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2. General Revelation

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After studying the benefits of knowing God and seeing how knowing him is the attainment of the highest good, we now will answer the questions: “How can we get to know God more?” and also “How can we know that God exists? What is the evidence?”

Let’s start by looking at how Scripture handles the existence of God.

The Bible Assumes the Existence of God

When we open our Bibles, some might expect to find a large apologetic treatise on the existence of God. It would be expected that the writers of the Bible would begin by proving and defending his existence. “These are the reasons and proofs that there is a God...” However, the Bible does not begin this way, because the Bible assumes that all mankind believes in God. Genesis begins with this: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

Similarly, Paul speaks of the entire world having knowledge of God, and therefore, being without excuse for not believing in him. Romans 1:20 says this:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Why does the Bible teach that every person knows that there is God? How is God revealed? What are the evidences of his existence?

The reason Scripture does not argue the existence of God is because God has made himself known to all of mankind. Theologians call God making himself known “revelation.” God has revealed himself to man, and therefore, man is without excuse for not believing in him (Romans 1:20).

Implied in the word “revelation” is the fact that God must make himself known to us. On our own, we cannot know God. Revelation must come from his initiative. Consider what Wayne Grudem says about revelation: “If we are to know God at all, it is necessary that he reveal himself to us. Even when discussing the revelation of God that comes through nature, Paul says that what can be known about God is plain to people ‘because God has shown it to them’ (Rom. 1:19).”1

In what ways has God revealed himself? There are two primary forms of revelation. The first is called general revelation, which is revelation that everybody has received. Charles Ryrie explains general revelation this way:

General revelation is exactly that—general. It is general in its scope; that is, it reaches to all people (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17). It is general in geography; that is, it encompasses the entire globe (Ps. 19:2). It is general in its methodology; that is, it employs universal means like the heat of the sun (vv. 4–6) and human conscience (Rom. 2:14–15). Simply because it is a revelation that affects all people wherever they are and whenever they have lived it can bring light and truth to all, or, if rejected, it brings condemnation.2

The second is specific revelation, which only some people have. Erickson defines special revelation this way: “God’s manifestation of himself to particular persons at definite times and places, enabling those persons to enter into a redemptive relationship with him.”3 We will look at both of these revelations, but we will be considering general revelation first.

General Revelation in Creation Shows That God Exists

As mentioned previously, some of the greatest evidence that we have of a creator is his creation. David says in Psalm 19:1–4:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun (emphasis mine)

David says the “heavens declare the glory of God.” He says they speak about him day after day and night after night. Creation declares that there is a God.

Here is an apologetic for the evidence of God. Let’s say a tribal person was walking outside and found a watch on the ground. He had previously never seen a watch or heard of anything like it before. He would pick up the watch and notice seconds moving, the hours moving. If he managed to open the watch, he would see screws, chips, and advanced technology.

The tribal person would not say, “Wow, this must have all just come together somehow.” No, he would say to himself, “I dont know what this is, but Im sure it had a creator. In fact, by looking at the dynamics of the watch, he would probably say, “This creator must be very intelligent because I have never seen anything like this.” The watch’s features would scream, “Designed by some great intelligence!” It certainly wouldn’t suggest that it came together accidentally and without purpose. It had to have intention behind it. It had to have purpose. Accidents like this don’t happen. A tribal person would naturally believe there was a creator, and you could not tell him otherwise.

If that is the normal conclusion when seeing a watch, how much more should we come to that same conclusion when seeing the human body. If the body is at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the body is stable, but if it gets a little bit hotter, a person will overheat and have a fever. If the body was a little bit colder, it would freeze. It’s the same when looking at the earth: if we were a little farther away from the sun, we would freeze to death. If we were a little closer, we would burn. The science in the body and throughout creation says, “Creator.” In fact, because the intelligent design behind the creation is so magnificent, it says, “This creator must be great!” There is no other conclusion a person can come to. That’s why Scripture says man is “without excuse” (Rom 1:20).

