Samuel James wades into the middle of an apologetics dispute between Eric Metaxas and Francis Beckwith, and makes a great point about Romans, which I am coteaching to my small Sunday morning Bible class. We actually covered this in class March 8:
Admittedly, when it comes to Christianity and faith, adopting the vocabulary of the Enlightenment is usually not the best course. However, any discussion about this should carefully consider Romans 1. In that familiar passage, Paul, discussing the scope of mankind’s rebellion against its Creator, intensifies the cosmic treason of unbelief by magnifying the imprint that God has left on Creation:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [ESV]
“So they are without excuse” is a significant sentence. Whatever else Paul might mean by declaring that God’s attributes are “clearly perceived” in the created world, he plainly teaches that this knowledge, this natural revelation, serves an epistemologically judicial function: It renders unbelief inexcusable. Paul believes that the natural world is an unalterably persuasive evidence of God, so much so that to persist in unbelief (as human beings do) is nothing less than “suppressing the truth.”
Apropos of natural law, Doug Mainwaring reasoned his way to God. He writes in Public Discourse:
Where and when should I draw the line with reason? With examining my conscience? With looking at the facts and making decisions based not simply on what I want or what I think is good for me, but based on absolute truths? My thoughts needed to result in actions. Eventually, I chose to lead a chaste life. In view of the facts, in view of the constant testimony of nature all around me, it was the only reasonable thing to do.
Reason led me to acknowledge natural law, which led me to begin rejecting some of my former ways of thinking and acting. Reason alone was enough to lead me to change the direction of my life. Then quite amazingly, natural law and reason working together led me to recognize and acknowledge God’s existence. And once I acknowledged God’s existence, again there was only one reasonable thing to do: I asked Jesus Christ to take the throne of my life, and I began to reject the emptiness of my self-centered ways.
Life experience and reason taught him there was a right and a wrong. They also taught him that he fell short, and continues to fall short, and he needs continuous grace.
Probably his observations also taught him not to expect an accounting of sin in this world, the world being demonstrably fallen and capricious towards righteous and unrighteous alike. Where the rubber hits the road is answering the question: To whom are we accountable? Who judges us by the law we know we fall short of? If the answer is “self” or any earthly judge, we are stuck in the same fix. The world is fallen and cannot sort these matters out justly.
This leads to two deductions:
- God waits to judge us in the heavenly realms.
- God must forgive us by grace if we are to be accounted righteous.
Indeed God’s forbearance in putting up with our sins, not accounting them against us during our lifetimes, is a feature of His grace. Without it, no one would have an opportunity to repent and join Jesus, the first fruits, in heaven. We’d all be zapped before we knew what we were doing.
So by God’s grace we lead an imperfect life circumcised to God. Any other way leads to damnation.
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:6-10)