One may make a formidable case that sin is its own penalty. In Genesis 3, for example, when Adam and Eve chose to believe the lie rather than the truth—which is the definition of sin—that was evil. From that evil evil resulted. Their turning from life—which is the definition of death—resulted in further death. The lie that they believed and then perpetrated of God resulted in their distortion of truth about everything else, beginning with themselves and one another. For the first time in humanity’s very short history, what God had indeed said was being disregarded. Sin thus began to abound, necrotizing God’s formerly “very good” creation.
Romans 1 further makes the case. Paul asserts that people know truth; they simply choose to suppress it, “since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them” even in things as ordinary as creation itself (vv. 19-20). However, rather than believing that God has indeed said what He has said, willful offspring of Adam and Eve evidence that that’s just what they are—sons and daughters of rebellious Adam and Eve. They exchange the truth of God for “the lie” (v. 25). That is evil.
Still, from that evil evil results. Departing from the truth of God, these individuals perpetrate lies about God—namely that He is more like anything other than what He has clearly revealed Himself to be. Departing from what God has indeed said results in all manner of lies being perpetrated about everything, including about themselves and one another. Consequently, all manner of perversion of truth abounds. “Because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong” (v. 28). Hear that again: “because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God . . . ”
Paul characterized those who succumb to believing the lie as those who “did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God.” These are sobering words indeed; words to be heard even by any of us professing followers of Jesus Christ who do not “tremble at God’s word” (Isa 66.2). These sobering words must be heard by any of us who are rendered unfaithful and unsensible servants by our diminished affection for every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Do we presume that the Master would find this kind of servant working when he comes (Matt 24.45-46)—one who does not think it worthwhile to tremble at His word? This charge is fully legitimate, however, to the degree that reports of biblical illiteracy are accurate.
So, how do we reckon contemporary clamor for our 21st century attention with the imbalance between the broad availability of God’s Word in our culture yet the manifest lack of knowing God as He has revealed Himself? How shall we reverse the tide of biblical illiteracy among “God’s household” where “judgment [is] to begin” (1 Pet 4.17)? With what shall we come before the Lord, and bow ourselves before God on high (Mic 6.6) that we might “tremble at His word”? With what prayers and actions may we repent of this illiteracy of our God and Maker? Our answer may be found in the simple instruction that came also to the great Augustine—“Take-up and read!”