The Revelation of Wrath pt 1
THE REVELATION OF WRATH (ROM 1:18-20)
What is the greatest problem that mankind faces?
· Not violence and crime and war – but what causes it.
· Not sickness and disease and death – but what causes it
· Not poverty and famine and oppression – but what causes it
What is the greatest problem that mankind faces? Is it something outside of us or something within us? Is it a threat from without or a threat from within?
This morning we continue our study through the letter to the Romans, so you can turn in your Bibles to Rom 1:18 at a passage which unequivocally answers these questions.
Listen to the Word of God which is living and active and totally true….
Read Rom 1:18-32
What is the greatest problem that mankind faces? It is indwelling sin and the reaction of God against it. Our greatest problem is within and out – it is the sin within and the holy God without that is compelled to war against it.
So this morning we will consider 1: The reality of divine wrath 2: the nature of human sin.
Let’s first consider the external problem, the reality of divine wrath in verse 18
1: The reality of DIVINE wrath (1:18)
Vs 18 says the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven.
A) What is the nature of this wrath?
A simple definition of God’s wrath – Gods holy war against sin and those who perpetrate it.
Divine wrath, God's wrath.
“wrath is the holy revulsion of God's being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness” (Murray)
“As long as God is God, He cannot behold with indifference that His creation is destroyed and His holy will trodden underfoot. Therefore He meets sin with His mighty and annihilating reaction” (Nygren, in Moo, Romans, pg 94)
b) Against who or what is this wrath directed?
Sin of humankind.
The rest of the text gives us a very vivid picture of exactly what the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men looks like. Here it describes what the unrighteousness of man looks like and in chapter 2 and 3 it’s going to explain who is guilty of it. 3:10 says “none is righteous, no not one; no one understand, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
So if we take the whole argument into account we can answer the question “Against who is God’s wrath directed?” Against all of mankind in all of their sinfulness. We are all guilty of sin therefore we are all objects of divine wrath.
c) When is this wrath revealed?
● Scripture speaks of “the great and terrible day of the Lord” when God's wrath will be fully and finally manifested at the end of the age.
● It speaks of a place of eternal immeasurable suffering where the wrath of God will be fully and eternally realized.
● But here the text says that the wrath of God is presently being revealed.
● As I mentioned last week, this term “revealed” in this context is not talking about knowledge or truth or information that is being disclosed, but activities and plans of God that are being enacted. And this is a present tense action so it is saying that God’s wrath, God’s anger, His indignation, and judgement are currently being expressed against or enacted against sinners now, as we speak.
● Although the worst of God's wrath is reserved for the future – yet it is already being manifested – God is already making holy war against sin, now as we speak.
HOW IS THIS WRATH EXERCISED?
What is the repeated refrain, “Therefore God gave them up”…24, 26, 28b = Hand someone over, give someone up to be taken captive. Notice the past tense of this verb – God gave them up. People sinned in various ways against God, people refused to turn away from their sin to God but instead turned away from God to their sin – therefore God gave them up to their sin, God gave them over to their sin.
It is a mercy when God restrains sin, it is a judgement when He leaves people to pursue their sin unhindered.
God puts governments in this world to restrain people from giving full expression to their sin, he puts parents in this world and gives them authority to restrain children from giving full expression to their sin, he brings catastrophes into this world, like Tsunami’s and earthquakes and pestilence to stop sin from spreading to and overtaking the whole human race as it did in the days of Noah. But in the lives of individuals and of families and of companies and communities and countries who continually and persistently turn from Him to their sin – there comes a point where God decides, in judgement, to give people over to their sin, to be consumed by it.
vs 27 - Receive in themselves the due penalty. God leaves sin to run its course and wreak its havoc and destruction in our lives – very real consequences for this kind of rampant, unchecked sin – AIDS and other diseases, wars, abuse, addictions and death. Sin does so much damage on every level when its left unchecked.
Application: parents/ children
I want to stop for a moment and speak to parents and children, or to teachers and school children, or to any of you whom God is placed in authority over others in any capacity. Part of your God ordained role is to restrain sin in the lives of those entrusted to you – to the degree that you are able.
