Systematic Theology I - Lesson 7
Doctrine of Scripture
The beginning discussion of revelation and the specifics of General Revelation
Doctrine of Scripture
Doctrine of Scripture
I. Revelation (part 1)
A. The Concept of Revelation
2. Scriptural Examples
3. Need for Revelation
B. Forms of Revelation
1. General Revelation
a. Avenues of General Revelation
b. Efficacy of General Revelation
An introduction to theology, answering the questions of what is EST (Evangelical Systematic Theology), why study EST, and how it relates to other theological disciplines.
Introductory issues of how to do EST and the criteria for assessing theological formulations.
Issues of cultural Christianity, and the evangelical position of "contextualized normativity."
Begins with a discussion of the background to the discussion (Pelagius, Augustine, Council of Carthage, and semi-Pelagianism), and then a discussion of Luther, Calvin, Arminius, the Synod of Dort and the Five Points of Calvinism.
Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and their views of Israel and the church
A discussion of these three positions and the key figures in each (Schleiermacher, Ritschl, von Harnack; Barth, Brunner, Niebuhr; Carnell, Henry, Graham)
The beginning discussion of revelation and the specifics of General Revelation
A continuation of the discussion of revelation with an emphasis on Special Revelation, moving into the topic of Inspiration (definition and key passages).
A survey of the recent debate, defining inerrancy (including the relationship of hermeneutics and inerrancy), and its relationship to authority.
The definition of illumination, why it is necessary, and how we come to know truth. The critceria for canonicity is then discussed and why the canon is now closed (i.e., why no more books would be accepted into the Bible).
Why there is a need to know God, and "theism" (arguments as to whether there is a God or not).
Can God be known? The Doctrine of the Trinity (Scriptural basis; historical background; Monarchian heresies)
Continuation of the discussion of the Trinity and the church's rejection of Monarchianism
Beginning of the discussion of the attributes of God's character, and how the discussion is organized.
The related doctrines of God's self-sufficiency and his love. (The lecture begins in the middle of a sentence but not much content is missing. Point V., subpoints 1 and 2 were covered in lecture 14. See Outline tab.)
God's incommunicable attributes are those that he does not share with us: self-existence; self-sufficiency; infinity; omnipresence; eternity
Completes the discussion of God's incommunicable attributes by discussing immutability, the doctrine that God does not change.
Discussion of those attributes of God's character that he shares (to some degee) with his creation, beginning with his intellectual attributes (omniscience).
A continuing discussion of God communicable attributes, both intellectual (Omnisapience; truth) and moral (goodness; love).
Continuation of the discussion of God's communicable moral attributes (love, grace, mercy; holiness, righteousness, justice) and the attributes of God's rulership (freedom; omnipotence).
The Scriptural teaching and issues related to this central question
Hyper-Calvinism, Process Theology, Arminianism, and Calvinism
Concluding discussion on Calvinism
An introduction to the doctrine of humanity and the doctrine of humanity's origin (Adam and Eve)
Theories on the structure of the human soul (Monism, Dichotomy, Trichotomy) and the transmission of the soul (Creationism, Traducianism).
Sin is one of the most foundational and significant topics in Scripture. The doctrines of salvation and sanctification are meaningless without an accurate understanding of sin. The Old Testament teaches both the personal and corporate aspects of sin. New Testament teachings include the essence of sin and total depravity.
The facets of the Fall, theories of Original Sin, and God's triumph over sin
What value is there to attempt to know the unknowable or to try to understand someone that, by their own description, is beyond our understanding?
Even though we cannot know everything there is to know about God, there are some things you can know because he has revealed them to you. You can develop a systematic theology as you contemplate what you experience in nature, what you can read in the Bible and what you can know from history. This will give you insights into who God is, how you can have a relationship with him, and how you will live your life differently. Dr. Ware begins by giving you a systematic theology definition and explains systematic theology teachings and concepts that you will find in systematic theology books. He also helps you to learn both the inductive and deductive approaches in assessing various criteria so you can determine for yourself the validity of any theological position.
