To appreciate the answer to this question, it is necessary to understand the reality and the depths of the horrible depravity of the human race. God allows us, in Romans 1:18-3:20, to be spectators to the judicial procedures whereby the whole race of Adam is condemned (Doctrine of Condemnation).
The whole world of mankind is caused to pass through the courtroom of Heaven, one by one, group by group, race by race, are indicted and judged to be guilty sinners (Rom. 3:19), and condemned by God (Rom. 6:23).
The Heathen People (Rom. 1:18-32)
The Civilized People (Rom. 2:1-6)
The Religious People (Rom. 2:17-3:8)
Thus, the “whole world” is condemned as “guilty sinners” (Rom. 3:9-20).
The evidence is in, the sentence is pronounced, and the conclusion is inescapable. There is no hope for the salvation of the human race apart from the grace of God. Only as the provision of His glorious righteousness is applied to the account of the guilty sinner, can the sinner be justified in His sight (Rom. 3:21-26).
The Apostle Paul, as the prosecuting attorney for the State of Heaven, will present his case against the heathen people by showing their “four downward steps to heathenism,” thus, proving them guilty before God (Rom. 3:9).
What Paul says of the heathen is true of every individual heathen or heathen nation today. What is said is the answer to the questions:
- What is or who is a heathen?
- Why are people heathens?
- Why are there great pockets of heathenism in the world?
- Why are the third and fourth-world nations so decadent?
- Why will there always be backward and under-developed countries?
- Why are our American metropolitan centers more and more resembling the cultures of the heathen?
- Why in the “space age” and the “age of technology and education” do we still have people worshipping gods of wood and stone?
- Why must we send the Gospel to the heathen?
FOUR DOWNWARD STEPS TO HEATHENISM
The first step downward (Rom. 1:18-20).
The heathen people knew God! They knew of God’s existence! They knew something of God’s nature, His “power” (omnipotence) and “Godhead” (sovereignty). They knew this by a revelation of God which was both “in” them and “unto” them. This is called the doctrine of common grace or moral enlightenment (Jn. 1:9; Rom. 2:4; Acts 17:25; Mt. 4:45; 6:23).
The second step downward (Rom. 1:21-23).
“They glorified Him not as God.” Here is evidence that the path that humanity has followed is not that of evolution but, rather, downward -that of devolution, degeneration. Contrary to the popular notion that man began with ignorance and gradually worked his way up to intelligence, we see the heathen people working their way down – “…they became fools.” They worked their way down gradually:
indifference, “they glorified Him not,”
ingratitude, “neither were thankful,”
ignorance, “they became fools,”
idolatry, “into an image.”
The third step downward (Rom. 1:24-27).
First, the heathen people “held the truth of God in unrighteousness” (suppressed the truth, held truth down in unrighteousness) now, they continue their downward slide by “changing the truth of God into a lie” (“the lie” cf., 2 Thess. 2:11; Gen. 3:5), meaning the worship of Satan (Mt. 4:11-18)) or the worship of the creature rather than the Creator. This is the second of three characteristic changes made by heathen people:
they change the glory of God (1:23),
they change the truth of God (1:25),
their women changed the natural use of their bodies (1:26), and “likewise also the men.”
The fourth step downward (Rom. 1:28-32).
“Did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”The reprobate or unapproved mind is the final state of heathenism. The heathen people began with a clear knowledge of God (1:19,21), now they reject all knowledge of God. As evidence of their complete heathenization, their unapproved mind is “filled” up with a long list of horrible sins (1:29-31).
The heathen had sinned against the:
- The light of Creation for the “invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen” (1:20).
- The light of Reason by “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (1:22); and
- The light of Conscience even though they know “the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (1:32).
THREE STRIKES AND OUT
Strike #1 … “God gave them up to uncleanness” (1:24).
Strike #2 … “God gave them up unto vile affections” (1:26).
Strike #3 … “God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (1:28).
The whole human race is:
without “excuse” (1:20-21),
without “escape” (2:3), and
without defense – “every mouth stopped” (3:19).
Oh, the grace of God that is later revealed to those so unworthy members of the human race.
“But now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be Just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:21-26).
Such good news! This proves there is yet hope for those who have made themselves so vile and hopeless. Yes, ’tis true! These so degenerate, so vile, so abominable, so obnoxious heathen can be saved!