It’s not a comfortable subject, but it is essential that we understand sin — how it works, what it does to us, and how the gospel heals us from its damage. In his first message at the 2015 Pastors Conference, John Piper offered a brief survey of sin from the book of Romans. We jump into the message in the following clip, as Pastor John addresses Romans 1:18.
Verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” So here mankind in general is described as ungodly and unrighteousness. 1 John 5:17 says, “All unrighteousness is sin.”
We know what we are dealing with here. “Against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men.” What is the first thing they do? They suppress the truth. Our ungodliness and unrighteousness inclines us to suppress truth. We repel the light. We run into darkness. Jesus said in John 3 that we are guilty sinners, not because we are victims of darkness, but lovers of darkness (v. 19). Light has come into the world and people love the darkness rather than light.
So right off the bat I am getting the feeling that deep down in me these issues are love issues. I love the dark. I can suppress the truth so much more easily in the dark. And that is what sin does. It suppresses truth. What truth does it specialize in suppressing? Look at verse 19: “Because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” Knowledge of God is the truth that sin wants to suppress. “So they are without excuse” (v. 20). Why? “Because although they knew — they knew — God, they did not glorify him or give him thanks” (v. 21).
So the root of why we suppress the truth is that we don’t want to glorify or thank God. And the truth is always testifying to his glory and his beneficence, and so it has to be squished down, put out of our mind, lest we feel guilty about not glorifying and thanking him. We don’t want to do it, because we are sinners. And sin doesn’t thank God. Sin doesn’t glorify God. Sin loves darkness, which conceals the glory of God and the beneficence of God. Sin is not just a hater of the light and of the knowledge of God, desiring to suppress it. Sin is a lover. When the hated truth is suppressed, the loved lie is embraced.
Verses 22–23 continue, “Claiming to be wise they [that is, those who suppress the truth and who have darkened hearts] claiming to be wise they have become fools and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” They don’t just bury truth. They embrace alternative lovers. There is no vacuum in the human heart ever. When the real God is rejected, images are embraced. “They exchanged the glory of God for images.” Sin hates the true God and sin loves God-substituting images.
And we, more than any culture in the history of the world, live in an age of images. We spend almost all our leisure time looking at images. Quite irrelevant, I think, that for Paul those images were stone or wood alongside of an Athenian road and ours are on our phone or television or computer — irrelevant. The issue is substitution: We exchange the infinitely valuable glory of God for the glory — that show of images — coming off the screen.