Romans - The Gospel of God Wrath Revealed & Why - Chap 1 vs 18-32
Paul, from chap. 1 v 18 to chap. 5 v 21, deals with The Need for the Gospel as he addresses the matter of man under divine Condemnation followed by the revelation of God’s free gift of Justification through the redemptive work of Christ. The summary statement of chap. 3 v 23 that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ is clearly demonstrated with regards to Gentiles and Jews by what Paul writes from chap 1 v 18 through to chap. 3 v 20 as he presents the evidence of why all men stand condemned before God. Thus as Paul commences this section on what I’m calling, The Guilt of Humanity and the Righteous Judgment of God, he first of all begins by presenting the evidence for the Unrighteousness of the Gentiles and God’s Righteous Wrath in response to their wilful rebellion in vs 18-32.
The Revelation of God's Wrath and its Cause vs 18-23
Verse 18 is the Headline Statement of this section of chapter one: ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness’. While the breadth of what he asserts in v 18 embraces the Jews as well as the Gentiles and could be considered as a headline statement for the entire section to chap. 3 v 20, Paul’s focus is first on the Gentiles and what flows from His summary statement concerns them particularly. Therefore, in the remainder of chapter one he expounds why and how it is so that the wrath of God is being revealed. The privileged Jew comes into his ‘sights’ in chapter two.
Their Sinfulness before God v 18 It is important to stress at this point what Paul is specifically saying. He is informing us that God’s wrath is presently being revealed from heaven. Not that it was or will be revealed. It was evident in the Roman society of Paul’s day even as it is evident in modern society today. God’s displeasure with the attitudes and actions of men is ever current. He is never indifferent to their wilful sin. Paul describes how God displays His displeasure and disapproval through abandoning them to the consequences of their deliberately chosen path of folly as vs 24, 26, 28 show. So we need to understand that God’s righteous justice still operates today against ‘all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men’ who wilfully and arrogantly deny, denounce, and dismiss God from their society and His world.
Paul by using the words ‘ungodliness and unrighteousness’ categorizes the nature of human sinfulness. Men in their rebellion are not only unlike God, they are the opposite of what God is. God is holy men are sinful. They have both failed to recognize and reverence their Creator and, by choice and lifestyle, they have rejected the very purpose for which God created them, which is, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647 says, ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever’. Moreover, man in sin is unrighteous. He defies and disobeys God by turning away from the light of truth which comes to man first through Creation and conscience and then ultimately through the written word of God and in so doing follows his own imagination and lust. The existence of a Creator to whom we are accountable and the light of truth which speaks to our conscience are both a blessing to us and a restraint upon us. Therefore, to live as they like, men ‘supress the truth in unrighteousness’. Instead of it restraining them, they restrain it by embracing and propagating in its place what is false and totally detrimental.
Their Knowledge of God vs 19-20 God holds men accountable for their wilful denial of His person and for their deliberate practice of unrighteousness. They cannot plead ignorance concerning God’s existence nor can they avoid responsibility for their choices and actions because according to vs 19 & 20, God has given to humans, who are made in His image, the capacity to understand the testimony of Creation which is God’s natural revelation and according to Romans chap 2 vs 14 & 15 He has also endowed them with a conscience to discern the difference between right and wrong. Creation is therefore the evidence that demonstrates God’s existence and makes Him known. It is the abundant and eloquent testimony to an Almighty Creator who is the Divine Designer of the universe. In the midst of such overwhelming proof people have two options. They either respond to the Creator by seeking Him or rejecting Him. Sadly, as Paul explains, the Gentile peoples overwhelmingly rejected the knowledge of their Creator and, sadly, so do the nations today.
That the invisible God has made Himself known via natural revelation is foundational to relationship with Him. Creation demonstrates the fact that God is there, that He exists apart from this world and yet is relevant to it for its existence and continuation depends upon Him. Creation imparts knowledge as to what God is like in terms of His power and wisdom. That He is an infinite being transcending the limitations of men and deserving of worship ought to be obvious. We do not seek God in natural things, but through them we made aware of ‘His eternal power and divine nature’ (v 20 NASB®). This was ever His purpose for the nations. Paul, while preaching in Athens in the midst of an idolatrous society, said this: '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. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 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; for in Him we live and move and have our being' – Acts 17:24-28.
The tragedy is that men did the opposite. Instead of responding to God who revealed Himself through nature, they rejected Him completely and turned from what they already knew or should have known to falsehood as v 21 on explains. The concern about the fate of those who have never heard the gospel is often raised, sometimes sincerely and sometimes skeptically. Either way, it certainly is a legitimate concern deserving of an explanation. While Paul writes in this epistle to prove the ‘guilt’ of all humanity, both Gentile and Jew, he does so by demonstrating that men are morally responsible for the light they have received and therefore the clear point he makes here at v 20 is that everyone has heard from Godthrough Creation and each person is responsible for how they respond to its message. Even as Christians we perhaps tend to forget the relevance and permanence of the universal ‘voice’ of creation. Psalm 19 vs 1-4 reminds us:
The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world.
Having stated the above let us be clear, this does not mean that creation imparts sufficient knowledge to ‘save’ a sinner, but the knowledge it does communicate is sufficient to cause someone to ‘seek’ the Creator who is really there and those who have ever done so have discovered that He is not a distant Creator, but a near, loving, and saving God just as Paul said in Athens, ‘He is not far from each one of us’ – Acts 17:27. The American scientist and Inventor, George Washington Carver, said about Creation: I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.
