WHAT IS THE WRATH OF GOD?
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 9
Romans 1:18 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
This morning we’re going to look at a truth in the Bible that far from easy to talk about. In fact, in some ways, I’d rather not address it at all. It has the tendency to make people feel extremely uncomfortable and uneasy, even to the point of being deeply offended. What is this highly offensive topic? The wrath of God. For many, the idea that the God of the Bible is a God of wrath runs against the grain of what they have been led to believe about Him. After all, the God of the Bible they’ve been told is a God of love who offers us abundant and eternal life through faith in Christ, a life of forgiveness, peace, and joy. While this is true, it only paints a partial picture of who God really is. It’s only one side of the coin. The Bible also says God is a God of intense blood-chilling judgment. He has a settled eternal irreconcilable hostility toward all sin. I know this doesn’t settle well with the liking of some. But God has not called me to preach only the feel-good things of His Word. I know that one day I will stand before Him and give an account for the ministry He’s called me. One Bible scholar said, We have the privilege of announcing the one, and the duty to announce the other(Barnhouse, p. 226). Like Paul in his final visit with the believers in Ephesus I want to be able to say, I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27). Paul did not hold back from teaching them the whole counsel of His Word, even the tough things. By God’s grace, nor will I.
To get a clear grasp of God’s wrath we have to begin where we were last week. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith(Romans 1:16-17). Now, follow it up with the next verse, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). At first glance, Paul’s thought may seem disconnected from what he just shared in the previous two verses. But Paul is not changing the subject of salvation, he’s completing it. Paul is saying that at the same time God’s righteousness is being revealed, so is His wrath.
In essence, God’s gift of righteousness is like a shinning diamond displayed against the backdrop of God’s pitch-black wrath. He is showing us how truly stunning and amazing our salvation really is. Unless you understand the severe and terrifying consequences of your sin before the one true almighty God, you will not understand the breath-taking joy and astonishing offer of His salvation. In the following sixty-three verses (1:19-3:20) Paul is going to paint the bluntest most repulsive picture of sin to be found anywhere in Scripture or any other writing for that matter. I want to warn you up front, what we’re going to hear this morning is tough medicine. If you’re wondering what is wrong with our world, what we’re going to see today is going tell you what.
For today, we’re going to look just at pitch-black backdrop of God’s wrath from verse 18. Four Biblical Descriptions: 1) It is unimaginable, 2) it is undeniable, 3) it is unavoidable, 4) undisputable.
- It is unimaginable. For the wrath of God… The source of this wrath is from the one true eternal and perfect God. It is therefore more intense, more powerful, more severe than we can imagine. The word Paul uses for wrath is the word orge (ὀργή)where we get the English word orgy from. It refers to God’s intense, settled, and determined indignation against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. In Genesis 6 it says, God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth (Gen. 6:12). God tells Noah to build an ark because He is about to pour out His wrath on the world in the form a flood destroying all flesh (Gen. 6:14,17). No one in Noah’s day believed him. But when the flood waters of God’s pounding judgement were unleashed, it was far beyond anyone’s imagination. God’s wrath is indescribable.
Just as He is a God perfect of love, perfect holiness, perfect wisdom, perfect power, so He is a God of perfect wrath. God’s wrath is one of His perfect attributes that reveals who He is.
To be sure, God’s wrath is not like ours. It is not given to uncontrolled outbursts, divine temper tantrums. Our wrath is compromised by the presence of sin, God’s is not. Our wrath is poisoned by animosity, malice, bitterness, revenge. God’s wrath is perfect in both control and in judgement.
Still, some are deeply troubled by idea of God’s wrath. How can God be a God of wrath and still be a God of love? A better question is: If God were not a God of wrath what would His love be like? It would be nothing more than a sentimental feeling. A love that is powerless to make right what is wrong. A love that is powerless to protect. A love powerless to stop evil. In other words, it would not truly be love at all. At best, it would be an indulging whim. It stands to reason if God is love, then He cannot tolerate evil. God’s love is not really love unless it includes justice. You cannot have perfect love without having perfect anger at the same time.
Without doubt, the greatest proof that God is a God of perfect wrath and love in the Bible was displayed on the cross of Christ. It is at the cross where God’s perfect love and perfect wrath met. When Christ died on the cross, the Bible says He (God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him(2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus became the object of God’s fixed wrath against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world. We cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to experience God’s wrath against our sin on the cross. It was unimaginable and incomparable to say the least. Yet, what held Jesus on the cross was His love for you and me. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). The word propitiation, the very heart of the doctrine of atonement, means Jesus’ death satisfied God’s wrath against the sin of those believe in Him. It also means that those who’ve trusted in Christ and His finished work on the cross now have God’s eternal favor. If you’ve placed your trust in Christ as your Savior for your sins, you are no longer under the wrath of God (John 3:36). Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (Romans 5:9). What is God’s wrath? It is unimaginable.
- It is undeniable. God’s wrath is undeniable. We cannot say it is not happening right now. In fact, it is happening right now. The wrath of God…is revealed from Heaven(Romans 1:18). The word revealed,is the same word and the same present tense used in verse 17 where Paul says God’s righteousness is continually being revealed (ἀποκαλύπτω – to reveal, disclose, uncover). At the same time God is revealing His Gospel to the world, so He is revealing His wrath.
How is God revealing His wrath? We see it both in the Bible and in the world. In the Bible, God first unleashed His wrath on Adam and Eve when they trusted Satan’s lie over God’s truth. The sentence of death was passed on to them and all their descendants. The whole Earth felt the shock of God’s curse. God’s wrath was seen in the flood, in Sodom and Gomorrah, in the destruction of Pharoah’s army.
