Grace For The Journey
In preparation for our study on Romans 1:18, I tried to find a hymn that would match the subject of this verse, which deals with the wrath of God. vI was a bit surprised to find out that there are only four songs in our hymn book that make reference to God’s wrath or anger at all, and only two of those were in the context of being saved from His wrath. Only two songs spoke of the condemnation of sinners, while no hymn spoke of God’s judgement, and only one referenced Him as judge. Clearly, as evident in one of the latest and more popular hymnals, God’s declared response to sin is not a popular subject.
That is not surprising in itself, for people in general would rather hear about good things than bad things that might affect them personally. It is surprising though when taken in the context that the message of the gospel is one that includes salvation from God’s wrath upon sin. That is a wonderful thing to sing about, as . . .
- “Rock of Ages” does in its lyric, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy wounded side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure, Save from wrath and make me pure.”
- The second verse of the Hymn, “My Hope is in the Lord,” proclaims, “No merit of my own His anger to suppress, My only hope is found in Jesus’ righteousness.”
- The first stanza of “My Savior’s Love” stands amazed that Jesus would love one who was a “sinner, condemned, unclean.”
- As wonderful as the thought is, only the hymn, “And Can It Be?” gives voice to the joy that “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him is mine!”
Those themes were more common in worship a century ago.
Typical gospel tracts of our day prefer to speak of God’s love and having a wonderful life in Jesus. Sin is usually dealt within a generic sense that everyone does it and it is bad for you. Getting specific about the sin of the individual and its consequence in eternal punishment is not a popular theme even among Christians. There is even a movement within evangelical Christianity to discount the reality of an eternal hell. As much as we might prefer only the good news and to refrain from speaking of what is
negative . . .
We do not have the right
To alter or even change
The emphasis of God’s
Message, And the message
Of God’s Gospel
Includes His wrath.
Remember . . .
That the Gospel of God
Is the theme of
Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
He stated that clearly in the opening verses and in expressing his personal desire to go to Rome. Paul was “eager to preach the gospel” to those who were in Rome. Starting in 1:16, which we examined last week, Paul begins his presentation of the gospel message with a few succinct statements which will then be followed by an extensive contrast and explanation of all the particulars of the message and its ramifications.
The Righteousness of God
Let’s begin our study today by looking at verses 16-21, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [the] righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous [man] shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but
they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
The important point to note is that
The gospel message is about
The righteousness of God.
Paul is not ashamed of the gospel
Because of both what the gospel
Can do and what it reveals.
The gospel is the power of God
For salvation for all who are believing.
As pointed out yesterday, such deliverance from sin, rescue from sin’s consequences, and preservation from it, requires it to be the work of God, for man is completely inadequate to correct his sin problem or in any way earn the righteousness needed to be restored to a relationship with God. Man is born dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1) and will stay that way unless God does something.
The Gospel message is that
God has done something.
The Gospel message is about the righteousness of God revealed in providing the payment for man’s sin Himself through Jesus Christ, that sinner might be justified and made righteous through faith in Him. Again, this is not done through any kind of work or human effort, but through simple faith (agreeing with and responding to the truth about) God’s character, actions, and promises. That is why the righteous will live by faith. They trust God.
The word “for” in first 18 links the concept of the righteousness of God in relation to those who believe in verse 17 to His righteousness described here in His contrasting relationship to those who do not believe. If those who believe in Jesus Christ and trust Him alone for salvation from sin are made righteous, that reveals the righteousness of God.
Those who do not believe are ungodly and unrighteous and Paul points out that God’s wrath abides upon them. Paul shows the unrighteousness of all people who do not live by faith in Christ from chapter 1:18 through chapter 3:20. The rest of chapter 1 deals with the immoral unrighteous. Chapter 2 deals with the moral unrighteous and the religious unrighteous, with chapter 3 concluding that there are “none righteous, not even one.” Through the rest of the book, Paul will be explaining in detail God’s righteousness in how a person is justified through faith in Jesus Christ as well as explaining the ramifications of that belief.
God’s righteous is demonstrated in His just punishment of the unrighteous for their sin for they are responsible for it. The general statement is that the ungodly “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The proof in verse 19 and 20 is that God has revealed enough of Himself in creation to warrant man’s seeking after God so that all men are without excuse for their failure to do so. Paul shows in each of the sections that follow dealing with the immoral unrighteous, the moral unrighteous, and the religious unrighteous how each group suppressed that truth and the resulting consequences. We will dig into each of those in the coming days. Today we will concentrate just on this opening verse.
The Reality God’s Wrath.
