Summary: This passage answers three important questions about God's wrath: 1) What is it? 2) How is it revealed? 3) Why do we deserve it?
A week ago Friday, a man went to the emergency room at a Dallas hospital with flu like symptoms. Even though he told a nurse that he had recently returned from Liberia, the hospital sent him home. Two days later, after his symptoms continued to worsen, that same man was finally admitted to the hospital. After performing further tests the man was diagnosed with the Ebola virus and he was immediately placed in isolation. The last I heard, he was in intensive care fighting for his life others who have been in close contact with him are being carefully monitored.
When it comes to our physical health, an accurate diagnosis is often a life or death matter. As we’ll see this morning, the same thing is true in the spiritual realm as well and there it is even more critical because it affects eternity.
So far in the first 17 verses of Romans, Paul has introduced us to the good news of the gospel which saves us from God’s wrath through faith in Jesus. But as we get to verse 18, Paul is going to embark on the most extensive, careful and logical diagnosis of man’s spiritual condition that has ever been written. That section extends all the way through chapter 3, verse 20. As we study this section together we’re going to find the much needed diagnosis for what ails all of us spiritually. And that diagnosis is going to allow us to make sure we apply the proper treatment. Since we’re going to be in this section for quite some time, let me give you a brief overview before we read today’s passage.
Overview of Romans 1:18-3:20
• Romans 1:18-32 – General indictment that primarily addresses the Gentiles.
• Romans 2:1-16 – Paul addresses those who think they are moral enough to earn God’s favor
• Romans 2:17-3:8 – Paul specifically addresses the Jews who pride themselves on observing the Law
• Romans 3:9-20 – Paul summarizes the idea that all are equally guilty before God
It is only when Paul concludes that section that he finally returns to the idea we saw last week in verse 17 – that God imputes His righteousness to those who respond to the gospel by faith alone.
So with that in mind, I invite you to follow along as I read this morning’s passage which begins in Romans chapter 1, verse 18. I’ll read through verse 23.
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. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
(Romans 1:18-23 ESV)
As we saw last week when we briefly looked at verse 18, the salvation provided by the gospel is salvation from God’s wrath. And, not surprisingly, the topic of God’s wrath is not a real popular one in today’s culture. We’ll begin to see why that is the case this morning as we learn more about it. What is more surprising, and more disturbing, in my opinion, is that it is a topic that is often avoided even in the church.
I can understand why that is, at least to some extent. My guess is that some of you here this morning are already thinking we’re going to be slogging through sin and guilt for quite some time and that is going to be a real downer. But let me assure you that if you’ll view this part of our journey through the right lens, it will actually end up being quite encouraging.
There are a number of reasons that this section of Paul’s letter should be such an encouragement to those of us who have already responded to the gospel in faith as well as to any who are here who have not yet done so. Here are just a couple I want to encourage you to keep in mind:
1. In order to obtain a lasting cure, we have to make the correct diagnosis. If we want to understand the antidote to our sin, we must first understand the disease we are dealing with. And the better we understand what ails us spiritually, the better position we will be in to effectively deal with the sin in our own lives and help others deal with theirs.