Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 10, 2002
Where do evil people come from? That is a theological question that actually has many political
ramifications. How we respond to those who do evil will be based on our understanding of the cause of
their evil. For example, in our own nation there is a continuing debate on the question, but by and large,
our society responds off a philosophy that believes that people are innately good and that the corrupting
influence came upon the individual from without. The ramification then is that people are not really
responsible for the crimes they commit. The perpetrator of the crime is also viewed as a victim. In
compassion, we desire to help all victims, so have renamed our penal institutions as "correctional
facilities" instead of jails. A jail is a place where you either await trial for judgement and consequential
punishment for evil committed, or where such punishment takes place. Correctional facilities seek to
rehabilitate the criminal.
There is nothing wrong with trying to rehabilitate a criminal. In fact, all of us would agree that as
long as justice was also satisfied, then such an effort would be a good thing. However, if you do not
understand why the person is bent toward evil, then you cannot rehabilitate them. If you believe evil is
caused by poverty and lack of education, as many in our society do, then giving the person material
comforts and enabling them to finish high school and even college should result in the person becoming
good. Such are some of the efforts in our correctional facilities. However, the efforts have not worked
and recidivism remains high. The FBI 1994 statistic is that 74% of all of those released from prison for
all types of crime are back in prison within four years. Why? Because the cause of the problem is not
dealt with. In effect, current methods make our correctional facilities "criminal universities." They come
out healthy and educated without a change in their bent toward evil.
Where then does this bent to evil come from? Why do people generally become worse instead of
better? Is there hope? Paul addresses those questions in the book of Romans.
The theme of the book of Romans is the righteousness of God demonstrated in the gospel. Paul is not
ashamed of the gospel of God because of what it is and what it presents. It is the power of God unto the
salvation of everyone who is believing regardless of national or ethnic heritage, and it presents the
righteousness of God in both His relationship and actions towards those who are believing (1:17) and
those who are not believing. (1:18). God is righteous in granting men salvation from their sins and sins’
consequences on the basis of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is also righteous in His wrath
against those who are not believing, for in their ungodliness and unrighteousness they suppress the truth
Why are people evil? Because of sin. Both the inherited sin of Adam that results in being born dead
in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1) and their own actions of sin that confirm their sinful nature. God’s
judgement of sin will be based on the individuals own sinful deeds (Rev. 20:12). And it must be pointed
out that all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) without exception (Rom. 3:10-12).
Is there hope? Yes. There is hope in God’s grace and mercy that is extended in Jesus Christ to those
who place their faith in Him. That is the good news of the gospel. But the good news cannot be
understood unless the bad news is understood first. That is why Paul begins a very thorough discussion
of man’s sinfulness starting in Romans 1:18 after his opening remarks in verses 16 & 17. To be saved,
man must first recognize that he has a serious and eternally fatal sin problem which can only be solved
through faith in Jesus Christ. If he does not turn to Jesus Christ, then he will continue to his descent into
Turn again to Romans 1. We will read verses 16-23 to set the context for our study this morning.
Roma 1:16-23 (NASB) For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation
to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it [the] righteousness of God
is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous [man] shall live by faith."
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of
men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident
within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible
attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what
has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor
Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was
darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible
God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling
God’s wrath is revealed from heaven by His various decrees issued from Him on His throne resulting
in actions taken against all the ungodly and unrighteous. God has in the past and in the present
demonstrated His wrath in all sorts of natural phenomena as well as the actions of men and angels.
However, it’s most common demonstration is in the consequences of sin as God removes His restraining
hand from those who refuse to worship Him properly or follow the commands He has given. We begin
looking at these consequences in our study today of verses 21-23.
God is righteous in His wrath against the ungodly and unrighteous for they have rejected both Him
and His standards for their own, and they have willingly suppressed the truth God has revealed to them.
Those who claim God is unjust in His punishment of so called "innocent" people only show their
ignorance and risk their own condemnation for judging God. There are no "innocent" people. God has
placed enough knowledge of Himself in the heart of every human and made enough of Himself evident
in what He has made in the Creation that all excuses are stripped away. We went over some of these
evidences from Creation that reveal the power and character of God last week.
All men know innately and by the evidence around enough about the power and character of God
that they should seek Him. But they do not. Instead, they purposely suppress the truth so that they do not
have to seek Him (they are ungodly) or follow His commands (they are unrighteous).
