Romans 1:18-23 (ESV)
God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Verse 18 here opens with Pauls statement that God Wrath is revealed from Heaven. The first question we have to ask is what we understand by Gods Wrath? However before we do we have to ensure that we do not simply attribute what we perceive to be the human equivalent or wrath which many times is simply anger. We have to realise that Gos wrath is righteous and just. The wrath that we might experience as humans is but a shadow of Gods wrath and is corrupted due to our fallen nature. Thus we see wrath as a very negative thing almost without exception.
If however we view Gods earth as something that is just and righteous we see that it has two sides to it. There is of course the “anger” element within it but and this is significant, there is the “Just” element. What does this mean then? Well in short it means that depending upon where you stand in relation to God will very much depend upon your view and experience of Gods wrath. If you are a believer and have that relationship with God through Jesus Christ then Gods wrath is not something to be feared. Gods wrath has been and is and will be exercised on your behalf. Why? Because you are a child of God, you are justified through the works of Jesus Christ you are adopted into Gods family. (That is not to say that God will not discipline you, that is a whole different subject that is not part of this study).
If however, you are not in that relationship with God and have rejected the free gift of eternal life offered by Jesus and His work on the cross, then Gods wrath is a thing to be feared above all else.
One commentator (MacArthur) has identified 5 types of wrath that God exhibits:
- • Eternal Wrath; which is Hell
- • Eschatological Wrath; which is the Final Day of the Lord
- • Cataclysmic Wrath; which is like the Flood in the days of Noah and the judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah
- • Consequential Wrath; which is the principle sowing and reaping and cause and effect, and,
- • Wrath of abandonment; which is the removal of restraint and allowing people to go their own way deeper into their sins
What we need to remember in all of this however is that the wrath of God, no matter how it is displayed is never an uncontrolled emotional outburst, but is rather a controlled display of justice and a holy reaction often only released after protracted periods of forbearance on Gods behalf.
I do not want to stretch the text too far but the phrase that “Gods wrath is revealed from Heaven” intrigues me. It s easy to see this in situations where hellfire and brimstone as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah rains down in a miraculous feat executed by God or when the angel of death visited Egypt on that fateful night and all the firstborn of any household that did not have the blood of the lamb daubed on the door posts was killed, but, it got me thinking about Jesus and His mission.
Primarily Jesus came that we might be saved through his sacrifice. It is often taught that on the cross the earth of God was poured out upon Jesus in response to the sins of mankind. In response to your sin in response to my sin! But yet, Jesus had led a righteous perfect life. The only man ever to have done so. And so here we see Gods wrath, revealed from Heaven in the person of Jesus Christ and His mission to come and save mankind. So there is a sense that even in Jesus’ life Gods wrath was revealed from Heaven because it required the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God in order to achieve the righteous justice in order for our relationship with God through Jesus to be restored.
This wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. It is easy to simply skip over these two terms and see them as meaning the same thing or as interchangeable terms and that Paul is using them both to drive home the point. There is an element of truth in this, but if the rest of the chapter is read very carefully it can be seen that in the verses up to 25 Paul is primarily speaking about Ungodliness in the remaining verses up to verse 32 Paul is primarily speaking about Unrighteousness.
Ungodliness then is in the main the act of ignoring God, the act of substituting something else in our lives that takes the place of God. Unrighteousness is primarily undertaking acts that make us “not right” with God. We will look at this in more detail in the next post when we study verse 24 – 32. The remainder of this post will deal with up to verse 23. Suffice it to say that by our “unrighteousness” we too can suppress the truth about God which leads us into ungodliness.
Paul makes an appeal to the history of the OT in the next few verses. For those of you who know their OT, you will know the story of Adam and Eve and how they fell and the rapid decline of mankind following their disobedience to God simple command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil. The first sign of that decline? They realised their nakedness and hid from God, then they diverted attention from what they had done, Adam saying it was Eve who gave him to eat of the fruit and Eve in turn trying to blame the serpent! Not exactly a lie, but certainly a using of the “truth” in a vain attempt to divert the gaze of a righteous God away from themselves.
