“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (Romans 1:18 NIV)
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen” (Romans 1:24,25 NIV)
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts” (Romans 1:26 NIV).
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity” (Romans 1:28,29a NIV).
“They invent ways of doing evil” (Romans 1:30b NIV)
“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32 NIV).
The Revelation of Wrath
I want to go back to verse 18 that tells us that the wrath of God “is being revealed against” the godlessness and wickedness of men. That particular verb is very interesting. Obviously, it gives us the idea of a continuous reavealing over time so we can assume that whenever we see the godlessness and wickedness of men, we can reset assured that the very fact that they are getting away with it and it is going unchecked, is a sure sign of the wrath of God against them.
It should sadden us and move us to tears. They will live with their own wickedness and its consequences for all eternity but without dulled minds, without believable justifications, without insipid rationalizations. They will clearly see the truth and there will be nothing that they can do about it. They will “gnash their teeth” in regret and frustration because now the existence and authority of God will not be in doubt and their wickedness and evil will be their eternal bedfellow.
The wickedness of man is a revelation of the wrath and justice of God.
The Bible is obviously a revelation of God’s intervention in this world and his plan to save mankind from their broken relationship with Him. Nature is considered a revelation of the “eternal power and divine nature” (vs. 20b) of God, as Paul said earlier. But have you ever thought of the evil and wickedness of man as a revelation of the wrath and justice of God? No. Not normally. Paul says that it is. Learn to read that revelation properly and you will learn a lot about how this world really works and what God is really up to.
But there is another way to look at this verse. Very often we replace (in our minds) the word “revealed” with the words “poured out.” We read the verse (almost without thinking) as “The wrath of God is being poured out on the…..” That is why we are confused when we read in vs. 24 that God’s wrath on the wicked is just God letting the wicked be wicked. Basically letting them (for now) get away with their wickedness. That’s God’s punishment? Doesn’t seem so bad. People get to do what they want in this life. That’s what they wanted in the first place. They wanted to cut God out of their lives, and so God punishes them by leaving (sort of). God can’t leave, of course. And you can’t completely cut God out of your life. It doesn’t work that way. He is God after all. He isn’t going anywhere. But He can simply let you wallow in your pig pen until you come to your senses or until you die in your misery.
But here’s the thing. We tend to always think like humans, not God. The saying goes, Satan thinks like man, but God thinks of eternity. Not only does Satan think like man, only about this earth and what happens now, we think like Satan. We forget (or ignore) the eternal consequences of our actions. God does not. They are the most important part of the equation.
God is love and He knows that it is folly not to think of the eternal consequences of our actions. He is willing to sacrifice to make sure we are saved for eternity, not just have some relief in this life. Sad to say, most of us when things are comfortable, find it easy to ignore God but when the pressure is on, we run to Him quickly enough. That is part of our condition and God has to take that into account.
So when God reveals his wrath against the godlessness and wickedness of men by giving them over to their wickedness and no longer restraining them or stopping them, it is an act of wrath and justice when you look at it from the point of view of eternity. Obviously, individual people can still be saved. As any pastor will tell you, most people first start to take the gospel seriously in the context of sin and hurt and suffering and general wickedness. They don’t come to God because of the cookies and donuts or for the warm fuzzies of hearing a lovely sermon about God’s love. There is a real world need that drives them. That is the truth. God must use the presence of evil to drive people into the arms of Christ so that they can be saved.
But let me suggest another, complimentary, way of looking at this revelation of the wrath of God against the godlessness and wickedness of man. The context of Paul’s remarks is the solution that he starts to present in Romans 3:21. “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26 NIV).
Twice Paul says that God presented Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins “to demonstrate his justice.” Another way to put it would be to reveal his wrath against the godlessness and wickedness of men. Wrath comes from justice (which is rooted in love).
Therefore another way to understand vs. 18 is to realize that the wrath of God is revealed to us when we see the Son of God in his hour of passion and his sacrifice on the cross.
