the issue lies with what your motives are behind these contextual studies. If you are looking to find a loophole from the obvious meaning in front of you, there is a problem. You are guilty of saying your ways are higher and you are wiser. I once heard Francis Chan say, “Whatever issue you’re dealing with today, are you willing to surrender to God, no matter what He says? What if He said in [the Bible]… people have to stand on their heads?…I’ll try to stand on my head. He’s God.” Regardless of our personal feelings, we need to surrender to God. That’s what pulls us out of our rebel state.
Paul spends the entirety of Romans 2 explaining that without Christ, we are all in this situation. Therefore, every one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. Do you really think — anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same — that you will escape God’s judgment (Romans 2:1-3, CSB)? So those who claim no Christianity should be loved and we should tell them about Jesus, in hopes that they place their faith in Him. However, if those already in the Church are accepting sins and false teaching while claiming to be Christians, we should point out that the Gospel message is not truly being accepted.
For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, CSB). Non-Christians should not be judged, but you can see that calling out those who claim Christianity, but go beyond scripture, is part of righteous correction. Anyone who does not remain in Christ’s teaching but goes beyond it does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home, and don’t greet him; for the one who greets him shares in his evil works (2 John 1:9-11, CSB). We need to correct in love and hopes of restoration, but the false teaching has to be called out for what it is. “Professing wisdom, they have become fools. “
So with all that being said, love those who are lost, know that you were once without hope, and share the Gospel with them. But be aware that many churches are now accepting things that are not of God. They look no different than those in the state of rebellion against God that Paul is describing in Romans 1. If the Jewish religious leaders were able to fall into this trap, so can the Church today.
If you are taught something in church, investigate it through the Bible on your own; we have so many resources today to do that. Don’t let a new teaching you’ve heard pass by without deeper thought. If you find yourself interpreting scripture a certain way because of what you want it to say, turn around. God is unchanging and His ways are higher than our ways, no matter how wise we feel like we have become, and no matter what direction the culture is taking. Surrender to Him and Him alone.
What are some things you’ve experienced in church that don’t match scripture? Let us know in the comments below.