In the book of Acts chapter 17 we find the apostle Paul in the city of Athens, in Roman occupied Greece near the middle of the first century. In verse 16 we read that Paul’s spirit was stirred in him when he saw that the city was “wholly given to idolatry.”
In a close examination of that statement we find that literally, the city was inundated with idols and the practice of idolatry. Petronius, a Greek satirist and a contemporary of the apostle Paul remarked that in Athens one could find a god easier than a man.
And Pausanias, another contemporary of the apostle, said that Athens had more idols and altars than the rest of Greece combined. Here Paul encountered two groups of philosophers:
The Epicureans who had given up the search for truth and instead focused their lives on seeking pleasure. And the Stoics who maintained that self-sufficiency and self-reliance could fulfill all of man’s desires, and that he had need of nothing outside of self.
Luke, in his description of the Athenians said they spent their time either telling or hearing some “new thing.” In other words their lives were completely occupied with an insatiable obsession for the latest gossip, discoveries, philosophies, technologies, entertainment, and other forms of pleasure.
On the whole then, the Athenians were a self-absorbed people whose gods existed to bring them pleasure, and in fact, they even had an altar to the “unknown” god, just in case they had left a god out. They certainly didn’t want to offend him.
Having been invited to speak by the philosophers so that they might examine his teaching, Paul spoke to the crowd from Mars Hill. The apostle Paul’s remarks to the Athenians were such that he perceived them to be very religious.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word religious as:
- A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
- A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Buddhist religion; the Christian religion; the Muslim religion, the Jewish religion; etc…
- The body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
- The practice of religious beliefs; ritual observances.
Understand, although they believed he was being complementary—Paul was not giving them a compliment. You see, the apostle at one point in time had been part of a religious sect of the Jews called the Pharisees. But after his conversion on the road to Damascus he no longer followed a religion, for he had a relationship with Jesus Christ, the very Son of God.
In fact, Paul was condemning them for their ritual observances which, devoid of faith, were no more than exercises in self-satisfaction. However, Paul used their religiosity to declare to them the identity of the “unknown” God to whom they had built an altar.
In Athens of the first century, I see a picture of the United States of America as it is today. This is a land filled with idols and altars to innumerable gods. America is a land filled with religiousness, yet devoid of faith. Like the Epicureans and Stoics, Americans are seekers of pleasure and are self-indulgent in their pursuit of materialism, success and self-glorification.
I believe the apostle Paul describes the condition of Americans today in Philippians 3:18-19:
“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.”
Many people worship in stadiums, arenas, ballparks, and every other type of sports venue with little gods in uniforms to whom they pay homage. Many others worship in concert halls, theaters, and nightclubs paying homage to musicians and vocalists—whose self-absorbed lives are idolized and aggrandized.
Still many others worship in theaters or in their own homes before altars which are screens showing digital images and stories, which for the most part are filled with fantasy or debauchery and filth—portrayed by actors devoid of morals and any sense of personal accountability.
In America, there are those who worship at the altar of money, some who worship at the altar of fame, some who worship at the altar of politics, some who worship at the altar of education, some who worship at the altar of environmentalism, some who worship at the altar of sex and pornography.
And some who worship at the altars of alcohol and drugs, some who worship at the altar of compromise and tolerance and inclusiveness, and there are some who worship at the altar of atheism and secular humanism. And, in many ways these are all worshiping at the altar of self.
In America today there are many forms of religion from every corner of the earth. There are deists, pantheists, monotheists, polytheists, panentheists, animists, agnostics and atheists. Some of which hope to pacify; others who hope to proselytize. Others who hope to marginalize, and still others who simply desire to enslave or eliminate anyone who does not adhere to their form of religion.
In America today, most churches are institutionalized memorials to religiosity, populated by people who either are seeking approval for their own actions and ideologies, blindly following the unscriptural tenants and teachings of false teachers and false prophets, or are simply going through the motions of ritualistic religion.
For all of the altars at which people worship in America today, unfortunately I have yet to find an altar to the “unknown” god such as the apostle Paul found in Athens. In fact, in America today people seem to be completely satisfied worshiping at the altars of their self-made idols and hedonistic gods.
However the infinite, eternal, God whom Paul declared to the Athenians, is still the immutable, incomparable, inscrutable, unfathomable, unsearchable, transcendent, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, righteous, just, gracious, holy, and sovereign God today. He is the Creator God of the universe who made Man; rather than an idol or object made by Man, who is dependent on Man.
He is the righteous God, who in His sovereignty, yet, requires payment for Man’s sinful rebellion which began with Adam in the garden. He is the gracious God, who provided that payment when His own Son, Jesus Christ, paid the sin debt of all who will believe on Him, by His death on the cross, burial and resurrection.
He is a Holy God, who has provided the Holy Spirit of Christ to indwell everyone who has believed on Jesus, as their Comforter and Teacher. He is a just God, who has appointed a day when everyone in the world will stand in judgment by His Son, if they have not repented of their sinfulness and accepted His free gift of grace.
Today in America (and the world) there needs to be a spiritual revival which causes people to turn away from their self-centered idolatry and worldliness, and turn to the infinite, eternal, creator God of the Bible.
Time is growing short, God could at any time tell Jesus to call out His children, His church; and that my friends will set in motion a chain of events which will culminate with Christ’s return in power and great glory to judge the earth and all of its inhabitants.
Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Have you, like the apostle Paul, turned away from religion and embraced a relationship with Jesus Christ? If not, I invite you to read the following verses from the book of Romans in God’s Holy Bible.
Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 3:10: “As it is written: ‘THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NO, NOT ONE.’”
Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 10:9-10: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Romans 10:13: “For ‘WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED.’”
Romans 8:1-2: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”
These verses are commonly known as the Romans Road to salvation. It is a starting point for developing a true relationship with Jesus Christ. He really does desire a relationship with you, which through the study of and obedience to His word, will cause you to grow closer to Him and prepare you to really live.
If you understand these verses in Romans and believe them to be true, and if you desire to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, establishing that relationship with Him, it would be good for you to communicate this with Him through prayer. Understand, that your faith in Christ establishes your salvation, while your prayer begins your relationship in Christ.
The prophet Jeremiah also left an important message for you:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you” (Jeremiah 29:10-12).
Remember, reciting a prayer cannot save you! If your desire is to receive the salvation that is available through Jesus, you must simply place your faith in Him. Totally trust His death as the sufficient sacrifice for your sins. Absolutely rely on Him alone as your Savior. That is the true biblical way of salvation.
If you have received Jesus as your Savior, please, say a prayer to God. Pray in your own words acknowledging the verses in Romans above. Tell God how thankful you are for Jesus. Offer praise to God for His love and sacrifice. Thank Jesus for dying for your sins and providing salvation for you. That is the biblical connection between salvation and prayer.
If you have made a decision today to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, we would love to hear from you. Send me an email with a way to contact you and we will send you information on how to grow in your relationship in Christ. Like the gift of salvation, the information is free.
“Because the night is far spent, and the day is at hand!” (Romans 13:12a).
Dr. Tucker Whitaker