You see, the big problem we all have in our godlessness and wickedness is that we suppress the truth of God’s existence and his nature as God and as the one to whom we have to give account. He is our moral compass, our standard that shows our wickedness and rebellion against him. It is not a sustainable position to maintain in this world. We are short sighted and we are dull minded. Everything we do is futile and without meaning. We are subject to death and time is our master. We are stupid fools living in a world that constantly tells us that there is an intelligent design which suggests an intelligent creator, a person like us, a sentient being, like us. But the truth is we don’t trust him enough to do what we want even though we try to ignore him or control him with our religious activities. Either way we are doomed.
The biggest problem with humans is that they don’t realize the danger they are in. They don’t look at the world from God’s point of view. Paul preaches the gospel from God’s perspective. He tells us the story from the point of view of the writer of the story. The creator of the world is a force to be reckoned with, a person to whom we have to give account, the one entity we cannot ignore, any more than we can ignore death or our own humanity. The gospel starts with an evaluation of our true situation before God and how hopeless it is if He doesn’t intervene.
And if the wickedness and godlessness of the world with all of its evil and hurt and pain and suffering isn’t a sufficient revelation of the problem, then perhaps the cross of Christ is.
The thing about the cross is that it is an instrument of torture. Probably still one of the worst ways to die ever invented by man. As a symbol of Christianity, it is a strange pick. The cross, for many people, represents the grim realities of a godless and wicked world in which the innocent die at the hands of the mighty and uncaring. It is a symbol of the reality of sin and injustice and discrimination and corruption and pain. It is a symbol of everything that is wrong with this world.
But for Christians, it is all of that and more. Yes, it is a symbol of wickedness and evil but it is also a symbol of resurrection. It isn’t only about friday but also about sunday. It is a symbol of God’s willingness to look at the harsh realities of our godlessness and wickedness and rebellion and transform it into the resurrection power of new life because of Christ and his work on the cross. Therefore the cross stands for reality transformed by love through Christ. Reality transformed by love. That is the message of the gospel of Paul. But if you don’t want to look reality square in the face and call evil what it is and acknowledge godlessness and wickedness for what it is, what hope is there for transformation. It starts with confession and repentance before you can gain access to forgiveness and reconciliation.
So, yes, for those of us who refuse to recognize the danger we are in, the wrath of God is one form of revelation. You can see it partially in the general godlessness and wickedness of man but you can see it most clearly in the cross of Christ where the wrath of God is not only revealed, but poured out on the Son of God.
Jesus said in the garden that he did not want to drink the cup of the wrath of God. Obviously not. Who would? But Jesus most of all. His love for his father was so complete, so perfect, that even a drop of God’s anger much less his wrath was too much to bear. The depth of Jesus’ love for his father was what threw him into the depths of his temptation not to drink the cup of wrath and become sin for us, the one thing he abhorred with all his being. But in the end, he chose to obey. He chose obedience over fellowship, trusting his father to make all things right in the end.
That is the true test of love. Loving obedience that trusts the Father to always do the right thing especially when we don’t understand everything that is going on. To trust the Father with our very lives, with our suffering, with our pain, with discrimination, with injustice, with our reputations, with our social standing, with our integrity, with our blood, sweat and tears.
If we were ever in doubt about how serious our sin was, we need only to look at the cross and see there the wrath of God poured out upon his innocent son to realize that things are that serious, that dangerous that only the Son of God dying a horrible death, with the wrath of God poured out on him could save us.
Sin is not something to be ignored. You cannot skip this step in the Roman Road. You should not take a person any further until they recognize that their sin caused Christ to die on the cross and that it is that serious and cannot be side stepped or ignored. There is no gospel of salvation without the message of hell and damnation because of our sin. There is no shortcut to sunday without going through friday and its pain and suffering because of our sin. That is the true revelation of God’s wrath against our sin.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, every time I think about your death on the cross I want to cringe. I know that if I was the only person in the world who needed it, you would die for me. But like Peter, when you wanted to wash his feet and told him that it was a service you needed to perform for him, at first I want to refuse because I don’t really think that things are that bad. I can change. I can do it myself. It fills me with shame to think that you have to reduce yourself to a common servant and wash my feet, or die on the cross. I have to accept that I cannot do it for myself. So, like Peter, I ask you to wash all of me, cleanse me from my sin and transform me with the presence of your Holy Spirit. In your name I pray. Amen.