Volume 8, No. 9 (September 2013)
5. WORSHIP AND THE FALL IN ROMANS (Romans 1:18-25)
Sometimes, when students at the schools I visit overseas learn that I have come to teach a course on worship, they ask (or at least think) questions like: “A whole course on worship?? What’s he going to talk about for one or two weeks?” But they soon see, as we delve deeply into the biblical text, what a far-reaching, overarching and indeed central theme worship is in the Bible. The implications of a true biblical theology of worship are enormous, infusing from beginning to end the entire biblical story, and indeed all of human history.
Crucial to this perspective is Romans 1:18-25, where (as one author has put it) Paul has provided a “theological commentary on Genesis 3”: in other words, Genesis 3 tells us what happened; Romans 1 tells us what it means. Paul’s great exposition in Romans of the saving work of God through Christ is put by him in the context of the fall: laying out the blackness of human sin so that the glory of God’s grace might shine all the more brightly.
The New Testament scholar Morna D. Hooker (“Adam in Romans 1,” New Testament Studies 6 [1959-60]: 297-306; “A Further Note on Romans 1,” New Testament Studies 13 [1966-67]: 181-83) has convincingly demonstrated that in Romans 1, Paul is not just talking about mankind in general, but Adam and Eve in particular: the linguistic and conceptual similarities between Genesis 3 and Romans 1 demonstrate that Paul is indeed speaking of our first parents in his portrayal of man’s fallenness.
God clearly revealed Himself to Adam and Eve; “His eternal power and divine nature” were “clearly perceived.” In keeping with how He has always dealt with mankind, God Himself initiated the relationship with Adam and Eve, and revealed Himself to them. They are “without excuse” because their rebellion could not be traced to a lack of knowledge of God and what He demanded.
Indeed, Paul writes that they “knew God.” They had a direct, unmediated, face-to-face relationship with their Maker in the Garden. As their Creator, God was the only one deserving of their loyalty and worship. And yet, in spite of their knowledge and their obvious dependence on God for their first breath and every one thereafter, “they did not honor God as God, or give thanks.”
The serpent’s deceptive assertion to Eve was that in eating the fruit “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). That was of course a lie (for God as Creator is unique in His glory, so that no one is or can be like Him); and it was just that misconception that the serpent’s master, Satan, had himself succumbed to (see Isaiah 14:14, where at the root of Lucifer’s rebellion is seen the prideful claim that “I will make myself like the Most High”).
Adam and Eve did not honor God “as God”, that is, in His unique glory. In taking steps they thought would lead them to “be like Him,” they were rejecting that uniqueness and refusing to take a dependent posture of gratitude (“give thanks”) before their Maker.
Having denied the foundation of true worship (the unique glory of God), Adam and Eve inevitably plunged into false worship. That is exactly what we see in the ensuing verses:
“they became futile in their thinking”
“their foolish hearts were darkened”
“they became fools”
“they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images”
“they exchanged the truth of God for a lie”
they “worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator”
Thus we see that worship was the central issue in the fall. The crucial question before Adam and Eve, and indeed, before every human being in history is: “Whom are you going to worship? Who is going to be on the throne of your life?”
Adam and Eve answered the question wrongly, and they carried the entire race with them into mutiny against their Creator. It would take the sacrifice of God’s own Son to buy back His rebellious children; Jesus would answer the same question correctly, right in Satan’s face (Matthew 4:10): “You will worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” Jesus through His redeeming work will make it possible for God (in the words of A.W. Tozer) “to make worshippers out of rebels.” Paul goes on in Romans to expound the mighty redeeming work by which God would make this happen.
NOTE: For more on this crucial subject, including quotations from a number of authors, please see Worship Notes 3.1; and a fuller, more academic exposition in “False and True Worship in Romans 1” (Bibliotheca Sacra 157 [Jan.-March 2000]:26-34).