“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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 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.” (Romans 1:21-25 ESV)
The human heart loves to make a good thing into its god thing. — Tim Keller
Last week we focused in on being able to see the invisible God in the world around us because God has revealed Himself throughout His creation. Yesterday, I was sitting on the shore of a lake next to my wife watching our son and two of our grandkids swim. Tina looks down and finds a rock that is very roughly shaped like a heart. She picked it up and handed it to me, commenting on how she gave me her heart quite some time ago (we just celebrated our 42nd anniversary less then two weeks ago). After spending a minute reminiscing about our marriage, our kids, and our future I then took a closer look at the rock she handed to me and I realized that nobody would ever mistake that ”heart shaped” rock for a hand crafted heart. Why? Because you had to use some imagination to see its “heart shape.” It really just looked like a rock with a very, very vague resemblance to a heart. It was quite obvious to me that the shape was the result of waves, wind and, maybe, a few feet and not an artist. Nobody would have mistaken this rock for a piece of art or jewelry.
However, I can’t look at my children or grandchildren without seeing the hand of God in their existence. Not only do they bear the marks of their parents and grandparents on their physical characteristics but they also bear the marks of God in their hearts and minds. I’m able to see the invisible in the visible. I see the evidence of God’s existence in their existence. They bear the marks of an artist, a designer, a creator and are nothing like the rough, barely heart-shaped rock that my wife found lying on the lake shore. It seems quite clear nobody shaped that rock, but it seems equally clear that somebody has been involved in shaping human life and all of creation. This week, I want to focus in on Paul’s statement that although man knew God, he refuses to honor and show gratitude towards God and this has resulted in futile thinking and darkened hearts. Let’s get started…
First, let’s define futile thinking. The word means empty, pointless or meaningless and we would say that thinking this way means that we would be incapable of reaching the desired end or intended goal. Notice where Pauls says this kind of thinking originates, it originates in the minds of those who refuse to honor God and who are ungrateful to God. Now, this refusal to honor God and show gratitude to Him is often indirect but just as damaging. A lack of honor is demonstrated in an indirect way when we fail to believe God and obey His commands. Now, I think that many of us are not likely to immediately associate disobedience with unbelief, but that is precisely what it is. When we fail to obey then we say to God, “I don’t believe you and I’m going to do what I think is right and best.” We dishonor God by doubting His Word or His honesty, His love for us, His care about us, and His desires for us.
Futile thinking is incapable of carrying us to our goal because it is empty thinking. It is devoid of truth, power and purpose. So, what are your goals? I’ll tell you honestly, that’s a bit of a trick question. When you define your life goal or goals, you reveal your heart and that’s really Paul’s point in this passage and my point in this message. We all need to stop and assess our lives and our goals. Our personal goals are a direct reflection of our personal priorities and our priorities are a direct reflection of our relationship, or lack thereof, with God. So, if your priorities and goals are not reflective of a deep, intimate relationship with God then Paul is saying that your thinking is mostly empty, pointless and devoid of God’s truth, power and purpose.
How can one’s failure to honor God or show gratitude in their lives reveal so much about their heart? How can it reveal that their thinking is pointless and empty? When we fail to honor God we are saying, “Who needs God? I can handle this all by myself.” and when we fail to express gratitude we are saying, “Thankful to God? Ha! I did this all by myself. God had nothing to do with it!” When we remove God from the picture and begin to think that way, then we have lost all sense of the true purpose for our lives. Without purpose, we have no goals. Now, don’t get me wrong. Folks who reject God develop substitute purposes for life but they are only substitutes and that’s where their thinking becomes futile. If your purpose in life is truly a fake then your thinking is really empty and your heart is dark.
I’m certain that some of you may react to that last statement. I can hear you say, ”I may not believe in God, but I’m not a bad person.” Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary in Louisville Kentucky, shared 12 ways that a person without a relationship with God responds to God, life and the world around them: 1) I am who I think I am; 2) I may do some bad things, but I am not a bad person; 3) Something happened to me; 4) Something is wrong, but it is not my fault; 5) Morality is a good idea, but it is all relative; 6) What goes around comes around (or American Karma); 7) There is not only one way of anything. Period; 8) God is available as an explanation when needed; 9) God is available as a helper in case of emergency; 10) Science or technology will solve most of our big problems; 11) I may need help, but I can negotiate the terms; 12) Most people are well intended, but some people are just mean.
