Sunday, September 25, 2011

Romans 1:18-23 – Wrath Revealed

"God is Angry"
Romans 1:18-23

Last week we saw that the righteousness is revealed in the gospel, when those who are justified by faith live by faith. But you need to "hold that thought", because we will be spending several weeks looking at the dark underbelly of humanity, and learn how God really feels about sin.

People who never learned a solid theology, who never spent time studying the holiness of God and what that would mean for His relationship to man are sometimes surprised when they read about the wrath of God. But we should not be surprised; a holy God cannot ignore sin, and a just God must judge sin.

Just as the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel and those redeemed by Jesus; the wrath of God will be revealed in those who turn away from God.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

This "wrath" is a settled, determined response of a righteous God against sin. The word Paul uses here for "wrath" is orge (pronounced orgay); which means up surging indignation. Think of the law of sowing and reaping; every person right now is growing a crop to harvest. Either you are sowing faith to harvest righteousness, or sowing disobedience to harvest judgment.

How does God really feel about sin? The wrath of God for man's sin was experienced by Jesus Himself on the cross. While praying in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus did not sweat drops of blood in anticipation of a Roman cross; rather He sweat drops of blood in anticipation of the stored up wrath of God on man's sin that He would soon bear. Jesus prayed to the Father, "'O My Father, if it is possible, LET THIS CUP pass from Me'" (Matthew 26:39 NKJV).
"This cup" that He was referring to was the cup of God's wrath and fury as described in Isaiah 51:7, Jeremiah 25:15, and Revelation 16:19. On the cross, the full wrath and fury of God was poured out on His only Son for our sin! The wrath that was meant for you, the wrath that was meant for me, was instead thrust onto Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "
For He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (NKJV)! All of God's wrath, that had been stored up against you because of your sin, was absorbed by Jesus on the cross. Jesus, drank the cup of God's wrath on the cross for our sins, turned the cup over and declared, "IT IS FINISHED!"

The whole question of ungodliness and the fact that it is inexcusable is Paul's first major topic in this letter. Ungodliness is a sin against God. We were created in His image; so to not reflect his glory is the highest insult to our Creator.

The false assumption that flaws perception is that man is naturally good. "What about the innocent man in the jungles of Africa who has never heard the name of Jesus?" There is no "innocent" man in Africa or anywhere else. ALL have sinned, and suppressed the truth that God has revealed.

While ungodliness is mainly a sin against God, unrighteousness is not only a sin against God, but also a sin against man. It is the condition of not being right with God or man. Man's first sin in the Garden of Eden separated man from God; his second sin (Cain's murder of his brother Abel) separated man from man (Gen. 3 &4). God is just as angry at man's wrong treatment of his neighbor as He is at man's wrong treatment of his Creator.

God holds all men accountable for certain basic truths; and the deliberate rejection of these truths in unbelief will be judged.

Paul writes that God is angry with men "who SUPRESS the truth in unrighteousness". The word "suppress" here depicts a man struggling to keep a lid closed on a container so that whatever is inside cannot escape. Ungodly and unrighteous man does their best to "keep a lid on" the unmistakable and universal truth that there is a God who is worthy to be praised. Modern atheism celebrates man as an evolved animal, and worships our accomplishments as if we were self created. But god-awareness is built into every man, this is part of the image of God spoken of in Genesis 2, there has never in the history of man been an atheistic civilization, we naturally know in our hearts and conscience that there is a God. This trust is suppressed in unbelievers through dishonesty, deception and corruption.

19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

"because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them."

This is actually a huge and often contentious theological topic; "what can men know of God without the direct revelation of the Holy scriptures"? It is fascinating that every ancient civilization ever found has a religion fully expressed in its culture. Early anthropologist assumed it followed the pattern of Greek mythology where different gods explained different natural phenomena. But more contemporary science has found that many cultures were monotheistic. This natural understanding of God through creation is called duel revelation. So in addition to the direct revelation of scripture we have the general revelation of God in creation, including man's innate god-awareness, and moral conscience.

Psalm 19

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.

2 Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.

3 There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard.


John Calvin wrote, "By saying that God has made it manifest, He means, that man was created to be a spectator of this formed world, and that eyes were given him, that he might, by looking on so beautiful a picture, be led up to the Author Himself."

In Christian Apologetics this is called the teleological argument or the argument from design, but notice Paul recognizes the limits of general revelation, what a man will see from creation are specific attributes of God: Eternal Power – God must be eternal and powerful to make such a vast and ancient creation. I love this because even Big Bang Cosmology observes that the creation event in addition to matter and energy, also created space and time. That means the first cause transcended or, must have existed outside of space and time. Of course this meshes perfectly with Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God".