In verses 19 and 20 Paul described the source of and nature of the truth they were suppressing. In
verses 21-23 Paul begins his description of the manner in which they suppressed the truth. This is the
first step into evil. The more the truth is suppressed, then the greater the evil that will result.
The first phrase of verse 21 re-emphasizes the truth of verse 20. Those who do not believe are
without excuse because they are those who knew God. The evidence was within them and all around
them, but they ignored it. This was not a passive action (the verb is an active participle). They actively
suppress the truth in their refusal to honor God for Who He is or give Him thanks.
This is the first step into evil. The basis for evil is not found in how humans treat one another but in
how they treat God. Evil is that which is opposite of God. It is that which is in contradiction to His
person and standards. Man’s evil treatment of other humans and other things is directly related to his
refusal to honor God and give Him thanks. That may seem strange to some, but only because their
thoughts are usually so far away from God and the proper relationship to God they should have. People
are innately selfish and view the world revolving around themselves. The truth is that we should be
viewing the universe revolving around God and see ourselves as simply one of His many creatures who
exists for His purposes.
To honor (doxavzw /doxadzo) God is to glorify Him, magnify Him, praise Him. To not do honor
God is to dishonor Him but please note that this lack of honor is not total dishonor, but rather a refusal to
honor Him for Who He is as the God who has revealed Himself to man as the Creator. What Paul says
here covers every kind of dishonor ranging from a simple lack of proper decorum in approaching God to
outright disdain for Him.
Can you sin and honor God at the same time? No, because when you sin, you dishonor God. Sin
means to "miss the mark." Sin is that which does not meet God’s standards. To the degree in which you
honor God in every part of your life, you will not sin.
Can you give true thanksgiving to God and still sin? No, for thanksgiving requires us to have
genuine gratefulness to God for all things, not just the ones that fit our own self-centered desires. We sin
because we do not get what we want and seek to gain it in some way other than how God wants us to
gain it, if it is something we should have to start with. The greater our thankfulness, then the greater our
honor of God and the less we sin.
Do you want material things? You cannot serve both God and mammon (Mt. 6:24). God’s desire is
for you to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and He promises to take care of our material
needs (Mt. 6:33). God does not want us seeing after the riches of this world, but wants us to be content
even if it is just food and covering (1 Tim. 6:7-10). A person who is truly thankful for what they have is
also someone content with what they have.
Do you want a close, personal relationship with someone who truly understands you and accepts
you? The only one you can actually have that with is Jesus Christ. In every other relationship you have
two sinners who will be opposed to each other at different points and will certainly disappoint each other
at times. The only way two people can get along with each other and be thankful is to learn deal with
each other by being reflections of God’s love to one another. You cannot be content with your
relationships until you submit yourself to God’s purposes in them and fulfilling the roles He has
established for you. A person has learned this lesson when they can thank God even for the people in
their lives who are irritating.
Do you want fame? 1 Peter 5:5,6 tells us ". . . and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward
one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves,
therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time." The godly thank
God regardless of how much attention they receive. They leave fame in God’s hands. Their desire is
God’s glory and not their own (John 3:30). It is the ungodly that pursue fame, and they do not give
Do you want power? In the world, power is expressed through authority and lording your position
over subordinates. That is not the way it is in God’s kingdom Jesus told His disciples, "but whoever
wishes to become great among you shall be your servant" (Mt. 20:26). The person who honors God is
thankful for their position, whatever it may be, for they recognize it is up to God to place them where He
wants them, both within the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12) and within the world (Dan. 5:21).
All sin is primarily against God. David recognized this in Psalm 51 when confessing his sins
concerning Bathsheba he said, "For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against
Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou
dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge." Even a cursory study of 2 Samuel 11 reveals that
there were at least 8 different sins he committed in the incident including lying, adultery, and murder, yet
in Psalm 51 he recognizes that all the sin was primarily against God.
Lying is either an unwillingness to accept the just outcome of the truth or a lack of trust that God can
protect you in the truth. In either case, God is not honored or given thanks.
Adultery is primarily a refusal to be content with the situation God has given you so that you seek to
satisfy your own physical cravings in a way that dishonors him. There is never a godly reason to give
thanks for adultery.
Murder is a direct assault on the image of God. While most people do not think of that when they
commit murder, for they generally see it as an direct assault on someone they want to eliminate from
their lives, it is nevertheless true. God commanded capital punishment for murder in Gen. 9:6 saying,
"Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man."
