Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 27, 2002
In preparation for our service this morning I was trying to find a hymn that would match the text we
will be looking at, Romans 1:18, which deals with the wrath of God. I was a bit surprised to find out that
there are only four songs in our hymn book that make reference to God’s wrath or anger at all, and only
two of those were in the context of being saved from His wrath. Only two songs spoke of the
condemnation of sinners while no hymn spoke of God’s judgement and only one referenced Him as
judge. Clearly, as evident in one of the latest and more popular hymnals, God’s declared response to sin
is not a popular subject.
That is not surprising in itself, for people in general would rather hear about good things than bad
things that might affect them personally. It is surprising though when taken in the context that the
message of the gospel is one that includes salvation from God’s wrath upon sin. That is a wonderful
thing to sing about, as Rock of Ages does in its lyric, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in
Thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy wounded side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure." The second verse of the Hymn, My Hope is in the Lord,
proclaims, "No merit of my own His anger to suppress, My only hope is found in Jesus’ righteousness."
The first stanza of My Savior’s Love stands amazed that Jesus would love one who was a sinner,
condemned, unclean. As wonderful as the thought is, only And Can It Be? gives voice to the joy that
"No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him is mine!" Those themes were more common in
worship a century ago.
Typical gospel tracts of our day prefer to speak of God’s love and having a wonderful life in Jesus.
Sin is usually dealt within a generic sense that everyone does it and it is bad for you. Getting specific
about the sin of the individual and its consequence in eternal punishment is not a popular theme even
among Christians. There is even a movement within evangelical Christianity to discount the reality of an
eternal hell. As much as we might prefer only the good news and to refrain from speaking of what is
negative, we do not have the right to alter or even change the emphasis of God’s message, and the
message of God’s gospel includes His wrath.
Remember that the gospel of God is the theme of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. He stated that clearly
in the opening verses and in expressing his personal desire to go to Rome. Paul was "eager to preach the
gospel" to those who were in Rome. Starting in 1:16, which we examined last week, Paul begins his
presentation of the gospel message with a few succinct statements which will then be followed by an
extensive contrast and explanation of all the particulars of the message and its ramifications.
The Righteousness of God
Let’s begin our study this morning by looking at verses 16-21.
1:16 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. 17 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." 18 For the wrath of God is
revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in
unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it
evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and
divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are
without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but
they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
The important point to note at this point is that the gospel message is about the righteousness of God.
Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because of both what the gospel can do and what it reveals. The gospel
is the power of God for salvation for all who are believing. As pointed out last week, such deliverance
from sin, rescue from sin’s consequences and preservation from it, requires it to be the work of God, for
man is completely inadequate to correct his sin problem or in anyway earn the righteousness needed to
be restored to a relationship with God. Man is born dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1) and will stay
that way unless God does something. The gospel message is that God has done something.
The gospel message is about the righteousness of God revealed in providing the payment for man’s
sin Himself through Jesus Christ that sinner might be justified and made righteous through faith in Him.
Again, this is not done through any kind of work or human effort, but through simple faith in God’s
character, actions and promises. That is why the righteous will live by faith. They trust God.
The "for" (gar) in first 18 links the concept of the righteousness of God in relation to those who
believe in verse 17 to His righteousness described here in His contrasting relationship to those who do
not believe. If those who believe in Jesus Christ and trust Him alone for salvation from sin are made
righteous, and that reveals the righteousness of God, what reveals His righteousness in His relationship
to those that do not believe? Is the righteousness of God seen in them too, and if so, how so?
Those who do not believe are ungodly and unrighteous and Paul points out that God’s wrath abides
upon them. Paul shows the unrighteousness of all people who do not live by faith in Christ from chapter
1:18 through chapter 3:20. The rest of chapter 1 deals with the immoral unrighteous. Chapter 2 deals
with the moral unrighteous and the religious unrighteous with chapter 3 concluding that there are "none
righteous, not even one." Through the rest of the book Paul will be explaining in detail God’s
righteousness in how a person is justified through faith in Jesus Christ as well as explaining the
ramifications of that belief.
God’s righteous is demonstrated in His just punishment of the unrighteous for their sin for they are
responsible for it. The general statement is that the ungodly suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The
proof in verse 19 and 20 is that God has revealed enough of Himself in creation to warrant man’s
seeking after God so that all men are without excuse for their failure to do so. Paul shows in each of the
sections that follow dealing with the immoral unrighteous, the moral unrighteous and the religious
unrighteous how each group suppressed that truth and the resulting consequences. We will dig into each
of those in the coming weeks. This morning we will concentrate just on this opening verse.