Our tendency to want to disassociate God from wrath and anger is not just because of our own aversion to it, but also because a desire to not attribute to God something we perceive as bad. In a sense, we want God to be better than He is. However, God is the definition of all that is good, so if there is a problem here, it is in our understanding of wrath and anger as necessarily bad things.
God’s wrath and anger against sin is described with many words and examples in the Old Testament translated as “wrath,’ “anger,” and “fury,” with the underlying Hebrew words meaning such things as “snorting,” “hot,” “burning,” “overflowing,” and “quaking.” His wrath is described as “burning anger”(Exodus 15:7), “smoke from His nostrils” and “fire from His mouth” (Psalm 18:18). It can be expressed in pestilence, blood, torrential rain, hailstones, fire and brimstone (Ezekiel 38:22).
Because of such descriptions of
God’s wrath in the Old Testament,
There have been those who teach
That the God of the Old Testament
Is different from the God of Love
(1 John 4:8) of the New Testament.
However, God’s wrath is also seen in the New Testament.
Consider that . . .
- John the Baptist and Jesus’ initial message was to “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17).
- John the Baptist charged the Pharisees and Sadducees with hypocrisy and cried out against them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” and then warned them to “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8).
- Jesus warned that “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
- Jesus also warned that the gospel message was a stone that would break into pieces anyone who fell upon it, and it would scatter like dust anyone it fell upon (Matthew 21:44).
- Jesus also warned of the judgement resulting in the guilty being cast into outer darkness where there would be much weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12).
- Jesus also often warned of hell (11 Gospel references) as a place where the worm does not die and there is unquenchable fire (Mark 9:47-48).
- The Bible warns us that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).
- The book of Revelation is descriptive prophecy of God’s wrath still to come. The description in Revelation 19 of Jesus’ return is not meek and mild. He returns on a white horse, clothed in a robe dipped in blood with a sharp sword proceeding from His mouth smiting the nations. That is a picture of wrath.
God is the same in both the Old and New Testament, and wrath is an “essential and inalienable trait” of God.
Our problem is not that God is wrathful,
But our attributing that
Wrath with human qualities.
Human wrath and anger are generally understood as something that boils up and over in violent and often irrational action. It is as stupid, if not more so, to strike a wall in anger as it is to hit or scream at your opponent, especially if it is a family member whom you profess to love. Yet, human anger does that. Anger is a strong emotion, and it often gets the best of us. The Bible warns us that in James 1:19-20, “But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak [and] slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” The emotion of anger itself is not the problem, but it is our unrighteous reaction to it. That is why Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us, “Be angry, and [yet] do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil and opportunity.”
God’s wrath is not like man’s wrath. Yes, God has emotion and anger is an emotion, but . . .
God is always in control of His actions.
Even when God’s wrath breaks out,
It is never the uncontrolled, irrational
Eruptions of actions that mark man.
God is and has already demonstrated
Great patience and longsuffering
With all men. His actions are
Thoughtful and in keeping
With holiness and justice.
When Jesus came into the Temple and found it to be a market place where thievery was taking place instead of a place of prayer, He did not “lose His temper.” He was rather, filled with the righteousness indignation of affronted holiness and He cleared out the scoundrels forcibly (Matthew 21). If Jesus had lost His temper, well, you can only imagine what the power of God would be like if it was released in uncontrolled fury.
The particular word translated “wrath” here, “orge,” as used in the New Testament in relationship to God is “God’s displeasure at evil, His passionate resistance to every will which is set against Him, and His judicial attack upon them.”
God’s wrath does not exist by itself.
It is part of His nature as
Are all His other attributes.
God is wrathful because
Of these other attributes.
God’s love does not
Exclude His wrath,
But rather it
Is the opposite,
For it demands it.
Does love tolerate evil against itself and those it extends too? Of course not. Love resists all attempts to harm those it extends to. What do you do when someone or something tries to harm your wife, husband, or children?
God’s goodness also demands His wrath.
Goodness does not overlook evil
But rather resists it, seeks to
Change it. and pursues justice.
God is just, and He would be unjust if He did not bring about judicial consequences on those who do evil. Could God be considered loving, good, and just if the end the unrepentant sinner and the saint were the same? For example, compare Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, the men who crashed the planes on September 11 compared to the apostles and Christians.
God is righteous, but
He would be unrighteous
If He was not
Displeased by evil.
God is sovereign,
But His sovereignty
Would be in question
If He did not subdue
Those who resist His will.
Consider finally that the greatness of God’s grace and mercy is revealed in the greatness of His wrath. The contrast between the punishment you deserve and the blessings you receive is that greatness.