Godhead (divinity or authority) – Who has the authority to fix the laws of nature? The laws of physics demonstrate that you don't get order out of chaos, in fact the opposite is true, without a constant force to keep it in place, all well ordered systems decay into disorder and chaos.

British atheist and philosopher Anthony flew followed the evidence to become a deist in 2003. Flew stated that "the most impressive arguments for God's existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries" and that "the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it". He also answered in the affirmative to the question, "So of the major theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological, the only really impressive ones that you take to be decisive are the scientific forms of teleology?". He supported the idea of an Aristotelian God with "the characteristics of power and also intelligence", stating that the evidence for it was stronger than ever before.

Needless to say the conversion of Anthony Flew caused quite a stir in the atheist community, but it also perfectly illustrates the limits to Flew's theology that Paul predicted. Although he believed there was a god, he never became a Christian, he never knew Jesus, so his conversion and theology were incomplete. Flew died in 2010 believing in a designed universe, but never knowing its designer. So we need more than just our observations of creation to know God.

Ecclesiastes 3

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. (Back to Romans 1)

21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Mankind's willful blindness leads to wicked beliefs. We willfully ignore (suppress) God's evident existence, and then craft clever imaginations of God, and eventually replace God with idols.

Mans' "foolish heart has been darkened". We profess wisdom, but are in reality fools.

Back when we were studying Acts 13 I told you about a book called "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking. He argued that you don't need god, you don't need religion, you don't even need philosophy, to understand the origins of everything because science has the answer.

At the time I gave you a brief rebuttal to Hawking's ideas, but I recently started reading a Book by John Lennox who was a colleague of Hawking's at Oxford, called "God and Steven Hawking - Who's design is it anyway"? You can get most of his arguments from various lectures he has given on the web if you want to Google videos just search for "John Lennox & Steven Hawking". He raises some of the same arguments to Hawking ideas, I gave you before, but certainly more complete than my 5 minutes. But what is fascinating is how this controversy illustrates what Paul was saying here in Romans 1.

David wrote in Psalm 53:1-3, "1 The FOOL says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. 2 God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one" (NIV). Paul quotes this Psalm in chapter 3 of his letter to the Romans.

Steven Hawking's M-Theory, that supposedly made God obsolete, ran into another problem recently (in addition to the challenges raised by John Lennox). In Europe they have a particle accelerator similar to the one our government tried to build in Waxahachie, and this Large Hadron Collider or LHC was running an experiment to find the Higgs-Boson the so-called "god particle". This was supposed to verify super-symmetry, quantum gravity, and various other parts of M-theory. What the "god particle" was supposed to explain is why some particles have mass or weight, unfortunately the experiment worked, but No Higgs-Boson particle was found, which casts scientific doubt on super-symmetry, and quantum gravity, as working theories and could completely unravel Steven Hawking's M-theory.

What this demonstrates is that anything we glorify or worship in the place of God, becomes an idol in our hearts. In our ungodly and unrighteous attempt to suppress God's truth we have invented all kinds of "gods".

Human depravity is an idol factory.

From man's godless imagination has sprung countless graven images. Travel the world and witness men praying to statues of wood, stone, and precious metals. In other cultures, animals are venerated and worshiped as Gods. In India, a country which contains the highest number of starving people on the planet, 280 million cows roam free. Why? Because 900 million Hindus think they're holy! Whether it's burning incense to a gold Buddha in Burma, praying to one of 330 million deities in Deli, or kissing the feet of a patron saint in San Juan, the graven images of man's imagination plague the world.

Before you begin thinking that verse 23 is describing only the primitive cultures that still worship statues; let me remind you that we in America have our own pantheon of "gods".

We drive our idols. We live in our idols. We worship our bank accounts; and sometimes members of our family (I know people who seem to worship their kids). Some people worship stuff; some people worship status; some people worship society; but mostly we worship OURSELVES. Sometimes our idols are IDEALS that we pursue in place of God. Either way, these are cheap imitations; rusting replacements for a God who is holy and righteous.

God is angry; and rightly so.

Acts 12

21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, "The voice of a god and not of a man!" 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.

Isaiah 42

8 I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.

Questions for discussion:

1. You may have heard the phrase in church "righteous indignation" meaning righteous anger. How can anger be righteous? Why is God's anger (wrath) righteous?

2. We hear people all the time demanding their rights. Our country even calls the first 10 ten amendments of our Constitution the "Bill of Rights". According to the Bible, what does man deserve?

3. Has your view of God changed after studying this passage of Scripture? If so, how?

4. There is an old evangelist saying that "Before you can get people saved you must first get them lost"; how is this idea reflected in Romans 1?

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