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The Urge to Spin

Romans 1

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Romans 1:16 - 23, 2:1-3

16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature —have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. ...

I would like to read the first verses of Romans chapter two also - to bring across the point that Paul, once again is not talking about someone out there, he is talking about each of us.

1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?

People of God

Last week we began looking at Romans 1. We found that one of the main reasons why Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel is because he was not ashamed to face the reality of the human condition apart from the grace of God. Knowing that our sin has led us to the fearful consequence of the wrath of God, he was not ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is God's power to deliver us from his wrath and anger against our sin.

This morning, we are going to continue our important study of Romans, especially around the way this sinful nature shows up in our lives. When we do that though, there is no intent in this message to heap heavy burdens on our shoulders, because we come to the scriptures as people who are set free by the power of the gospel. We can honestly look at what our old nature is, because God accepts us, even with our old nature in his love, and he is working within us to set us free from this old nature, one of the themes that will come up later on in the book of Romans.

We look at our sin from the context of our salvation.

Now we want to look at that sin that is part of our old nature, and to do that we focus on verse 18 - 20.

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature —have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

At its very root, it is the very character of the sin within us to suppress the truth.

Before we look at this closely, let me make a few comments about the concept of truth, and then the word suppress.

Truth is a concept that has been redefined repeatedly throughout history, by one philosophy after another. I have no intent to survey the different meanings of truth except to point to the fact that the scriptures have in them a broad range of meanings for the word. Truth can be a person - Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life." Truth can be integrity, as in Isaiah 59:14, 15, where integrity is gone, no one is to be trusted. Truth can have the context of honest communication. (Jeremiah 7:28), truth can also be a body of knowledge, as in the gospel, by which we come to the knowledge of the truth. Truth is a big concept. But the way that Paul uses the word in this passage, truth is evidence that drives to a necessary conclusion, or as Josh McDowell put it, it is "evidence that demands a verdict." Now there is a lot of evidence that does not demand a verdict, it does not drive us to necessary conclusions. For example, if when I get out of bed in the morning, I can't find my glasses, I do not need to arrive at the conclusion that my glasses were stolen. I know my character, and my habits of leaving things lay in the strangest of places. In the same way, when we see a person of mid eastern descent, it is irresponsible to conclude that they must be a terrorist. There is evidence that does not drive us to necessary conclusions.

But there are evidences that drive us to necessary conclusions. For example, archeologists digging in the earth, when they find a piece of flint in triangular shape, razor sharpened on two edges, they come to the immediate conclusion that they have found a probably ancient arrowhead. The evidence of design and purpose demands the conclusion. In fact, it is especially when there are multiple evidences that point to the combination of design and purpose that the evidences start demanding a conclusion. Again, let me use an illustration. If you were to find a watch, and carefully dismantle it, you would quickly come to the conclusion that the watch has an intricate design, and the mechanism is designed for the purpose of made a slow measured march in time. From seeing both design, combined with purpose, you would have to conclude that there was intelligence behind the design, or a designer.

When Paul uses the term truth in this passage, he means it in the sense of evidence that drives a necessary conclusion.

We will get back to this theme in just a few minutes. Now I would like to look at the second word - suppress - at the root of sin is that we suppress the evidence that demands a conclusion. Suppress in this context means to hold down, keep covered, keep from sight, in much the same way that you might want to keep the evidence that water is boiling in a pot hidden by pressing down harder on the lid.  You can do it for a while, but eventually the steam will come shooting out, and possibly burn you. Or, if you have a cube of jello, try hide it in your hand by holding it and squeezing it.  What happens?  It leaks through the edges. Paul's argument is that we (humanity, all of us) suppress the truth because our hearts have a bent toward evil. The question is, how do we do this?

