A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Pagan World Under Sentence of Condemnation
As powerful as this gospel is, there is one thing that this gospel cannot do: it cannot save any man until that man sees himself as a guilty, lost, condemned sinner. Therefore, before Paul even begins to talk about God saving sinners, he takes a whole section of his letter to demonstrate that men need the gospel. it is a universal gospel for a universal need. If no one sick, why send for the doctor? If no one is lost, why preach the gospel? If the world of men is not lost, absolutely condemned, then preaching the gospel is foolish.
This next section of the book of Romans deals with condemnation and answers the question, "Is the world really lost?" That section extends from verse 18 of the first chapter to verse 20 of the third chapter. It unfolds logically from the very start through to the end.
This section on condemnation has four distinct movements of thought: 1. the condemnation of the heathen world, 2. the condemnation of the moral man (the better class, so to speak), 3. the condemnation of the religious man (represented by the Jew), and 4. the condemnation of the whole world.
The condemnation of the Heathen World
This condemnation is covered in verses 18 to 32, thus completing chapter one. There are three distinct divisions in this passage: 1. the wrath of God revealed (v. 18), 2. the wrath of God deserved (vv. 19-23), and 3. the wrath of God inflicted (vv. 24-32).
The Wrath of God Revealed
"The wrath of God is revealed," Paul says. What is the wrath of God? The word "wrath" makes most of us think of an arbitrary outburst of temper. But when we speak of "the wrath of God," we do not mean that. The wrath of God is His holy aversion to all that is evil, and His purpose is to destroy it. The wrath of God might be compared to the wrath of the judge of the wrath of the law, for it is proper to speak of "the wrath of the law." If a man murders another man, the wrath of the law will be revealed - he will be punished for his crime. The wrath of God is like that.
The question that arises is, "How is the wrath of God revealed? Where can I see its revelation?" The wrath of God is revealed plainly in three ways:
The wrath of God is revealed in the Bible. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). Throughout the Bible the wrath of God is revealed right alongside the love of God. There are many who would like to omit the wrath of God yet keep the love of God; but the two attributes are inseparable.
The wrath of God is revealed in the Cross of Christ. There is no greater revelation of God's wrath than is revealed in the Cross of Christ at Calvary. When Christ hangs on the Cross and cries, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46), God's wrath against human sin is revealed. Paul says about his gospel, "For therein is revealed the righteousness of God." The place where righteousness is revealed is the Cross. The same place where God reveals His righteousness, He also reveals His wrath, and through His revelation of wrath He brings forth a revelation of an obtainable righteousness.
The wrath of God is revealed in the natural world, and that is the greatest revelation, perhaps, of the wrath of God to a man who rejects the authority of the Bible and the historicity of the Cross. Disease, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, flooding volcanic eruptions, - all are given as warnings of the coming wrath of God.
According to the text this revelation is from heaven. The Bible is from heaven; the Cross of Christ originated from heaven; and the laws of nature also came from heaven.
Something in this verse not apparent to the English reader is that this revelation of God's wrath is a standing revelation. The tense of the verb is "revealed" is the present in the original Greek and might well be translated like this: "The wrath of God is being revealed continuously." Consider how true this is. The Word of God continues to stand in the world. The Cross of Christ, although it occurred nineteen hundred years ago, continues to stand as the great witness of the wrath of God and has stood for the last nineteen hundred years. Similarly, the wrath of God is being revealed continuously upon those who break the laws of God in nature. It is a standing revelation!
Notice the object of God's wrath. Paul, in two words, has summed up all of human sin, placing it in two great divisions: ungodliness and unrighteousness. "Ungodliness" is sin against the "being" of God. "Unrighteousness" is sin against the "will" of God. Man is not only a moral sinner (he is unrighteous), but man is a religious sinner (he is ungodly). The unrighteous man lives as if there were no will of God revealed; the ungodly man lives as if there were no God. That is the relationship between those two things. While unrighteousness has to do with morality - our relation with our fellow man, ungodliness has to do with religion - our relation to a sovereign God.
Some say, "I am righteous; I live a moral life; I do not sin against my fellow men." Such a man - even if he were perfect in that respect, never breaking the laws of man's relationship to man - would still be guilty of ungodliness. It is not enough to keep the laws between man and man for the sake of morality, but h must live righteously for the glory of God, and that is what godliness means. This was the godliness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every righteous act that He performed, every righteous thought He thought, every righteous word He spoke - was all to the glory of God. He was both godly and also righteous!
Paul mentions "ungodliness" first. Here is an evidence of inspiration in the order of these two words, because ungodliness precedes unrighteousness. The first thing the heathen do not do: "They glorified Him not as God" (v. 21). That is ungodliness. In a later verse they are presented as "being filled with all unrighteousness." Their moral decline started with ungodliness! Men have reversed the order, however, in religious teaching. Men are emphasizing primarily righteousness, when in reality everything flows from a godly life. We must first of all worship God, and then our lives will line up in the realm of righteousness.
The eighteenth verse in the King James Version says, "Who hold the truth in unrighteousness." The American Standard Version translates it, "Who hold down the truth in unrighteousness," which is a different thing. The King James Version may be wrong, for this reason: the apostle Paul is talking about why they did not hold the truth. "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie" (v. 25). Obviously, they did not hold it. This translation is more clear: "Who hold down the truth in unrighteousness, or "Who hindereth it in unrighteousness." Sin has a tendency to suppress the truth, and no matter how much truth a man has, it will not manifest itself in his life as long as he continued to disobey God. So at this point the American Standard Version correctly uses the word "hinder" instead of the word "hold."
There is one great thing that can hinder or hold back the operation of the truth of God: unrighteousness in the church. It must be purged out in order that the truth of God may have full freedom to work. There must be righteousness in order that the truth may prevail.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 18 - "The Wrath of God Deserved")