For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth .For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them 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. –Romans 1:18-20.
Wrath! A subject in our modern Christian context we tend to avoid. It makes us squeamish. We usually don’t deny it but we certainly down play it or don’t emphasize it in speaking to our neighbors. Whether out of strategy or fear, we tend to focus on God’s love and forgiveness. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that God is love? And you can catch more bees with honey, Right?
The irony is, that Romans is one of the most gospel centered and Christocentric letters the Apostle Paul ever wrote. Yet, this letter gets its evangelistic running start, not on the love of God but on the constantly revealed wrath of God against an unbelieving world! Sometimes as Christians we tend to shy away from the subject of God’s wrath. We like to present the gospel in a non-confrontational way that sounds beautiful to the hearer and we certainly don’t want to come off as a fire and brimstone preacher. But when you really stop and think about it, the gospel loses its beauty when we skip past the gloomy condition of mankind. Likewise, the magnitude of God’s love is not truly seen when we fail to acknowledge and confront our sinful state before our maker. The contrast is much needed in our own minds as well as in evangelistic encounters. Think about it. How can the prisoner understand the joy of release if he does not know he is bound? How can the slave appreciate freedom if he does not see his chains? In the same way how can we emphasize God’s forgiveness unless we understand our condemnation?
This is why it is especially important to have verses like this memorized and loaded into your gospel memory arsenal. As believers we need to make sure and preach the full counsel of God and leave the results in his hands. We need to be willing to speak boldly about sin and judgment so that the good news mercy and grace makes sense. It can be a hard message to give and even awkward and sometimes we might feel a little foolish and shy-away. Perhaps this is why Paul, just two verses earlier (v. 16) said that he was “unashamed of the Gospel. For it is the power of god unto salvation…” If Paul said that he is unashamed, it might be because some were trying to make him feel ashamed for preaching it? Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…”
We also should consider some other aspects of this section of scripture. Namely that this wrath is revealed or “being revealed…” notice that this verse does not say his wrath “has already been revealed” or “will one day be revealed” but rather that his wrath “is revealed.” In other words, this is a constant process or God continually pouring out judgment. John Murray, Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary puts it this way in His Romans Commentary:
“The wrath of God is dynamically; effectively operative in the world of men and it is as proceeding from heaven, the throne of God, that it is thus active. We must regard the penal inflictions, therefore, as due to the exercise of God’s wrath upon the ungodly; there is a positive outgoing of the divine displeasure.”
So while there will be a righteous retribution of wrath at the end of the age for all unrepentant unbelievers, there is also, as Romans 1:18 tells us, a constant and present outpouring of it.
Let us also consider the reason for the revealing of this wrath. The text says that it is against those who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” This would mean that in order to suppress the truth they would have to recognize it order to know what to actively suppress it. Have you ever played with a beach ball in a swimming pool? Have you ever tried to hold that ball underwater for any amount of time? While it can be done it is not an easy thing to do. This is the same picture that Romans gives to us. That man has clear evidence of God but instead he pushes the beach ball of God’s truth deep under surface and pretends it’s not there.
Thus the next question the texts answers is, what truth are they suppressing? It is the plainness of the existence of God. Why is it plain? The text says “because God has shown it to them.” How has God shown it to them? Verse 20 says, by the things that have been made” i.e. creation. Think about it this way. Have you ever read a great novel? Or seen a great piece of art? How about a sappy love song? The attributes of an author can be derived by how something is made? Of the writer we could say that he must be very intelligent since he is so skilled with words. Of the artist we could say that he has an eye for beauty by the way he blends the colors on the canvas. Of the song writer we could say he is a hopeless romantic given the slow and sad pace of his song. In the same way certain attributes are communicated by the creator through creation. Paul at the beginning of verse 20 names a couple. Namely his “eternal power” and His “Divine nature…” These attributes are clearly seen in the magnitude and awesomeness of creation. The creator of the mountains is mightier than them. The creator of the oceans is bigger than them. The one who put the billions of stars in place is greater than them. That the one who did this is both powerful and divine. And because this is so obvious the very end of verse 20 says “so they are without excuse.”
That’s right! No one has an excuse. Romans says that his existence is so plain that ALL people are accountable before him. Did you notice something? While we live in an age where Atheist are so boldly claiming that there is no such thing as a God, God answers back in Romans 1:18-20 that there is no such thing as an Atheist. All people know the obvious and therefore are without excuse. Perhaps this is why the Psalmist said in Psalm 14:1 “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”
By Lawrence Bautista