A study of Romans 1:18-23 (2023)

Online IIIM journal, Volume 1, Number 9, April 26 to May 2, 1999

del Dr. jack l arnold

Are the heathen lost? The answer to that question has never been an issue for Bible-believing Christians, as the Bible, church history, and missions all testify that Gentiles are lost, under the wrath of God, and headed toward heaven. eternal punishment without Christ.

There are many who have argued with evangelical Christians about the condition and fate of the Gentiles. Some of them take the position that the Bible is not the Word of God; they deny sin, hell, the wrath of God, and any form of punishment after this life. These people are not Christians in the true sense of the word; They think that no one is lost. Another more subtle and dangerous position is taken by some who call themselves Christians. They say they believe in the wrath of God and eternal punishment for those who have heard, but they do not believe that God will judge the Gentiles who have never heard of Christ. They say that pagans are victims of their culture and environment and that a loving God would never punish them for their sin. Such a statement shows a misunderstanding of the Bible, God, and sin. There is a good chance that a person who holds this view is not a Christian at all, since she does not understand the true meaning of Christ's death for sin.

Romans 1:18-23 addresses the issue of the doom of the Gentiles. As we study this topic, we must ask what God has to say about it, not what we think or feel God should do with these people. Thinking emotionally and without examining the Scriptures on the subject, many people think that it is not fair for God to judge the Gentiles.

The portion of Scripture we are considering shows that all men are sinners, both Jew and Gentile, and are under the wrath of God. This passage has nothing to do with redemption, but it shows why people are condemned before a holy God. Paul shows that if all men can be proven to have sin in some way, then a holy and just God must judge that sin or not be God. It has nothing to do with whether or not people listen to the gospel. He has to do with the sinful condition of people's hearts. Ministers and teachers have quieted sin until the fear of God is gone.

The Bible classifies people into Jews, Gentiles, and churches. "Do not be a stumbling block, neither to Jews, nor to Gentiles, nor to the church of God: . 1 Cor. 10:32). The passage of Scripture we are considering deals specifically with Gentiles and shows that all are under the wrath of God, whether they have heard the gospel or not. The educated Greek, the learned Roman, the American scientist, an ignorant bushman in the jungle, all are sinners. Paul shows that the Gentiles are guilty of rejecting the light that God has given. He describes the religious apostasy of the Gentiles from the original revelation of God that they possessed. He does not tell us when this apostasy took place, but he points out that it is final and its effects continue to this day.

There are four basic requirements to understand this scripture:

1) The passage does not speak of salvation but of condemnation. 2) God has given all people some light about themselves. 3) The light that people have was rejected by them. 4) The problem is not what would happen if people searched for more light. This is another problem in itself. Paul concludes that "no one seeks God" (Romans 3:11). His point is that because the natural man is sinful by nature, he rejects all the light that God gives him. It is human nature to reject and rebel against God.


"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven over all impiety and injustice of men who with injustice keep the truth." God's wrath descends on all people who are sinners, especially Gentiles who hold back the truth in unrighteousness. Paul looks back at primitive man, not wild man. Long ago in human history (pagans) everyone had an idea of ​​the true God—they were monotheists—but because humans are sinners by nature, they corrupted their knowledge of God and rejected the true God of scripture. They held the truth about God but repressed and rationalized that concept, loving darkness more than light. Men have an inclination or propensity to sin. So they got further away from God.

I have many friends who are ministering to the Lord Jesus at some of the top colleges and universities in the country. The question of the Gentiles comes up quite often, and my friends answer the question of whether the Gentiles are lost by saying, "The fate of the Gentiles is ultimately in the hands of an all-powerful, wise, and loving God." This answer usually puts the questioner at ease, but is it an honest answer? No, it's not. Paul tells us that the wrath of God comes on all Gentiles because they are sinners. Whether they have heard the gospel or not has nothing to do with the question of sin. We must never get involved in the question of the Gentiles.


"Because what can be known of God is evident in them, since God has shown it to them." The "because" points to the cause of God's wrath on the Gentiles. They had manifested the truth about God (consciousness or mind) given by God. However, they intentionally rejected this light. This was not ignorance, it was a deliberate rejection of the truth.

We are not told that everything there is to know about God was revealed to the Gentiles, simply that they had a knowledge of God that made their rejection inexcusable. No one lives and dies without some revelation from God, a universal revelation that reaches everyone, everywhere, at all times. But whatever knowledge people have, they will deliberately reject it because they are sinners by nature.

"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are evident to be seen and understood by the things made, even his eternal power and divinity." God revealed himself in nature or creation and this verse says that the Gentiles see him clearly. What man can discover about God from creation is limited but accurate. It can be determined that God is supreme (eternal power) and is a being (deity). God is a supreme being! Creation can show us that God is one, good, wise, omnipotent, etc., but it can never show that God is loving, merciful, and gracious toward sinners. This is a special revelation.

The revelation that the Gentiles have can be compared to the education of the elementary school. The special revelation of Jesus Christ and his work for sin can be compared to a college education. The pagans had only elementary revelation, but even that they rejected.

