Man has been implanted with an understanding of who (not what) God is. We have the capacity, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to perceive the world around us and further develop an understanding of who God is by the characteristics and attributes displayed in His creation. But without special revelation from the Holy Spirit of the redemptive knowledge of God, what He has done in Christ, this knowledge is “either smothered or corrupted, partly by ignorance, partly by malice.”
From birth, without the grace of God, this seed of knowledge “degenerates.” Men are blind to this truth within them and, mixed with pride and obstinacy, fashion their own god, usually in their own image. Knowing that the true God does exist by this seed of knowledge, they still don’t seek to know God as He reveals Himself, but simply design a god of their own liking. In this way, it is not just that they are innocent out of some apparent ignorance, but they are guilty – knowing there is a God but choosing to construct a false one. Others, almost persuaded, do not deny there is a God, or deny there is One True God, but upon a clear presentation simply reject Him.
This degeneration of the first sort leads to false religion. It attempts to place idols into the position of God in worship and service. Although the term “god” is used, their definition does not align with how He has revealed Himself in His Word. Their idol is named god and he is often worshipped in the True God’s Church.
Or men may simply come to worship “god” out of that implanted understanding that this is what they were created to do. But their worship is not acceptable because it is not according to His covenant, and it is not tied to repentance and belief.
These “degenerations” simply contribute to show that man knows that there is a God and that men were created to glorify Him. Even in sin, from their created nature, made in the image of God, they know (whether they acknowledge or not) that they are creatures made to worship.