Some of the first lectures in Dr. Ware’s Systematic Theology I give you the core theological positions of major movements like Calvinism, Arminianism, Covenant, Liberalism and Neo Orthodoxy and help you compare and contrast their different perspectives. Also, since the Bible is the primary source for determining your systematic theology, Dr. Ware defines and explains key terms like inspiration, revelation, inerrancy, illumination and canonicity. God’s existence and attributes make up a major part of this class. The final lectures in Systematic Theology I focus on what the Bible teaches us about humans and sin.
The study of systematic theology is a mixture of science, art and faith. Join Dr. Ware as he leads you in understanding the core teachings of Scripture in a way that help you articulate your systematic theology, deepen your relationship with God and live out your life as a changed person.
This is the first of a two semester class on systematic theology. We recommend the book Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem as a companion book for this class. Dr. Grudem also wrote an abridged version entitled Bible Doctrines that includes discussion questions that are helpful for using in a small group/classroom situation.
Here we start with revelation which is bigger than Scripture itself. This will make sense in a moment. The rest of the items, inspiration, inerrancy, illumination, canonicity all have to do primarily with Scripture itself. But to put Scripture in context, we need to start with this larger category of revelation.
A. The Concept of Revelation
Revelation. The term in English comes from the Latin term ''revelo'', which doesn't tell you much, does it? Just that it is where our English term comes from. Both the English and Latin terms come from the same Greek and Hebrew terms which basically mean the same thing. The Hebrew term is ''gala'' and the Greek term (most of you know this term, whether or not you knew that it meant revelation) is ''apokalupto'', Apocalypse, the final book of the Bible, the revelation given to John from Jesus Christ. That is the Greek term for revelation. The Greek term ''apokalupto'' and the Hebrew term ''gala'' are very similar. In both cases, if you look at lexicons of these two respective words, you will find the definitions are basically the same. They mean to reveal, uncover, lay bare, disclose or make known. I like the word "uncover." Assume for the moment that there was an easel with a painting on it, like that they have at an auction or something like that. This painting has a cloth draped over it and then at a particular moment I go over and remove the cloth so that you can see the painting that is underneath. That moment of removing the cloth is a moment of revelation. Revelation indicates that there is truth there, but we don't have access to it; it has to be made known, disclosed, laid bare in order for that truth, that revelation, to be made known to us. This is very helpful because we realize that God exists eternally, but we are talking about his revelation. The truth is there; it exists eternally in God, but God makes himself known, he discloses, or he lays himself bare as it were in revealing truth to us. Apart from revelation we would never know. This is why Karl Barth, in a very memorable passage in his little book ''Evangelical Theology'' said, "There can be proud historians and proud professors of literature, but there can no proud theologians." Why is that? Because all of the subject matter with which we deal, all of the truth that we know, we realize came to us through God's self-disclosure. He made known to us truth that we did not discover. It is not like we can take credit for this. It is rather truth that he made known to us by shining forth his light upon us. So this is what revelation is. It is a very humbling concept when you realize it. Every single true thought you have about God, about us, about the relationship between God and man, about salvation, about Christ, every true thought you have is because God has made that known to you. He gets all the credit and the glory for this. So revelation, then, is not a matter of human discovery, but it is rather a matter of God's self-disclosure.
2. Scriptural Examples
These examples are interesting to say the least; they certainly help us to understand the divine initiative aspect of revelation. God takes the initiative in making known what otherwise we would never know.
Psalm 19 is beautiful passage. Most of us are aware of this beautiful Psalm.
Ps 19:1 The heavens are declaring of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands. Ps 19:2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
Here we have this notion that the very heavens themselves are given to us, are made in order to display something of the very character of God shown through the created order. Romans 1:18 and following talks about his power. The heavens are the canopy of God's handiwork. It is as though he paints his own character in brush strokes across the heavens so that we see his own character portrayed to us in nature.
'''Psalm 19:3 '''
The New American Standard translates verse 3 differently than the NIV. I don't claim to be a Hebrew scholar, but I have looked at this and I think that the NASB gets it right. You can look at it yourself and see.
