Perhaps there is no greater misnomer than the term atheism. It has come to mean one who does not believe in the existence of God. Originally however it referred to one who was ‘without’ God in that he or she did not enjoy the benefits of God’s grace. We see this in Ephesians 2:12 where Paul refers to the Ephesian believers, telling them that prior to their conversion they were “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:” The term ‘without’ here is the Greek ‘atheos’ from which we derive both atheist and atheism.
In fact the term atheist, used in referring to one who denies the existence of God, is a relatively recent addition to language. Karen Armstrong, a British author of numerous works on comparative religion writes this,
“During the 16th and 17th centuries the term atheist was still reserved exclusively for the polemic. (This means that) ‘atheist’ was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist.”
As it is presently used it has less than a few hundred years of history. Therefore, saying that one is an atheist because he does not believe in the existence of God, while consistent with common usage, is inconsistent with the etymology of the word.
What is most important however is that this usage is inconsistent with the plain declaration of Scripture regarding man’s basic belief in God. Romans 1:18-20 says this;
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it to them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”
In other words, men instinctively knows that there is a God because God has made it plain to them. This He did in creation, primarily. Moreover this knowledge is not vague but men see it clearly and understand it. In fact it is so plain that if one tries to deny it he is said to be “without excuse!” God establishes, as fact, that men know ‘of’ Him. This settles the matter for all Bible believers.
Paul goes on in this chapter to explain that men, instead of acknowledging what they instinctively know to be true, refuse to glorify and thank God, even attempting to suppress this truth. As a result they become “vain in their imaginations” and “their foolish hearts (are) darkened.” This leads to a downward spiral in which sexual perversity and all manner of good-for-nothing thinking, resulting in all manner of worthless sins, develops. Men do not like to retain God in their knowledge so they come up with futile nonsense, atheism for example, in an attempt to stifle Him. All the while, however, they know His judgments and live under pain of them even though they may ‘sear their consciences’ over in denial of the facts.
Whatever else men are, then, they are not true atheists except as they are separated from the benefits of God in Christ. Men know that there is a God! To say otherwise is to lie to self and to call God a liar! It has been said that atheism is not a religious problem it a moral one. If you claim to be an atheist, one who does not believe in the existence of God, you are the liar!!!
What is urgently needed is a confession of all lies before God and a turning for them to faith in Christ as Savior. Unless you are under His grace you are an atheist in truth. Someone has said that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Better yet, there are no atheists in the grave. The dead know the reality of their delusions as soon as they pass into eternity.
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