What Can Be Known About God

Romans 1:18–23

Principle for Bible Reading

The Bible says that the whole world already knows God, but also says that much of the world does not know him. What does it mean to know God? And how does someone know him, and yet not know him? In this lab, John Piper explores this difficult, but critical tension and commissions us into the world to speak the gospel.

View the outline.


Introduction/Prayer (00:00–00:47)

Some Do Not Know God (00:47–01:52)

  1. The world does not know God. (1 Corinthians 1:21)
  2. The Gentiles did not know God before they believed and were freed from slavery to false gods. (Galatians 4:8)
  3. Again, the Gentiles did not know God, and therefore cannot control their passions, like lust. (1 Thessalonians 4:4–5)
  4. Therefore, we know that some do not know God, at least not in a real, saving way.

Everyone in the World Knows God (01:52–05:05)

  1. Everyone suppresses the truth. In order to suppress the truth, you have to know it first. (Romans 1:18)
  2. What can be known about God is plain to everyone in the world. (Romans 1:19)
  3. God has revealed himself to all in what he has made (“God has shown it to them”). (Romans 1:19)
  4. “They (all) knew God.” (Romans 1:21)
  5. In order to exchange the glory of God for other things (“for images”), we must know him, at least in some way. (Romans 1:23)

All Are Without Excuse (05:05–06:09)

  1. With all of this knowledge, we did not honor him or give him thanks. (Romans 1:21)
  2. We suppressed this knowledge of God and traded the knowledge of his glory for the glory of the things he created. (Romans 1:18
  3. Therefore, we are all without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Piper: “At the judgment day, no one will be condemned for not believing the gospel if they’ve never heard the gospel. They’ll be condemned for suppressing the truth, trading away God’s glory, failing to thank him, and thus dishonoring him. Therefore, all are without excuse.”

They Knew and Did Not Know: An Illustration (06:09–10:36)

  1. We were all designed with a capacity to know God.
  2. Because of our sin, we tried to take other things and use them to fill the cavities inside of us created for God.
  3. Nothing fits in the space inside of each of us made for God.
  4. Everyone knows God. They know what they’re experiencing now apart from God is not satisfying.
  5. The Holy Spirit, by the word of God, needs to come and clean out the alternatives and fill us again with a knowledge of God through the gospel.

Our Task (10:36–11:33)

Everyone we meet has a knowledge of God, but they are eternally restless until they know God through Jesus Christ. Our task is to speak the gospel everywhere we can, and pray that the Holy Spirit would take that message and put it into the places for which it is perfectly designed in every human soul, so that they would see and believe.

Study Questions

  1. Read Romans 1:18–23. Now read 1 Corinthians 1:21, Galatians 4:8, and 1 Thessalonians 4:4–5. Do you see any inconsistencies between the two sets of verses? If so, how might you explain them?
  2. In Romans 1:18–23, how do we know that everyone in the world knows God? How many times does Paul reinforce that reality in these verses?
  3. How would you explain to someone that the whole world knows God (Romans 1:21), and yet that some do not know him (1 Corinthians 1:21)? Can you think of a creative way to help someone understand this difficult truth?
Piper: “We’re all created with the capacity to God, and nothing else will fill that empty space inside of us.”