Ps 19:2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. Ps 19:3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. (NASB)
Ps 19:2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. Ps 19:3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
I think what the NIV does is try to eliminate what appears to be a contradiction between verses 2 and 3.
Psalm 19:2 says, day to day pours forth speech, and Psalm 19:3 says there is no speech. So it looks on the surface to be contradictory. But I think that the NASB is a correct translation of it. The point of it is this: in creation, the heavens declare the glory of God. How do they declare it? With speechless speech, with voiceless voice. It is not literal speech or literal voice. How much louder could you speak than God does of himself than through creation? There is no speech nor are there words. It is a silent but powerful testimony to who God is.
'''Romans 1 '''
Paul makes this point and by it indicates that this revelation of God in creation is so forceful, it is so clear, that by it alone all of the human race is found guilty before him. It is sufficient to hold people accountable for our rejection of God. The revelation of God in creation is that clear and forceful.
Rom 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (NASB)
So God understands his own witness through creation to be clear enough, sufficiently clear, for all people to be held accountable for how they respond to God as revealed in creation.
General revelation is revelation in creation; conscience is the other part of that (we will come to that in a moment). Other passages speak of God's revelation in special ways, particular episodes of divine revelation to particular people in marked ways.
Mt 11:25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to babes
There is our term ''apokalupto''. You have revealed them to babes.
Mt 11:26 "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in your sight.
Mt 11:27 "All things have been handed over to me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal him.
Here we have this passage that certain theological traditions, I think, would have a very difficult time accounting for. It is not warm and fuzzy, easy to take in teaching from Scripture because it indicates both the Father and the Son have absolute control over what revelation is understood, who understands it and who doesn't. They have the prerogative.
Notice in verse 25 he says, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth." What manifests the Lordship of God? In this context, he is Lord because he is Lord over what he revealed and to whom he reveals. He is Lord of heaven and earth, because he has hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and has revealed them to babes. Most of us would be very comfortable with, "I praise you Father that you have revealed these things." That sounds right. To our ear, especially given the sort of cultural tuning that our ears receive, that sounds right. I praise you, Father, that you have revealed them to babes. Yes, Amen. But that is the second part of what Jesus said. The first part is, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to babes."
Mt 11:27 "All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal him.
Just as the Father has prerogative over what revelation is given, to whom, and when it is given, so the Son has prerogative over what revelation is given, to whom and when. This is just a remarkable thing. The main point of it is: isn't it clear it is about truth that could not be known without God's initiative to disclose freely what otherwise we would never have a clue about. Do you see it in those verses? God takes the initiative; he makes it known. If he didn't make it known, no one would know. And he has the prerogative when he makes it known of what it is, to whom it is given and when it is given. This is God's prerogative.
This is a famous episode in the life Christ. His disciples realize for the first time, not by their own discovery, but by God's self-disclosure, that Jesus Christ is in fact the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Mt 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he was asking his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Mt 16:14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." Mt 16:15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Mt 16:16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Notice Jesus' response. He does not say to Peter, "Peter, way to go; you figured it out. Boy, you are smart Peter; wow God has really given you a great brain." No, Jesus does not respond that way. No kudos for Peter. What does He say?
Mt 16:17 And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona...
What does blessing imply? It implies that you have been given something graciously; God has shown favor to you.
Mt 16:17 And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you...
There we have it again: ''apokalupto''
Mt 16:17 "because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."
How was Peter able to give testimony to this incredible truth that Jesus of Nazareth was, in fact, the Christ? The Father revealed that to him. I take it that we are to understand this to mean that had the Father not made it known to him, Peter would still be clueless. Revelation is God making it known.
Paul reflects on the revelation of the Gospel that he has received, and he realizes this couldn't come from any other source than from God. Because it is revelation, it has to come from God through Christ.
Gal 1:11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. Gal 1:12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Here is Paul's claim; it is why he said:
Gal 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
How can he speak with such forcefulness about this gospel, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed?" Why? Because we received this as a revelation from Jesus Christ. That is his claim. This not of human origin; this came from God. It couldn't have been discovered by human beings; it came from God.