Parents and children – you must understand that your relationship is going to be characterized by struggle and strife as your sin pulls you in one direction and your parents pull you in the other. When Christian parents impose rules and punishments, it ought to be with a view to restraining our children in their sin. And children – it is for your good. We are trying to protect you from yourself. And parents, when you are tempted to give up and give in and just leave your children to do whatever it is that they want, that they keep pushing for – remember that is a judgment…
Permissive parents are not loving parents, it is not a sign a love to fail to discipline and instruct and restrain sin and certainly not to keep just keep peace in the home. When you stop warring against your children’s sinful desires – who is going to fight for them?
So this is the reality of divine wrath: God is now already beginning to rise up in outrage against all that is against His holy character, which means it is directed against all of humankind and there is no escape. Our problem is both within and without. It’s indwelling sin and how it insights God righteous response against it.
2: The NATURE OF HUMAN SIN (19-32)
Look at my sin problem
I have read and studied and meditated upon and taught his passage many many times and to be honest, whenever I have looked at it, I have marveled at how aptly is describes the corruption and decadence we so clearly see in the world around us. The world we live in is a mess and this passage describes so well why and how.
But that is not how God wants us to read this passage. God didn’t inspire this text so that we could primarily point fingers at the world out there and say Ohh, look at how terrible they are, look at how ugly these sins are and how pervasive and perverted. Look at how dumb they are.
· Look at Rom 2:1 at what God says through Paul just after he gives this description. “You have no excuse o’ man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you are condemning yourself because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
We are not supposed to be looking at the problem out there, but the problem in here….God is giving us insight here into the depth of depravity in our own hearts. Apart from the gospel, apart from Jesus Christ, this is who we are and what we become. And as a constant reminder of this, God allows the remnants of the flesh to remain in us so we will never forget what Christ has saved us from and saved us for.
Journey from temptation to sin
To put it another way – God is describing here, what the journey from temptation into sin looks like, what are the features and characterstics and milestones along the way. Before we were Christians, we took frequent and long journeys down this pathway, in fact, we basically lived on the road. Through the gospel, God has brought us back home, but even as Christians, we continue to journey down these old roads – less frequently and for shorter periods, but enough to remind us that apart from the grace of God – there go I….
So I want you to have this perspective as we look at how God describes the key elements or features of this journey of sinners. This should be a great help to us as we face temptation because every time we give in to temptation and sin – we are taking this journey, we are following this process, we are allowing ourselves to be lead astray and choosing to rebel in these same ways.
I’ve taken the whole text and grouped it into repeated themes which feature throughout.
Corrupt thinking, misdirected worship, dishonourable passions, degraded bodies, broken relationships.
Corrupt thinking – we exchange the truth of God for a lie
· 18: Who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. We actually force it down and cover it over with lies…. We silence truth, we close our ears to it, we don’t want to hear it, or be confronted by it.
· 21: they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened, claiming to be wise they became fools. There’s a folly to sin, the truth is plain for everyone to see, except the sinner who has become self-deceived, who is fully convinced by his own lies. It is plain for everyone to see that I am a white man – but I believe and insist that I am a black women and who are you to tell me otherwise.
· 25: Because they exchange the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and serve the creature rather than the creator. There is a deliberate swapping here, a deliberate choice to reject the truth and replace it with an alternative story line. We don’t just reject the truth and avoid the truth, but we make up lies to replace it, to neutralize it, we willfully and deliberately set about to deceive ourselves.
· 28: Because they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind, a perverted mind, a disfunctional mind – eventually we lose the ability to think straight at all and our thinking has a bent toward all that is evil and wrong and untrue.
Application: truth matters
Truth matters! Truth is the one thing that can arrest the relentless march to sin. If anything is going to stop sinners in this path, it’s the truth of God.
· Jesus said in Jn 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life”
· He said in Jn 8:32 “You will know the truth and truth will set you free”
· And in Jn 14:16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
· That is why, as believers we need to saturate our minds in God’s truth, to study it and understand it and apply it to the lies we believe. We need to be continually speaking the truth to one another in love and helping one another to discern the world and the devil’s lies.
Every time we are tempted and fall into sin – we have been believing and convincing ourselves of some lie. We have been lying to ourselves: I can’t help myself, I don’t need this, I don’t have to put up with this, my parents don’t really love me and know what is best for me, I must have this or I can’t be happy, this is who I am.
I don’t know the lies you keep telling yourself, only that they are powerful, tailor-made distortions of reality, of what God says, designed to justify your sin – and you repeat these little ditties to yourself over and over every day.
