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The Wrath of God Revealed

The Wrath of God Revealed

A Brief Exposition of Romans 1

by Blake McGuckin
Romans 1:18-32 is admittedly a difficult text, not to comprehend its meaning but to accept what Paul is teaching. If the reader had the privilege of reading the last article, they would have gleaned that sin creates a chasm between us and God, which is a commonsensical understanding in light of an honest assessment of whom men and women are according to their own consciences. Romans 1:18-32 also involves itself with what is known offhand; yet, it takes this concept further into the mire of sin’s separation, so that it is known to what degree God hates sin and with what eagerness mankind commits it.

 To explain the meaning of the sentence prior, it is necessary to first begin with the question of God’s wrath. Romans 1:18 reads “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (The ESV Study Bible 2008). From a bare reading of the verse, it is clear that God’s wrath is a response, as it is so eloquently stated in Question 11 of the Heidelberg Catechism: “God’s justice demands, that sin, committed against his supreme majesty be punished with the supreme penalty – eternal punishment of body and soul” (Heidelberg Catechism). Romans 1:18-32 does not deal with the latter part of the quotation – it reveals how God hands people over to their own living hell. Let the reader understand that God’s wrath is not an angry outburst that can be quickened without warning, for our God is a longsuffering God who is slow to anger – lauded by Moses in Numbers 14:18 as “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (The ESV Study Bible 2008). However, the same passage states that “‘he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’” This is quite the paradox and yet Romans 1:18 reveals the reasoning for this – the Lord gives people over to their own darkness, because they suppress the truth. God has given us the truth in his common grace – this term indicative of the general revelation that God extends to all mankind and spoken of in Psalms 19:1-6 in addition to Romans 1:19-20 which clearly delineate that God has not left the truth in obscurity.

David writes in Psalm 19:2-3, “Day to Day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” and that, “There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard” (The ESV Study Bible 2008).  Similarly, Paul emphasizes in Romans 1:19 that “what can be known about God is plain to them [mankind], because God has shown it them.” Romans 1:20 reveals the truth that is understood which beautifully dovetails with what David stated hundreds of years before, namely in its assertion that God’s “eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Both Paul and David point out that God has revealed the truth to mankind about him being preexistent to all things and the progenitor of all things – his deity being understood in this. Paul draws out the implications of this in Romans 2:14 in his assertion that “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law,” and in doing so, “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.” There is much explanation done on this subject of natural law already – the concept warrants mentioning here, but a more thorough explanation must be left to better men than the author. Suffice it to say, that men “are without excuse” as stated in Romans 1:20.

In reading further, it is revealed in Romans 1:24 that “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” (The ESV Study Bible 2008). The body is valued highly in the Scriptures. A mere recollection of the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism posits to the answer to “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” with “That I am not my own but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism). This assertion is taken directly from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 where Paul tells the Corinthians: “Your body is a temple of the Holy spirit within you” and further informs them, “You were bought with a price” and then concludes, “So glorify God in your body.” The giving over of men’s bodies to impurity is a terrible judgement indeed in the mind of God who buys Christians wholly so that there is no separation of holiness between the body and the soul. In the case of those whose bodies are given over to impurity, their souls and bodies are united in depravity, and they are happy to have it so, for “the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s Law. Indeed, it cannot” (The ESV Study Bible 2008).

The further descent into depravity spurred by the eagerness of mankind is evinced in homosexuality. This is described as an alternative lifestyle in Western society today – it is on the contrary, the Lord’s decree that this is a judgement. The misery that descends on the shoulders of those who are consumed with their own flesh is that they are left utterly alone, for God created them male and female that the two might be joined together as one flesh. However, the homosexual is obsessed with the allure of his very self – that which rends apart rather than builds up. Paul’s mention of women here is significant in the light of what GCBC has already studied under Pastor Cole Cleveland – the understanding that women serve a unique role and as Christians are sanctified in childbearing. Homosexuality effectively nullifies this capability.

More of God’s punishments can be seen in verses 29-32, where God gives the children of man up to thinking that is rid of clarity and filled with all manner of debauchery. These passages describe the breaking of the Greatest Commandment – “to love the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind” (The ESV Study Bible 2008). They also describe the violation of the commandment like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These are the words of Christ in Matthew 22:37, 39, and they are summaries of the first and second table of the Ten Commandments, itself the summary of God’s Law. Verse 32 concludes with the fact that the people who commit these atrocities, knowingly do so and applaud the insolence of others who engage in the same accursed acts.

Brothers and sisters, this is an indictment that all of us must feel. We are not under grace because of our eagerness for it. Quite the opposite, we are corrupt with our desires set on the flesh – its fruit described with such clarity in the passage we examined today. We are not  under grace because of our inherent worth – we have turned aside to that which corrupts us and makes us more like the devil. We are not under grace, because we know the law – natural law only serves to show our guilt. We are under grace because of a choice – not ours, but God’s. “For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8-9 (The ESV Study Bible 2008). If you are in the faith, God wrote your name in his book of life before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; The Holy Bible, English Standard Version). God called you of darkness into light (2 Cor. 4:6). God granted you repentance (2 Timothy 2:25). God foreknew you (Romans 8:29). God loves you (John 3:16). Although we live in a Romans 7 reality, we rejoice with Paul and the Corinthians in these words: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
The ESV Study Bible (Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem Ed.). (2008). Crossway.
Heidelberg Catechism. (2011). Christian Reformed Church.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (2001). Crossway.