A couple of days ago we summarized Romans 1:1-17. Today I want to start a difficult part to share part of the end of the first chapter of Romans. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” (Rom 1:16-19)
I was listening to a sermon on the first chapter the other day and I heard something that stuck with me. Whenever we go to a jeweler, they will lay out a black velvet cloth to put their diamonds to show us. The reason is because the light that shines through the diamonds is best seen against the darkness. The greatest light is the gospel message of Christ for everyone who believes in Him as their Lord and Savior by faith, Jesus’s righteousness is placed over us so that we are justified—made right with God—and welcomed into God’s family. “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’.” (John 8:12)
The next two verses begins a longer section describing God’s attitude and actions toward human sinfulness. These verses could be considered an answer to the questions, “Why is the gospel such a big deal? Why do human beings need to be declared righteous by God? What do we need to be saved from?” The answer is really simple, because of God’s character and His holiness, our sinful nature separate us from God, so that His face is hidden from us and He refuses to hear our prayers. Closely related to God’s holiness is His wrath which is His holy reaction to evil. The biblical concept of the holiness and wrath of God is that He cannot coexist with sin. Sin cannot approach God, and God cannot tolerate sin.
But because of His great love for us (John 3:16), the Lord made one way (John 14:6) for us to be able to commune with Him, through faith in Jesus Christ as His Son, the Savior of those who would believe. We saw previously (Rom 1:17) that God declares righteous those who come to Him by faith. Later Paul will show that faith must be in Christ and His death for our sins on the cross. Now, though, he shows God’s attitude to those who don’t come to Him by faith in Christ. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” (Rom 1:18-19)
Instead of God’s righteousness, it is His wrath—God’s righteous anger and judgment—that is revealed against sin. God’s wrath comes from heaven, from His essential nature and existence, not some created thing or place. God cannot tolerate ungodliness and unrighteousness. Human beings, apart from God, use their lack of righteousness, their sinfulness, to suppress or hold back the truth about who God is. “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.” (Col 3:5-7)
Unrighteous people—which includes all of us by nature—don’t want to know what is true about God, and they don’t want others to know or believe that, either. It’s important for us to understand that it is each person’s choice to not believe that brings God’s wrath and judgment upon them for eternity. The problem is not that truth is unavailable; the problem is that truth is being suppressed. “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” (Rom 1:20).
Specifically, Paul asserts that we can easily know at least some things about God by looking at creation. Looking at what is visible around us in nature, we can arrive at some obvious conclusions about what is not visible. Adding one and one together, we should understand from nature that God has eternal power and a divine nature. David shared the perfect revelation of the Lord in a psalm (Ps 19:1–6). When we notice from His creation that there must be a Creator, He promises: “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13)
The next few verses show how we choose not to see His truth: “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. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” (Rom 1:21-23) While today we might not create a calf from gold to worship, anything we put before God is idolatry — be it a house, a car, a job, drinking or whatever it is. We become thankful for things, not the provider of all things, which is unrighteous and our thoughts become futile (vain, pointless, worthless). This is why the Lord sent His Son to save us from the futility of our unrepentant minds.