One of the greatest evidences for the Creator is his creation. How do I know that the Mona Lisa had a creator? It’s simply because I have seen the creation. I don’t have to meet Leonardo Da Vinci to know he existed because I have seen what he created. Again, it would be ludicrous to come to any other conclusion. This is why Scripture says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). It would be foolish to come to any other conclusion when looking at creation.

Another aspect of general revelation which reveals God to man is the conscience. Look at what Paul says in Romans 1:19 (NASB): “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (emphasis mine).

Paul says the knowledge of God is “evident within them” when referring to mankind. It seems Paul is referring to the conscience as a mechanism that reveals God to man. The conscience is an internal witness within man that affirms or accuses him of right and wrong. The ultimate basis of right and wrong is God. This is how the knowledge of God is “evident within them.” In fact, this knowledge is so strong in the conscience that every person will be judged on their response to their conscience. Listen to Romans 2:14–16:

(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge mens secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (emphasis mine)

Paul says the “requirements of the law” are written on their hearts. The summation of God’s law is to love God and to love our neighbor (Matt 22:34–40). The knowledge of God is evident within man by the internal witness God has given in the conscience.

Evidence for the conscience can be seen by looking at the majority of religions in the world. Even in tribal areas, they typically believe in a God and his judgment. They believe they will be judged by God for their sins. This is common amongst the religions of the world because of the conscience. God has made the knowledge of himself “evident within them,” and therefore, they are without excuse. Another evidence of the conscience is seen in mankind’s similar moral laws. It doesn’t matter what culture a person is from we typically have the same laws, “Do not lie, do not steal, do not kill, etc.” These all reflect the conscience of man.

This is general revelation. God has revealed himself to man through his creation and also through the conscience. We have a God that wants to be known, and therefore, he reveals himself to us. Creation declares his existence and glory, and our hearts declare it as well.

General Revelation Shows Certain Attributes of God

Not only do we see that God exists when looking at creation, but we can also discern some of his characteristics. Many characteristics of a person can be discovered by looking at his creation or something he has done.

When I was single, I was a very disorganized person. If you went into my room, you would have seen clothes all over my desk, my bed unmade, and hundreds of books on my floor. Because of my room (my creation) you would be able to tell a lot about me without ever meeting me. You would probably surmise that this person must be a pretty disorganized guy. You would probably also surmise that this person likes to study because of all the books. You could tell some things about me by what I had created. It’s the same with God.

What are some characteristics we can learn about God through general revelation?

God Is Glorious

We can tell from creation that God is glorious—he is great. Psalms 19:1–3 says this:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (emphasis mine)

David says the heavens “declare the glory of God.” The Hebrew word for glory has the connotation of weight, how heavy something is. When we look at something as wonderful as the stars, you have to say, “This God must be great. He must be big. Look at what he has created.” When you look at the sun and its size and power, there is no other conclusion one can come to. This God is glorious. We can see his glory in creation.

God Is Powerful

Another characteristic that can be discerned from creation is the power of God. It takes great power to create the heavens and the earth. Consider again what Romans 1:19–20 says:

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world Gods invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (emphasis mine)

Paul says God’s eternal power has been made clear. When you look at all of creation, you cannot but discern that this creator is very powerful.

God Is Transcendent or Immortal

Romans 1:20 also says that God has made other “invisible qualities” plain, such as his “divine nature”. What does Paul mean by the revelation of God’s divine nature?

The word divine means “of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god.”4 Essentially, divine means that the Creator is unlike anything in all of creation. There is nothing like him!

In fact, this is one of the ways that Paul stated that mankind sinned in refusing to acknowledge the Creator’s immortality, or what some would call his transcendence. Transcendence means that God is “beyond comprehension.”5 Instead of recognizing that God is immortal, they created idols in the form of creation. They made idols of men and animals. Romans 1:22–23 says:

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (emphasis mine)

When you look at the glory of God’s creation, it is natural to assume that the Creator must be greater than his creation. He must be different; he must be immortal.