It seems to me that these examples show us that this concept of revelation is something that is humbling and difficult for us to accept. There is something in the human psyche that wants to take credit for what we know. In the academy this certainly is the case. People want their name attached to the discovery; they want to go down in history, for it to be said this is so and so's theory. This is what so and so discovered. People crave to take credit for what they discover, or for insight they have come up with. This doctrine of revelation teaches us as Christian people that we can never take credit for truth that we understand as Christians. That even means in your mature Christian life, as you grow in grace and you think more carefully, more deeply and in more refined ways about the truth. Are you all of a sudden on your own grasping truth because of your initiative, or is God unfolding for you bit by bit this package of revelation that he has given to you? So we can never take credit. If you want to be a big named, big shot, you have to go to some other discipline, as Barth said. You can't do it in theology; you can't do it with the Bible. You ought to recognize, God help us to recognize--every one of us--that we are absolutely dependent on the work of God to grant to us truth that we would never know otherwise. This is very humbling. And for our pride, it is a hard thing to accept. It is also hard to accept the fact that God has lordship over that revelation. He has the right to give revelation when, to whom, and how much he wishes to give. He doesn't owe revelation to anyone. Let me cite a couple passages on this point. He doesn't owe revelation to anyone.
Do you remember the occasion where Jesus was rebuking the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida? "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles performed among you that I had performed, if those miracles had been performed in Sodom and Gomorrah..." What does he say? They would have repented. That isn't Jesus' main point, though.
His main point is how culpable these people are for rejecting the greater revelation which had it been given to those other folks--they would have repented--but look at these folks; even with the greater revelation they are not repenting. That is the main point, but do you see the sub-theme, the secondary point that is in here. God knows that had this revelation been given to them they would not have perished. Think of Sodom and Gomorrah; they had fire and brimstone judgment upon them. God does not owe it to Sodom and Gomorrah to give them the revelation by which had they known it they would have repented and been saved. That is sobering isn't it? So will the people of Sodom and Gomorrah be able to hold that passage on the Day of Judgment and say, see right here; it is your fault God? It says right here that if this revelation had been given to us we would have repented. You didn't give it. You are responsible. Do you think that is going to work on the Day of Judgment? No. Remember Romans 1; the witness of creation is sufficient to hold all people accountable. My goodness, they had more than creation; they had their consciences, and they violated conscience in their blatant sexual promiscuity, and homosexual behavior, so they incurred the just judgment of God upon them. Despite that fact, is it true God could have given them revelation by which they would have repented? Yes. Is it, nonetheless, true that they are entirely morally culpable for the sin that they committed and are rightly judged before God? Yes.
'''1 Corinthians 2 '''
After Paul had been talking about the foolishness of the gospel and how it is rejected by both Greek and Jew, then in Chapter 2 he says, we do speak a wisdom that is from God, not a wisdom of the world;
1 Cor 2:6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 1 Cor 2:7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;
Now catch verse 8, I don't know if you noticed it before.
1 Cor 2:8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
There is truth God could have given, which had he given it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. God didn't give it. Are the people who crucified Christ guilty? Yes, despite that God could have given them wisdom.
The point I am trying to make is that this contains a very hard teaching for many of us, for all of us: to realize that God has absolute rights over if, when, to whom, and how much revelation is given. That ought to humble us. If you are a recipient of revelation, bow before a gracious God who has given what he need not have given. Marvel that God, in his self-sufficiency, fullness and perfection of God, might have just ignored all of us and held us all accountable before him. Marvel that he makes known at all and as lavishly as he does. Marvel because it is his initiative, his prerogative.
The flip side is that this is a wondrous, glorious doctrine because we realize that revelation is true; revelation has happened; revelation has come. So we aren't left in the dark. The veil is removed; the cloth is taken away from the painting, and we behold the beauty of God in his purpose and his plan. We have the Bible; we have Jesus Christ; we have the revelation of God in glorious splendor manifest for us. So thank God, praise God that he has made himself known.