The Wrath of God
Our tendency to want to disassociate God from wrath and anger is not just because of our own
aversion to it, but also because a desire to not attribute to God something we perceive as bad. In a sense,
we want God to be better than He is, however, God is the definition of all that is good, so if there is a
problem here, it is in our understanding of wrath and anger as necessarily bad things.
God’s wrath and anger against sin is described with many words and examples in the Old Testament
translated as wrath (qetseph), anger (aph), and fury (ebrah) with the underlying Hebrew words meaning
such things as "snorting" (aph), "hot" (chemah), "burning" (charon), "overflowing" (ebrah) and
"quaking" (ragaz). His wrath is described as "burning anger"(Exod. 15:7), "smoke from His nostrils"
and "fire from His mouth" (Ps. 18:18). It can be expressed in pestilence, blood, torrential rain,
hailstones, fire and brimstone (Ezek. 38:22). Because of such descriptions of God’s wrath in the Old
Testament, there have been those that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of Love (1
John 4:8) of the New Testament. However, God’s wrath is also seen in the New Testament.
Consider that John the Baptist and Jesus’ initial message was to "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven
is at hand" (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). John the Baptist castigated the Pharisees and Sadducees for their hypocrisy
and cried out against them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"
and then warned them to "bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" Matt. 3:7,8). Jesus warned that
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the
wrath of God abides on him." Jesus also warned that the gospel message was a stone that would break
into pieces anyone who fell upon it, and it would scatter like dust anyone it fell upon (Matt. 21:44).
Jesus also warned of the judgement resulting in the guilty being cast into outer darkness where their
would be much weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12). Jesus also often warned of hell (11 gospel
references) as a place where the worm does not die and there is unquenchable fire (Mark 9:47,48). It is a
terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). The book of Revelation is
descriptive prophecy of God’s wrath still to come. The description in Rev. 19 of Jesus’ return is not
meek and mild. He returns on a white horse, clothed in a robe dipped in blood with a sharp sword
proceeding from His mouth smiting the nations. That is a picture of wrath. God is the same in both the
Old and New Testament, and wrath is an "essential and inalienable trait" of God (TDNT 5:423).
Our problem is not that God is wrathful, but our attributing that wrath with human qualities. Human
wrath and anger is generally understood as something that boils up and over in violent and often
irrational action. It is as stupid, if not more so, to strike a wall in anger as it is to hit or scream your
opponent, especially if it is a family member whom you profess to love, yet human anger does that.
Anger is a strong emotion, and it often gets the best of us. The New Testament warns us that "But let
everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak [and] slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve
the righteousness of God" (James 1:19,20). The emotion of anger itself is not the problem, but it is our
unrighteous reaction to it. That is why Eph. 4:26,27 tells us, "Be angry, and [yet] do not sin; do not let
the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil and opportunity."
God’s wrath is not like man’s wrath. Yes, God has emotion and anger is an emotion, but God is
always in control of His actions. Even when God’s wrath breaks out, it is never the uncontrolled,
irrational eruptions of actions that mark man. God is and has already demonstrated great patience and
longsuffering with all men. His actions are thoughtful and in keeping with holiness and justice. When
Jesus came into the Temple and found it to be a market place where thievery was taking place instead of
a place of prayer, He did not "lose His temper," He was rather, filled with the righteousness indignation
of affronted holiness and He cleared out the scoundrels forcibly (Matt. 21). If Jesus had lost His temper,
well, you can only imagine what the power of God would be like if it was released in uncontrolled fury.
The particular word translated "wrath" here, ojrgh /orge, as used in the New Testament in
relationship to God is "God’s displeasure at evil, His passionate resistance to every will which is set
against Him, and also His judicial attack [upon them]" (TDNT 5:425).
God’s wrath does not exist by itself. It is part of His nature as are all His other attributes. God is
wrathful because of these other attributes. God’s love does not exclude His wrath, but rather it is the
opposite, for it demands it. Does love tolerate evil against itself and those it extends too? Of course not.
Love resists all attempts to harm those it extends to. What do you do when someone or something tries
to harm your children? God’s goodness also demands His wrath. Goodness does not overlook evil but
rather resists it, seeks to change it and pursues justice. God is just, and He would be unjust if He did not
bring about judicial consequences on those who do evil. Could God be considered loving, good and just
if the final end of the unrepentant sinner and the saint were the same? For example, Adolph Hitler,
Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, the men who crashed the planes on September 11 compared to
the apostles and the Christians these men murdered? God is righteous, but He would be unrighteous if
He was not displeased by evil. God is sovereign, but His sovereignty would be in question if He did not
subdue those who resist His will. Consider finally that the greatness of God’s grace and mercy is
revealed in the greatness of His wrath. The contrast between the punishment you deserve and the
blessings you receive is that greatness.