The next big this we read about is a murder! Cain slaying his brother Abel because he was jealous of him. In short it went rapidly down hill from there.
Before long, part form a small remnant, we see mankind turning to idolatry using carvings of wood and stone and probably whatever materials were available to them to creat images of “gods” of either their or of Satans and his minions inventions. They ignored the Glory of the Creator God. They Ignored the “Evidence of their Eyes” that was clearly displayed in the creation and they decided to worship the graven images that they had created themselves.
The psalms talk about the heavens declaring the glory of the Lord. For those of us who live in urban areas we often miss this. I recall spending a weekend in the middle of the Derbyshire Dales National Park and looking up into the sky and seeing the Milky Way with my own eyes for the first time ever in my life. I look up now, and even though I now live in God’s own country (Yorkshire for those of you who don’t know this), it is difficult to see that display of Gods creative glory.
But even through the endeavours of scientists, many of whom would classify themselves as atheist we see pictures from things such as the Hubble Space telescope of distant galaxies and stars and nebulae and what we see in the narrow band of the electro attic spectrum that we call light, is beautiful beyond description. When the clever people who know about these things use infrared and ultraviolet and x-ray detectors we discover hidden worlds that are beyond human imagination. The heavens do truly declare the glory of the Lord!
Psalms 97:6 (ESV)6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.
And this is just one aspect of the creation. Look at the beauty of the world in which we live, look at the sky, the mountains, the rivers the vast oceans, the polar caps, plan life animal life, the eco systems the intricacies of how fauna and flora are interdependent on one another; these do truly display Yahweh’s eternal power and divine nature as stated by Paul, as a species, we are truly without excuse. And yet, back then, in the dawn of creation, during the time after the establishment of the nations, during all of Israels history, through to the birth of the early church and over the past 2,000 years and I woulda True at an accelerated rate since the time of the supposed “enlightenment” we have on the whole become futile in our thinking! (Vs 21).
This word futile is used only once in the NT and it means to be rendered worthless, vain (as in a waste of time etc), empty, foolish. The scarcity of its use in a sense rams the message home even harder, that Paul was as it were searching for a term that was powerful in its description, one maybe that was so strong it didn’t get used very often. (I don’t know this for a fact, but it seems this way to me).
How does this reflect our society today. How much do we hear about fake news, we hear falsehoods proclaimed from high office, we watch banal programmes on TV of people seeking their 15 minutes of fame, or even worse their 5 minutes of notoriety. (the state of being famous or well known for some bad quality or deed).
The result, which is as true today as it was in Pauls time, pursuit of these empty futile things renders us with darkened hearts. We become selfish, self centred, gossips, heartless, haughty, malicious, we covet things more and more and more, we become boastful, and worse…………. (read to the end of the chapter don’t take my word for it, see what Paul had to say).
Verse 22 rings true to me today as much as it ever has rung true, who, but mankind has become wise in their own opinion and yet the reality is we have become fools.
(Psalms 14:1 (ESV)
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.
The rise of “the new atheists is the epitome of this. It is as though nothing has really changed and in a sense it hasn’t. Mankind is still seeking to find a reason to forget God. It’s just that now it is easier to simply claim that God does not exist. That we are the product of Time +Matter+Chance. What has changed is our sophistication as a species. Scientist us complex calculations and predictions and on occasion simply blind us with science. But sophistication and intelligence does not equate to wisdom. Exercising wisdom, in particular Godly wisdom is the exact opposite of foolishness. Paul declares that the foolishness of God is superior to the wisdom of man in every way (my paraphrase). So yes there may be things that we can not explain but science whilst it will answer many of the how questions as time goes on it will never be able to answer they why questions. We need a revelation from God for this.
The sad fact is, that as we travel down this route as a society in general, it becomes darker. As Paul said take God out of the equation and our hearts become darker. It’s a slippery slope that we are on.
Go re-read Romans 1 verses 18-23 again and as you do think of what you know already about society, the world view of none Christians, and society in general and be amazed at how accurate Paul is in his descriptions. It was Solomon who, when in a state of despair stated “ there is nothing new under the sun”.