3. Need for Revelation
There really is a need for revelation. The truths that we gain from revelation are not a matter of human discovery but of God's self-disclosure. Why must that be the case? I think it has to do with two things fundamentally. First, it has to do with the transcendence of God. He is beyond us and above us; he is infinite in his splendor. One of the most vivid pictures in the Bible of God's transcendence is in Isaiah 6 (Isa 6:2) where Seraphim, holy sinless, glorious, powerful, angelic creatures, are flying around the throne. Remember Isaiah's vision; they are flying around the throne and with two of their wings they cover their eyes. They cannot look upon the infinite splendor of God, even though they are sinless creatures. So here is God in his transcendence, upon whom we cannot look. In order to know God, he has got to make himself known.
I am convinced that at the heart of liberal theology is a disdain for this very notion. If we are going to know anything about God, he has to tell us. Because of the human psyche, what do we want to do? We want to discover it; we want to get credit for it. We want everybody to know I came up with this idea; I thought of this; this is my insight. That is what we crave. And here we are told that is ruled out, that is impossible. So revelation is rejected, and self-importance is exalted. This is the transcendence of God: if we are to know God, he must make himself known.
The second factor that shows the necessity of revelation is the finite and sinful nature of human beings. Finitude on its own would render it impossible for us know God in his infinity because of the gulf that separates who God is and who we are in our microscopic littleness as human beings. Just that alone would render revelation necessary. But add to that the scales that sin puts over our eyes, our puny little eyes to begin with, the finite creatures that we are. And with the scales over our eyes because of sin, we are so blind to the truth; we cannot comprehend it. God must break through; he must make himself known to us in ways that overcome our disabilities.
B. Forms of Revelation
There are basically two main forms of revelation: general and special. What distinguishes general and special revelation? I have come with an alliterated pair to make it more easy to remember: scope and substance. General revelation is general in scope as opposed to special revelation which is more special, particular, defined in scope.
1. General Revelation
General revelation is general in scope, that is, it includes the whole world. "The heavens declare the glory of God"(Ps 19:1). Well the heavens are out there for everyone to behold. People who have never heard of Christ, who have never seen a Bible, see the stars at night. They see waterfalls and the mountains. They witness the intricacies of a flower. They see God's hand print in the created order. Although they have never heard of Christ perhaps or never had a single word of special revelation, yet the scope includes them. That revelation includes them. All people are within that. So the scope of general revelation is general; it includes everyone.
The substance of general revelation is also more general than the specific substance of special revelation. So here we have a general revelation of God, not specific details. There is a whole lot that we don't know about God just from creation. We need special revelation to understand the trinity. We need special revelation to understand the incarnation. We need special revelation to understand justification by faith. The nature of the Christian life, a whole lot of what we know about God, and the relationship he has with human beings comes through special revelation. Generally, we can say God exists; he is a God of great power; he is a God of great wisdom. There are some general things that can be known about God. He is God. He is over us. He is great and mighty and awesome. But we don't know the specifics about God apart from his special revelation. So general revelation is general in scope and in substance.
a. Avenues of General Revelation
1) Creation (the natural world God has made)
Ps 19:1 The heavens are declaring of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.
It is evident from this text that it is speaking of the handiwork of God declaring his glory, which is weightiness. It is how weighty God is, how massive he is. It is the Godness of God to bring into existence this universe that we behold around us. Romans 1:18 likewise is a witness to God's revelation in creation.
Rom 1:18ff For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes have been known, his power and wisdom have been known through what has been made.
In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus appeals to who God is by looking at the created order. Consider the lilies of the field, he says. Doesn't this tell you something about how God takes care of his own? So Jesus appeals, at this point, to general revelation as a testimony to who God is. God, who feeds the birds and clothes the fields with lilies will certainly care for his children, will he not? That is the point he is making.
2) Conscience- human moral sensibility
Romans 2 has really remarkable statements to make about this.
Rom 2:12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law;
That is kind of a startling statement. Why is it that people who have sinned without the Law will perish? Think of what Paul says in Romans 7. Until the Law came, I didn't even realize that I was coveting; when the Law came, I realized thou shall not covet. How can people without the Law, without the Law of Moses, be held accountable?
Rom 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the Law,
It is clear that he is talking about the Law of Moses, and the Ten Commandments. I think that is crystal clear; that is the context of what he is referring to. The Gentiles are not a part of Israel; they don't have that covenant made with them.
