In Romans 1:21-23, the apostle Paul demonstrates the fundamental guilt of all mankind because of the failure to glorify God. Regarding these verses, R.C. Sproul writes:
[It] is important to note that Paul does not bring a universal indictment against humanity for the failure to know God. That is not our problem. It is not that we fail to know that God is and who God is; it is that we refuse to believe what we know to be true. Here we face a problem that is not an intellectual problem. It is a moral problem. It is the problem of dishonesty.
All idolatry is rooted in this fundamental dishonesty. Paul describes this in terms of an exchange; which is a dishonest exchange: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen” (Romans 1:25).
The dishonest exchange that is in view here is the substitution of the creature for the Creator, and exchange that is dishonest precisely because we know better. The late Carl Sagan spoke of the sense of awe and reverence that he felt when he contemplated the intricacies of the cosmos. But Sagan made it clear that this reverence was not for the Author of the cosmos but for the cosmos itself. Sagan’s response to the stars was diametrically opposed to the psalmist’s response [referencing Psalm 8:3-5]. The psalmist was moved to worship the God who created nature and reveals Himself through nature, not to worship nature itself. This reflects the essential differences between godliness and paganism. Pagans confuse the creature and the Creator. They attribute the glory that properly belongs to God to the creature. [Holiness of God]
The root of idolatry—whether subtle or blatant, disguised or on display for all the world to see—is unbelief. It is the fundamental and habitual exaltation of the creature above the Creator. When we sin, this is what we do: We rob God of the glory that He alone deserves; we fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But God has demonstrated His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, He sent Christ to die in our place (Romans 5:8). Though the wages of sin is death, eternal life belongs to all who turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Romans 6:23).