The Unknown God
by Duane Leach
The challenge we often face with our evangelism is to clearly communicate the gospel in a limited amount of time. It’s tempting to shorten up our presentation and leave out some of the most important information. We must remember that our calling is to present the whole truth, not to get someone to make a decision.
Paul lived in a culture similar to our own in many ways. We have all sorts of belief systems competing with the message of the gospel. People are seeking to find truth that will confirm what they already believe. When Paul was in Athens he confronted the philosophers there with absolute truth. Though they had several major schools of thought about reality, they held in common, the belief that ultimate truth couldn’t be known outside of philosophy. They were always seeking more learning because they believed that knowledge was life’s highest goal.
They had no hope in an afterlife because they had no sure knowledge of it. That is one of the reasons they were always eager to hear something new. In Acts 17:21 we read,
Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.
In Acts 17:22-34 we see Paul’s sermon to these intellectuals. He used their uncertainty about ultimate knowledge of God to present the gospel. In spite of their love of knowledge they were guilty of worshipping in ignorance. They didn’t want to miss any possible deities in their worship so they had erected an altar “to an unknown god” just in case.
Paul used this as an entry point to present the gospel. He explained the nature and demands of the One they were worshipping without true knowledge. He told them of the sovereign Creator to whom all mankind is accountable. He knew that the cure for ignorance is true knowledge.
He didn’t give them a pass because of their ignorance. Instead he made it clear that God calls every human being to repent and turn from their sins because the true God will judge them in perfect righteousness. Paul declared that this judgment will be done by the resurrected Savior, something which went against their philosophies and religion and caused them to mock Paul.
He knew they didn’t believe in the resurrection but he didn’t hold back the truth because of their unbelief. The majority of those who heard Paul rejected the truth he gave them.
We too must be sure that those with whom we share the gospel understand who they will have to face someday. He is the Creator, with every right to hold them accountable to His standard of perfect righteousness. They are likely to be like the Athenians, worshipping a god of their own understanding.
We have the revealed Word of God and we need to use it to explain who God is and what He requires of us. They need to be confronted with what God has revealed about Himself.
We must be diligent to make it clear that no one will be excused because of ignorance, but will be judged in righteousness by the risen Christ. If they will not have Him as their Savior they must face Him as their Judge.