But instead of acknowledging the immortal God, people professing to be wise became foolish and started to worship the creation itself. They worshiped cows, snakes, and humans. Most people worship themselves by the way they live their life. They essentially declare that I am the chief end of my existence. That’s why people say, “All that matters is that you are happy. Do what makes you happy.” That means they are the chief end of their existence. They worship their own image; they are their own God.

In fact, one of the major temptations throughout history has been to worship other individuals or become deities ourselves. Wasn’t that the temptation of Eve when the serpent said, “Eat of this tree and you will be like God?” Similarly, many kings have fallen into this temptation, claiming divinity, and desiring to be worshiped (cf. Daniel 3). This also has happened with many of the cults and religions of the world. A person or persons are viewed as divine and are worshiped as such. Because men refuse to acknowledge God, they instead worship the creation.

Paul says this is foolishness. God is divine; he is immortal and transcendent. There is nothing like him.

What else can we learn about the nature of God from creation?

God Is Kind and Loving

Another characteristic we can learn about God through creation is the fact that he is kind. This is often referred to as the goodness of God. God has made it clear that he loves and cares for people even those who do not love him. Listen to what Paul says in Acts 14:17:

Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. (emphasis mine)

Paul teaches that the natural provisions of creation show that God is kind. He cares for animals and people (cf. Jonah 4:11). He has given us many things such as rain, food, and, even joy. All these actions testify to the fact that he cares. Certainly, we also see bad things in creation. We see such things as famine, flood, and disease. However, it wasn’t God’s original design for things to be this way; he made everything originally good (cf. Genesis 1:31).

In fact, Jesus uses an argument from general revelation when teaching the disciples not to worry. In Matthew 6:25–34, he says, “Look at how God provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Arent you more valuable than the birds of the air and lilies of the field?” He essentially says nature should teach us about the kindness and care of God. If we observed nature more intentionally, it would encourage us not to worry about our life, but to entrust our life and future with God.

We also see Christ giving a lesson on the kindness of God through nature when he teaches that we should love and pray for our enemies. Listen to his instruction:

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (emphasis mine)
Matthew 5:44–55

Certainly, there are times when God displays his anger, but even his anger is a picture of his kindness (Hebrews 12:6). God is constantly showing his mercy and kindness through daily acts such as rain and sunshine.

Knowing that God is kind should affect us. It should keep us from worry, and it should challenge us to be kind to others, even our enemies. Nature teaches us about the kindness of God.

God Is a Living Being

Another clear characteristic we can discern about God from creation is the fact that he is a living being. God is alive and not dead. We learn this from his creation of humanity as living beings. Look at what Paul says to the Athenians in the book of Acts who were worshiping images of gold and silver:

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore since we are Gods offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by mans design and skill. (emphasis mine)
Acts 17:28–29

Paul is saying that if we consider the fact that God created mankind to be his children, it should become abundantly clear that he is a living person. He is alive, not an idol that is without breath. We shouldn’t think that God is something made by man like an image of gold or silver.

Paul essentially says, “Don’t you think it’s ludicrous to bow down to an image that you made?” However, like the people in Athens, many religions throughout the world worship idols. They behave as though God is living inside a statue or religious object. Paul says, “Look at us! Were alive, and therefore, so is God.” It’s foolish to think that the one who created us is something without life.

God Is a Moral Being

The next characteristic we can discern about God from creation is that he is a moral being. How has it been made clear to us that God is moral? This seems to be discerned by how God created man. God created man with a conscience as mentioned previously. Because man is made in God’s image, there is a natural law residing in the heart of man. It is something that has been affected by sin, but it nevertheless is still present. It both affirms and accuses man of righteousness and sin.

