Summary: Ardent religious activity and a high and lofty intellect fall far short of the righteousness God requires.
VERY RELIGIOUS YET VERY LOST!
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:
24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ’For we are also His offspring.’
29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead."
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, "We will hear you again on this matter." 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. Acts 17:22-34 (NKJV)
If being religious or intellectually gifted could bring salvation, Athens would have been the epitome of spirituality. Athens was the intellectual center of the world in Paul’s time. The world’s greatest philosophers and poets came out of Athens: Sophocles, Euripides, Socrates, Plato, etc. Athens was the academic center of the world in that day. In spite of its intellectual prowess, it was spiritually ignorant and deeply idolatrous.
Paul would tell the men of Athens what he had written to the Corinthians: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their own craftiness"; and again, "The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." 1 Corinthians 3:19-20 (NKJV).
Ardent religious activity and a high and lofty intellect fall far short of the righteousness God requires. To attain to the righteousness that God requires, one must have the righteousness of Christ imparted to him through repentance and faith.
Idolatry was rampant in Athens. Adjacent to the city was the seaport town of Piraeus. Merchant seamen from over the known world would bring their national and personal idols with them and place them in the area around the Agora, or public market place. Paul’s spirit was grieved at the extent of the idolatry he saw. “While Paul waited for them (Timothy and Silas) at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.” Acts 17:16 (NKJV). It was in such a setting that Paul confronted the Athenians with the gospel of Jesus Christ.