“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…”
Having explained his unashamed devotion and having expounded the content of his message, Paul commences this first major section of his letter which outlines man’s need for the Gospel. It is impossible to understand the Gospel without first of all appreciating the sinfulness that exists in the hearts of men and women. In many respects that important memory verse, Ch.3 v.23, coming at the end of this section, summarises everything that the Apostle is teaching regarding man’s need of Justification. Sin is the doctrine which the professing church glosses over (with some embarrassment) and which the secular world overtly dismisses with glee. Carl Rogers was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th Century. His world view was humanistic. There was no place for God in his thinking. He wrote, “Neither the Bible nor the prophets…neither revelations by God or man can take precedence over my own direct experience.” In other words , man has the authority to develop his own personal moral code, he has become his own god and judge. His writings have influenced various forms of counselling services which have abandoned the whole idea of sin and wrong doing. Theories such as this have destroyed the morality of our society because it has undermined the law of God and the reality of sin. If we believe the Gospel we must be uncompromising in our approach to sin and man’s need of Justification. Paul launches this section with a declaration regarding the wrath of God. Why did Paul preach the Gospel with such passion and commitment? Because the world is facing God’s anger, this was the Apostle’s vision and may God be pleased to grant us the same vision.
1: The Definition of God’s Wrath
There are two Greek words translated wrath in the New Testament. Thymos means “to be in a heat of violence” (quick tempered). Orge means “to grow ripe” (a slow and simmering but thoughtful anger). Orge is the most common word used in describing the wrath of God. His anger unlike the wrath of man is not a sudden explosion of passion but a settled disposition of his nature which will ripen on the Day of Judgement. John Murray in his commentary on Romans wrote, “Wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness.” This is the word Paul uses in his ten references to God’s wrath in this epistle. This emphasis upon wrath and judgement is a recurrent theme both the ministry of Christ and of the Apostles and is an example that we ought to emulate; John 3:36, Acts 17:31, Ephesians 2:3, Colossians 3:6, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, Hebrews 10:27.
2: The Disclosure of God’s Wrath
As Paul had stated that the Gospel of Christ is in essence the revelation of God’s righteousness he also explained that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven. While God’s wrath will certainly be disclosed in the final judgement this is not what the apostle is intending. This wrath is revealed now, in the present. How is this wrath presently revealed from heaven?
- Conscience, the sorrow felt on account of wrong doing.
- The curse inflicted upon all creation.
- The law of God and its terrible curse.
- Death, our last great enemy.
- The warnings supplied by the past judgements that sin has already received; e.g. the Flood and the destruction of Sodom.
- The law of the harvest.
- World history with its terrible wars and bloodshed.
- The cross of Christ, “But above all, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven when the Son of God came down to manifest the divine character, and when that wrath was displayed in his sufferings and death in a manner more awful than by all the tokens God had before given of displeasure against sin.” (Robert Haldane)
3: The Direction of God’s Wrath
The wrath has an objective, God’s anger is directed against ungodliness and unrighteousness. Here we discover a succinct definition of sin. God’s wrath does not merely move against a morally unrighteous people but he is concerned with those who are also ungodly in their nature. It is ungodliness in the hearts of men which explains their wickedness. Sin is first and foremost an ungodly inclination away from God’s law. Therefore God is constantly angry with a wicked and corrupt world which is filled with ungodly men and women. Therefore the church should not be firstly concerned with moral reformation but with seeing heart regeneration, which will ultimately produce the desired change in the lives of people. As ungodliness is the root of man’s problem godliness alone is the answer.