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, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
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, 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.
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus led to the gospel being proclaimed to all nations. Of the twenty-one letters in the New Testament, thirteen were written by the apostle Paul. The clearest explanation of the gospel in the entire Bible is given to us in the book of Romans, and over these next five sessions we will discover more of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
In our journey through the Bible, we have seen repeatedly that God is love, and this 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. 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: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9 NIV). These are two sides of the same coin. If we do not hate what is evil, we do not love what is good. True love hates all that destroys the one who is loved.
God is love and He is holy. He is also sovereign. This means that He is absolutely in control of all things. There is no place where He is not present, no task that He cannot accomplish, and no permission that He needs to seek.
The mother whose son was dying from cancer was relentless in her opposition to what was destroying him, but she did not have the power to overcome it.
God is relentless in His opposition to evil, and He is able to overcome its destructive power. He can rescue 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.
God is love, and 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” (1:24–28).
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. 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.
If you see impurity or dishonorable passions in your heart, you may wonder: “Has God given me up? And if God has given me up, does that mean that there is no hope for me?”
No one is beyond hope. That is why Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” (1:16). The gospel is the way God saves people who have been overwhelmed by the power of their own sins.
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 kindness is that we should come to Him in repentance.
“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” (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.
God’s wrath is being revealed in part today, and 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. As we will see in the next session, this is the meaning of the word “propitiation.” Paul speaks of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (3:24–25). 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.
God found a way of separating the sins He hates from the people He loves by laying these sins on Jesus. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become righteous of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
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). 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.
Remember the woman holding the crystal vase. 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.
To be under God’s judgment and dismissed from His presence forever would be the ultimate disaster. No other suffering could ever compare with this. So why would you live with wrath stored up for you when it was spent on Jesus? Why would you trust your own feeble attempt at righteousness when God is ready to count the righteousness of Jesus as yours? Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask Him to have mercy on you and make you a new and different person.
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).
- When have you experienced in your own life loving someone and, at the same time, hating what destroys them?
- Do you find it difficult to believe that God can be angry? Why or why not?
- How is God’s wrath expressed in the world today, according to the Bible?
- How would you answer a person who says, “God has given up on me”?
- “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). How would you respond to this amazing truth?