Even today, we see both God’s righteousness and God’s wrath at work. While many are trusting Christ and experiencing His transforming forgiveness and new life, others are turning their backs and hardening their hearts toward God. The late John Stott explains, God’s …anger goes quietly and invisibly to work in handing sinners over to themselves…it operates not by God’s intervention but precisely by his not intervening, by letting men and women go their own way. God abandons stubborn sinners to their own wishful self-centeredness, and the resulting process of moral and spiritual degeneration is to be understood as an act of God. This is the revelation of God’s wrath from Heaven(Stott, Romans, p.75).
Still, some will say, “Yah, but why do so many wicked people seem to get away with doing wrong? Where is God’s wrath in their life?” Good question. The Bible gives us a couple of reasons. One, is found in Romans 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4). God’s patient kindness is at work in the hearts of those who will one day realize they have nothing but what God has given them in His kindness. Look back on your own life and you can see the kindness and tolerance and patience of God that led you to trusting Him.
A second reason is found in the very next verse: But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath(Romans 2:5). God’s delayed judgment means His wrath is building toward those who refuse to trust Christ. Donald Grey Barnhouse tells the story of a group of godly farmers in a Midwest community whose worship service was being bothered by a neighbor plowing his field across from the church. Noise from his tractor flooded the whole church. As it turned out, the man had purposely chosen to plow his field on Sunday to make a point. He wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper asserting that, although he did not respect the Lord or honor the Lord’s Day, he had the highest yield per acre of any farm in the country. He asked the editor how Christians could explain that. With considerable insight and wisdom, the editor printed the letter and followed it with one simple comment, God does not settle [all[ His accounts in the month of October (Barnhouse, p. 220). The Bible tells us if we will not have Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we will have Him as our Judge. God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). God’s wrath is undeniable.
- It is unavoidable. It is inescapable.… It is against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…(Romans 1:18). Once the dam of God’s wrath bursts, it’s consuming floodwaters will reach all who refuse to turn to Christ for His forgiveness. The first part of this verse points to all. All means all. There will be no exceptions whether you’re a Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, good or bad. Revelation 6 tells us there will be time during God’s outpouring of judgment on Earth during the Tribulation that kings, great men, commanders, the rich and the strong, slave and free will hide themselves in caves and say to the mountains, Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16).
Some people like to think their good will outweigh their bad when they stand before God. God doesn’t grade on a relative curve. God’s standard is His perfect righteousness. The Bible says all have fallen short of God glory (Rom. 3:23). All are under sin (Rom. 3:9). No matter how good you think you are, without Christ you’ll never satisfy God’s righteous wrath against your sin. Good people don’t go to Heaven, only sinners who’ve humbly turned from their sin and put their hope in Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.
The second part of this verse points to all ungodliness and unrighteousness. Ungodliness refers to our broken relationship with God; people live a life as though God does not matter. Unrighteousness refers to our broken relationship with other people.
First ungodliness points to a contempt for God. The greatest act of contempt for God was the crucifixion of Christ. By Christ coming into the world, it revealed the true nature men’s hearts toward God. The Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil(John 3:19). From the time Jesus was born His life was in danger. Herod tried to kill Him. Where Herod failed, the religious leaders finally succeeded. Later Paul says of the religious leaders, But the rulers of this world have not understood it (God’s plan of salvation); if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord (1 Corinthians 2:8, NLT). Christ’s coming into the world revealed man’s hatred toward God. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will(Romans 8:7, NLT).
If ungodliness points to mans hatred for God, then it is not difficult to see our hatred for each other. The news is overflowing with shocking acts of blind hatred! Little wonder there is no escape from God’s wrath. It is because God is a loving God the justice of His wrath is unimaginable, undeniable, and unavoidable; no one can escape it. Do you see why it is so amazing God sent us a Savior at all?
- It is indisputable. who suppress the truth in unrighteousness(Romans 1:18). Paul isn’t cutting any slack here. He’s saying all people regardless are suppressing the truth of God by holding on to their own sinful desires, their own unrighteousness. The word for suppress (κατέχω – katecho) means to hold firmly, to hold down. In secular Greek it was a word used to describe a helmsman holding the course as his boat battled the wind and current. Paul uses the word here to demonstrate the sheer determination of mankind to stand firmly against God’s truth and to stubbornly remain in opposition. He’s pointing to the nature of all people. Later he’s going to say there is no one righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10). We’re all by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). We’re all by nature in opposition to God. It is not for a lack of information, but a deliberate rejection of information (Ps. 14:1). In the very next verse Paul tells us, That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them(Romans 1:19). God’s wrath is indisputably and rightly against all mankind.
When Pilate asked Jesus, What is truth?(John 18:38). It was as plain as the nose on his face. It was right there in front of him. His question revealed the attitude of many. Pilate had the perfect opportunity to know Truth, but he refused to see it. Jesus openly and candidly taught Himself to be the Truth. Pilate was no exception to truth that God had made Himself evident within him, but Pilate was revealing his true heart, a heart in stubborn resistance to God.
A well-known line from C. S. Lewis’s children’s book: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, comes to mind. Four children in a conversation with two talking beavers are about to meet Aslan the lion, a type of Christ in Lewis’ book. When the children hear Aslan’s name, a deep sense of curious wonder stirs within them. Having never met a lion, the youngest, Lucy, asks if Aslan is safe. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
The Bible says Jesus is God incarnate, the Lion of Judah, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, who will one day judge the world. He is not safe. But He is good. He came to save us of our sins and know Him personally. God tells us in His word that if anyone seeks Him with their whole heart, they will find Him (Jer. 29:13). Nothing keeps you away from Christ more than your inability to see your need for Him. Jesus said It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17). There are only one of two ways a person will know Jesus, either as his Savior or as his Judge. Which will you know Him as? The choice is yours.