“Romans Chapter-By-Chapter” Series
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who my their unrighteousness suppress the truth” Romans 1:18
There’s an old adage about evangelism that says, “You have to get a person lost before you can get them saved.” The point is not that the person is NOT lost but that they don’t KNOW they are lost. Therefore, the Good News of the gospel must be preceded by the Bad News that we are sinners and need to be saved. This exposure of our sin, as revealed in the Bible, is much worse than we might casually think. Most people have a general sense that they are imperfect. Many will even admit that those imperfections are sins. However, ask your average person who is not born again, and they will likely grade their own sin on a sliding scale. “Sure,” they may nod, “I’ve messed up. Made some mistakes. Everyone does! That’s just human. But I’m a generally good person overall.”
But is a “generally good” person actually a good person? Not according to God! The problem is that this person’s standard is himself and the people around him and that is a slippery, subjective standard. Even convicted criminals in federal prisons have a “code” for those offenses that even they won’t tolerate in others.
God’s Word is NOT a subjective standard. It demonstrates the true offensiveness of sin. The first three chapters of Romans build a case that mankind is far worse off than they think. In fact, I believe that even Christians can open their Bibles, read God’s righteous standards, be exposed to the true nature of their hearts, and end up with a better understanding of their pre-Christ hearts then they did when they were in that state personally.
Paul intends to deal with Jews and Gentiles alike in exposing their sins. And he begins with broad principles that apply to all of humanity. Romans 1 argues that God’s wrath is already against humanity because of their unrighteousness. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). There are two questions arising from this verse, and the rest of chapter 1, that I want to address. WHY is God’s wrath revealed against humanity? And, HOW is God’s wrath revealed?
The answer to the “Why” question is that mankind has rebelled against God in every way. It is important to recognize that our sin against God is intertwined with our entire nature. Sin is not a disease that attacks us like a virus or a parasite. It is not something that we are tangled up in, like a miry bog or a spiderweb, and really wish we could avoid. Rather, it is part of our very nature. It is internal, not external. Our minds, wills, and emotions are set against God and our deeds are carried out in keeping with our sinful desires.
In other words, as sinners, our problem is not ignorance but REBELLION! Verse 18 describes men as those who “suppress the truth.” Suppression of the truth implies knowledge of truth but then that truth is actively held at arm’s length and rejected. According to this chapter, there is no one who is innocent and wholly without information about God. Instead, God has revealed truth about Himself in the created order. Everyone in the world intuitively understands God’s “eternal power and divine nature” leaving them “without excuse” (1:20). And everyone understands that their sin deserves the judgment of God, yet they continue to practice and celebrate those sins (1:32). They know, but they suppress.
Now to the “How” question. How is God’s wrath revealed? We will see later in chapter 2 that God will judge sin in “the day of wrath” (2:5) in the future. This is the wrath of God that most of us are familiar with. There is coming a day of judgment. Chapter 1, however, discusses a different manifestation of God’s wrath. It is marked out with the repeated phrase, “God gave them up.” This phrase appears three times in Romans chapter 1 (24, 26, 28). In verse 24, “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.” Then in verse 26, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” Finally, in verse 28, “God gave them up to a debased mind.”
The sobering truth is that God surrenders people to the natural consequences and nasty fallout of their sin. This action (or lack of action while we plunge ahead into sin ourselves) is a present manifestation of the wrath of God. God’s wrath against sinners is seen as they literally bring their own injury on themselves. Sin may look like it’s enjoyable, but to be left to your own passions is actually a horrible state. Every person and every society slides into this terrible state. There is no human advancement that can stop the horrible grip of sin, and the tendency is to give free reign to it.
Romans chapter one is a breathtaking chapter. It indicts all of humanity in the strongest terms and leaves no wiggle room. It shows us to be worse sinners than we thought before. It shows that our sin is more than our behavior, it is our nature! The dilemma, again, is that our problem is not ignorance, but rebellion! We are desperately in need of some good news, that does more than just appeal to us as good news but changes our good-news-rejecting hearts so that we love the good news!
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is so powerful (1:16), because it is JUST THAT SORT OF GOOD NEWS!
God powerfully uses the preached Gospel of Jesus Christ, not just to add a little more evidence and tip someone over the teeter-totter of belief, but to transform their sinful, rebellious heart!!