Their Rejection of God vs 21-23 Paul, after stating why God’s wrath is revealed now moves to explain how this situation came to be among the Gentile peoples of his first century world. The cause for the righteous anger of God upon them lay with themselves as Paul writes: ‘because when they knew God they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things’ – vs 21-23. History demonstrates that men have ever rejected God. The ‘spirit’ of Babel lives on. About one hundred years after the flood with earth’s population still together and perhaps numbering 30,000 people, they set out under the leadership of Nimrod – Gen 10:8-10; 11:1-9 to build a city and tower on the plains of Shinar. This building project was in itself an act of rebellion against the Creator. They sought to organize themselves against His expressed will, centralize their power base and elevate themselves closer to the heavens by their own effort. None of what they did was to honour God, but to ‘make a name for themselves.’ They no doubt thought the way modern man thinks – they wanted to be remembered and honoured by subsequent generations for their boldness and defiance of God. God dispersed earth’s people in judgment as a result, but they took with them the ‘spirit’ of Babel. As they had sought in rebellion to elevate themselves higher with their brick tower, in the same spirit of rebellion, they brought God lower in their thinking, right down to the very brutish level of men and animals as described by Paul in v 23. Such thinking and practice continued through the generations with each living out the legacy handed to them by their ancestors and continuing to ‘suppress’ the knowledge of the one true God with the darkness of idolatry. Yet, according to Paul, each generation is confronted with the same evidence of God through Creation. The legacy of the past cannot excuse people in the present. Each generation and each individual is responsible for how they respond to the knowledge of God available to them. Each is ‘without excuse’. This is true whether it’s the first, or twenty first century.
The Gentile peoples of the world just like the Jews with their greater revelation and privilege refused to obey and worship God. This is always the point where the downward spiral of sin begins. The refusal to acknowledge the one true God is the starting point of ruin whether among the ancient peoples of the world or a chosen people like Israel or in a modern, so called, secular society. The outcome is the same. When men deliberately turn from the light of reason through revelation, whether in Creation or through the word of God they lose the spiritual and moral perspective of truth and become empty headed in their thinking and stupefied in the darkness of their desires. Those of whom Paul writes embraced the folly of idolatry and ‘exchanged the truth of God for the lie’ believing that God was nothing more than a creature which ‘they worshipped and served … rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen’ – v 25. It’s no different to today. God has been abandoned and debased by modern man as much as He was by ancient peoples. Idols of wood and stone have simply been replaced with idols of flesh and blood while the ‘gods’ of materialism, entertainment and even politics demand and readily gain our allegiance.
The Revelation of God's Wrath and its Consequences vs 24-32
Paul, in tracing the pattern of degeneracy from truth to falsehood, describes the moral effect upon men of rejecting God. As they debased Him in their thinking they debased themselves in their behaviour. As they rejected Him, He rejected them. Having abandoned God and embraced idolatry God acts in wrath by giving such people up to their unnatural desires and then He gives them over to their debased way of thinking. Thus Paul writes of the three stages in the execution of God’s wrath in response to the wilful rebellion of the Gentile peoples. Thus Paul writes of the three stages in the execution of God’s wrath in response to the wilful rebellion of the Gentile peoples. In vs 24-25 they are Abandoned by God to an Unclean Lifestyle, in vs 26-27, to an Unnatural Lifestyle and thirdly in vs 28-32, to an Unrestrained Lifestyle.
They did not act according to God’s natural or moral order. Rather, in the folly of their idolatry they followed the passions of sin to the dishonour and unnatural use of their bodies – vs 24-27. Indeed, it was to practice an idolatrous and immoral lifestyle that the truth about God was deliberately suppressed and abandoned. This choice of lifestyle was an affront to the Creator who ‘gives to all life and breath and all things’. Therefore it met with His disapproval and displeasure and He actively and righteously judged such people by giving them up to their ‘uncleanness’ – v 24 and ‘vile passions’ – v 26. That is to say, in displaying His wrath He removed His restraint upon them and handed them over to the power of their sinful lusts leaving them to indulge their passions to their utter ruin. Moreover, as they deliberately abandoned God because they did not think Him worth considering, they, according to Paul, become empty headed and debased without Him and were instead ‘filled’ with the unliveable characteristics he lists in vs 29-31 which are the marks, not of a civilized society, but of one that is intolerably wicked. This state of affairs is the result of what Paul calls a ‘reprobate’ or ‘debased’ mind – v 28. This is a mind void of spiritual and moral understanding that has lost the ability or willingness to know the difference between right and wrong and is fixed on its own way even though that way is the way to hell. To such a mindset God ‘gave them over’ for it is so far off the Creator’s purpose, it is rejected by Him.
Yet, men sin with their eyes wide open. Says Paul, ‘who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them’ – v 32. Men know intuitively that such behaviour is wrong and will be deservedly judged by God. Still, they don’t and won’t change and worse, they applaud others as they join them in practicing these same things. Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them stand along with the nations of Canaan as examples in history of the solemn truth of which Paul writes and the accompanying consequences of divine judgment.
In Psalm 11 v 3 the question is asked: ‘If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ The natural, moral and spiritual foundations of society are in the process of being destroyed today particularly in the Western world once shaped and influenced by Christianity and Biblical truth. History continues to repeat itself. We are seeing the same pattern of moral degeneration that marked Paul’s world unfold in the twenty first century as light from God is rejected and His truth suppressed with those who speak it increasingly becoming the targets of slander and hate. God’s present wrath is all too evident in a modern world. So ‘what can the righteous do?’ The righteous can continue to trust in God who is on His throne in heaven and practice righteousness which He loves – Psa 11:4 & 7 and to those around, reach out with the gospel of God just as Paul did in the first century. It’s still the message all men need to hear and experience. After all, that is why Paul writes the way he does, to prove the need for the gospel and let us remember, what Paul wrote about the ‘gospel of Christ’ in this first century epistle is still true today, ‘it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes’ – v 16.