Know the Whole Story
Many people know some stories from the Bible, but not how the narrative fits together. The Bible is one story that begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points to Jesus Christ. Open is your guided journey through this powerful, life-transforming story.
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Greeting

1:1 Paul, a servant1 of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David2 according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Longing to Go to Rome

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,3 that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,4 both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

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 for faith,5 as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”6

God's Wrath on Unrighteousness

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,7 in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 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. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Footnotes

[1] 1:1 For the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface
[2] 1:3 Or who came from the offspring of David
[3] 1:13 Or brothers and sisters. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, the plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters
[4] 1:14 That is, non-Greeks
[5] 1:17 Or beginning and ending in faith
[6] 1:17 Or The one who by faith is righteous shall live
[7] 1:20 Or clearly perceived from the creation of the world

(ESV)

Overview

God’s wrath is the response of His holiness and His love to evil. It is not in God’s nature to be angry, but His anger is provoked by the godlessness and unrighteousness of men and women who suppress the truth that God has clearly revealed. God expresses His wrath by giving people up to their own choice with the result that they become bound by the power of sinful lusts, dishonorable passions, and a debased mind.

But God has sent His Son to deliver us from His wrath. When Jesus died on the cross, He endured the wrath of God for us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

I was fascinated by a commercial that asked, “What do you want the Internet to be?” The point of the ad was that the Internet can be used to support almost any purpose. The Internet is whatever you want it to be.

Some people think about God in the same way. They assume that God is essentially a product of human ingenuity and that writings about Him have been developed throughout history to meet our spiritual need.

It would follow that old ideas about God are as useless and as laughable as technology that is fifty years out of date. It would also follow that no religion could claim that its teaching about God is “the truth” or that the teaching of another religion about God is false. These assumptions have penetrated deep into our culture, with the result that for many people the fundamental question is no longer, “Who is God?” but, “What do you want god to be?”

The attraction of this approach is that we can shape a god who is in favor of everything we pursue and against everything we oppose. Such a god would be like a large-screen projection of ourselves—god created in our image.

But when God introduces Himself in the Bible, He says, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God is not whoever we want Him to be; He is who He is.

God Hates Whatever Destroys You
In our journey through the Bible story, we have discovered repeatedly that God is love. That means that God is absolutely committed to seek the good of all that He has made.

The Bible also tells us that God is holy. This means that God is absolutely opposed to anything that would destroy the objects of His love. God’s holiness is a dimension of His love. You cannot love a person without, at the same time, hating that which would destroy him or her.

I will never forget being with a couple when they were caring for their son who was dying of cancer. One evening, the little boy’s mother said to me, “I hate this cancer.” She said it with venom, and understandably so. The cancer was destroying her son, and she hated what was destroying the object of her love.

Love and hate are often found together as natural partners in the Bible: Let love be genuine. “Hate what is evil” (Romans 12:9 NIV). These are two sides of the same coin. If we do not hate what is evil, there is no sincerity in our love. The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference. True love hates all that destroys the one who is loved. This is why God cannot and will not leave the world as it is. To do so would be a denial of His love.

God is sovereign. This means that He is absolutely in control of all things. There is no fact that He does not know, no place where He is not present, no task that He cannot accomplish, and no permission that He needs to seek. God is relentless in His opposition to evil, and He is able to overcome its destructive power.

The problem for the mother whose son was dying from cancer was that she did not have the power to overcome what was destroying him. She tried everything she could to separate the person she loved from the cancer that was destroying him, but she could not do it. So her love was frustrated. But God is able to do all things. He is able to recover the people He loves from the sin that destroys, and His love will never be frustrated.

What Makes God Angry?
God’s wrath is His settled resolve that evil will not stand, and we should thank God for it. What hope would we have of peace in a world stalked by terror if God merely looked on with a weak smile, or a disapproving frown? Hope for a world whose history is strewn with evil and violence lies in a God who is relentlessly opposed to all evil and has the will and the power to destroy it.