Sufficient knowledge of creation can be gained to understand that God is the Creator of every human being and should be worshiped as such. No one should fall into idolatry. Simple proofs of creation were rejected. Understanding this, it is not difficult to understand why God should reveal his wrath against man.

"So that they have no excuse." A better translation is "for the purpose that they have no excuse." The thought is that God revealed himself to the Gentiles in nature so that they would be without excuse. The rejection of this revelation only pointed out the real problem: human beings are sinners and are under the wrath of God. No Gentile can claim ignorance because of his sinful condition because he rejected God's revelation in creation. This revelation is enough to show a man that he is without excuse, but it does not follow that it is enough to bring him to salvation.


"For when they knew God, they did not glorify him as God." Although the Gentiles recognized God through creation and consciousness, they refused to worship him. That rejection was a sin. Their knowledge of God convinced them of his sinfulness, so they refused to believe it. Paganism is a decline, not an ascent. The great heathen nations once knew more than they do now. Man is not in an evolutionary process towards God, but in a revolution against God!

"No one was grateful." People hardened to God's goodness and disrespected his person. You were ungrateful. shakespeare said

"I hate more ingratitude in a man
than lies, vanity, gossip, drunkenness,
Or any vice.

"But they were puffed up in their ideas [arguments]." Humans were left empty of divine thought and purpose. This is the intellectual rebellion; People don't want to submit to God's authority, so they rationalize God and his responsibility to Him. People who reject God almost always do so in the name of education or advancement.

"And his foolish heart was darkened." Intellectual rebellion brings with it moral degeneracy, which is why there is moral rebellion. The result is moral blindness. Why all that? Because people have abandoned their idea of ​​God.

"Declaring themselves wise, they became fools." Because they pretended to be wise and turned away from God, the foolishness of the people became more apparent. They became foolish when they abandoned the true concept of God and opted for idolatry. Can there be a greater folly to adore the image of an animal than to adore God?

"And he changed the glory of the immortal God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, four-footed animals, and creeping things." The degeneration described is from man to reptiles. Oh, the depravity of the human heart! Men show utter contempt for God: insults, impiety, disrespect. They would rather serve a creature than the Creator.

Behind all great idolatrous systems is pure monotheism, but this intimate knowledge of God made people uncomfortable in their sins, so a multitude of deities and lesser deities were invented as mediators, and knowledge was finally lost. of the true God.

Men today even have idols other than those made of wood and stone. Germany got rid of God and accepted Hitler. Communism rejected divine revelation and made a god of the state. Americans reject God because of materialism, sex, and prestige. However, a Christian can never justify idols of any kind. We must not represent God through something corruptible.


Speaking in writing, Gentiles are all Gentiles, whether they have heard the gospel or not.

"And when it pleased God...to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles" (Galatians 1:15,16).

“They gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision” (Galatians 2:9b).

Today, "gentile" means those who have never heard the gospel.

All Gentiles are lost because they have some knowledge of God, even though they have not heard the gospel. They reject what they know and would rather be damned than serve the Creator. When God said they are "without excuse" (Romans 1:20), He meant what He said! He also explained that all people, Jew and Gentile, are under the condemnation of sin.

As it is written: There is no righteous, nor seeker of God” (Rom. 3:10,11).

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

Men cannot plead ignorance, injustice, cultural or ecological differences; they can only plead guilty. It is not a matter of belief, because people are already doomed.

“Whoever believes in him will not be condemned; but he who does not believe, he is already condemned, because he did not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation: that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:18,19).
People are condemned for sin but saved by faith in Jesus Christ.

Some say that the Gentiles are not lost because they did not hear, and that those who heard the gospel and rejected it are lost. If this is true, we should never go to those who have never heard because we will only judge them by presenting Christ and rob them of the heaven they already possess without Christ. How ridiculous! If the Gentiles are not lost, there is no need to train missionaries, ministers, and teachers. Romans 2:12 says, "For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law." This is a clear reference to the Gentiles.

If all men are sinners and are under God's condemnation, then it is logical that no one deserves heaven; everyone deserves hell. When an individual is saved from just punishment for his sin, it is only by the mercy of God. The pagans of Africa are lost and the pagans of America are lost. If anyone from either group is saved, it is by the sovereign grace of God.

If the Gentiles are not lost, there is no need for the gospel. “Because I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for there is power from God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). There is no need for Christ, the only way out of sin and eternal punishment.

“Jesus said to him: I am the way, the truth and the life. no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

“Nor is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

If a person can go to heaven without the cross, then the cross is useless. If he ever thought that Gentiles could be saved without saving faith in Christ, he would leave the ministry and Christianity, because Christ's death to sin would be meaningless.


God has universally revealed himself to all human beings in nature. Although they cannot escape the awareness that He exists, people reject even this revelation and substitute many things for God. This general revelation cannot save a person, but God has made a special revelation of himself in Christ and in the Bible and that revelation can save one from his sins and from the lake of fire.

Will you ask God to help you move from your limited concept of God, who cannot save you, to a personal and intimate knowledge of Christ, who can give you salvation free and by grace? God's sovereign grace can save anyone who believes in Christ, whether he is a Gentile in Africa or a Gentile in America.


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