People who claim to be atheists are a confusing bunch. Whenever I confront one of them about their belief system they get upset with me, sometimes really upset. I usually tell them that even though they claim to be atheists, they really are not because there is no such thing as an atheist. What sometimes ensues is a debate where they assure me, with passion, that they are indeed atheists and I explain to them from the Bible that God has put a knowledge of himself within all of us. A person who does not believe in God has denied the truth which he instinctively knows and has intellectually convinced himself that God does not exist. This is the meaning in Romans 1.
Rom 1:19-20 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. (20) 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 reality I understand that there are people who have succeeded in suppressing the “knowledge of God” with which they were born and truly no longer believe. This is the result of sin and is also explained in Romans 1.
Rom 1:21-22 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (22) Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
Rom 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Rom 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Man’s persistence in sin causes God to do some things. “God gave them up to uncleanness” and “God gave them over to a reprobate mind”. This allows man to continue in his sin without thinking about God, without feeling guilt, and even convincing himself that there is no God. He can call himself an atheist. However, underneath all the sin an denial he still knows the truth. Consider how Romans chapter one ends:
Rom 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Man is so wrapped up in his sin and the enjoyment of it that while knowing he will be judged, he still enjoys doing it. Contrast this to Christian’s who go through periods of rebellion but later give testimony that even while living outright sinful lives, they could not truly enjoy their sin. In their rebellion they tried to enjoy the sin, but found they couldn’t enjoy it like the person who has never come to Christ for Salvation.
I conclude with a quote from Kevin Bauder’s recent article. The whole article may be found here , but this paragraph is particularly gripping.
This point cannot be overemphasized. We do not discover God. We already know God. The knowledge of God is hardwired into us. At the most fundamental level, no one needs to be convinced that God is and God has spoken. Every human being has this knowledge. To resist it is the epistemological equivalent of building a sand castle to conduct war against the tide. The effort is ultimately futile. One’s defenses are being constantly eroded. Through the porous ramparts seeps the constant and (ultimately) irresistible conviction that God is and that He has spoken.