We love to focus on God’s love. God’s wrath or anger is also a part of his nature that must be examined.
God’s gets angry over sin. Imagine a cab company employed to deliver messages to wives during the Vietnam War. When entering the agreement, the owner tells the War Department that he will only deliver happy messages bearing good news from the soldiers themselves. He will not deliver telegrams that tell of death, injury or that a loved one is missing in action. It is doubtful that the armed forces would enter into a contract under these stipulations. All messages must be delivered.
So it is with the wrath of God. We enjoy hearing of the love of God-many sermons and lessons are taught on it, but the subject of God’s wrath is disturbing. We love to tell people how to get to heaven, but we often avoid the subject of hell. Believing in the wrath of God and the love of God is necessary for both characteristics of his nature are taught throughout Scripture.
God’s wrath or anger is not like ours. Anger in itself is not a sin, but the Bible warns against this emotion simply because it is very dangerous and often leads to actions that are sinful and damaging to our person. Cain’s anger at his brother because God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected his led to murder. (Genesis 4:5) James warns us to be slow to speak and slow to get angry. (James 1:19) And Paul cautions against letting the sun go down on our anger. (Ephesians 4:26) Not going to bed while angry with a spouse or child (or anyone for that matter) is a good practice.
God’s wrath or anger is not against people as ours often is. Rather, his anger is against sinful people and situations. Sin is the root cause of his anger. It is perfectly acceptable for us to be angry over sinful situations as well as the sinful acts that we see others involved in. Sin, in all its forms, destroys. It also prevents people from realizing God’s purpose and plan for them.
Thus, anger over sin is acceptable for this moves us to action. However our movements against sin must be tempered by obedience to God. It is not permissible to steal an item and give it to a person who has had that same item stolen. Paul’s announcement concerning the good news of the gospel is over. He will now begin building his case that all people are responsible to God for their sin. He will begin building a doctrine of sin which is very vital for the believer to understand so we can preach and teach the whole counsel of God, not just what appears preferable to us.
God’s wrath is revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness as it is practiced by sinful people who suppress the truth.
Paul is building a case to prosecute people, thereby helping them to understand that we are all responsible to God-Jew and Gentile alike.
Why must sin be punished? Why can’t God just let people do as they want without consequence?
We are responsible to God; he is holy and just and will not tolerate sin. While he allows it to run rampant at present, a day of reckoning will come, and none will be able to excuse themselves from their accountability to God. Sin destroys emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically. Sin holds no benefits for us. It was not baiting by God when he gave Adam and Eve the choice to obey or disobey. Rather, the choice made them human rather than robots of God.
This sin nature that Paul will deal with in depth later puts every human on a collision course with God’s will. Instead of accepting God’s truth, we search for truth according to our own definitions. We attempt to stifle the truth God reveals in nature and other means.
God does not enjoy punishing the sinner, and he does not gain any unusual pleasure when the wicked perish. (Ezekiel 18:32) God’s nature, however, is one of moral perfection. Though he allows sin to exist now, there will come the time when it will be banned forever from his presence and the presence of all the saints. Habakkuk reminds us about God’s nature when he writes; “Thou are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.” (1:13)
God does not want to remove sinners from his presence but rather restore them to a right relationship with him. Those who persist in their rebellion against God must endure his punishment. Just as an attorney will present a case to a jury and judge before conviction is determined and sentence passed, so Paul will do the same so that we can see the justice of God in his sentence against those who refuse him.
All People Are Without Excuse For Their Sin. (19-20)
We immediately think of those who have not heard the gospel in their language or who have not heard it clearly. How can God hold people responsible who have not had the opportunity to believe? These questions usually pertain to “heathens” living in foreign lands.
The revelation of God in nature enters into such a discussion and beyond that whether or not this revelation is sufficient enough to bring one to faith in Christ. If it isn’t, then again we might ask how God can hold them accountable.
We must first establish the fact that all people are accountable to God. It is not God’s problem that we rebelled against him, but ours. It is not God’s responsibility to bring us to faith in him (though that is the only way we will come), but ours. In spite of our predicament, and because of his love for us, God desired a restored relationship with humanity. That being said, we still cannot place him under obligation to us but must always remember our obligation to him.
Man’s inexcusability is made known in verse 19 where Paul proclaims that the truth about God is made known to humanity instinctively or manifest in them. This does not mean that people know all they can or need to about God, but on the other hand it does not mean that they simply know there is a God and nothing more. But they know enough to render themselves inexcusable.
By looking at nature, they can determine some invisible qualities of God-that he is powerful and greater than a mere human. The acts of creation and providence are such that people are motivated to ponder who made them.
Scholars have debated whether the revelation of God in nature is enough to bring people to faith. Some have maintained that God gives enough light, and if that is followed he will give more, and even more until faith is reached. Whether the revelation in nature is enough to bring someone to faith actually misses the point. Again, this is an effort to place God under obligation to us, to maintain that he cannot hold us accountable because he did not do enough for us.
Even if God gave no light, we would still be accountable to him. He is the Creator and we are the creatures. We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and when we live apart from him there is that God void that everyone attempts to fill. The dilemma is that they often look to other sources and things rather than God to fill the void. Paul will list some of these actions in the following verses. Therefore, people are without excuse.
It is part of human nature to try and excuse ourselves or to place the blame on someone else for our actions. The child caught cheating on a test may blame the teacher proposing that the questions are too difficult or that enough time was not given for them to prepare. On judgment day, there will be many who will like or even try to convince God that he is unfair or unjust in his sentence.
That people can observe God through nature does not eliminate the need for missionaries (volunteer, full and part time) and mission work. People may know God exists through nature, but their sinfulness and its consequences need pointing out. Missional work directs people to the need for forgiveness and the consequences that result if forgiveness is not sought. Mission work places us in obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). While nature may tell people about God, they also need to know about his Son and what he did on Calvary. Therefore, Paul’s “no excuse theology” is not an excuse for Christians not to be Missional minded.
The Results of Going Our Own Way (21-23)
Though the light was there, mankind went his own sinful way, forgetting at some point the gospel pronouncement in infancy that had been made to Adam and Eve. The woman’s offspring (Christ) would crush the head of the serpent (a lethal blow to Satan), while the serpent (Satan) would only strike his heel (Calvary). This pronouncement is known as the Protoevangelium or first announcement of the gospel.
Paul now characterizes humanity’s actions that result from rejecting God.
They would not worship him or give him thanks. They began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused, and they became fools. They made idols in the shapes of people, birds, animals and snakes.
This is a good place to distinguish between general and special revelation.
General revelation is the making known of some of God’s attributes in nature (as previously mentioned). Special revelation is the giving of God’s Word that people would transmit orally and later through writing as well as the revelation that came through Christ.
We may think of the heathen as foolish for worshipping something they made and thinking it has divine qualities, but idols are anything that replace God. While modern people (believers included) may not construct images of animals or people, the idols we construct are just as abominable as the ones made by those who live in darkness. Things we feel we cannot live without, priorities that are greater than God, and things we would sacrifice for selfish dreams, are all evidences of idols we have constructed. Where do your priorities lie? Are you growing in your walk with the Lord? What idols do you need to destroy?