We saw last time that there are two facets to the mess we're in. Paul describes them as 'ungodliness' and 'unrighteousness'. These, he says, are the reasons why planet earth is enveloped in God's wrath (Romans 1:18). But the big one is ungodliness. In fact, the list of gross unrighteous deeds Paul gives us in that chapter are described as the consequence of God's wrath rather than the cause of God's wrath. The root of the problem is that people "did not retain God [God as he really is and as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures] in their knowledge" (Romans 1:28). The catalog of bad behavior (unrighteousness) is the consequence of the bad beliefs (ungodliness). Immorality is a fruit of idolatry.
So what have we done with God in our determination to suppress the truth? Here's how two writers describe the way we have replaced God with gods:
The great author Tolstoy once said,
"There are two Gods. There is the God that people generally believe in - a God who has to serve them (sometimes in very refined ways, say by merely giving them peace of mind). This God does not exist. But the God whom people forget - the God whom we all have to serve - exists." [Quoted by Dallas Willard: Renovation of the Heart, p.40]
A.W.Tozer also recognized that perversity in the moral sphere (unrighteousness) is linked to perversity in the religious sphere (ungodliness). He described the idolatry of creating our own imaginary god and its consequences in this way:
"It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God, and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity." [Willard, p.108]
Paul outlined the way that this was happening in his day. He wrote, "Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man." It seems he must have recently been reading Jeremiah 2:11,12. The ancient prophet was musing on a tragic reality. "Has a nation changed its gods which are not gods?" he asked. He was astounded that none of the pagan nations had ever abandoned or exchanged their gods for another god; they just kept worshiping the worthless idols faithfully for centuries. "But my people," continued Jeremiah, "have changed their glory for what does not profit [or, as Paul put it, 'changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image']. Be astonished, O heavens, at this!"
It is almost unimaginable that people would be faithful to the false idols but faithless to the true glory of God. But such is our sin. And our nation will never return to upright living unless first we repent and turn back to the true God. The Good News is that Jesus came to show men the Father, to reveal the real God who had been concealed behind the images of the false gods of our imaginations.