The Word of God declares that righteousness or justification comes to a person as a gift of God’s grace, and that it is received through faith alone in Christ alone. However, unless mankind can be shown their need of redemption and their need of righteousness from God, they will not seek God’s righteousness. Unless the Holy Spirit brings them to realise the great danger of living without God and with unforgiven sin, they will not seek the Lord’s mercy.
The apostle Paul, then, now begins to demonstrate that—until they experience God’s forgiveness—all mankind abides under the just wrath and utter condemnation of God. Paul will show this—firstly, in relation to the Gentile or pagan, and then in relation to the Jew. Only when he has demonstrated this truth, will the apostle continue to speak of the righteousness from God. He will then also begin to discuss the atonement that God has provided for every truly repentant sinner, through faith in Christ.
First, however, the apostle will begin by illustrating the true moral state of fallen mankind. Thus, the apostle writes:
Romans 1:18 ESV
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
When the Bible speaks of the anger or wrath of God, it is not speaking of a God who acts temperamentally, impetuously, or unjustly. Nor is it speaking of a God who seeks revenge on those who oppose his will. Divine wrath is one of God’s holy and righteous attributes. God’s wrath is not subject to fluctuation or change, nor is it anything less than an expression of his holy, righteous and perfect anger. God’s wrath is the constant outpouring of his righteous judgment upon sin, and against all those who wilfully continue in the practice of sin. The fact that verse 18 tells us that God’s wrath ‘is being revealed’ indicates very clearly the sustained or ongoing nature of God’s righteous judgment upon sinful mankind.
The more godless and wicked a man or woman becomes, the more they experience the wrath of God in their lives. The sin—which initially they may have loved and cherished—eventually turns bitter and wears them down. Ultimately, sin brings misery and ruin. Thus, the punishment of sin is yet more sin, together with its ruinous consequences. This is just one of the effects of God’s wrath in the lives of impenitent men and women.
In addition to incurring the just wrath of God in this present life, however, the impenitent sinner must also incur the unending wrath of God in the life to come. Only by true repentance and genuine faith in Christ, can he be delivered from the dreadful destiny that awaits him in the torments of hell.
Verse 18 also tells us that—by their godless and wicked lifestyles or practices—men and women suppress the truth: i.e. the truth concerning God. This implies quite clearly that these people are acting against better knowledge. They know that God exists, and that he condemns their sins and iniquities. However, because they do not wish to acknowledge God in their lives, or submit to him, they make pretence of denying his existence. They attempt to explain him away, or they presume to sit in judgment on the One who will one day sit in judgment upon them.
Their condemnation is magnified, however, because they not only suppress the truth as it relates to them, but also as it relates to others. They do all in their power to distort the truths of God’s revelation in nature or creation. They do this in order to persuade others that the origin of the universe is not a signal demonstration of God’s almighty power and glory, but rather the result of natural and impersonal occurrences. Thus, on these grounds too, these people incur the just wrath of God.
Destitute of any real reverence for God, these are ungodly and wicked individuals. In addition, they attempt to make others as wicked as they are themselves, by inducing them to adopt their own godless and evil opinions and practices. In Paul’s day, this involved the worship of idols with all its associated evils. In our day, it involves the casting aside of God’s moral values, the deification of man, the practice of humanism and secularism, and the disregard of God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. This, however, is another form of idolatry: For it is the commitment to a person or ideal other than the Lord our God.
(To be continued)
[Excerpt from Expository Notes: Romans (chapter 1 verse 18). To read or download the full version of these Notes, click on the NT Commentaries menu tab above.]Follow @gordon_lyons