Throughout history, mankind has typically had the same laws. It is wrong for a man to steal, lie, kill, rob, and people that do such things should be punished. These are not laws based on culture but conscience. It is a moral code that resides inside of man, regardless of whether they live in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, or the Americas. We all have the same moral laws and God will judge us on the basis of them as seen in Romans 2:14–16.

(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (emphasis mine)

This is how we discern that God is a moral being. Though man has been marred by sin, a natural law still resides within his heart. This shows us that the Creator must be moral.

Why Then Do Some People Not Believe in God?

Well, the natural question then must be, why do some people not believe in God if the facts are so evident? What about atheists? The reason people deny God is because of sin. Listen again to what Paul says in Romans 1:18–19:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. (emphasis mine)

Paul says mankind suppresses the truth because of their wickedness. The practice of sin makes man suppress the knowledge of God. No one wants to think about a God that is both holy and just when they are living in sin.

Sin hardens man’s conscience which has an innate awareness of God. The conscience can be so hardened that it no longer works properly. Listen to 1 Timothy 4:1–2:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. (emphasis mine)

In this passage, Paul is talking about the overflow of false teaching that will continue to spread in these last days. The conduits of this teaching will be people whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. This means their consciences are hard and have lost sensitivity to sin.

This has happened to all of us at some point. Some may have experienced this with cursing. When they were young, they felt really bad about cursing, but eventually, by practicing it, their consciences no longer were pricked by their sin. This happens with pornography, cheating, lying, stealing, etc. It is possible to harden the conscience in such a way that it no longer functions properly. In the same way, a person can deny God so much through their sin that their conscience loses sensitivity to the Divine.

Paul is essentially saying that these teachers, because of their continual practice of sin and the subsequent searing of their conscience, exposed themselves to all kinds of deception from demons. The world has suppressed the truth by sin for so long that they will believe all kinds of lies as well, even so much so that many will deny the very existence of God.

In summary:

  1. The Bible assumes we believe in God’s existence because of revelation.
  2. General revelation shows God’s existence.
  3. General revelation shows many of God’s attributes.

What else does general revelation do?

General Revelation Leaves Man without Excuse

Romans 1:20 says: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (emphasis mine).

General revelation, though it cannot save anyone, will condemn people. Man is without excuse for not believing in God because of the witness of creation. All of creation will rise up to witness against mankind. The sun, the moon, the stars, the trees will all stand as witnesses declaring that man did know about God and his divine nature (cf. Psalm 19:1, Rom 1:20). But mankind will also be condemned because of the witness in their heart, which they have denied. Jesus will judge men in the last days based on the secrets of their heart as their conscience affirms and accuses them (cf. Rom 2:16, 1 Cor 4:5).

Again, general revelation is not enough to save a person, but it is enough to condemn a person for not believing in God and living up to the revelation given.

What else should general revelation do? How else does it witness for God?

General Revelation Should Lead People to Seek God

Listen to what Paul says to the people living in Athens in Acts 17:24–27:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. (emphasis mine)

Paul says that this God, who created the whole earth, gives every person life, breath, and everything else (v. 25). He created all the nations from one man (v. 26). He determined the times when the nations would live, where they would live, and the whole purpose of these things was for mankind to seek him (v. 26–27).

The heavens, the earth, and all of the blessings God has given to man were given for the purpose of man seeking God. The date a person was born, the time, the family, and the country, were all part of God’s infinitely wise plan of helping mankind pursue a relationship with him. Certainly, it may be easier for some than others based on their circumstances; however, the truth is the same for everybody. God wants mankind to seek him, and he has left his witnesses for us.

Listen again to Psalm 19:1–4:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (emphasis mine)

Why do they pour forth speech and why to the end of the earth? They are telling people about God so that they will seek after him and know his presence. God has left witnesses. Listen to what Paul says in Acts 14:17: “Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy (emphasis mine).”