The way this shows up in everyone of us is in the urge to spin. Every time the government makes a major blunder, we right away notice how they try to put it in the best possible light for the press, rather then just coming out with the honest truth about their mistakes. We call it spin control. We too have that urge to spin, to put our actions and our characters in the best possible light, to give the truth, as negative as it might be, a slightly rosier hue so that it will be more acceptable to others. We like to maintain our positive public image. When two people are in the throws of a divorce, we discover very quickly the power of this urge to spin as the two different parties will tell you their versions of the same stories. That's the urge to spin, put our story in the best possible light. Everyone of us has it. Catch a child with their hand in the cookie jar and their guaranteed to come up with a justifying story. We are born with the urge to spin when it comes to our sin, our character and even about other evidences that demand a conclusion that we do not like!

That is the important point in verses 18 - 20. This urge to spin, to interpret events in a different light that is more suitable to our needs and wants affects how we even look at the world. Paul tells us that irrepressibly creation reveals a truth that drives toward the conclusion of God's eternal power and divine nature, along with an implied accountability to God, (because the wrath of God is also being revealed) and the only way that this conclusion can be avoided is by suppressing this truth.

He was familiar with some of the many ways that this happened in his day. He was familiar with the Jews who suppressed the awareness of God by replacing God with law, boasting in their relationship with the law. Jesus would call the pharisees among them sons of the devil because in truth they were blind guides that suppressed the true knowledge of God by their traditions and teachings.

He knew about the Greeks who in the awareness of god had developed an elaborate pantheon of gods, all so human with their corruptions and weaknesses that no human would ever want to be accountable to them. He knew about the Romans who system of gods was complex - including the emperor, adopted Greek mythologies, the concept of fate, and numina, a term by which the Romans acknowledged that there were all kings of spiritual forces at work in the world that had to be appeased.

I could survey more of history, but let me jump to the present, in our modern and post modern context. Creation all around us is proclaiming the handiwork of God, revealing his eternal power and divine nature, and his wrath against sin.

In terms of our modern culture, science, which was born in the awareness of the faithfulness of God who sets up laws that create repeatable empirical evidences, the basis on which the experimental method is based, has become a system of thought which suppresses the truth. Let me take the most obvious example. Darwin's theory of evolution, which is fine to study as a theory is taken in our education system as the only theory to explain the existence of life. There are other theories, but they are suppressed because they contain the hint of God, the designer. Yet everywhere, like trying to keep the steam in the pot, the evidence that pushes us to the conclusion of God's eternal power and divine nature is coming out. Intelligent design and irreducible complexity theory, especially in the area of molecular biology compels people who honestly examine it to the acknowledgment of a designer. The areas of physics and quantum mechanics is repeatedly coming up with demonstrations that our universe has been specifically designed to support life. These evidences called "anthropic coincidences" (at least 50 of them) (Carl Sagan) have been noticed by those examining the very atoms to the stars our universe is made of, an argument that those who have argued for SETI, extra terrestrial intelligence have used repeatedly.

Though the evidence of God's eternal power and divine nature is suppressed, from DNA to the farthest reaches of the universe, creation speaks as a poem to his glory, the architect of reality.

Now we are in the post modern era, where truth is regarded as cultural, where one person can have one truth, another person can have another truth, the truths can be totally contradictory, but we are expected to validate them both. Now there is a new kind of suppression .  In a multi cultural society, one culture, or faith may not claim that its truth is the truth. We may not say to our neighbour, what you believe is wrong. Again, if there are multiples of equally true and contradictory truths, I may choose to believe what I want, behave the way I want without fear of consequences, without fear of being accountable to the one true God.

We see the urge to spin in our cultures, in our education, in our hearts, all so that we can avoid the necessary conclusion of one God to whom we will be held accountable. But our urge to spin demonstrates one thing - that we are aware of God, and we will be held accountable to God - we are without excuse.

Time is running out - let me conclude this message by introducing the Lord's supper. As we come to this meal, even though we know this urge to spin in our hearts, we come in faith, believing not only in the existence of God, but also that we are accountable to him. We come especially in the awareness of the fact that the wrath of God which burned against our sin, burned on the cross against Christ, who became sin for us so that we would inherit the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. We don't come to God with an excuse, a spin on our sin, we come to God knowing that we have a substitute - Jesus, who died in our place so that we might know the living God.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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