A marriage, a family, any relationship, cannot withstand the appetite that a false idol will produce in the person chasing after the idol.

Study of Romans as given by Dr. James Montgomery Boice: Romans 1:21-23

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. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Fools. That’s a harsh indictment of the human species from Dr. Boice, but none the less it is true. It’s not true because Dr. Boice says it is true. It is true because scripture says it is true. Looking all the way back to the events which unfolded with Adam and Eve, Dr. Boice makes the argument that Adam was deliberate in his sin. Adam was not deceived by Satan, like Eve was. Adam knew that he was rebelling against God and the he was rejecting God’s truth about himself and the world. What Adam wanted was to build his own truth. Adam wanted to follow his own created truth. This is what Satan really offered Eve. Satan offered Eve a chance to create truth for herself. You see, Adam and Even already knew right from wrong as they were both created in God’s image. Being created in God’s image already gave them a set of ethics, a sense of right and wrong. What Adam and Eve wanted was an ability to say what is right and wrong, they wanted autonomy in creating their own set of ethics. Adam wanted to make his own rules. In Adam’s attempt to become sovereign, Adam rebelled and Adam became anything but sovereign. Instead of become like God as Satan promised, Adam became more like Satan. Instead of rewriting the truth so that it would better suit his own warped desires, Adam began a process in which he and the human race after him turned from the truth of God to lies.

Substitution and Moral Foolishness

  1. Our study of Romans 1:18-21 has shown what human beings have done in terms of their relationships to God.
    1. Supressed the truth about God.
    2. Refused to glorify, or worship, God
    3. Neglected o be thankful.
  2. Because of the first, possibly the second and third transgressions, the wrath of God has already begun to come upon man.
  3. When Adam rebelled against God it was not only his relationship with God that was affected. Adam’s relationship with Eve was affected also, and this would have a lasting effect on the history of mankind.
  4. The first result of mans rebellion against God is that he became a fool. His heart was darkened.
  5. Three words used and to consider in this part of scripture.
    1. Dialogismois
      1. Translated “thinking” in NIV, “imaginations” in King James Version, and “argumentations” in J.B. Phillips paraprhase.
      2. It refers to the working of the human mind apart from revelation.
      3. Since we have rejected the truth about God that God has revealed to us, we have been left to our own devices, which are, inadequate for working out or discovering reality.
      4. Since we have rejected God we can use our minds only to rearrange error.
    2. Sophoi
      1. Translated “wise” in most Bible translations.
      2. The force of this word comes from its use in words like sophistry, sophisticated, sophomore, philosophy, philosopher, and philosophical.
      3. In ourselves we think that we are all very intelligent and sophisticated individuals.
      4. Quote from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

        Instead of accepting revelation they became philosophers. And what is a philosopher? A philosopher is a man who claims that he starts by being skeptical about everything, that he is an agnostic, “I am going to have the data,” he says, “and then I am going to apply my mind to it. I am going to reason it out and I am going to work it out.” And that is exactly what such men have done; they became foolish and wicked in their reasonings, in their thoughts, in their own conjectures and speculations and surmisings. And what is the cause of it all? Paul used the word “vain” and it means not only foolish, but it means wicked as well….The cause of the whole trouble was wickedness, and it is still wickedness.

      5. Paul’s point? Such persons are not being honest with the data givent them, and the reason is because they do not like where the data is pointing them.
      6. Instead of pursuing with their minds, they use their minds to justify their disobedience, their actions.
    3. Emoranthesan
      1. Long Greek word that is formed by a simple root “moros” which means fool. It is found in verse 22.
      2. To be a fool in the Greek language means to not only be guilty of intellectual folly, but to be guilty of moral folly or wickedness as well.
      3. In the Bible “fool” is so often connected with the denial of the existence of God.
      4. If it were just concered with intellectual folly, no problem, but since the word includes a moral or ethical elements, as it does, then it also refers to our willful rejection of God.
      5. Compounds our guilt. Adds the sin of hypocrisy to the prior sin of rebellion.

The Downward Sliding Path

  1. Paul shows, starting in verse 24, that turning away from God begins the downward path, leading inevitable to a great moral depravity.
  2. There is a falling away from truth.
  3. The world believes the opposite. The world tries to teach that the path of the race has been consistently upward.
  4. We have been taught that primitive ages of the race were marked by animism and that animism progressed upward to polytheism, which in turn produced monotheism.
  5. Robert Brow, Religion: Origins and Ideas
    1. This theory of evolutionary religious development simply does not fit the facts.
    2. Work of anthropologists suggests that the original form of religion was monotheism and that the polytheistic or animistic religions we see today among certain “primitive” peoples were actually a falling away from that much higher standard.
    3. Evidence inidcates degeneration from a true knowledge of God.
    4. Evidence suggests that knowledge of the tru God came first, accompanied by animal scrifices that were a way of acknowledging that the worshper had offended God and needed to make atonement.
    5. In time polytheism entered, providing a pantheon of gods to worship. These other gods came about not because they were higher or mightier than the true God, but they were less to be feared.
  6. If what Brow suggests is true, then it is a sharp example of our great wickedness. We have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for gods of our own devising.