God has left testimony—revelation—to draw people to himself. His kindness is seen in the seasons of the earth. He provides rain for crops and food so that man can eat. His characteristics are clearly displayed daily so that people will seek and find him (cf. Jeremiah 29:13).

The Result of Responding

This naturally leads to the question, What if man responds to general revelation? What will God do then?

If a person believes that God exists, that he is moral and seeks to live according to the moral laws in his conscience, God will give him more revelation. Listen to a general principle that Christ teaches in Luke 8:18:

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him. (emphasis mine)

The Bible teaches that if we respond to the revelation God gives, then he will give us more, and if we don’t respond, he takes away. Each one of us is always living under this principle. If we respond to revelation, whether that of nature or of Scripture, then God will give us more revelation. But if we do not respond, he will take away what we have.

I have seen this principle at work in many ways. I know many Christians, pastor kids, and missionary kids who have been exposed to the teaching of the Word of God since they were young, but because they have not heeded or acted upon it, it has had the opposite effect. It has hardened their hearts instead of softening it. Eventually, many of them turn away from God all together.

As we consider this, we should ask, “How is this principle affecting my life? Am I receiving more because I have been faithful or am I losing for lack of faithfulness?

Taking Away Revelation

How do we see this “taking away” happening throughout the world as people choose not to respond to general revelation both around them and inside of them? We learn something about this “taking away” as we look at Israel and also the pagan world in Scripture. Look at Isaiah 6:8–12:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, For how long, O Lord? And he answered: Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. (emphasis mine)

In this text, God is looking for a missionary to send, and therefore, Isaiah responds, “Here am I. Send me!” However, God then calls him to go and make the hearts of the Israelite people calloused, their ears deaf, and their eyes blind until God had destroyed their cities. How was Isaiah supposed to harden them? He was going to do this by giving them revelation, specifically the revelation of the Word of God. As he preached, it would harden them as they chose not to obey it. Eventually, because of continued disobedience, God would destroy their cities and exile them from their land.

Israel was continually exposed to the revelation of God. They were the nation to receive the Ten Commandments, God lived among them, he sent them prophets to speak his Word, however, they still did not respond. Therefore, the revelation Isaiah gave was going to have the opposite effect on them. The preaching of Isaiah was going to harden their hearts. God was going to take his revelation away from them. If we are faithful to God’s revelation, he gives more, but if not, he takes away.

In fact, when we look at Israel today, the majority of the nation is either atheist or agnostic (cf. Rom 11:8, 25). Very few Jews believe in God or practice religion as their faith; it is now just part of their culture. This was the result of hearing God’s revelation but not responding.

Jesus spoke more about this in Matthew 13:10–16. He explained why he spoke in parables to the Jews instead of clear teaching. He said it was because they had not responded to revelation in the past, and therefore, their hearts had become hardened (v.15). Listen to what was said:

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.
Matthew 13:10–12

Why were the secrets given to the disciples and not to Israel? Why was Jesus giving stories and riddles instead of clear doctrine? It was because Israel had not responded and there was a “taking away”. I often say this about the church in our day. I fear there is a “taking away” happening in the church. We too often get stories from the pulpit instead of the Word of God. I fear this is a form of judgment happening in the church throughout the world. The Word of God has been taken, and now we simply get stories like Israel did.

Some people consider this a form of grace. If Israel continued to hear the Word of God, they would have had a greater accountability and, therefore, judgment. They would be more responsible for what they heard. For this reason, many see God’s removal of clear teaching as a grace so that they wouldn’t be judged as harshly.

Let’s look at the example of the pagan nations. Up to this point with Israel, we have talked about not responding to the revelation of Scripture, but let’s see the effects of not responding to general revelation. We saw this previously in Romans 1. Let’s look at it a little closer.

Romans 1:18 says this: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (emphasis mine).

God’s wrath is revealed against those who suppress the truth. This means they are not responding to his revelation, and therefore, they invoke his anger. How does he respond, and what does God’s wrath look like? Paul describes this wrath throughout the rest of the chapter. It is the “taking away” of revelation.

