The book of Romans is the greatest letter ever written. In the future I will perhaps write a blog post defending that audacious assertion, but for right now my purpose is to mine it for a particularly useful insight; namely a powerful argument for the existence of God on the basis of three witnesses that God has given.
Technically speaking, the book of Romans is written to believers (see Romans 1:7-8), but the section from the middle of chapter 1 to the middle of chapter 3 serves to establish the universal guilt of unbelieving humanity and their accountability to God. Paul’s argument is not just that outside of Christ we are all sinners, but that we have no excuse for our sin because we ought to have known better. He cites three witnesses that testify to the truth and while his purpose is so that “the whole world may be held accountable to God,” they serve as powerful arguments for the existence of God.
1) Creation (Romans 1:18-27)
18 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. 21 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 foolish hearts were darkened.22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
In chapter 1 verse 18, the thing that Paul identifies unrighteous, ungodly people doing is suppressing the truth. In verses 19 and 20 he clarifies that the “truth” being suppressed is who God is, his divine power and nature. In other words creation clearly testifies to a Creator.
Again, Paul’s main point is that the testimony of God’s existence through creation makes it so that men are “without excuse” (verse 20) for suppressing the knowledge of God. They are also without excuse for acting in such a way that goes against what God has made self-evident in His creation.
He gives two examples of this, the first being the sin of idolatry. It should be clear through the created order that God as creator is the one who ought to be worshiped and served and that animals are a lower form of life under human dominion. This is consistent with the account of creation in Genesis 1 where humans are created by God and given dominion over the animals. In verse 23 however, we read that sinful men turning their back on God in favor of lower forms of life. Verse 25 further clarifies that they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” In Genesis 1 we read that men have dominion over animals. In Romans 1 we read that men are serving people and animals. Again, the point here is not that this behavior is wrong because Genesis 1 said so (although that’s true); it’s that even if you’ve never read Genesis 1, it should be obvious to you that there is a creator God and you should worship and serve Him –not what he has created.
The second example given is that of homosexuality in verses 26-27. In Genesis 1, we read that a central component of what it means to be created in the image of God is to be created “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). We also learn as the creation account continues in Genesis 2 that God’s design for marriage and sexuality is for a man and woman to be joined together as “one flesh” for life (Genesis 2:24). However, even if you’ve never read Genesis 1 or 2, the fact that sexual intimacy is designed for a man and a woman is obvious from the way that God made the world, hence the description of homosexual practice as “contrary to nature” (verse 26, in this context “nature” most accurately means “God’s created order”).
By way of summary, even though Paul’s main point is to hold men “without excuse” in their sinfulness by appealing to the fact that creation itself bears witnesses to the immorality of certain practices, Paul sets up the principle that the knowledge of God’s existence and divine majesty is made obvious to everyone by means of the world that he created.
2) Conscience (Romans 2: 14-16)
14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Technically this is just a small side note on a larger section detailing the third witness that Paul cites, but it is significant nonetheless. Paul has turned to the Jews and is in the middle of letting the know that the scriptures bear witness against their guilt. He has just pointed out in verse 13 that having the scriptures isn’t enough, they need to live them out. It is in this context that he points out that God has made given the knowledge of morality not just to the Jews through the scriptures, bu t everyone in the form of their conscience. This then becomes a second way that the gentiles are accountable for their sinful actions. Not only is it obvious that sin is wrong from creation, but through our God-given conscience as well.
As these verses are just making a supporting point in Romans 2, we aren’t given all the details that we would like to know about the conscience. Through comparing it with Creation in chapter 1, we can probably safely infer that the light of our conscience can be suppressed, just like the knowledge of the God in creation can be suppressed in 1:19-20. So our suppressed consciences might not always be a perfect moral compass, but they can still be a powerful indicator of a true, objective moral law that comes from a moral law giver.
The reality of the moral law is very significant, because now materialistic worldview can account for it. Let’s do a thought experiment. Ask yourself the question: is rape wrong? If you said yes, then do you mean that it’s just wrong in your opinion, but to each his own; if someone else is into that sort of thing they should go for it or do you mean that it’s wrong for every person in every place in every time regardless of whether or not they think it’s wrong? If you answered the former, then you are admitting that rape might in fact be perfectly okay and you might just be bigoted. If you answered the latter, then you believe in the supernatural, since there can be no naturalistic or materialistic causes of an objective morality. Not only do you believe in the supernatural, you believe in God, since morality by definition is a personal thing. It sets the rules for proper interactions between persons, and can only have a person as its origin. If you believe that rape is wrong, not as a matter of opinion, but as a matter of fact, you believe in God.
12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified…
17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
I omitted verses 14-15 in the text above since we covered them in point 2. In these verses, we see that one of the purposes of the law (a term that refers to both the actual laws that God had given to Israel as well as to the first 5 books of the Jewish scriptures known as the Torah) is to judge those who have it but break it: “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” He makes the point very clear in verse 23 that having the law, far from making you better than everyone, makes you more guilty because you break the law. It’s worth revisiting his eventual conclusion in chapter 3 that we looked at earlier: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19).
This one isn’t explicitly used as an argument for the existence of God in Romans, but it still is worth considering how it testifies to the existence of God.
The first thing we should note is that if God is real, the only way our mortal, finite human brains have a chance of knowing who he is if he reveals himself in a special and purposed way. I once heard an atheist in a debate say that even if God does exist, our human brains wouldn’t be able to ever know it. The fact is, if God does exist (and He does), he can find a way to communicate to his creatures that they understand.
The next thing we must note is that The Bible in particular is a unique self-attesting book. By that I don’t mean that it testifies of itself that it is revelation from God (although it certainly does do that), I mean the fact that as you read the Bible there are compelling reasons to think that it is what it says it is. Much more could be written on this topic, but one area we can point to is how the Bible better than any other book makes sense of the world we live in. I remember that on the first day of a political science class my freshman year of college a heated debate broke out over whether man was basically good or basically evil. Try as they might to muster a coherent argument, my classmates were constantly cherry-picking arguments to fit their narrative and neither side gained much traction against the other. The Bible lays out the most compelling view of human nature I’ve ever heard: That we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), but have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
The book of Romans is remarkably deep. In crafting a careful argument that establishes the universal guilt and accountability of humanity to God, Paul reveals just how much God has made himself known. Creation implies a creator, the moral law implies a moral law giver, and the Bible is able all on its own to win people over as has been the case throughout the history of the Church. Any one of these witnesses to the truth of God can be fruitful in conversations with unbelievers, and while I hope this post was useful to give you some thoughtful reflection, I ultimately hope you will be bold to use these three witnesses to testify about the truth of God to those who need to know Him.
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