Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Introduction: Paul has spoken of the Gospel and righteousness. To reveal why men need grace, Paul now begins a prosecution of the whole human race. Paul knows the remedy for men, and now sets himself to the task of diagnosing man’s sickness. The diagnosis will mainly be nothing more than a case history.
Romans 1:18a “For the wrath of God. . . .”
“Wrath of God” is an alarming and terrifying phrase. It is not an easy matter to discuss. Some deny it exists, but the minister who truly wants to expound the Bible must not skirt anything. We must speak truth as revealed in the Word of God. The wrath of God is real and should strike terror into the heart of everyone who has not received the free pardon of sin from Jesus.
The wrath of God is His unfailing determination to oppose sin. God cannot love sinners unless He hates sin. “God is Love” and “God is Hate” must go together. By definition, to love good means to hate evil. The Lord “hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity” (HB 1:9). God is at war against sin because of the pain and suffering it causes to his beloved children. Sin and misery are as closely related as any physical law of cause and effect. God knows the connection between sin and misery. If the latter is to be lessened, the former must be attacked.
Do not think of God’s wrath as peevish, or the haphazard fury of a temper fit. God does not jump up and down, scream, and kick an angel. His wrath is anger, but it is righteous anger. It is His fixed steady conflict with anything that hurts His creation. It is His attack against sin.
Romans 1:18b “. . .is revealed from heaven. . . .”
Some mistakenly think God’s wrath is something reserved solely for a future Day of Judgment. This is not true. The wrath of God first revealed itself when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden, and has revealed itself without ceasing ever since.
Study any page of history and you will see the earth is under some kind of scourge. The story of man is the ongoing story of larger and larger armies using stronger and stronger weapons, devastating more and more of the earth, killing more and more people. Robert Burns penned, “Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.” Schiller said, “The history of the world is the judgment of the world.” Judgment Day will merely be the climax of this ongoing principle of history.
God is revealing at any moment two things: His righteousness and His wrath. To those who turn from sin and accept Jesus, righteousness is imputed. To those who cling to sin, wrath is revealed.
The purpose of His wrath is to lead men to his righteousness. His wrath is an expression of His mercy, for thereby He teaches men they cannot find God-life in sin. Through wrath He is encouraging men to be right with Him.
Men often reject God’s righteousness until prompted toward it by God’s wrath. Jesus told Saul, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (AC 9:5). Like a stubborn animal, we often have to be goaded. The road to deliverance often goes through degradation. Sometimes we have to taste sin’s disgrace to appreciate God’s free grace.
Romans 1:18c “. . .against all ungodliness and unrighteousness
of men. . . .”
“Ungodliness” refers to impiety or irreverence against God. “Unrighteousness” in this context refers to injustice against man, and immorality.
Notice the word “all.” God’s wrath is revealed against “all” ungodliness and unrighteousness. The wrath of God is not exclusively reserved for the “desperately” wicked and unregenerate. It is not revealed only against lost people. Every sin of every human being is met by the wrath of God. Nothing gets by. No sin escapes His wrath. Every sin is punished.
There is a moral order. R. G. Lee called it “God’s moral constitution.” The world has been made in such a way that we break God’s laws at our own peril. Suffering follows sin.
Break the laws of agriculture and the harvest fails. Break the laws of architecture and the building collapses. Break the laws of health and your body suffers. Break the laws of God and you will be punished.
This is why we must ever warn men about sin. As we soft-pedal sin, the fear of God vanishes. As men lose sin-consciousness, they lose God-consciousness, and vice versa. The two go together. Men wallow deeper and deeper in sin, but they do not know what is the problem. We owe it to tell them the problem is sin.
McCheyne said, “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hands of God.” On the other hand, a preacher who avoids telling men the truth about their sins is the best tool of the devil and the worst enemy of men.
There is wrath on sin. It is cursed. It is a poison. Teach your children well. The wages of sin is death.
Romans 1:18d “. . .who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
“Hold” means repress. It is a present participle and denotes continuous action. Men repress the truth in unrighteousness. They hold the truth as a captive prisoner so it will not influence them away from their evil deeds.
All men know more truth than they obey. Many a good truth is detained and buried in unrighteous, wicked hearts. Men know enough of God to know their deeds deserve the wrath of God. This is the reason for universal sacrifice in heathen religions; it is also why men in sudden peril scream like guilty wretches, “God have mercy!” It explains pagan Pharaoh’s confession, “I have sinned against the Lord” (EX 10:16). This is also why Jonah’s preaching resulted in the King of Ninevah sitting in ashes. The truth is there, but squelched because men enjoy their sin too much to forsake it. Sinners do not “like to retain God in their knowledge” (RM 1:28).
Truth can survive swords and overcome ignorance, but gets drowned in immorality. Men determined to wallow in sin will somehow find a way to suppress the truth. They resent the jabs of conscience and try to suppress any thoughts they might have of their moral accountability before God.
Men fight against any truth that hints at their guilt. They repress thoughts about being lost and undone. They pretend to believe there is no Hell but at the same time have an indescribably wretched fear of death.
Men refuse to acknowledge this is a moral universe where men will reap as they sow. Men excel at rationalizing because they do not want to face the truth that God’s wrath against sin is real (Allen).
Confess sin and forsake it today. Repent and Jesus will forgive.