Romans 1:22–24 says:

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (emphasis mine)

The nations rejected the knowledge of God and began to worship the created thing. Paul then says that this denial of God led to God giving them over to sexual immorality. The wrath of God is essentially seen in the removal of this revelation in the conscience. The conviction of certain actions being sin was no longer there because the conscience had stopped functioning properly. Man then began to indulge in all types of sexual immorality without the restraint of the conscience. What else do we see?

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. (emphasis mine)
Romans 1:25–26

The wrath of God is seen in the practice of homosexuality. The revelation in the conscience of this being wrong is essentially suppressed. Because the conscience no longer works in this area, homosexuality in this culture becomes accepted and promoted. What else did God do?

Romans 1:28–31 says:

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (emphasis mine)

As a judgment for not responding to God’s revelation, the pagan world was given a reprobate mind that led them into all kinds of immorality. What does the word “reprobate” mean? It means deviating from what is considered right or proper or good.6

They refused the revelation of God and their minds were given over to all kinds of sin. As a judgment by God, the unbelieving world could not even distinguish between right and wrong anymore. Listen to Romans 1:32, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (emphasis mine).

Because the Gentiles rejected God’s natural revelation, God took away the natural revelation in the conscience. The natural law in man became skewed, and they approved of the very things that they once knew were wrong. They promoted sexuality, homosexuality, murder, and all kinds of evil became acceptable in society. There was a “taking away” because they rejected God’s revelation. When we don’t respond, God takes away the gift of his revelation.

Many times, we think of God’s wrath like a spanking: he judges with a flood, he destroys by angels as with Sodom and Gomorrah, he brings poverty and war as with Israel. But sometimes, his wrath comes by saying, “Have your own way”, and he takes away his revelation. He says, Okay, do whatever you want.

I was an assistant coach for a college basketball team in Chicago for five years. I coached two years with guys and three years with girls. I remember coaching with the guys, and sometimes, certain players felt like the coach had it out for them. It seemed from their perspective that he was harder on them in practice than on other players. I would often tell them, “When coach stops talking to you, then you have a problem. That means you won’t be playing and he’s given up on you.”

In some ways that’s similar to revelation. God speaks to us because he wants us to know him, but if we choose to suppress his revelation through sin, he says, “OK. Have it your own way. I’m going to stop speaking but not only that, I’m going to withdraw what I have given,” and he allows us to reap the consequences of our sin. I believe many of the tragedies we have experienced both individually and corporately come from the consequences of this principle, a “taking away” of revelation—a hardening of the conscience.

The Giving of More Revelation

What if a person heeds the call of general revelation?

Scripture indicates that God would give them more revelation and potentially even knowledge leading to salvation. We see people in the Scripture who God miraculously saves though they had limited revelation of him. However, they had been faithful with the little they had. We see this in the story of Cornelius in Acts 10:1–5:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. (emphasis mine)

In the story, there is a man named Cornelius. He is a man who worships God, but with inadequate saving revelation. He is clearly moral and worships the God of the Jews. As the story progresses, God sends an angel to Cornelius telling him to send for Peter. Peter goes to the man’s house and there he preaches to his household. In response, the whole house was filled with the Spirit and then baptized (v. 44-48). I share this because this man responded to his limited revelation of God and God gave him more revelation.

As we respond to general revelation, God will provide more revelation for us to respond to. We see another example in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26–31.

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Similar to the Roman Cornelius, we see here an Ethiopian. He also worshipped God, but with limited revelation. He probably was a convert to Judaism. Here we see God meet with him in a supernatural way in order to give him more revelation.

As the story goes on, the Ethiopian is reading a passage in Isaiah that he does not understand and miraculously Philip is brought to the Ethiopian and explains the gospel to him. The Ethiopian was saved and then baptized. Then, the narrator says the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away; Philip just vanished (v. 48). If people respond to the revelation that God gives, then he will give more. But if revelation is rejected, God is just in not offering more. Listen to Luke, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him” (Luke 8:18).

