The Revelation of God’s Wrath
“For 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
We return to the book of Romans today, picking up our study in 1:18. Thus far in his epistle, Paul has expressed his willingness to come and preach the gospel in Rome so as to edify the Christians there and to receive encouragement from them (1:1–15). Since most of his original audience had never met him personally, the Apostle wrote to explain the gospel he preached. The gospel, which Paul summarizes in 1:16–17, reveals a righteousness from God—on account of Christ’s work—for His people. This gospel tells us, “The one who is righteous by faith shall live.” Those who are declared righteous by God through faith in Christ alone have eternal life (chap. 1–5). This gospel also says, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Those whom the Lord has declared righteous through faith alone live according to faith, persevering in trust to enter God’s presence in their glorification (chap. 6–8).
Having delivered the theme statement of God’s gospel in Romans 1:16–17, Paul begins in verse 18 to answer the question that is implicit in his declaration that the good news is a revelation of divine righteousness by faith: why has our Creator revealed His righteousness, and why is it only by faith that human beings can possess this righteousness? To answer this question, the Apostle sets the gospel against the backdrop of humanity’s sin. In sum, Romans 1:18–3:20 explains that humans are so wicked that the only possible way for them to be reckoned as just before the perfectly holy God is by His amazing grace, which drives us to abandon all hope of meriting His favor and moves us to rest in the promised Messiah alone.
Contrary to the rosy view promoted in many other religions and secular worldviews, humanity is in real and—without repentance—everlasting trouble. Even now, God’s wrath is being “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18). Although Scripture clearly teaches a consummate day of wrath when the Lord will judge the world and cast the impenitent into the lake of fire (Ps. 110:5; Rom. 2:5; Rev. 6:12–17), Paul tells us that God begins pouring out His judgment in anticipation of that great day long before that day arrives. This anticipatory wrath falls from heaven primarily in the Lord’s turning people over to their sin, a concept we will explore in due time (see Rom. 1:24–25). Moreover, the reason for this wrath is found in the fact that mankind actively suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. Human beings apart from divine grace put all of their effort into denying what they know to be true, namely, that God is holy and they are not.
John Murray was one of the most influential Reformed theologians of the twentieth century. In his commentary on Romans, Murray says in his exposition of 1:18 that “wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness.” When sin comes near our holy God, the inevitable consequence is the outpouring of His holy and perfect wrath. Unless we know God’s holiness, we will not know the gravity of our sin or the majesty of His character.
Passages for Further Study
2 Thessalonians 2:9–11