God deserves our honor and our thanksgiving for no other reason than Who He is as the creator of all
things. The display of His power and attributes in creation only magnify the need to honor Him and give
Him thanks. His revelation of Himself in the Scriptures further magnify that need. Paul points out that
God is righteous in His wrath against the ungodly and unrighteous. They made their first step into the
downward spiral of evil by suppressing the truth He has revealed to them in Creation resulting in their
refusal to honor Him properly as God or to give thanks.
The result of this refusal to honor God comes immediately in their effort to find some substitute. The
human mind is seldom content with unanswered questions, but desires to understand and explain things
if at all possible. Man likes to speculate, but when such speculation is done with the truth already
eliminated and shut out from the possibilities, then all speculation becomes foolish conjecture. That is
what happens here. Ungodly man suppresses the truth and refuses to honor God for Who He has
revealed Himself to be. The result is futile speculation.
The mind that gives itself to vain conjecture will result in a heart that becomes foolish and darkened
which in turn leads to sinful actions. This same idea is expressed in other passages. In Eph. 4:17-19 Paul
admonishes the Christians to no longer walk as the Gentiles in the "futility of their mind, being darkened
in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because
of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to
sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness." A sinful mind results in a sinful
heart which results in sinful actions. Peter reminded his readers that they were redeemed with the
precious blood of Christ from the futile way of life they had inherited from their forefathers (1 Peter.
1:18,19). In 2 Cor. 10:4 Paul describes the truth of the gospel was his weapon for "destroying
speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and [we are] taking every
thought captive to the obedience of Christ."
Paul will give detailed examples of the increasing foolishness and sinful actions in the remainder of
the chapter. In verse 22 he points out their arrogance. "Professing to be wise, they became fools."
The idea of a fool here and foolish heart in verse 21 is the Biblical concept of a fool described in
Psalm 14:1 – The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’" The degree of foolishness is related to
the degree that they do not acknowledge God. People do not jump to the utter foolishness of atheism
without first going through the steps Paul speaks of here in Romans 1. They first suppress the truth.
Next, they will not honor God properly. Next, in their futile speculation, they find something else to be a
substitute God. Only then will they descend into no longer acknowledging God. Futile speculation
results in a foolish heart and when neither are corrected they result in a fool. Keep in mind that people
are practical atheists, living as if God does not exist or that He does not or will not judge them, before
they become professing atheists. Many professing Christians live as if God will not carry out His
judgements. They are practical atheists and that is why their lifestyles differ very little from professing
The amazing thing about fools is how arrogant they can be in their foolishness. They profess, or
claim to be wise even though the truth is the opposite. This does not mean they are not intelligent. Many
fools are extremely intelligent. In fact, it is their intelligence that often hinders them because they believe
themselves to be so smart that if they cannot understand something, it must not be true, and since they
cannot understand God by their own reasoning, then He must not be true. This is the basis for the
plethora of religions, cults and philosophies that exist today. They are all efforts, some made by very
intelligent people, to explain things apart from the true God. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the
humble (1 Peter. 5:5). It is not many wise or noble according to the world that come to the truth, but
rather those the world considers moronic and simple.
In verse 23, Paul gives an example common to his age of this foolishness. They "exchanged the
glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed
animals and crawling creatures." They descended into idolatry. In that time it was the blatant idolatry
that included the idols themselves that represented the conclusions of their foolish thinking. I am going
to expand on idolatry next week since Paul speaks of it again in verse 25. For now, just consider the
foolishness of the idea of exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for an image of a corruptible
We would all have to agree that is stupid to claim that the qualities that belong to one thing actually
belong to something that is the opposite. What would you say to someone that tried to enter his dump
truck into the Indy 500 race? Probably the same thing you would say to the guy who brought his Indy
500 racer to the gravel pit and wanted to haul gravel in it. What about the 7′ 6" who wanted to be a
horse jockey, or the 4′ 2" guy who wanted to try out for the NBA? What would you call someone that
wanted to swap a 8,000 sq ft mansion overlooking the Hudson River for 500 sq ft cabin located in a
Florida swamp? Would you exchange 10 lbs of gold bullion for 10 lbs of copper pennies? The items in
these examples had something in common with each other, but the qualities of the items were extremely
different. The sack of gold and the sack of pennies each weighed 10 pounds, but they were completely
different in value.
