Summary: In the brief scope of just one verse, Romans 1:18, Paul presents several features that characterize the wrath of God.
Today, we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans at Romans 1:18. Romans 1:1-17 is essentially an introduction to Paul’s letter to the Romans, whereas Romans 1:18 begins the “body” of the letter.
Several years ago I listened to an interview on the radio. I believe the man being interviewed was a TV news anchor in Louisville, KY. He said that he had been a jogger since 1980. In 1998 he noticed that he did not feel right after some of his jogs. After the feeling persisted for several weeks he went to see a doctor. Over a period of many months he had $10,000 worth of tests. Finally, it was discovered that he had intestinal cancer. The doctors operated on him and he eventually recovered from his cancer.
For a long time that man did not know that he had cancer. Initially, he did not feel right after his jogging. As he began to feel increasingly worse, more and more tests were done to determine the nature of his discomfort. It was only after many months and many tests that his discomfort was accurately diagnosed as intestinal cancer. Only then could the appropriate treatment be applied in order to heal him of his cancer.
In the same way and for the same reason, Scripture accurately diagnoses our root problem before applying the right cure. Scripture reveals the bad news before giving us the good news. God’s righteous judgment against sin is proclaimed before his gracious provision of salvation is offered. Romans 1:18 reveals to us the root of our problem: God’s wrath because of our sin. Romans 1:18 says:
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Romans 1:18).
As Paul begins to unfold the details of the gospel of God in which his righteousness is revealed (1:16-17), he presents an extended discussion of the condemnation of man that begins here in Romans 1:18 and extends through Romans 3:20. Paul starts with an explicit affirmation of God’s righteous wrath.
The idea of a God of wrath goes against the grain of fallen human nature and is even a stumbling block to many Christians. When I was an Associate Pastor in my first church, I was responsible for the evangelism training in our church. Whenever I had the opportunity to share the gospel, I would often ask my non-Christian friend what he thought God was like. Almost always, the answer would be something like, “I think of God as a God of love.” I don’t believe anyone ever said to me that he thought of God as a God of wrath, or anger, or even justice.
Now, it is absolutely true that God is a God of love. But that is only one of his many attributes. Why is it that so many of us think of God primarily as a God of love but have much greater difficulty thinking of him as a God of wrath?
Well, I am not sure I know all the reasons, but it seems to me that we do not have a clear enough understanding of the awful depth of our sin and also of the perfection of God’s absolute holiness.
All of God’s attributes are balanced in divine perfection. God loves righteousness just as much and just as perfectly as he hates wickedness, as the Psalmist says of God in Psalm 45:7a, “You love righteousness and hate wickedness.”
We will never properly appreciate the fullness of God’s love for us until we know something of the fierceness of God’s wrath against us. God is righteously angry against us because we have broken his perfect and holy law. Until we recognize that we have broken his law and that God is rightly angry against us, we will not cry out to him for mercy and experience his wonderful grace.
Before we can ever experience God’s grace and mercy and love, we must recognize and own that we have fallen deeply into sin. We must affirm that we have broken his law. We must acknowledge that we have rebelled against him. And for all of our law-breaking and rebellion, God is rightly and righteously angry.
Many Christians mistakenly think that God is revealed as a God of wrath in the Old Testament and then as the God of love in the New Testament. That is an entirely mistaken understanding. Just as the love of God is revealed throughout the entire Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments), so also is the wrath of God revealed throughout the entire Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments). The wrath of God stated or described in the following passages: Genesis 6-7; 11:1-9; 18-19; Exodus 14; 2 Kings 18-19; Psalm 2:5, 12; 76:6-7; 78:49-51; 90:7-9; Isaiah 9:19; Jeremiah 7:20; Ezekiel 7:19; Daniel 4; John 3:36; Romans 9:22; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:5-6; and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8.