Faithful in Mission, Part 3

Thus, the mission itself and the importance of that mission are clear. We are called to proclaim the Word of God because we are in Christ, and the Lord has chosen to call His elect through our preaching. It is not our Word, but His. What, then, is the content of that message? Because Christ has come to call sinners to faith, one must first recognize his own sin. The third passage for consideration, therefore, is Romans 1:18-23. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” Paul here states that God’s wrath is not something that is hidden. His wrath is not part of His special revelation, but it is evident to all men. However, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Everyone knows, whether he wants to admit it or not, that God exists, because they know the Law of God in their conscience. This is not a deistic concept of God, as if we have a vague notion of a creator deity who demands something from us. Paul says that they know God, because God has revealed Himself to them. “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.” All people are without excuse, because even though they know God, they suppress this knowledge through sin. If they did not know God as He is, then they might have a defense before the judgment seat, claiming ignorance of Him and of His Law. Yet all are without excuse. All men must answer to God, because they have broken His Law. “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.” Idolatry, according to Paul, is not putting a face upon a vague notion of a god. It is not creating an image of a sense of divine power. It is deliberately giving what properly belongs to the only God to one of His creations. In their desire to suppress what they know to be true, they worship the creature rather than the creator and pile sin upon sin.

This is an important consideration, because the message which Christ has sent us to proclaim is not one that is entirely foreign to our hearers. If they truly did not know God at all, not even in their heart of hearts, then there could be no proclamation. They would not be guilty of breaking the Law, because then the Law would be something foreign. Men would be neutral with respect to God, something which is plainly not true, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We should not hesitate to proclaim the Law to the unbeliever, because it reveals what he refuses to admit: that he is a lawbreaker guilty before the only God whom he tries desperately to deny. There is also no relativism here, as if the Christian worldview was an alternative to the unbelieving one. This is not a case of I have mine and you have yours. Rather, there is one and only one reality, the Christian. The unbeliever knows God, as Paul says, because he must assume so in order to make sense of anything. Morality, for example, presupposes that God is good. Evil has no meaning apart from contrasting it with the Triune God. Science presupposes order, something which makes no sense apart from God. Of course, the unbeliever denies this vigorously, but in order to know anything at all, he begins with the very God he tries to suppress.

The task of apologetics, therefore, is to “destroy strongholds,” to use the language of Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:4. I believe that there is a real danger in treating apologetics as merely preliminary to the Gospel. There is in fact no truly middle ground between belief and unbelief. Everything which the unbeliever sees is colored by his suppression of the truth. Even the resurrection all by itself can be distorted, as Christ Himself says in Luke 16:31: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” A vigorous proclamation of God’s Word, therefore, is the most vigorous apologetic.