The first thing that general revelation teaches us is that God exists. Although this fact is something that the atheistic camp may not want to hear, Paul makes this very clear in our text. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God . . .” Note first of all the strength of Paul’s language. All people know God. It is not simply that they know of him in some sort of hearsay fashion. They haven’t simply heard about God from others. No, every human being, even unbelievers, know God himself. This is not to say they all know him in an intimate or salvific fashion. Rather, this sort of knowing is exactly what Calvin speaks of when he discusses the fact that knowledge of God and knowledge of self are inextricably intertwined. Paul makes it clear that this knowledge of God is grounded in general revelation; that is when we are confronted with ourselves and the created world around us we are immediately struck by knowledge of God. Note also, that this knowledge is not a general idea or vague understanding of a god. Paul states that God’s particular attributes are known through this general revelation. The god who is revealed in this fashion is particularly THE biblical God, not just a general deity out there somewhere in the universe.
Secondly, general revelation tells people that they are accountable to the biblical God. Paul makes several allusions to this concept in our text, but he cannot be more clear than verse 32: “Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Paul’s indication is not only that all people know God through general revelation, but that we are aware that we are accountable to him and know his commands. How can we know what God requires of us? While Paul will expand on this concept later, it is primarily through the conscience that God communicates his righteous requirements to us. Paul will later state that our conscience either accuses or excuses us based upon what we do. This internal “moral monitor” is placed in us by God and indicates to us his righteous demands upon our lives. Although people often try to suppress this knowledge and argue their way out of these truths, they are never successful in fooling themselves. Everyone knows that they are accountable to God and one day stand before him, whether they want to admit it or not.
Finally, as indicated in verse 32 we are aware that God will judge us for disobeying him. Paul states: “that those who practice such things deserve to die.” The knowledge of God’s judgment over our actions is placed in the center of all human beings. The fact that man’s inherent religiousness so often manifests itself in works-based worldviews abundantly demonstrates this fact. How many religions have been created that emphasize so strongly living a moral life before God so as to earn his favor? It seems that all men everywhere, even those who have not had the light of God’s special revelation, know that God has “appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness.” However, this knowledge of God’s judgment always meets with works righteousness or suppression in man’s natural state. While the creation and conscience bear witness to these things, man’s continuing efforts are exhausted in trying to either appease these standards that are too high, or suppress any knowledge of God from memory. Ultimately the sinful soul does not want to be accountable to anyone but themselves. It has been the same sin of human autonomy that has plagued man since the garden. We may have gotten more complex in “hiding our nakedness,” but ultimately all men know deep down that they will be judged by the God of Scripture.
While general revelation can tell us much about God, man fights against it until the bitter end. Unless the Spirit of God moves sovereignly on a sinner’s life, they will in no wise submit to their Creator. Thankfully God has given us even more than general revelation, in the special revelation of his Word, that ultimately “takes on flesh and dwells among us.”