Trauma, Repression, Substitution

  1. Paul introduces an extemely important word in understanding nonbiblical religions and the human psychology that has produced them. The word is “exchanged”.
    1. …and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:23)
    2. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:25)
  2. This word explains why man has been so determined to invent religious to replace worship of the one true God.
  3. In psychology there is a sequence of common human experiences known as trauma, repression, and substitution.
    1. Some trauma happens in your life, i.e. your house gets buglarized and the burglar threatens you.
    2. You know the burglar has not been caught.
    3. After a few months you develop a problem, maybe insomnia. You can’t sleep at night. You decide to seek help.
    4. The professional recognizes that when they talk about home you have some behavior that tips the professional off to maybe it has to deal with a problem at home.
    5. Professional asks about a problem at home, but you say nothing is happening at home.
    6. After some digging professional discovers about the burglary. You’ve repressed the memory of it though.
    7. What has replaced the fear of the burglary is insomnia, not focusing at work, and constantly calling home.
  4. The man in the example above shows trauma, repression, and substition. Robbery was so traumatic that the man represses the memory of it and replaces it with unnatural behavior patterns.
  5. This is precisely what Paul says has happened to the human race. Because of our primitive break with God in Adam and the resulting sinful state in which we live, whenever we experience the revelation of God in nature (or in Jesus Christ, the Bible, Christian preaching, or whatever), we find echoes of the original trauma emerging and inevitably attempt to repress them. But we cannot erase the trauma, and an act of substitution takes place by which we become “religious,” creating substitutionary deities to take the true God’s place.

  6. The fact that one is religious does not prove that one is seeking the one true God.
  7. Although we are unwilling to know God and do not want him, we are nevertheless unable to do without him and try to fill the void with our substitute gods.

From Darkness to Light

  1. One final word to look at. This is the word “darkness”.
  2. 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. (Romans 1:21)
  3. Equivalent phrases used by Paul to describe “darkness”.
    1. …their thinking became futile…
    2. …they became fools…
    3. …exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
  4. When men and women turn away from God we don’t admit we turn away from God. We talk about “bright new ideas,””enlightenment” or “seeing the light.”
  5. Any ideas of “enlightment” apart from God we think we may have are an illusion.
  6. We need the revelation and power of God to bring us back from self-inflicted darkness into God’s light.

Personal Reflection

Idols. We all have one or more idol. I’m not talking about the kind you have as a teenager growing up and made your heart race just a little faster. The kind of idol I’m talking about is the kind that affects the way we see life. We all have developed an ideology about life, it’s the philosophy that guides us in our decisions. It’s the philosophy that also shapes our views on other people and how to treat those people. We develop relationships, marriage, friends, etc., and how ideology determines how we view those relationships, how we behave in those relationships. So it’s kind of important to understand our world view and how that view affects everything we do in life. That world view is partially formed by the idols we have set up for ourselves. The thing you spend the majority of your life seeking after, is the idol you have created in your life.

If money is the one thing you spend the majority of your life trying to attain, and you do it at all costs, then money is your idol. Money will determine the type of relationships you have, the way you treat people, the way you behave in general. The same can be said of sex, fame, power, persona, etc. Our entire identity is enmeshed with our idol as it defines who we are. When our idol is present then we have to go out and seek, we have to have our idol because if we don’t have it then we lose our own self-concept. We don’t know who we are. We don’t know our purpose in life apart from our idol.

When Paul writes in Romans 1:21-23 about becoming fools and exchanging the glory of God for images he is talking about doing this very thing. It is utter foolishness to chase after and idolize things that last only a fleeting second. We exchange the permanence of God’s glory for the temporary euphoria we get when we take the action of worshipping our false idol. I have seen drug addicts do just about anything to obtain their idol. I have seen sex addicts use people, not caring about the aftermath of their actions. I have seen families fall apart because one person idolizes money and works hours upon hours to obtain it. A marriage, a family, any relationship, cannot withstand the appetite that a false idol will produce in the person chasing after the idol.

The call coming from Paul is to not be fools in life. Take a few minutes and do a word study on the word “fool”. You’ll find that, in this context, it’s a very strong condemnation of the person who exchanges God’s glory for idols. The Greek word basically says you are moronic, but you are also a person guilty of moral folly or wickedness as well. This idea of setting up false idols indicts one of being wrong in their set of ethics as well as being evil. There is no easier way to convey this message, but we who are idol chasers are moronic in our chase. Because we are moronic in our chase, our thinking has no meaning, no substance to guide is correctly in life. Again, who can save us from ourselves, but only the grace and mercy of God.

Other Resources (these are sources cited in Boice’s original commentary from which the outline above is compiled)

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