As we get into this important second section of Romans 1 we will deal with the very controversial topic of God’s anger and wrath against evil and those who do evil. There are multiple perspectives on the wrath of God including those who would tell you that God does not get angry and is only a God of love. These people point to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s teaching on human anger to persuade some that anger and wrath are incongruent with an all-holy God. There are others who, in their attempt to make God like man, argue that God’s anger is no different then sinful human anger that is uncontrolled, malicious, and full of rage.
Holding to either view is incoherent with Scripture and nullifies the need for a savior. The first makes God out to be a tolerant all-accepting push-over who only loves; this God is a post-modern hippie in a dress who accepts all views, opinions, and lifestyles condemning none and taking the neutral position on everything. Many people like this God because they do not like authority, responsibility, judgment, or accountability. Additionally, Jesus is no longer the central message of the Bible or even needed at all because, from this perspective, God does not judge and therefore will not send anyone to Hell. We can not accept this view.
The second view turns God into nothing more then an angry old man who loses his temper, fights his friends, beats his wife, and uses all kinds of deceitful actions to get back at his kids for missing curfew. This view turns God’s ‘holy-indignation’ into unrighteous sinful human behavior corrupted by evil and selfish desires. We can not hold to such a view because it would mean that God, like man, needs a savior to save him from his own sinfulness. God is holy, perfect, and without sin meaning that He provides a savior, Jesus, and does not need one.
Following is a third view that I believe must not only be reclaimed, but also must be taught always if we are to accurately present the whole truth of the gospel.
What is the wrath of God?
The wrath of God comes directly out of His holy nature which is completely hostile towards evil. God’s wrath is His refusal to accept, come to terms with, or condone sin and sinful people; it is His unchanging reaction to all unrighteousness.
Against what is God’s wrath revealed?
Simply put, evil is the object of God’s wrath. There is nothing that awakens God’s wrath except evil…and evil always does it. This text gives a twofold description of what and who God’s anger is directed.
1) Godlessness – is a lack of reverence for God that places man against God in not only neglect, but in open rebellion leading to all types of sinful perversions. This is man’s attempt to get rid of God.
2) Wickedness – meaning injustice towards fellow man. Whereas ‘godlessness’ is open rebellion against God, ‘wickedness’ is open rebellion against other people resulting in all forms of anti-social behavior including but not limited to sexual immorality, homosexuality, lesbianism, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, rudeness, arrogance, boastfulness, ruthlessness, faithlessness, heartlessness, and disobedience against ones own parents. Man in his rebellion not only condones these things but openly celebrates them encouraging others to do likewise.
God’s righteous anger then is directed at sin and sinful people because both godlessness and wickedness are the outworking of godless and wicked people who are totally morally and ethically bankrupt. Further, and not surprisingly, when the truth of man’s wickedness is brought to light and the devastating consequence of his actions are known, he strangles the disturbing voice of truth, suppress’ it, and holds it down by his own wickedness.
How is God’s wrath revealed?
In three ways:
1) The Future Eschatological Tense - which is the cause of much debate by End-Times nuts who think Kurt Cameron is a star and the Left Behind series is the Bible. However, God’s wrath will be revealed in the future which Paul calls the ‘coming wrath’ and ‘Judgment Day, the day of God’s wrath’ which is eternal punishment for the unrepentant. We can only speculate what that day will hold.
2) The Present Judicial Tense – God’s wrath on sinful human behavior through the use of government law, police force, and justice in the court room. Paul deals with this subject specifically in Romans 13:4 and is not what he has in mind here.
3) The Present Abandonment Tense – In this, God reveals his wrath by simply handing sinners over to themselves. John Ziesler writes that God’s anger “operates not by God’s intervention but precisely by his NOT intervening, by letting men and women go their own way.” God, in his wrath, separates himself and abandons stubborn sinners to their own unruly selfishness. In the following chapter Paul gives two reasons why God abandons the unrighteous: one, to allow sin and its consequences to accelerate as part of His judgment on them, and two, to make them realize their need for salvation.
Many, like the drunk who won’t admit to having a problem, will do their best to suppress the truth of God’s wrath. Others will do their best to try and appease God’s wrath through their own methods. Often times these methods take on the convenient disguise of playing church complete with playing pieces, a board, and an instructions booklet that lists all of the rules and regulations that will help them win the game. Unfortunately, pressed slacks and all of the other trappings of legalistic religion do nothing in appeasing God’s anger; in fact, it very well heightens it.
Divine wrath means that there must also be a divine solution. This solution is found in the salvation work of Jesus Christ to endure God’s wrath in our place thus freeing us from the guilt and sin that God is so angry about. The way of escape is provided by God through repentance of sin and faith in His son Jesus Christ. Jesus, instead of man, has stood in the place of God’s wrath accepting the punishment and paying the ransom that was owed. To this end, we love and serve and obey God giving Him all honor and glory and praise because in Jesus, by faith, we have been saved from ourselves, from God’s eternal wrath, and have been made a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come!