So it is with the glory of the incorruptible God verses everything else, yet men will exchange the
proper worship of God in order to worship something else. Paul sets the two in contrast by referring to
God’s glory as incorruptible and the exchanged image as corruptible. They are opposite each other.
The idea of incorruptible and corruptible is in reference to God as Creator contrasted with His
creatures. God is immortal. Man and all creatures are mortal. God is not perishable. Man and all
creatures are perishable. God is not subject to decay. Man and all creatures, indeed, all of creation, is
subject to decay. As verse 25 states, man exchanges the worship of the Creator for the worship of that
which is created. In the case here, it is not even the created things itself, but only its image. A
representation of the created thing. It is a stupid thing to do, yet it is the common response of man.
While the blatant forms of idolatry that Paul speaks of here are not as common in our own society,
idolatry does exist in many forms in our society. We will look at some of those next week. For this
morning I want stress that this first step into evil is in the suppressing of truth and replacing it with the
foolish speculations of men. It can result in blatant idolatry, but it also results in all sorts of philosophies
and false religions. Paul will deal with some of those in specific in Chapter 2.
I have already pointed out Paul’s comment in 2 Cor. 10:5 about "destroying speculations and every
lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God" through the proclamation of the truth. God is not
impressed with those wise according to the things of this world, so we should not either. 1 Cor. 3:19 tells
us that"the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God." Yet such vain speculations are dangerous,
so Paul also gave several warnings. In Col. 2:8 he warned, "See to it that no one takes you captive
through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary
principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." Paul warned Timothy, "guard what has been
entrusted to you, avoiding worldly [and] empty chatter [and] the opposing arguments of what is falsely
called "knowledge"– 21 which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith" (1 Tim.
Sadly, there are many who have a simple faith that fails when tested. For whatever reason, they
profess faith in Jesus, but there are doubts, often hidden, that are brought to the surface when the foolish
speculations of men are presented. The result is that many turn away from faith to skepticism and the
wisdom of men when they finally hear something that they think gives credibility to their doubts. It is
not that we need to fear the philosophies of men, but we do need to be prepared and on guard to deal
with them and present the truth.
For example, liberal theologians have done their best to destroy faith in the God of the Bible by their
claims that the Bible cannot be trusted and God is different than what the Bible presents. Their
arguments can sound pretty good until you remember that the wisdom they are presenting is simply their
own speculations, and when closely examined their conjectures prove to be silly. We should not believe
people simply because they have a Th.D. or Ph.D. An academic degree denotes academic ability, not
Liberal theologians tell us Genesis 1 is a story, an analogy, a myth or has hidden time gaps in it. Yet,
even a cursory examination of the text finds that the time period of a day is defined in the text as a
sequence of a period of light and dark. They ignore the text and seek to destroy its meaning because their
own speculations give greater weight to the musings of science philosophers who reject God than they
do to God Himself. The real reason for their speculations is that the god they worship is not powerful
enough to create everything in six solar days. However, the God of the Bible is.
Liberal theologians deny that Daniel wrote the book of Daniel because the prophecies in it are too
detailed for someone to have written before the events happened. Therefore, someone else wrote Daniel
hundreds of years later after the events had taken place. The real reason for their foolish speculations is
that the god they worship does not know the end from the beginning. The God of the Bible does (Isa.
46:10) and so can reveal it in prophecy before it happens.
Even though the evidence is against them, liberal theologians find all sorts of ways to try and deny
the crucifixion, death, burial and subsequent bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The real reason
for their speculations is that their god is not have the power or character to pay for our sins and conquer
death. The God of the Bible does, and His promise is eternal life to all those believing in Christ.
Those who do not honor God for who He claims to be and give thanks to Him become futile in their
thoughts resulting in foolish hearts that are darkened. They profess to be wise, but they have become
To answer my question at the beginning of the sermon, evil people are simply those with evil minds
and hearts that put their thoughts and desires into action. The first step into evil is a refusal to honor God
as God and give Him thanks. What direction are you stepping?
Man may be born dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1) with their minds blinded by the devil so that
they might not see the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4), but man does not have to stay that way. You can
change direction and step into the light. God has revealed Himself and all that will turn from their sin to
faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. The Holy Spirit can then renew our minds so that we have the
wisdom from above instead of the wisdom of this world. Christian, be sure you are walking in God’s
wisdom and not man’s.