Truth is a key idea in Romans 1. But Paul is not writing about truthfulness in general. Rather, he speaks very specifically about telling the truth about God. Every reference to “truth” here refers to the truth about God’s character.
18 But God shows his anger [wrath] from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.
20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.
22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.
23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:18-21-23 (NLT)
Paul says, mankind at one time knew the truth about God. God had revealed himself to them in nature. They could see many of His character qualities in the things He created. Paul mentions the “invisible qualities” of His eternal power and divine nature. But they could also see evidences of His faithfulness, kindness and love – for example in the care of a mother bird or animal for her young. They could see His justice in the consequences of wrong choices.
Certainly sin the obscured face of God, but even today it still reveals some reality of what God is like.
Knowing what God is like is important. Because if I think that God is arbitrary, vengeful or severe I will be afraid of Him. I must know Him as kind, generous and merciful to trust Him. God has shown Himself as fearsome in the past because of the needs of people at that time. But the most complete revelation of what God is like is in the life of Jesus.
The very purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to reveal by His life and teachings what God is like. In His prayer (John 17) Jesus told His Father that He had finished the work he had been assigned. He closed that prayer by saying, “I have revealed you to them,” or as some translations put it, “I made known to them your name” – meaning, your character. That is why Jesus could say to the disciples, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” If you’ve seen my compassion for people you’ve seen how the Father feels. Every miracle, every expression of acceptance and kindness was a disclosure of God’s feelings for people. Jesus was God in human flesh. Every other communication about God through past ages was inadequate (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus was the final and complete revelation of the character of God.
But to live the way they wanted, Paul says people ignored (or suppressed) what they knew about God and began to think up foolish ideas of who He was. Rather than worshiping the Creator, they worshiped His creation.
But Paul is really concerned to show the results of ignoring a true understanding of God’s character – it changes our own! The next verse after that quoted above says,
So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. – Romans 1:24 (NLT)
Paul gives extended descriptions of what that depraved behavior is like. (Read Romans 1:16-32 to get the full message of the section.)
What they believed about their gods, affected how they lived. It changed their behavior and their character.
And isn’t it true even today? People will rise no higher than their heroes.
Let’s tell the truth about God.