Question: "What does it mean that "they exchanged the truth about God for a lie" (Romans 1:25)?"
Answer: Romans 1 paints a disturbing picture about people who have rebelled against God. Part of the indictment against them is that “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25). In exchanging the truth for a lie, these people have “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”
In the first few chapters of Romans, Paul explains how all humanity is guilty before God and how God intervened with a means for the forgiveness of that guilt. Paul calls this the gospel, or the good news. He says that this good news is God’s ability to save all who believe in Jesus (Romans 1:16–17). Before establishing how God resolved the problem, Paul explains the depth of the problem.
God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. The ungodly suppress God’s truth in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). It is unrighteous of them to suppress His truth because He made His truth so evident to them (Romans 1:19). Truth is part of His revelation to them and an expression of His love. His invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature have been clearly seen through what He has made (Romans 1:20). Consequently, all of humanity are without excuse—which makes it all the more heinous that humanity has exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
Even though fallen (or unrighteous) humanity knew God, they did not honor Him or thank Him for all He had done for humanity (Romans 1:21). Instead, humanity became foolish in their speculations, and their hearts were darkened further (Romans 1:21b). While humanity professed to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:22). They could have had a relationship with their Creator; instead, they exchanged “the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:23). Consequently, God gave them over to impurity to fulfill the lusts of their hearts, to the dishonor even of their own bodies (Romans 1:24).
God gave them over because they had exchanged the truth for a lie (Romans 1:25). They had chosen to worship that which was created instead of the One who created everything. God gave them over further to degrading passions (Romans 1:26–27) and to depraved minds (Romans 1:28–29) because they did not see fit to acknowledge Him. Rather than acknowledge and thank their Creator, they exchanged the truth for a lie and chose to worship anything and everything else.
Paul explains that the consequences of exchanging the truth for a lie were fitting. God allowed humanity to pursue their passions, and it led to further depravity and evil (Romans 1:28–31). Paul’s indictment is chilling. He says that all who do these things are worthy of death (Romans 1:32; cf. Romans 6:23).
When we examine the list of sinful expressions that are worthy of death (Romans 1:29–31), we realize that it is not just they who have exchanged the truth for a lie, but it is also we. We are guilty. We have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). None of us are good or righteous in His sight (Romans 3:12). Paul wants everyone to understand that we are all guilty—we have all earned the wages of sin: death.
Paul did not write his letter to the Romans simply to show that all are condemned. He wrote to proclaim the gospel of God. While the wages of sin is indeed death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23b). Paul champions this wonderful news that God loved us so much that, while we were dead in our sin, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). All who believe in Him are reconciled to God and are saved (Romans 5:9–10). We are given new life and can embrace the truth rather than exchanging the truth for a lie.