“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” ()
When we think of the wrath of God, we think of great natural catastrophes, earthquakes, fires and storms. Certainly the raging of a storm or the violence of an earthquake are terrifying in their scope and force.
However, this conception of the wrath of God is not what we see in chapter one of Romans. Romans chapter one paints a picture of God's wrath that is different from our natural perception of what wrath looks like. This picture of God's wrath is given to us to help us understand why we need God's righteousness as revealed in the gospel. It helps us understand why we need salvation in the first place. In order to help us understand, Romans 1:18-32 starts out by showing us whom God's wrath is directed against and why God's wrath is directed against them. It also shows us what that wrath looks like, but in this article we will only consider the who and why, reserving the "what is looks like" for its own article.
Romans 1 starts out with a wonderful declaration of the good news, the gospel. Romans 1:16 is a powerful verse as it says:
“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.” ()
The power of God for salvation to everyone who believes is good news. Salvation is a gift. Romans 6:23 tells us, “...the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God revealed His love by giving His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16). However, as good as this good news is, there is a reason why it is necessary for God to provide salvation. This is why the Apostle Paul writes what he does in Romans 1:18 and following.
Salvation is necessary because the wrath of God is being revealed.
The sense of the phrase “the wrath of God is revealed” (ESV) is that it is being revealed. It is presently being revealed. To reveal in this case means it is being uncovered or made clear. This uncovering and unveiling was happening at the time Paul was writing and it continues to this day. We can also understand from this that this unveiling of God's wrath has been a continual process since the fall and the Garden of Eden.
Romans 1:18 says that this wrath is directed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Men in this context is referring to all of humanity. In other words, no one is excluded. This also means that you and I are included. We all are unrighteous and ungodly. We live in an ungodly, unrighteous world, and as part of this world we all have sinned. The conclusion Paul is working toward is expressed in Romans 3:10 is:
When we talk about the wrath of God, we are tempted to think of the many evils in the world around us and think of how right the wrath of God is to be directed against those things of which we disapprove. We all are tempted to see ourselves as superior to others. However, Paul is not writing to make us aware of what other people are doing. He is writing to wake us up to our own unrighteousness and ungodliness. We must apply these words to ourselves and avoid the temptation to apply these words to other people. Romans 2:1 points this out when it says:
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” ()
Again, let me remind us that when the text says, “You have no excuse, O man...”, it is referring to everyone. It could say, “O person.” Ladies, I apologize for referring to you as “O man,” but that is just the way people used to talk. The author’s purpose is not to single out a certain group of people, rather he is pointing out the human condition. In other words, what he is saying is true of every person, and all of humanity.
Salvation is necessary because everyone is under God’s wrath without exception. The “power of God to salvation” (the Gospel) is needed by everyone.
When Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,” it gives the reason why God’s wrath is revealed.
His wrath is against ungodliness and unrighteousness, and it is against these because by their unrighteousness they suppress the truth.
So, what truth do they suppress? The truth they suppress is the truth about God. Verse 19 starts out, “ For what can be known about God is plain to them.” Therefore, we see that the truth we are talking about concerns what can be known about God. Verse 20 expands on this by saying that His role as creator is denied. Then verse 20 speaks of the fact that they take it a step further and refuse to honor Him as God. It goes even further in saying that they replace God with idols. This is the very definition of ungodliness. They remove God from His creation, and then replace Him with idols.
Please notice with me that Romans 1:18 does not say they suppress the truth by their ungodliness. It is their unrighteousness that suppresses the truth. Their ungodliness is the result of the suppression of the truth. Ungodliness can be defined as being without God. The problem of suppressing the truth by unrighteousness is seen in the absence of God in our lives.
Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." () In this statement, He declares Himself to be the truth. Without God, there is no truth. If we reject God, we can say with Pilate, "What is truth?" For example, if we are the result of random chance and accident shaping us over time, how can we trust our intellects as these also are the results of chance and circumstances? The argument presented here would take its own book to develop fully, but the point is that apart from God we can have no confidence in what truth is.
In Romans 1:18-32, the truth about God is said to be clear. Verse 19 says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them.” The problem with believing in God is not a problem of logic or intellect. It is a problem of the heart.
From the time of the Garden of Eden to the present, this has shown itself to be true. In Genesis 3, when the man and the woman ate the fruit, they knew that they were naked and hid from God, sowing fig leaves together to hide their shame. Since that time, we all hide from the truth, suppress the truth, lie and equivocate to avoid the truth. Because of this we deceive ourselves. The problem of believing in God has never been a problem of evidence, logic or reason. It has always been and always will be a problem of the heart and of the will.
Because of our refusal to accept the truth, we are subject to ever worsening deceit. The Holy Spirt, working through the Church, holds back the evil and continues to proclaim the truth. 2 Thessalonians warns of a day when this restraint is removed, when deceit will have its way. Then it says:
“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” (, ESV)
The perishing will suffer ever worse deception as they refuse to love the truth. This is also the truth pointed out by Jesus in John 3:19 and following where he says:
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” ()
This is the natural result of unrighteousness, and we all have the same problem. Our unrighteousness results in ungodliness. The results of ungodliness are expressed in verse 21 of Romans 1 as:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him...
This is the “why” of the wrath of God, ungodliness that results in not honoring Him as God and in a lack of gratitude.
The picture painted in Romans 1:18-32 is one of a willing, rebellious and obstinate refusal to acknowledge that which is obvious, the power and presence of God in all that He has created.
It is this rebellion that makes the “power of God to Salvation” necessary. God unveils or reveals His wrath to lead us to repentance. Jesus is coming again, and when He does it will be a day of wrath for those who are perishing. However, God holds back because He desires everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3: says:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ()
The good news is good because there is bad news. The bad news is that the wrath of God is as certain as the good news. By faith, anyone can ask God to be saved, and He will save that person who trusts in Jesus.