Rom 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, Rom 2:15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing
I take it, that when they break the Law, they know in their heart, their conscience accuses them.
Rom 2:15 ... or else defending them,
That is, when they keep the Law written on their hearts, and they know they did what was right (they know they should tell the truth and they told the truth), well their conscience bears witness and defends them.
Rom 2:16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
So God will judge the secrets of men's hearts. He will point to their own moral sensibilities as indicators that they knew when they were breaking or keeping the Law.
That is not to say that consciences cannot be seared. Consciences can become warped, twisted and depraved. But as consciences are given by God they come downloaded with the Law of God on their hearts. It is a remarkable thing. C. S. Lewis, in his little book ( I think one his most profound books) called the ''Abolition of Man'' speaks about how there is the Tào, the Law, this sense of moral right and wrong that is upon the hearts of all people at all times. We have seen this, perhaps, more clearly in the 20th century than any other time in history. In the 20th century we had world wars. Before the 20th century we had regional wars that took place, and often times they were big and messy. But here we have warfare that includes great numbers of people throughout the entire world and there is an assessment of war crimes that takes place. This is very interesting. When there is this assessment of war crimes, this not the assessment of just one nation or one people and its own cultural viewpoint on right and wrong verses another people and its cultural viewpoint on right and wrong. No. There is a sense in which we all know it is wrong to perform medical experiments on living human beings as was done by the Nazis in World War II to see how long a person could survive in increasingly cold water. They took some Jews, stripped them naked and put them in water and decreased the temperature of the water and observed to see how long it took for them to die. World opinion has been that this is inhumane and worthy of punishment. This is a very fascinating thing.
We saw a little glimmer of this on 9/11 with the bombing of the twin towers. Predominately, world opinion weighed in with a uniform voice that this was wrong. Of course that wasn't the case in some Arab lands. We realize that there were huge differences politically and so on. But nonetheless, there was massive world opinion that this is not right; this is an act of terrorism; this is abominable and we cannot stand for this. C. S. Lewis in his little book notes this. You can look across the world, or you can look in history and what you find when you look at human beings is this common stock of right and wrong. It is amazing how it matches the Ten Commandments. People know instinctively that is wrong to steal. People know instinctively that is wrong to commit murder. People know instinctively that is wrong to bear false witness. Where does this come from? It is an amazing thing this uniformity of moral code by which human beings live. Don't confuse this point with the differences in what constitutes stealing from one culture to another. This is a very important point to see. Cultures may differ greatly on what constitutes stealing or on what constitutes murder. But is there a culture out there that has no conception of, "Thou shall not steal," or "Thou shall not murder"? In one culture it may be stealing to go to your neighbors garage, use their lawnmower and put it back in yours; whereas in another culture if you went to their home or their hut and took something and put it back in yours, that would be perfectly fine. In a communal culture, that is not stealing, but if you went to another village across the way, took something and brought it back to your village, that would be stealing. So don't confuse the point. We differ on what constitutes stealing; that is true. But is a recognition that thou shall not steal is imprinted upon all of our hearts? Where does this come from? This really is an incredible thing.
On analysis I think you see that there really are levels of this conscience. There is moral sensibility itself; that is, we are a people who have a moral sense of right and wrong, which is something different than a merely pragmatic sense of right and wrong. For example if I were to ask what is the right way to get to Oxmore Toyota? You would tell me pragmatically because it is not a moral issue. But if I ask you what is the right way to take a quiz? You know what I am looking for is not a pragmatic but moral response. We live, as human beings, facing the fact that we cannot avoid moral questions. We are faced with moral reality constantly. Your dog or your cat has it wonderful; they never have to worry about moral categories. You do, every moment of your existence: whether you keep a promise or break a promise, whether you do what you say you will do or not, whether you lie or tell the truth, whether you say something and shade it in way that makes you look better than the truth really is or whether you state the truth. We just face this constantly. We have this moral sensibility.