The Revelation of God’s Wrath.
Paul says here in Romans 1:18 that God’s wrath is “revealed from heaven.” The sense of heaven here is not the physical location, as in lightning coming down from the sky to strike the sinner, though that does happen, it is heaven in the sense of the origin of God’s wrath. Heaven is the throne of God (Matthew 5:34) from which God issues His decrees to be carried out (Job 1; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). The distinction here is that God does not have to carry out His wrath personally, but that He directs His wrath to be carried out, and He can do that in several different ways.
We have already mentioned weather phenomena as a revelation of God’s wrath. In Exodus 9, in the seventh plague upon Egypt, God sends thunder, lightning, and hail as judgement upon them. God has used wind as both a blessing (Exodus 14:21) or a curse (Isaiah 48:7). God sent rain for forty days and broke up the fountains of the deep when He poured out His wrath on the antediluvian world (Genesis 7). He has also withheld rain in a drought as part of His wrath (Haggai 1:10-11).
God’s wrath has been revealed in other phenomena as well including fire and brimstone as rain (Sodom & Gomorrah – Genesis 19), barrenness (Genesis 20:18, water turning into blood (Exodus 7), ), various diseases (boils – Exodus 9, inexplicable darkness (Exodus 10), insect plagues (Gnats – Exodus 8, Locusts – Exodus 10, ), other animals (frogs – Exodus 8, fire (Nadab and Abihu – Leviticus 10:2, snakes – Numbers 21, the earth splitting open and swallowing Korah and those with him in rebellion (Numbers 26:10), famine (Deuteronomy 32:24), lions – 2 Kings 17:25), other earthquakes (Isaiah 29:6), tumors – 1 Samuel 5:6, leprosy – 2 Kings 5:27),
God also uses men to carry out His wrath. When the nations surrounding Israel attacked and suppressed Israel, it was generally recognized as part of God’s wrath. God used nations such as the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Assyria, and Babylon to punish Israel for turning away from Him, just as they had been warned (Deuteronomy 28).
God also uses angels. The Lord used “the destroyer” to stride dead the first born in the first Passover (Exodus 12) and those that grumbled in the wilderness wanderings (1 Corinthians 10:10). It was an angel of the Lord that brought the pestilence that killed 70,000 at David’s census (2 Samuel 24) and an angel of the Lord that struck down 185,000 Assyrians (Isaiah 37). Revelation states that it will be angels that will blow the trumpets and pour out the bowls of God’s wrath. God also uses evil angels including Satan as instruments of His wrath. The Lord used a deceiving spirit to bring about the death of Ahab (1 Kings 22), and sent an evil spirit to cause Abimelech and the men of Shechem to destroy each other in response to their murder of Jerubbaal’s seventy sons (Judges 9). Satan will be used to deceive the nations and gather them together for a final battle after which he and his followers will be thrown into the lake of fire and then the Great White Throne judgement takes place (Revelations 20).
A final way in which God reveals His wrath has been alluded to – it is in the natural consequences of sin. Failure to live according to God’s commands and following those who are evil results in negative consequences. God does not have to directly intervene in some way to bring about His wrath, He can also do so by staying His hand and letting the consequences of sin flow. God’s judgement of Ephraim was that he was joined to idols and to “leave him alone” (Hosea 4:17). Jesus’ judgement on the Pharisees was the same. They were blind guides of the blind and to “let them alone” (Matthew 15:14). Paul will demonstrate this truth throughout the rest of Romans 1. God “gave them over” (verses 24, 26, 28) to the sin that was in their hearts, and that sin will bring its own punishment (cf. Psalm 81:12). To be abandoned by God and left to your sin is a horrible and hopeless state.
In our scientific age, people want to explain away weather phenomena and other natural phenomena as just the way nature works. However, God still does use these things, as well as the actions of men and angels, to reveal His wrath in our own time. For all that Television gets wrong, at least the History Channel’s series, “The Wrath of God,” is properly named. The most common revelation of God’s wrath, though, is still this latter way of simply allowing the consequences of sin to come upon those who commit them.
The Recipients of God’s Wrath.
Who are the targets of God’s wrath? The examples already given have shown it, but Paul is very definitive here. God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness, the ones suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.”
Ungodliness and unrighteousness
Are not two separate groups,
But the twin characteristics
Of those who suppress
The truth in righteousness.