The problem is that all of these ways of responding to the world are at odds with scripture and how God has revealed Himself in scripture and through Jesus. In other words, they are full of empty and pointless thinking. If these thoughts reflect your way of thinking, I pray you will seek to know God on His terms and not yours, in His way and not your way, and that you’ll begin to experience thinking that leads you towards God and not away from Him.
The last thing I want to deal with today is the result of this empty thinking and darkened hearts. Paul says that though they (those who think this way) were foolish, they claimed to be wise and exchanged God’s glory for that of His creation. In other words, they were satisfied with pursuing, knowing, loving and worshiping things that are substitutes for God. Scripture says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7 ESV) and “the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;” (Proverbs 2:6 ESV) It is possible to know things, to stumble onto truth without God, but it is impossible to be wise and understanding without Him. Scripture draws a clear distinction between knowing some things and being wise, a very clear line between being smart and having understanding.
When man begins to pull back from God and assert his own authority, proclaim his own glory, and his independence from God then he begins to “reap what he sows.” Paul says, “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves because they exchanged truth for a lie. We are still exchanging truth for a lie and God is letting us reap that harvest. Now before you go and nod too vigorously in agreement with that statement, let me assure you that this is happening far too often right inside the walls of the church. Those same lies that Satan whispers in the ears of the lost are being way too effective in the hearts and minds of believers and there are only two possible reasons why: 1) Some who believe the lies are not and never were truly believers; 2) Some are believers and we’ve allowed a passion for the world and the things of the world to penetrate and corrupt our love for God and, thus, our thinking, passions and desires.
“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17 ESV)
How does Christ respond to this church that has fallen for these lies and thinks their money, power, prosperity, growth, and satisfaction is sufficient and that they don’t need anything? He tells them to “buy” these things from Him and they will see how much they truly lack, how naked they are and how blind they really are. In other words, they’ve settled for the substitutes the world offers and they won’t recognize how wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked they are until they get the real deal from Him. That’s precisely what has happened in the modern church. We’ve become so enamored with the world’s substitutes, we don’t realize how much we’re missing.
What are these cheap substitutes? I mentioned them above, intentionally. Maybe you missed it.
MONEY / POWER / PROSPERITY / GROWTH / SATISFACTION
If those are the substitutes, what are the real things Christ promises us? Living Water, Bread of Life, Light of the World, the Shepherd who cares for His sheep, the True Vine, the fullness of Life, the Way, Truth and Life, the Alpha and the Omega (the beginning and the end). That’s who HE is but really, He promised us a cross…
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38 ESV)
The late S.M. Lockridge, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, San Diego, California puts it this way: My King was born King. The Bible says He’s a Seven Way King. He’s the King of the Jews – that’s an Ethnic King. He’s the King of Israel – that’s a National King. He’s the King of righteousness. He’s the King of the ages. He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of glory. He’s the King of kings and He is the Lord of lords. Now that’s my King.
These words don’t do Dr. Lockridge’s sermon justice. You need to go here and listen for yourself. I had the incredible privilege of hearing Dr. Lockridge deliver that same sermon at Falls Creek during a pastor’s conference over 30 years ago.
So, have you settled for a substitute or are you seeking the King of kings? The church too often wants the King without the kingdom and the world always wants the kingdom without the King. Maybe you need to stop and think about those words and what they mean. The church often wants the King and His promises of eternal life but without the struggle and obedience involved in kingdom living. The world always wants the promises of the kingdom, like love for one another and peace among men, but without the absolute authority and rule of the one, true King. You can’t have a King without a kingdom and you can’t have a kingdom without a one, true King. How about you? Have you settled for substitutes when the real King is standing in the wings waiting? Waiting to you show you what life can really be like… waiting to give you life.