Also, we have to act in moral ways. You can't avoid acting in moral ways. Every time you make a claim about something you are putting your word there on it. Do you stand by it? Is it true; will you do what you said? Even saying something as simple as, "Honey I will be glad to stop at the store and pick up a loaf of bread on the way home." You have just made a promise. This is serious business. I was very much affected years ago by a book I read which described the covenant-keeping nature of God as one of the most telling features of what constitutes God as God. He is a promise-keeping God and hence being made in the image of God, one of the most important features of human life, one of the ways in which we are most like God is when we make and keep promises. We live in a land where this is trivialized. If it is not written on legal script somewhere, you are not accountable to it. This is not the Bible. "Let your yes be yes and your no be no" (Jas 5:12). We Christian people have got to take to heart the seriousness, the weightiness, of oath taking and promise keeping. This applies to marriage, too, the most significant human oath you can make to another human being. And now, look at the church. Look at what has happened. We are a defilement to God in the way we break oaths, break covenant, and break promises. Moral behavior cannot be avoided. It is part and parcel of every day life.
Moral judgment. We do it whether we judge ourselves (we are guilty because we know we did or said something that was wrong and we feel guilty for it), or we charge others with guilt. If you don't think you do, you don't pay attention to your own mind much. You do it, I do it, we all do it. We ascribe guilt or innocence constantly through the day as we see particular things happen. You do it when you drive all the time; that guy cut me off and that isn't right. Sometimes we try to retaliate for it, too, so you get road rage. Here is the triad of moral reality that we have as human beings. Moral framework: we can't avoid moral right and wrong. Moral behavior: we can't help acting in ways that are right or wrong. Moral judgment: we judge ourselves and others on the basis of moral right and wrong. So where does this come from? According to Romans 2, God wrote the Law on our hearts. That is a staggering phrase. There are not just moral principles, a sense of right and wrong. He wrote the Law on our heart; that is what Paul says in Romans 2. Thou shall not covet; thou shall not commit adultery; thou shall not steal; thou shall not bear false witness. That was written on our hearts.
b. Efficacy of General Revelation (what does it accomplish- what does it do)
Simply put, general revelation is sufficient in its disclosure of God and his character to hold people accountable for their rejection of God. Hence we have the statement in Romans 1:20) that they are without excuse. So it is sufficient to hold people accountable before God as guilty and deserving condemnation. But it is not sufficient to show them how to be forgiven of their sins. There is nothing in general revelation that displays the grace of God in Christ. Hence the need for the Gospel, hence the need for witnesses, hence the need for missionaries, hence the need for evangelists that tell truth that can't be known from starry heavens and mountainous landscapes. As beautiful as they are, they don't tell you about Christ. So general revelation is sufficient to condemn but not sufficient to save.
In Romans 1 there is no hint that general revelation will provide what we need. You can see the logic of Romans 1-3 and the culmination of this in Rom 3:9 and following where all have sinned. Both Jews and Greeks are under sin. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). That is where he is going with this; all have sinned. We all need the Gospel of Christ. In Romans 1 then, how utterly opposed it would be to the purpose of Paul's argument to say that creation could be a vehicle by which we could be saved. No. His point is that by creation we all stand condemned, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness...For since the creation his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse"(Rom 1:18-20). The whole point of it is that if this is where we are left, we are hopeless; Jew and Gentile alike are hopeless. So general revelation is sufficient to condemn but not sufficient to save.
This is an important thing to bear in mind because we have a movement today within evangelicalism that is growing in momentum called "inclusiveism." Inclusivists are people that believe that Jesus is the only way to be saved; that only through is death are people saved, but there is access to saving revelation where Jesus is not known. The Spirit is present and witnesses through creation and perhaps witnesses through other religions a saving revelation by which people may repent and be saved, though they have never heard of Christ. This view, in my judgment, is an abominable distortion of Scripture's teaching. It is fully unacceptable for evangelicals. Read Romans 10. Romans 10 begins with these Jews who have the Law of God; even so, what is their problem? They are not saved. They are seeking after God. Paul says they are zealous, but they are not saved because they don't know Christ. Read Romans 10. It is so clear, no revelation apart from the revelation of Christ will be sufficient.
Blessings on You.