God has not only given revelation in Scripture, but also, He reveals Himself in creation. The revelation refers to the act of communication to man. He created the world to put his glory on display that his people might know Him, and love Him, and worship Him. “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6-7). The whole creation exists for the glory of God.
The great tragedy of the universe is that, while human beings were made to glorify God, we have all fallen short of this purpose and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:23). The ultimate condemnation of man for not giving the glory to God is announced in Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.”
Notice that God’s wrath is revealed against ungodliness and wickedness. What is the specific act that is provoking the divine wrath? The answer is clear, the suppressing of truth. Now, “What truth is being suppressed?” The rest of the text provides the answer:
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. – Rom. 1: 19-21
Here, the apostle Paul gives us a description of what theologians call “general revelation”. That verse simply tells us something God has revealed generally. It refers to two things, content and audience. The content is general, in that it does not provide a detailed description of God. God reveals that He is deity and He has eternal power. The audience is general, in that all men receive this revelation. God does not reveal Himself only to a small elite group of scholars or priests but to all mankind.
FIVE facts about this general revelation:
Clarity (v19, V20): It is clear and unambiguous.
This knowledge is said to be plain (manifest) to them; that God has shown it to them; that it has been clearly perceived. Thus, this knowledge is not unclear.
Apprehension (V21): The knowledge “gets through” and finds its mark.
God does not merely provide an available objective revelation of Himself that may or may not be subjectively received. We read, “They knew God.” Man’s problem is not that he doesn’t know God but that he refuses to acknowledge what he knows to be true.
Continuity (V20): This revelation has been going on since the foundation of the world.
It is not a once-for-all event but continues in a constant way.
Manifestation (V20): This revelation comes by way of creation.
God’s invisible nature is revealed “through the things that are made.” The whole creation is a glorious theater which gives a magnificent display of its creator.
Sufficiency (V20): This revelation is sufficient to render man inexcusable.
The passage says, “So they are without excuse.” No one will ever be able to say to God, “I’m sorry I didn’t worship and serve you. I didn’t know you existed. I didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to affirm your existence.”
God’s zeal for His own glory
God is in the business of seeking His own glory, his eminent Excellency. God is seeking true worshippers. It is man’s holy duty to ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name. If we fail to give glory to God He will sanctify His name by means of judgment. Probably no text in the Bible reveals the passion of God for his own glory more clearly and bluntly as Isaiah 48:9-11 where God says, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”
If God has in fact clearly revealed Himself to all men, no man can plead ignorance as an excuse for not glorifying Him. He gets glory out of everything. The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (Proverbs 16:4). He gets glory out of everything that he created. Everybody gets to the place where He gives God glory, willingly or unwillingly. But especially God gets glory from the righteous. He judges those who don’t willfully give Him glory.
The double jeopardy
If all men have understood God through the nature but naturally reject Him, then it follows that all men need to know of the redemption offered in Christ. To have no knowledge of Christ is to be in jeopardy because of the prior rejection of the revelation of God through His creation. But to hear of Christ and reject Him is to be in a state of double jeopardy. Now not only has the Father been rejected but the Son as well. Thus every time the gospel is proclaimed it bears a two-edged sword. To those who believe, it is the savor of glory in heaven. To those who reject, it is eternal damnation in hell.