2: Misdirected worship – a value exchange
So we have a truth exchange and a value exchange. This all comes down to idolatry, to false worship. Instead of worshipping God, we find something else to worship, and worship has everything to do with what we value, what we hold in high regard, of supreme worth. We give ourselves to what we worship, we give our time and money to it, we serve it and sacrifice for it. We hold what we worship in high regard, as of supreme worth and therefore worth giving ourselves to.
· 19: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
· Vs 21: Although they knew God, they did not honour Him as God, or give thanks to him. They no longer give God the honour, the value due His name and His character.
· Vs 23: They exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man. It’s a value exchange, a ridiculously foolish one – the glory, the weightiness, the supreme value of the immortal God in exchange for wood and clay and worms.
· Vs 25: They exchange the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator.
We were created for God, to worship Him to give ourselves to Him, to use our time and talents to serve Him. And He is the one in whom all blessing is found, He is forever blessed, eternally blessed. True and abiding fullness is found in the worship of God and in serving Him. But instead we try to find blessedness and fullness and happiness and significance in other things.
Worship has to do with what we value, what we find to be of greatest value and importance and worth. Idolatry, then is a value exchange.
idolatry in india
I never really understood Hinduism until I visited India and saw it in action. Hinduism is the religion of that nation. 1.2 billion people serving 33 million different gods. They come in every shape and size and are worshipped in every conceivable way, by all different kinds of rituals and sacrifices – but behind it all lies one simple perspective. You, the god, have something that I want and so I have to make some offering, or follow some ritual, or say some mantra, or find some way to make you give me what I want. There are gods of fertility, gods of prosperity, gods of protection and health. Multiple gods to accommodate every conceivable thing that people desperately want and believe they need.
Many forms of so called Christianity, much of what passes as Christian worship in Christian churches today is no different. Jesus is nothing more than a means to get what we really want – health, wealth, prosperity, protection. And Jesus and His name is used like some kind of magical incantation that we can recite in order to try to manipulate God to serve us. We’ve exchanged the many idols of Hinduism with the one true God, but we don’t really worship Him. He is not the object of our worship and devotion and affection. He is not of supreme worth. We don’t live to serve Him and make much of Him. He lives to serve us and make much of us and our worship is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate God to give us what we really worship.
Christian churches throughout Africa and the world are full of idolaters.
When serving God is difficult or inconvenient, when God doesn’t give us what we want, when His commands get in the way of me doing what I want and getting what I want – then I quite quickly and easily dismiss them. When I’m willing to sin against God in order to get what I want – money, or comfort, pleasure, or to protect my reputation, or advance my career, or secure my happiness, or advance my personal health and well-being – then I have just revealed what my idol is, what I truly worship and for many of us, our hearts have more idols than Hinduism and we serve them with greater passion and commitment than any Hindu.
To stop going down these pathways that lead to sin we have to stop believing the lies and stop prizing other things and stop living by our feelings.
Corrupt thinking, misdirected worship
3: Dishonourable passions
Sin not only corrupts our thinking and distorts our value system, but it perverts our passions, it distorts our emotions and desires. And let’s not confuse these two things. We get most emotional about the things we value the most. We pursue with passion and zeal the things we value the most, so our passions are revealing something about what we value. We can get extremely angry if someone steals from us because we value our things, or if someone insults us because we value our reputation. We can get extremely sad when we lose a loved one because we value them, they were precious to us. And those kinds of emotions and feelings are not always bad. But sin corrupts our passions, our emotions, our feelings so that they are directed toward the wrong things. What we desire and how much we desire it, becomes distorted.
· 24 God gave them up in the lusts of their heart to impurity. The impure unclean things that they strongly desired in their hearts – God gave them.
· 26 God gave them up to dishonourable passions. Perverse, corrupt, inappropriate, disproportionate passions become the order of the day.
· 27: The text highlights the corruption of sexual desires not because it’s the worst kind, or the most pervasive kind, but because it’s the most obvious kind… It is very clear what God’s design and intention for sexual desire was meant to be. God created two genders, men and women, to complement one another and to enjoy intimacy in relation to one another. It’s obvious to anyone with even the most basic understanding of our anatomy how these two genders are different and how they are supposed to come together in fulfillment of love and intimacy and sexual desire. But because of sin, these natural, God ordained desires become corrupted and men lust after other men and women lust after other women and God’s design is corrupted. And these passions become all controlling and all consuming – vs 27 “They were consumed with passion for on another” or “burned with desire” as some translations put it. And the determined fulfillment of these corrupt desires leads people to use and misuse their bodies in the most degrading, demeaning and disgusting ways, which I will not describe for the sake of innocent ears, but which are hinted at in vs 27 “men committing shameless acts with men, and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
· Let’s not elevate these kinds of sins to some kind of pedestal and look down on those who engage in them as the worst of sinners and do exactly what Rom 2:1 says we should not do – “Think that we don’t do exactly the same things.”
