For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived 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 senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
Romans 1:18–23 describes what is universally true of all people who have not come under the power of the gospel. They perceive truth about God from creation but their natural inclinations are so strong against this truth that they suppress it (v. 18). People who love sin hate the light and will not come to the light lest their deeds should be exposed (John 3:20). But the light of God's truth goes on shining in the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4–6); and it shines, for those outside the gospel, in the work of creation.
Creation Teaches That God Deserves All Thanksgiving
"The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech and night unto night declares knowledge" (Psalm 19:1–2). "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20).
Creation Is a Dazzling Lesson Book in Theology
For those who, by God's grace, love the truth and don't want to suppress it, creation becomes a dazzling lesson book in theology. It teaches the open mind that there is a deity, an infinitely marvelous Being, who made the world. It teaches that this Being has stupendous power and that he is eternal. The world in its molecular and visible and galactic structure and order bears the mark of an Architect. And if he is the Architect of all that is, then he was not brought into being by anyone else and is eternal. An eternally powerful, infinitely marvelous Maker of all things is evident from the lesson book of creation. But that's not all we can read in this book.
If there is such an all-powerful, infinitely glorious God who made all things, then I, too, am his creature. And everything I have is from him. Who but the Creator gives to all men life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25)? Standing before the irresistible logic of the lesson book of creation, I have to admit that everything is a gift. It is inconceivable that the Creator should ever owe me anything. For when could I ever give a gift to him that I should be repaid? "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:35–36). I am not my own; I belong to my Maker. My existence is owing to him, and therefore my existence must be for him.
But what can I give my Maker? If he were hungry he would not tell me, for the world and all that is in it is his. The birds of the air, the bugs in the field, the cattle on a thousand hills belong to him (Psalm 50:10–12). Everything that is, is God's. I cannot improve him. I cannot enrich or add to him. I am utterly and inescapably and always the recipient. "He is not served by human hands as though he needed anything" (Acts 17:25). How, then, shall I live for him? How shall I please him?
Thanksgiving Is the Message of Creation
The answer to that question, too, stands written in the lesson book of creation mirrored in our own conscience. I must be thankful to him! If I cannot add to his glory, then I must honor his glory. If there is an eternally powerful and infinitely marvelous God who made all that is, then there is only one righteous destiny for his creatures—to live for the praise of his glory . . . to join our Maker in his manifest purpose to make his power and glory known and loved among the nations. How shall a mere creature honor the glory of his Maker? We all know the answer to that question: We honor his glory by cherishing it and being thankful. "He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies God" (Psalm 50:23).
Gratitude honors God. Gratitude is the echo of grace as it reverberates through the hollows of the human heart. Gratitude is the unashamed acceptance of a free gift and the heartfelt declaration that we cherish what we cannot buy. Therefore gratitude glorifies the free grace of God and signifies the humility of a needy and receptive heart.
It is really amazing how much we can know of God and our duty simply by honestly pondering the lesson book of creation: that there is an infinitely marvelous Being who made all things, who has eternal power, to whom we owe life and breath and everything, and therefore whom we should glorify and thank from the bottom of our hearts day and night. Nobody who will own up to the reality in which he lives needs the Bible to know that he should glorify God and give him thanks. It is written in the sky and in every human heart—but nobody does it.
Everyone Has Fallen Short of This Calling
"Although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him" (Romans 1:21). "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images" (Romans 1:22–23).
Sin Is the Exchange of God's Glory
What Paul means in Romans 3:23, that all men fall short of God's glory, is explained in Romans 1:23—all men exchange God's glory for images. So the meaning of sin is plain: sin is taking the diamond of God's glory into the pawn shop of pride and hocking it for the cracked marble of self-reliance. Notice verse 22: "Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images." All creation testifies that we are the creatures of an eternally powerful, all-glorious Creator and that we should cherish his glory above all things and give him heartfelt thanks day and night. But for some mysterious reason the human heart hates that truth and suppresses it (v. 18), or as verse 25 says, we "exchange the truth about God for a lie." Why? Because we want to be thought wise. "Claiming to be wise . . . they exchanged the glory of God."
Proud People Hate the Lesson of Creation
The reason the human heart hates the truth that creation teaches is because it is too humbling. From sea to shining sea the creation shouts that God has eternal power, God is the infinitely marvelous Being, God is the Maker of all that is, and we are utterly dependent on his absolutely free choices to create and sustain our life or not, and we should therefore glorify him and not ourselves and give thanks to him and not take credit for ourselves.
But proud people don't say thanks. Gratitude is the echo of grace reverberating through the hollows of the human heart. But proud people don't need grace. They don't think their hearts are hollow without God. They are filled with wisdom! So "claiming to be wise, they exchange the glory of the immortal God for images." Proud people don't say thanks. Tight-lipped, they take the diamond of God's glory, enter the pawn shop of pride, and hock it for the broken marble of self-reliance. Then they take this little idol home, set it on the mantle of their mind, and bow down to it in a hundred different ways every day. "Although we knew God, we did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him but became futile in our thinking . . . claiming to be wise." Proud people don't say thanks.
