Preaching through the book of Romans is exciting. Every week I encounter life-giving truths amidst Paul’s explanation of the Gospel. Some of those truths rest heavily upon me. Others tend to lighten every load. Some of them, of course, stick in the forefront of my mind more than others.
It’s now been nearly two months since we exited chapter 1, but I keep thinking of verse 19: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” The words “God has shown it to them” reverberate in my mind. In the context, Paul is telling us that all people - including (and especially) the Gentiles who had not received God’s written Word – have access to information about God. If you live as a part of his creation, then the Creator is made known to you – albeit in a limited way.
That knowledge, that divine information, is made known to us by God himself. We don’t discover God; we can’t discern his nature or character or even his existence apart from his self-revelation. All knowledge of God, whether from the Bible or from the stars, comes to us as revealed knowledge. If he hides himself, he cannot be known. And, thank God, he has not hidden himself.
Don’t let this great truth or its implications escape you. When we plead with people to trust in their Creator, we are not appealing to their natural ability to recognize God, like a detective finds fingerprints at a crime scene. We are asking them to open their eyes to see his handwriting; we want them to hear his voice. To be sure, the revelation of God in nature is of a different kind than we find in the Bible. It is not accompanied by the life-giving power of the Spirit. It does not show us our Savior. But it can provide us with a starting-point. We can point to God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20) revealed in the world around us, and to the “work of the law written” upon man’s heart (Romans 2:15). We can show them that they need a Savior because they have fallen so far short of this law, and failed to honor God as God. And then, we can open his Word, proclaim the Gospel, and wait for the Spirit to work.
In all of this we are not moving from merely human observation to divine disclosure. We are starting with God’s revelation and then pointing them to a more complete revelation of the Creator who has “spoken to us by his Son,” (Hebrews 1:2) telling us that he sent “the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (1 Peter 3:18).