“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19 NIV).
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)
…and the Demons tremble
Before we jump into the meat of the gospel as Paul lays it out for us starting in verse 18 of the first chapter of the Book of Romans, we want to deal with one more issue. We need to remember that Paul is writing to the church, not to unbelievers. And he is writing from God’s (and the believer’s) perspective not from the perspective of the people outside the church.
This is important to say because the very next verse that we will be dealing with is an absolute explosion in the minds of most people and is almost immediately rejected by everyone.
“The wrath of God,” says Paul, “is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” (Romans 1:18 NIV).
We immediately object (even Christians) by claiming that this is too harsh. Where is the God of love and tolerance. Maybe God is concerned. Maybe he is merely upset or desires us to change our ways. No. God is exceedingly angry. The word “wrath” leaves no room for debate.
Unbelievers would probably just shrug and say that they don’t believe in God so it doesn’t matter. Of course that doesn’t change whether He exists or not since existence is independent of belief that something exists. Others would say that they do believe that God exists but this verse doesn’t apply to them because they don’t “suppress the truth with their wickedness.” This is a bigger issue and one that we must deal with upfront.
The point of the discussion today is that the Bible generally doesn’t spend much time trying to prove the existence of God. God exists. Period. The Bible was written for believers not unbelievers.
Except for Paul’s address in Athens and a few other isolated verses in the Bible, not much evidence is given for the existence of God. That is hard for us in the modern world to accept since we live in a secular humanistic cultural environment. Now-a-days it is common to find people who are athiests or agnostics but in ancient times it was more rare. The issue back then wasn’t so much whether God exists but which god is the true God.
But Paul says that “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven” against all men – Jews and Gentiles alike. No one, not even those who have never read the Bible or have heard about Christ is without excuse. The wrath of God rests on all men for all men are wicked and godless (even those who live good and honorable lives).
Those are strong words that most in the church today are rather ashamed of, to say the least. It certainly is not a favorite topic of preachers and teachers anywhere you look. Paul, on the other hand, says that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” (vs. 16), and this is exactly where he starts his discussion about the gospel.
Whatever happened to sin?
Paul starts with the Gentiles (1:18-32) and then moves on to the Jews (2:1-3:8) and then puts everyone in the same boat with the claim that the wrath of God shows no favoritism to anyone (3:9-20). Strong words indeed.
And nowhere does he defend the notion that God exists in the first place, neither for the Jew (who already believes it) nor for the Gentile (who also already believes it whether he realizes it or not). All Paul is willing to say at this point is that the evidence for God is all around us in creation.
You can imagine the church in Rome, mostly Gentile converts but also a growing number of Jews coming back to the capital early in Nero’s reign, listening to these words from Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, whom they had never met. And this “fire and brimstone” preacher was coming to visit them? Not kosher!
Especially the Jews (Christian or not) would have a problem being lumped in with the Gentiles as being worthy of the wrath of God. They already believed in God and they recited the Shema every day. “The Lord our God, the Lord is One….”
But James says “You believe that there is one God. Good!” Which is to say, your believe in a monotheistic God is not the issue. It’s great that you believe in God. “Even the demons believe that – and shudder!” (James 2:19 NIV). Some translations say “and they tremble.” In other words it isn’t enough to simply believe in the existence of God. That is a given. The question is one of your relationship with God. Paul says, in his own words, that we must all start at the same place as the demons…..and tremble because the wrath of God rests upon us – Jew and Gentile alike. Whether we believe in God or not, changes nothing.
Later on, Paul will point out that the only solution to this wrath is Jesus Christ who brings us peace with God through his blood on the cross (Romans 5:1). But before we can truly understand the good news we must come to terms with the bad news. The wrath of God rests upon us whether we believe in God or not.
The author of the Book of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).
You can see that both things are included. On the one hand, you have to believe that God exists. That is an advantage that the Jews had over the Gentiles. They believed in the existence of the one true God. But it isn’t just that. There is a relationship that must be desired “earnestly.” The reward spoken of here is that we find what we are seeking for and what we are seeking for is to restore that broken relationship with the God who is there. This is why the Gentiles may be lawless and “sinners” but Paul calls the Jews “hypocrites” (Romans 2:17-24).
So there is no apologetic for the existence of God needed.
The Gentiles aren’t interested in a relationship with God and therefore “suppress” the truth by acting and living as if God doesn’t exist and that they were just a law unto themselves, making up their own minds about how to live, deciding for themselves what is good and bad (like Adam and Eve at the beginning). And the Jews, even though they believed in the existence of God, demonstrate that they also do not earnestly seek a relationship with God by focusing on the external acts of the law instead of the heart relationship with their creator and therefore are condemned as hypocrites.
Yes, yes, I know that there seems to be exceptions to this scenario because we know that the heros of the faith, such as Abraham, Moses, David and others, did seek God earnestly and were rewarded. But Paul would claim that they did not seek God of their own will but were given grace and favor to soften their hearts towards Him while God drew them close (Romans 11). We are not only called to seek Him but also enabled to do so.
We will talk further about this “wrath of God” and whether or not it is justified when it is applied to all men – Jews and Gentiles alike. But, for now, Paul assumes that the existence of God is a given and that a relationship with God (or lack thereof) is the essential issue.
So the question is whether or not we are ashamed of this bold statement that God’s wrath rests on us and, therefore, each one of us needs the protection of Jesus to get peace with God. God is at war with the world and only through Christ can peace be made with the Judge of all men.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I don’t like this idea that your wrath rests on me, but I am beginning to understand it better. I believe that you exist and I earnestly seek you with my whole heart. I am not very good at it but I want a relationship with you. I claim the blood of Christ as my protection and I seek peace with you. Thank you for your good news in Jesus Christ. In your name I pray. Amen.