The Revelation of God’s Wrath
Paul says here in Romans 1:18 that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven. The sense of heaven here
is not the physical location, as in lightning coming down from the sky to strike the sinner, though that
does happen, it is heaven in the sense of the origin of God’s wrath. Heaven is the throne of God (Mt.
5:34) from which God issues His decrees to be carried out (Job 1; Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1). The
distinction here is that God does not have to carry out His wrath personally, but that He directs His wrath
to be carried out, and He can do that in several different ways.
We have already mentioned weather phenomena as a revelation of God’s wrath. In Exodus 9, in the
seventh plague upon Egypt, God sends thunder, lightning and hail as judgement upon them. God has
used wind as both a blessing (Ex. 14:21) or a curse (Ps. 48:7). God sent rain for forty days and broke up
the fountains of the deep when He poured out His wrath on the antediluvian world (Gen. 7). He has also
withheld rain in a drought as part of His wrath (Haggai 1:10,11).
God’s wrath has been revealed in other phenomena as well including the earth splitting open and
swallowing Korah and those with him in rebellion (Num. 26:10), other earthquakes (Isa. 29:6), fire
(Nadab and Abihu – Lev. 10:2), fire and brimstone as rain (Sodom & Gomorrah – Gen. 19), water turning
into blood (Ex. 7), inexplicable darkness (Ex. 10), insect plagues (Gnats – Ex. 8, Locusts – Ex. 10), other
animals (frogs – Ex. 8, snakes – Num. 21, lions – 2 Kgs 17:25), various diseases (boils – Ex. 9, tumors – 1
Sam. 5:6, leprosy – 2 Kgs 5:27, etc.), famine (Deut. 32:24), and barrenness (Gen. 20:18).
God also uses men to carry out His wrath. When the nations surrounding Israel attacked and
suppressed Israel, it was generally recognized as part of God’s wrath. God used nations such as the
Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Assyria, and Babylon to punish Israel for turning away from Him, just as
they had been warned (Dt. 28).
God also uses angels. The Lord used "the destroyer" to stride dead the first born in the first Passover
(Exod. 12) and those that grumbled in the wilderness wanderings (1 Cor. 10:10). It was an angel of the
Lord that brought the pestilence that killed 70,000 at David’s census (2 Sam. 24) and an angel of the
Lord that struck down 185,000 Assyrians (Isaiah 37). Revelation states that it will be angels that will
blow the trumpets and pour out the bowls of God’s wrath. God also uses evil angels including Satan as
instruments of His wrath. The Lord used a deceiving spirit to bring about the death of Ahab (1 Kg 22),
and sent an evil spirit to cause Abimelech and the men of Shechem to destroy each other in response to
their murder of Jerubbaal’s seventy sons (Jdg 9). Satan will be used to deceive the nations and gather
them together for a final battle after which he and his followers will be thrown into the lake of fire and
then the Great White Throne judgement takes place (Rev. 20).
A final way in which God reveals His wrath has been alluded to, but it is in the natural consequences
of sin. Failure to live according to God’s commands and following those who are evil results in negative
consequences. God does not have to directly intervene in some way to bring about His wrath, He can
also do so by staying His hand and letting the consequences of sin flow. God’s judgement of Ephraim
was that he was joined to idols and to "leave him alone" (Hosea 4:17). Jesus’ judgement on the
Pharisees was the same. They were blind guides of the blind and to "let them alone" (Matt. 15:14). Paul
will demonstrate this truth throughout the rest of Romans 1. God "gave them over" (vs. 24, 26, 28) to the
sin that was in their hearts, and that sin will bring its own punishment (cf. Psalm 81:12). To be
abandoned by God and left to your sin is a horrible and hopeless state.
In our scientific age, people want to explain away weather phenomena and other natural phenomena
as just the way nature works. However, God still does use these things, as well as the actions of men and
angels, to reveal His wrath in our own time. For all that Television gets wrong, at least the History
Channel’s series, The Wrath of God, is properly named. The most common revelation of God’s wrath,
though, is still this latter way of simply allowing the consequences of sin to come upon those who
The Recipients of God’s Wrath
Who are the targets of God’s wrath? The examples already given have shown it, but Paul is very
definitive here. God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, the
ones suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
Ungodliness and unrighteousness are not two separate groups, but the twin characteristics of those
who suppress the truth in righteousness. They are both ungodly and unrighteous.
