If truth is suppressed long enough, eventually truth will be substituted for a lie. This is a deliberate exchange. A person may tire of pushing back their guilt and wrestling with their conscience, so they buy into a system of thought that supplants the truth that was bothering them.
People do this despite the clear and compelling evidence of God’s eternal power and presence. We not only have the witness of conscience in us, we have the witness of creation to us. All of nature cries out, “There is a God!” That which is visible in nature, with its marvelous intricacy and majestic complexity, dramatically declares the existence of a Creator. Paul writes, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom.1:20 NKJV). You have to deliberately deny and distort the facts, substituting the false religion of naturalism, bowing at the altar of Darwinism, to convince yourself that there is no God. Those who are atheists have to suspend reason, and become irrational and, according to the Apostle, this is quite inexcusable.
Those who shut their eyes to God’s witness exchange truth for a lie. Paul underscored this: “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Rom.1:25).
Still, most people around the world cannot deny the twofold witness of conscience in them and creation about them—so that the atheist is a rare breed. Most people in the world are religious to some degree. They acknowledge some kind of God, yet their knowledge of someone out there does not lead them to Him, but in their sinful nature and depravity, they substitute the creation for the Creator. Weigh these words carefully:
“because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” (Rom.1:21-23)
They substitute a God who has made them in His image for a god made in their image. They travel an ever more degrading path from “the glory of the incorruptible God” all the way down to “creeping things” –bugs! In Egypt they held the scarab sacred—a dung beetle! They worshipped an insect that rolled a ball of feces around! The Bible warns that we become like the god we worship (Psalm 115:4-8). Filthy gods lead to filthy lives. “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves” (Rom.1:24). Idolatry breeds immorality that leads to an ever-deepening cycle of degeneracy.
We become “fools” (Rom.1:22). This isn’t a flaw in mental ability—there are fools with a high IQ. It is a failure in moral aptitude—they love sin and do not want to face consequences, so they deny God’s existence or fashion a god that will bless their sin. In Scripture, folly isn’t about the level of education, but about the depths of rebellion against God.
In Paul’s day, the pagan gods were full of lust and vile passions. There was Bacchus, the god of drunkenness. How was he worshipped? By getting drunk! There was Aphrodite, the goddess of sex. Her worship featured orgies. Many of the idol temples were mere marble-columned brothels.
Yet, even at the heart of this decadent empire, God had planted a church. Many of the members of that Roman church had been rescued from corrupt lives and cleansed from sin by the power of the Gospel. That is the message of hope we bear to the world. Why don’t you invite someone to church to hear that message tomorrow?