It is not in God’s nature to be angry. God is love. That is His nature and His love is not provoked. God does not love us because He sees goodness, wisdom, or beauty in us. The reason God loves us lies in His nature, not in ours. He loves you because He loves you, and you can never get beyond that (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

But God’s anger is different. Anger is not in His nature. If there were no sin in the world, there would be no wrath in God. So the Bible never says that God is wrath. It tells us that He is slow to anger (Psalm 103:8), and the Bible story demonstrates His great patience toward an evil world. But God can be provoked to anger, and His anger is provoked by godlessness and unrighteousness.

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). A godless person is one who doesn’t want anything to do with God, and an unrighteous person is one who refuses to obey God. The godless and unrighteous person is someone who says to God, “I don’t want to know You and I will not obey You.”

In order to sustain this response to God, a person must “suppress the truth” that God has revealed about Himself in the beauty and grandeur of creation. Imagine pressing down on a powerful spring. You have to put your whole weight on the spring to keep it compressed, and it takes energy to do that. If you let up for a moment, the spring will recoil.

In the same way, it takes energy to keep resisting God. Those who want nothing to do with God have to work hard at avoiding Him because His revelation is all around us. He has made His divine power and His glory known in the splendors of creation (1:20).

God Lets People Go
The “wrath of God” is not a random rage, and we should never think of God losing control or lashing out in acts of frustration. God’s wrath is expressed in giving people up to what they choose: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity … God gave them up to dishonorable passions … God gave them up to a debased mind” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28).

When an individual or a community says, “We do not want God and we will not obey God,” God expresses His wrath by standing back and allowing them to live with the full reality of their own choice.

Imagine a woman holding a crystal vase high above her head. If she “gives it up,” it will become subject to the pull of gravity. It will fall like a stone, and it will shatter. That is what happens when God “gives up” the godless and the unrighteous.

When God gives people up, the godless and the unrighteous find themselves at the mercy of powers that are greater than themselves—sinful lusts, dishonorable passions, and a debased mind (1:24, 26, 28). When God gives people up, society goes into a kind of moral free-fall to its own destruction.

Storing Up Wrath
God’s wrath is already being revealed, but only in part. History is riddled with evils that have never been brought to justice and lies that were never brought to light. But it will not always be so. God shows great patience toward us, and the purpose of His patience and kindness is that we should come to Him in repentance. But there will be a day when God’s full hostility toward all that destroys the objects of His love will be revealed.

“Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4–5).

There are many things that we may want to store up, but wrath is not one of them. God will destroy all that destroys us, and the only hope is that there should be a separation between us and the sin that would otherwise destroy us.

We have seen that God’s wrath is being revealed in part today, and that it is being stored up for the day when His righteous judgment will be revealed toward those who refuse to repent. But the Bible speaks about a third occasion when the wrath of God was revealed.

God’s Wrath at the Cross
God presented Jesus as the One on whom His wrath was poured out. That’s what the word “propitiation” means. Paul speaks of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Romans 3:25). God’s relentless opposition to all that destroys us was poured out on the Lord Jesus Christ when He died on the cross.

When the wrath of God toward sin was poured out on Jesus, it was drained and exhausted for all who trust in Him. God says, “I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you” (Ezekiel 7:8). Spent means “gone,” and this takes us to the heart of what happened at the cross. God’s wrath toward sin was poured out or spent on Jesus when He became the propitiation for our sins.

The reason the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus was that for our sake God “made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God found a way of separating the sins He hates from the people He loves by laying these sins on Jesus.

God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Notice the phrase: “gave him up”! God took His hand off His Son. Christ was dropped into hell and He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Remember the woman holding the crystal vase above her head. When she gives it up with her right hand, it seems certain that the vase will be smashed. But if she catches it with her left hand, the vase will be saved.

That’s what God does for us in Jesus Christ. He saves us from the sins that would otherwise lead to our destruction. You do not have the power to separate yourself from your sin, but Jesus Christ can make that separation for you. Sin has been dealt with at the cross.

Christ, the object of the Father’s love, became the object of His wrath because we, the objects of His wrath, were also the objects of His love.

  1. When have you experienced in your own life – loving someone, and at the same time, hating what destroys them?
  2. Where does God’s love come from? How about His anger?
  3. How is God’s wrath expressed in the world today?
  4. What are the three ways that the wrath of God is revealed? Pick one of them and talk about what it means to you, personally.
  5. Think about the illustration of the crystal vase and the role(s) that God plays. What is your reaction to this?
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