Ungodly (ajsevbeian /asebeian) means to be without reverence for God. This is not in the sense of
irreligious, but rather in acting in dispute or defiance of God’s demands. The particular word is thought
to have its origin in the negation of the word sebomai/ sebomai which means to worship, so it is a
negation of worship. It is the opposite of godliness, eujsebeiva" /eusebeias which is the conjunction of
good and worship. Ungodliness invariably leads to false worship, not no worship, because man will
worship something even if it is only himself and thoughts. Paul will deal with such false worship over
the next couple of chapters.
The characteristics of ungodliness are seen in the passages in which the word is used. In 1 Tim. 19-10 the ungodly are listed alongside the lawless, the rebellious, sinners, the unholy and profane, those
who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, immoral men, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers,
and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching. In 2 Timothy 2:16, worldly [and] empty chatter are
listed as things that will lead to further ungodliness. 2 Peter 5 describes the pre-flood world as
"ungodly." Other passages describing that period show that the people had hearts for evil (Gen. 6:5), but
that basically, they were just living their lives without much thought of God’s commands or warnings
(Matt. 24:28). A time that in many ways is much like our own. Peter and Jude both warn that there will
be such ungodly people in the last days and that judgement by fire awaits them (2 Peter 3:7; Jude 14-18).
Unrighteous (ajdikiva // adikia) is also translated as evil doer, iniquity and wickedness. It is the
negation of jdikh / dik, which means to be "right." It is that which does not conform to what is right. It
is the opposite of loving and obeying the truth (Rom. 2:8; 1 Cor. 13:6) and so is the opposite of the
character of God. It includes deeds of violating the law and justice.
Ungodliness and unrighteousness are closely related in that neither will follow God’s commands, but
ungodly is more directed against the person of God and unrighteous against the standards of character
and conduct which flow from God’s character. The ungodly want to make up a god for themselves, and
the unrighteous want to live by their own standards. Ungodliness always leads to unrighteousness
because a person who is not following God will not follow His commands.
An important point to note here is that God’s wrath is against all who are ungodly and unrighteous.
God does not have a list of acceptable and unacceptable sin. To Him, all sin is sin and is deserving of
His wrath. As James 2:10 points out, failing in one area of God’s law makes you guilty of all. Any
violation against His person or His standards brings His condemnation. Through the next couple of
chapters, Paul will show that all people have violated God’s commands and are therefore unrighteous
and condemned. You might do better than others, but the standard is perfection, and no one meets it. It is
like trying to swim across the Atlantic ocean. Most will not make it very far, a few might make it out of
the sight of land, and a very few even 30 or 40 miles, but the distance is so far, there is no hope of
anyone swimming it.
The Righteousness of God’s Wrath
There are those that will attack God as unfair and unjust to set standards so high that no person can
meet them and then to bring His wrath to bear upon them. However, as Paul points out here, man is
completely responsible for is own failure and incurring God’s wrath for it is against those suppress the
truth in unrighteousness. This is a present active participle which means this is an on going action these
people are doing in the present time. Paul explains further this suppression of the truth in verses 19-32
and we will expand on that next week. The point here is simply this. God made the knowledge of
evident to them, but they have suppressed that knowledge of God in their unrighteous. They do not
desire to live by God’s standards, so they also reject the knowledge of Him. God has promised that those
who seek Him will find Him when they search with all their heart (Jer. 29:13), but the plain fact is that
no one does that on their own. People love their sin too much. It is this very fact that reveals God’s
righteousness in both His wrath on the ungodly and the salvation He grants on the basis of faith in Jesus
Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no hope. There will only be God’s just and righteous wrath. But in
Jesus Christ, there is hope even for the ungodly and unrighteous, for it was for such people Christ died.
Rom. 5:6 "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." Titus 3:3-7
further explains, "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various
lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the
kindness of God our Savior and [His] love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of
deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration
and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to [the] hope of eternal life."
Man cannot earn salvation, for his ungodliness and unrighteousness condemn him, but he can receive
it as a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ who took the wrath of God upon Himself in
paying the penalty of our sin that we, the unrighteous, might be made righteous in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
What man could not and would not do for Himself, God, in His righteousness, has done through Jesus.
If you are not saved, then be warned that God’s wrath abides upon you and its final expression will
be judgement at the Great White Throne and eternal separation from God in Hell. It is time to quit
suppressing the truth God has given you. Turn from your sin to Him and place your faith in Jesus Christ
as the substituted payment and begin your walk with Him.
If you are saved, then praise God for it, for you did not earn it yourself. And be sure that you are
telling others what God has done for you, and in so doing, also declaring His righteousness.