No one can accuse God of injustice for it is by mercy that anybody is saved at all. We do not deserve eternal life. It was forfeited because of man’s sin. Therefore, God is merciful in choosing to reveal himself at all, and he is justified in removing revelation when we choose not to respond to it.

Some people may say this is not fair. How can God give the gospel to some and not to others if only the gospel can save? What about the tribal person in the forest who has never heard? God is just because he has given us witnesses, and if we respond, he will give more; if not, he takes away even the revelation we have. It is only by his mercy that any of us are saved because as sinners, we only deserve his wrath.

We must understand that general revelation is given in order to lead man to seek God more (cf. Acts 17:27). We must ask ourselves, how are we responding to what God has taught us? Based on our response to his revelation, God is always giving us more or he is taking away.

What else does general revelation teach us?

General Revelation Places the Burden on Christians to Share the Gospel

As shared previously, general revelation cannot save anyone. It should draw people to seek God, and if they are faithful to the revelation given, Scripture says he will give more. But it should be noted that because general revelation does not save, it puts a great burden on Christians to share the gospel with others.

The gospel of Jesus Christ dying on the cross for our sins is a part of “specific revelation,” which we will study next. Christ himself has given each Christian a call to share the gospel to the ends of the earth. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 28:19–20:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (emphasis mine)

We must go to the nations and share the gospel, for general revelation is not enough to save anyone. General revelation helps prepare the hearts, but it places the burden on us to sow the seed (Matt 13:3-8, 18-23). Creation does its part, but we must do our part as well. Listen to what Romans 10:14–15 says:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (emphasis mine)

How can people believe in Christ and be saved unless we share the message? God has sent each one of us to preach his good news so that all will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as each one of us were saved through someone sharing the gospel, our faithful witness will be used by God to save others as well.

Conclusion

How do we know there is a God? The Bible does not argue for it or give an apologetic treatise because God has revealed himself to man through revelation.

He reveals himself through creation. It declares that there is a God and gives us his characteristics: he is powerful, he is transcendent, he is moral, and he is kind, among other things.

He reveals himself through our conscience as man innately knows there is a God and the law of God is written on the heart of man (Romans 2:15).

General revelation leaves man without excuse for not believing in God. However, it is a form of grace meant to make man seek after God. If man responds to the revelation he has been given, God will give more, but if not, he takes away. Finally, general revelation reminds us of our need to share the gospel since general revelation by itself cannot save.

We will look at the other ways that God reveals himself, which is called special revelation. It is special because only some people receive this revelation.

Review Questions

  1. What is general revelation, and what are the primary ways God reveals himself?
  2. What happens when people respond to general revelation? What happens when people reject it?
  3. How would you respond to a person that questions God’s justice because of people who have never heard the gospel? Can God still be just if every person does not get the opportunity to hear the gospel?
  4. Explain the concept of natural law. What evidences are there of this concept, especially when considering it teaches that everybody has an innate knowledge of God?

Prayer Prompts

  • Pray for forgiveness for the sins of the world and that God would be gracious and remove his wrath.
  • Pray that Christians would proclaim the gospel in every nation so that God may be made known and that people may be saved.
  • Pray that we as Christians would faithfully respond to God’s revelation so that he may reveal more of himself to us.

Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown

The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, and King James Version.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version ® (ESV ®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


1 Wayne A. Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 149.

2 Charles C. Ryrie. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 31.

3 Millard J. Erickson, M. J. Christian Theology (2nd ed). (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998.), 201.

4 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/divine (accessed March 12, 2014)

5 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transcendent (accessed March 12, 2014)

6 “Reprobate.” www.audio.english.org. http://www.audioenglish.org/dictionary/reprobate.htm (accessed  March 12, 2014).

Related Topics: Christian Life, Theology Proper (God)

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