Feb 192013
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Innate Knowledge In Romans 1:18-23

This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.
— 1 Chronicles 28:9, ESV

The invitation of a personal relationship with God is often over simplified when discussed.  This isn’t to say that a relationship with God must be complicated, but what is often overlooked in the discussion, or perhaps presumed, is our relationship to God and since this is logically prior it needs to be handled before any further discussion of a relationship with God can take place.

In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul discusses man’s predicament from three points of view and leaves no one without excuse.  He starts with the lawless or pagan man in Romans 1:18-32.  The issue here, and what is being focused on in this series of posts, are those who claim that there is no God and therefore live according to that idea.  But Paul states that idea is absurd and that the lawless are actually suppressing the innate knowledge of God that they have in order to accomplish this.  The next group he goes after could be referred to as the moral man in Romans 2:1-16.  The moral man thinks of himself as morally superior and casts his own judgement on those around him.1  His problem is that he cannot even live up to his own standards and therefore in passing judgment condemns himself.  The final group, whom Paul calls the Jew, can be referred to as the religious man in Romans 2:17-29.  This is the group of people who by blood lineage were given the Torah, or the Law, and were probably the most sincere and committed to God and yet even they dishonored God by breaking the Law since their outward obedience didn’t line up with their inward condition.2

Relationship To God

It’s important to note that through these two chapters, Paul has condemned all of humanity.  In Romans 3:23 he states that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  No one, by his own merit, is in right standing with the Holy and Righteous One True God.  That is the predicament of every man.  We can think of this standing to God as a position and that is what is meant by relationship to God.  In this sense, every human being is in relationship to God since they are created in the image of God and have the light from John 1:9 given to them.  The question is what that relationship entails.  Going back to the passage at hand, Romans 1:18-19 reads:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.3

So from the perspective of Christianity, everyone is in relationship to God but under the relationship of disobedience.  That man takes his unrighteousness and uses it to hold down or suppress the truth is an act of disobedience.  That man has been given the innate knowledge of some of God’s attributes, the attributes that are stated to be inescapable and yet he works against what God has graciously given him is an act of disobedience.  Man is working against the clear natural order to produce something that runs contrary to his natural instinct.

Dr. K. Scott Oliphint has written quite a bit about this relationship to God that the unbeliever is in. He writes:

The first thing worth considering when we develop a biblical apologetic approach is that every living person is in a relationship to the one true God. It seems to me that this truth is all too easy to forget. Such forgetfulness may be due, in part, to the emphasis on the radical transformation that takes place when God adopts us into his eternal family; an emphasis that we must continue to have. However, because we often focus on the relationship we have to God by virtue of our union with Christ, we can forget that unbelievers are related to God as well. We should remember that even those outside of Christ are in a covenant relationship to the God who made them.4

I believe that this starting point when looking at the world around us is incredibly helpful.  What is being stated is that there are only two worldviews as far as the Christian is concerned: The Christian worldview and the non-Christian worldview.  Both the Christian and non-Christian are in a relationship to God.  One is obedience and the other is disobedience.  One is at peace and the other is in rebellion.  This is what Jesus proclaims in Matthew 12:30 when He says “whoever is not with me is against me.”

Of course, the common objection is that this is too restrictive but that doesn’t make it any less true.  It does not deny that there are variations of the non-Christian worldview such as atheism, pantheism or Islam but they are still non-Christian systems of thought.  Once we recognize this and understand that the non-Christian is in open rebellion against the Creator then we can begin to show the irrationality of the non-Christian worldview.

The Creator-Creature Distinction

From the first verse of Genesis we see that God is distinct from His creation.  In John 1:1-3 we see that He exists prior to, or outside of His creation and nothing was created without Him.  Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17 state that all things are held together, or sustained, through Him.  If all things in creation are held together or sustained through the Creator that includes mankind.  But the Creator also created mankind apart from the rest of creation as He created mankind in the image of God.  We, as human beings, are the image bearers of our Creator.  We are His representatives.  As His creatures who are His image bearers and are continually sustained by Him, we are dependent upon and obligated to our Creator.5  As Paul states in Acts 17:28, “in Him we live and move and have our being.”

Our relationship to God is one that naturally follows from being created as His image bearers.  As of Genesis 3, however, the relationship with God was severed.  This subsequently affects our standing, or position to God and as a result we are now disobedient.  The obligation hasn’t changed, that is we are still related to our Creator, we are dependent upon and obligated to Him, but our own desires have taken over and worked to serve ourselves rather than God.  From this point of view, it is easy to see Paul’s reasoning in Romans 1:18-23.  Man was created by God, in the image of God, dependent upon and obligated to God but chose to sever that relationship from the start.  Having done so goes contrary to what we were designed to do.  Denying the very Creator who created us in His image, the very one we are dependent upon, the very one we were Created to serve goes so contrary to the natural order, that we must hold down, or suppress or most basic intuition to do so which is why the wrath of God gets revealed.  The rest of Romans 1 flows naturally from this understanding.


Mankind, being in relation to God is still obligated to Him.  God is the source of our being and without Him we would not exist.  To deny God is to deny our own creator.  It is as good as saying we have no biological parents.  Doing so runs contrary to the natural order and puts us at odds with the world around us as Paul so explicitly points out in the rest of Romans 1.  The next post will take a look at general revelation, that is what we can know about God through the world around us.

  1. This is not to say that we cannot judge. Christians are commanded to judge properly, not as though we ourselves are morally superior, but judging what we rightly know versus judging what we do not know.
  2. Much more could be said about these three items but brevity is being used here.  The intention is simply to show that all of humanity is in relationship to God.
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  4. Dr. Oliphint, K. S. From the article Unbelievers and the Knowledge of God: Biblical Warrant for a Presuppositional Apologetic.  Retrieved from the Web Archive on February 5th, 2013.
  5. See Jeff Down’s excellent article A Covenantal Apologetic.


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