· The main point of bringing this example up, is that these desires are so obviously contrary to nature, so obviously a corruption of our biological design. See there in vs 26 “They exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature.” The whole animal kingdom sticks to this basic physiology which is essential to the propagation of every species – and yet we want to turn around and do the opposite and say it natural, it’s the way God made me, its normal and don’t dare tell me otherwise.
· The desire for justice gets corrupted in revenge
· Food – gluttony
· Rest – laziness
· Significance – pride and selfish ambition
· Security – anxiety and fear
· Dominion - domination
· So we could go through every form and expression of sin and find it in the corruption of otherwise good desires….
· I’ll get so angry that I will shoot you because you accidently cut me off on the highway. I will kill you, I will take a human life for a cell phone. I’ll rape another women, I’ll abuse another child, I’ll steal money from a helpless widow, I’ll cheat and defraud and bribe and start a war and raise a rebellion – because I have to have what I want. Nothing must stand in the way of me fulfilling these desires.
· Both the object and the strength of these desires becomes corrupted. This is desire that controls me rather than desires that I control.
Emotions, feelings, desires – these a wonderful things when they are sanctified to the Lord. But when our feelings and emotions are being controlled by the flesh they begin to control us and lead us down a pathway of sin.
Beware of being controlled by your emotions. Don’t think emotions are neutral, don’t think they just happen to you. Don’t get into the habbit of living according to your emotions and confusing their messages with truth.
Anger, fear, anxiety, sexual attraction, happiness, envy and the full spectrum of emotions and desires are meant to be controlled by us and directed toward their rightful objects. But sin leads us to experience the wrong emotions at the wrong time and do things that we regret and would otherwise not do, if we were not carried away by our feelings.
I didn’t say, don’t have feelings, I said don’t let them control you.
Corrupt thinking, misdirected worship, dishonourable passions – next week we will look at the remaining two features or characteristics of human sin - degraded bodies and broken relationships as sin begins to find expression in our actions and take root on a social, societal level leading to physical and social evil – the perpetration of the most horrendous crimes against humanity.
But I don’t want to end on the bad news this morning. I don’t want to leave us with this picture of hopelessness and doom and gloom because when we truly see how broken people are and how ruined their lives are, and how deserving of wrath - we should want to give them God’s remedy, we should want to hold out hope.
What should our response be to this reality?
Again let me point you to the grammatical flow of this text:
· 15: I am eager to preach the gospel to you at Rome
· 16: For, since because I am not ashamed of the gospel
· 16: For it conveys the power of God
· 17: for it unfolds or enacts the righteousness of God
· 18: For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
This is Paul’s explanation for why he is so motivated when it comes to the gospel, why he has such confidence in it and why he wants to preach the gospel to everyone under the sun, wherever he can, whenever he can. Because the gospel is our only hope, our only protection against the wrath of God. And people are now already experiencing the reality of God handing them over to their sin, and the damage and destruction and brokenness and pain that goes along with that on every level. The gospel is the power of God for our transformation, to free us from this relentless cycle of sin and destruction.
As bad and bleak as this picture is – the gospel dispels the darkness, satisfies God’s wrath, unfolds God’s righteousness and conveys God’s transforming power to sinners. The Gospels is God’s all sufficient solution, the good news for those who are able to accept this bad news.
Just under the surface of people’s smile, touched up with carefully placed make-up and covered over with expensive clothes and shiny jewelery and fancy cars – is deep brokenness and bondage and soul destroying sin – which we must peer into so that we will be more deeply convicted of how much they need Christ.
And if you have been listening to Rom 2:1, then you should not just be peering outwardly, but inwardly, looking deeply into your own hearts, to see the depth and pervasiveness and ugliness of the sin that still lurks there – so that you will lay hold of God’s gospel remedy with both hands. Self-righteousness has no place among those who have received God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ. Neither are we aiming for some kind of self-loathing. What we want, is to forget all about ourselves as we gaze in wonder and amazement at Jesus Christ and worship Him. The darkness of our sin is the backdrop which makes the glory of Jesus Christ shine more brightly.