They are both ungodly and unrighteous. “Ungodly” means “to be without reverence for God and a relationship with God.” This is not in the sense of irreligious, but rather in acting in dispute or defiance of God’s demands. The particular word is thought to have its origin in the negation of the word which means “to worship,” so it is a negation of worship. It is the opposite of godliness, which is the conjunction of “good and worship.” Ungodliness invariably leads to false worship, not no worship, because man will worship something even if it is only himself and thoughts. Paul will deal with such false worship over the next couple of chapters.
The characteristics of ungodliness are seen in the passages in which the word is used. In 1 Timothy 1:9-10, the ungodly are listed alongside the lawless, the rebellious, sinners, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, immoral men, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else “is contrary to sound teaching.” In 2 Timothy 2:16, “worldly and empty chatter” are listed as things that “will increase (lead to) more ungodliness.” 2 Peter 5 describes the pre-flood world as “ungodly.” Other passages describing that period show that the people had evil hearts (Genesis 6:5), but that basically, they were just living their lives without much thought of God’s commands or warnings (Matthew 24:28). A time that in many ways is much like our own. Peter and Jude both warn that there will be such ungodly people in the last days and that judgement by fire awaits them (Jude 14-18; 2 Peter 3:7).
“Unrighteous” s also translated as “evil doer, iniquity and wickedness.” It is the opposite of “be or do right.” It is that which does not conform to what is right. It is the opposite of loving and obeying the truth (Romans 2:8; 1 Corinthians 13:6) and so is the opposite of the character of God. It includes behavior which violate the law and justice.
“Ungodliness” and “unrighteousness” are closely related
In that neither will follow God’s commands,
But “ungodly” is more directed
Against the person of God
And “unrighteous” against
The standards of character and
Conduct which flow from God’s character.
The “ungodly” want to make
Up a god for themselves,
And the “unrighteous” want to
Live by their own standards.
Ungodliness always leads
To unrighteousness because
A person who is not following
God will not follow His commands.
An important point to note here is that . . .
God’s wrath is against all who
Are ungodly and unrighteous.
God does not have a list
Of acceptable and unacceptable sin.
To Him, all sin is sin and
Is deserving of His wrath.
As James points out,
Failing in one area
Of God’s law makes
You guilty of all.
Any violation against
His person or
His standards brings
Through the next couple of chapters, Paul will show that . . .
All people have violated God’s commands
And are therefore unrighteous and condemned.
You might do better than others, but
The standard is perfection, and no one meets it.
It is like trying to swim across the Atlantic ocean. Most will not make it very far, a few might make it out of the sight of land, and a very few even 30 or 40 miles, but the distance is so far, there is no hope of anyone swimming it.
The Righteousness of God’s Wrath.
There are those that will attack God as unfair and unjust to set standards so high that no person can meet them and then to bring His wrath to bear upon them. However, as Paul points out here, man is completely responsible for is own failure and incurring God’s wrath for it is against those “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” This is a present active participle verb which means “this is an on-going action these people are doing in the present time.” Paul explains further this suppression of the truth in verses 19-32 and we will expand on that throughout the rest of this week.
The point here is simply this . . .
God made the knowledge of evident to them,
But they have suppressed that
Knowledge of God in their unrighteous.
They do not desire to live
By God’s standards, so they
Also reject the knowledge of Him.
God has promised that those who seek Him will find Him when they search with all their heart (Jeremiah29:13), but the plain fact is that no one does that on their own (John 1:10-11; 3:19-21; Romans 3:10-12). People love their sin too much.
It is this very fact that reveals God’s righteousness
In both His wrath on the ungodly and the salvation
He grants on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ.
Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no hope. There will only be God’s just and righteous wrath. But in Jesus Christ, there is hope even for the ungodly and unrighteous, for it was for such people Christ died. The Bible says in Romans 5:6, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” The Bible further explains in Titus 3:3-7, “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and [His] love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to [the] hope of eternal life.”
Man cannot earn salvation,
For his ungodliness and
Unrighteousness condemn him,
But he can receive it as a gift
Of God’s grace through faith
In Jesus Christ who took
The wrath of God upon Himself
In paying the penalty of our sin
That we, the unrighteous, might be
Made righteous in Him (2 Corinthians 521).
What man could not and
Would not do for Himself,
God, in His righteousness,
Has done through Jesus.
If you are not saved, then be warned that God’s wrath abides upon you and its final expression will be judgement at the Great White Throne and eternal separation from God in Hell. It is time to quit suppressing the truth God has given you. Turn from your sin to Him and place your faith in Jesus Christ as the substituted payment and begin your walk with Him.
If you are saved, then praise God for it, for you did not earn it yourself. And be sure that you are telling others what God has done for you, and in so doing, also declaring His righteousness.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!