No One Ought to Point a Pious Finger
Now we must warn ourselves not to point a pious finger here as though Madalyn Murray O'Hair or Hugh Hefner or some pagan tribe were the only defendants in this case. We who know God well are also indicted by this text. There is a test that I often use to humble myself before the Lord. I commend it to you. Consider the spontaneity and intensity of your anger when someone slanders you or interrupts your concentration or cuts in front of you at Country Club grocery store, and compare those emotions with the spontaneity and intensity of your indignation for God when he is slandered and his commandments are broken and people put themselves before him. Or consider your spontaneous excitement when you get a raise, or an unexpected tax break, or a compliment from your superior; and compare this spontaneous rise of emotion with the spontaneity and intensity of your excitement and emotion when you contemplate the character of Christ and the glory of God.
A moment's reflection will humiliate virtually all of us. Our hearts are alive and quick and sensitive and responsive and full of emotion toward things that concern our material pleasures and our ego. But O, how slow and dull and unresponsive and dryly intellectual we are toward the reality of God. Therefore, let us not point our finger at others who hock the glory of God for the cracked marble of self-reliance. There is ample evidence in our own emotional life to prove that we, too, have barely begun to set our affections on the diamond of God's glory.
Sinners Are Redeemed Through Contrite Faith
We have need of deep contrition and repentance. The reason I stress this on the Sunday before one of the happiest holidays of the year is because I want you to experience the maximum amount of joy from hearts of deepest gratitude on Thursday. Proud people don't say thanks, and we are deeply afflicted with pride. If we do not preface our holiday with contrition, we will simply join the world in the ironic holiday exercise of trying to pump up a genuine feeling of gratitude for the cracked marble of self-sufficiency.
Not Self-Congratulation but Surgery Leads to Joy
I know that I could join the popular chorus of writers and preachers who tell us endlessly how beautiful we are. I could polish your marble. I could put it in a safe place behind the caricatures of Calvinistic preachers who belabor sin and neglect joy. I could put it under the spotlight of slogans like, "If it's going to be depends on me." And perhaps a few of you, whose knowledge of the Bible and of your own heart is shallow, would say, "Ah, sweet words. Listen to how he loves his people, making them feel whole instead of broken." But God would rebuke me with the words of Jeremiah 6:14, "You have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace! Peace!' when there is no peace."
It's as though I were a medical doctor and you came to me with a deep gash in the bottom of your foot from a broken bottle hidden in a mud puddle. Your friends stand and watch as I gently swab the skin clean around the wound and sew it up. They marvel at how compassionate I seem and how tenderly I handle the sensitive area and how expertly the sutures fit and the skin meets. But my very unsentimental medical superior comes to me afterwards and says, "You have a good bedside manner, Piper; you tie a good suture; I think they left happy, but the bottom of that gash was full of mud when you closed it up. And that foot is going to be full of infection and pain by Thanksgiving." "You have healed the wounds of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, Peace,' when there is pride, pride." Scrape the mud out of the wound. It may hurt today, but by Thursday they will leap like lambs from the stall.
God Gives Grace to the Humble and Contrite
My desire for you is that your gratitude to God this Thanksgiving be very deep, very authentic, and very joyful. And the reason it can be is that God gives grace upon grace to people who hate their pride and are broken because of their sin. David tasted this grace and said, "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Psalm 51:17). And God himself testifies to his grace with similar words in Isaiah 57:15, "I dwell in a high and holy place and with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite."
For the true child of God the repeated discovery of his own sin brings godly grief which produces repentance and leads to salvation and brings no regret (2 Corinthians 7:10). I have no ability to understand people who say that we should not urge contrition and poverty of spirit upon people whose sins have been forgiven and who are being made new by the indwelling Christ. It is precisely because Christ loves me so much that the coolness of my zeal in prayer and meditation and worship and witness grieves me so deeply. Shall we take the half-heartedness of our devotion lightly because he is so kind? Have you never been driven to tears of remorse precisely because you are forgiven?
I pray that there will be great heart-felt thankfulness to God in all your homes this week. I pray that some of you will find yourselves singing to the Lord, and that some of you will write a prayer of praise in your journal, and some will compose poems of thanksgiving, and some will make a long list of blessings, and some will spend special time alone with Christ, and some will say to wife or husband or friend, "I am thankful to God for you."
Three Truths for the Sake of Your Thanksgiving
But proud people don't say thanks. And so I have laid before you three very humbling truths for the sake of your thankfulness.
- The first truth: nature teaches us that an infinitely marvelous, eternally powerful Being created us and all we have. Therefore we are his creatures. He owns us. Our life, our breath, and everything we have is a gift. Our duty is simply to be thankful to him from our heart and to cherish his glory.
- The second humbling truth is that all of us have fallen short of this duty. We have not consistently prized the diamond of God's glory with an affection anywhere near its value but have exchanged it again and again for the cracked marbles that in our great "wisdom" we have determined are more valuable.
- The third humbling truth is that God, in his great mercy, sent his Son to suffer the judgment of people who are broken and contrite in spirit and who trust in him.
Proud people don't say thanks. But people who believe these three truths do, from the bottom of their heart. The truth that we are utterly dependent creatures. The truth that we are depraved sinners. And the truth that we are redeemed and utterly forgiven through contrite faith. If these three truths penetrate to your heart this morning, they will empty your heart of pride and fill it with thankfulness to God.