Romans 1:18-23


God gets angry.  If you don’t believe that, then take a look at sweet, gentle Jesus as He comes to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The whistling of a whip through the air.  Tables overturned.  Coins rattling on the pavement.  Moneychangers scattering.  And in the midst of it, an angry Messiah zealous for the holiness of His Father’s House.


God gets angry.  This is the first thing that we see in our opening passage.


            “For the wrath of God is revealed...” (Romans 1:18).


The Scriptures have quite a lot to say about the wrath of God.


            “The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven.” (Deuteronomy 29:20).


A jealous and avenging God is the Lord;

The Lord is avenging and wrathful.

The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries,

And He reserves wrath for His enemies.

The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,

And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.

In whirlwind and storm is His way,

And clouds are the dust beneath His feet. (Nahum 1:2-3).


It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31).


These passages portray the wrath of God.  Many people today like to describe God in terms of sweetness and light as if He accepts everyone and takes in everybody.  What they neglect is the Biblical teaching of the wrath of God.


That teaching is brought to us in Romans 1.  In verse 17 the righteousness of God is revealed.  In verse 18 the wrath of God is revealed.  In both cases, the present tense is used.  It describes that which is presently being revealed.



Righteousness of God is revealed.


Wrath of God is revealed.


Paul does not start his epistle by saying, “Smile, God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  Instead, he begins by speaking of the wrath of God.


Wrath revealed


Against men...


Who hold truth in unrighteousness


The word “wrath” is found 12 times in Romans (out of 36 times in the entire New Testament).  It is from the root meaning “to swell.”

Now let me ask you a question.  How is the wrath of God revealed?  Notice the tense.  It is present.  It is being revealed right now.  Paul says that “the wrath of God is continually being revealed.”  He is not speaking of a future event.  He is speaking about God’s wrath in the present time.


In what ways are God’s wrath being currently revealed?  It is revealed in wars and rumors of wars.  It is revealed in earthquakes and floods and natural disasters.  It is revealed in famines and diseases.  But that is not all.  It is also revealed in the hearts of men who turn away from God when their hearts are hardened and when they enter a spiraling course into the depths of sin.  It is revealed when men deny the truth of God and attempt to suppress it.  It is in the release of the individual over to the lusts of his heart (as seen in the three times where “God gave them over” in verse 24, 26 and 28).


The wrath of God is being revealed in the context of historical judgments (verses 24 & following).  God's judgment against sin is to allow more sin to take place.


1.         Men know God.


2.         Men suppress the truth (1:18).


3.         There is an antithesis between the truth of God and the falsity of man.  Man is completely and totally depraved.


There comes a time when the Lord pulls out all restraints and allows men to go as far as their lusts will let them.


But this does not happen to the believer.  The Child of God is not under God's wrath (Romans 5:9).  God will never release the believer to his lusts as He does the unbeliever.  The believer will always be disciplined instead.  And that is one of the evidences that he IS a child of God.  Only children are disciplined.


What is it that brings about such wrath?  What is it that really makes God angry?  I want to suggest several things.




            For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (Romans 1:18-19).


Notice that it is men themselves who suppress the truth.  Men are not saying, “I want to come to God, but I can't because I haven't been predestined.”  They are actively involved in covering up the truth.


There is a principle here.  Light is light in direct proportion to how much you have seen the darkness.  The opposite is also true.  Darkness is darkness in direct proportion to how much you have seen the light.


This text was not written to throw rocks at other people.  It was written for US.  Paul does what Amos did.  He started out by preaching against the pagans.  And everyone agreed.  Damascus is bad and God is going to destroy her.  Gaza has sinned and will be burned with fire.  Tyre will be punished for her evil.  Edom will be shown no pity.  And with each injunction, the Israelites were saying, “Yes, Lord!”  But then Amos turned to Israel and Judah.  And suddenly everyone stood convicted.


Paul does the same thing here.  His purpose is not to say that the world is bad but that we are good.  It is to show that ALL are bad.  All need a savior.  Homosexuality will be shown for its sinfulness.  But it is not the only sin which is listed.  And they are ALL bad.


Question:          What is the greatest expression of the wrath of God?  The answer may surprise you.  It isn't in what God is doing to homosexuals and sinners.  It is the CROSS.  It was there that God's righteousness condemned Christ.  God’s wrath was poured out upon His own Son.


Here is the point.  The love of God is not a refuge from the wrath of God... unless you go through the Cross.


God is righteous.  His righteousness condemns us.  But when you come to the Cross, that same righteousness of God saves you because it is credited to you.





            For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20).


One of the most common questions I am asked as a Christian is, “What about the heathen who has never heard the gospel?  How can God judge a man who has never heard about God in the first place?”


After all, it does not seem very fair that God would judge a man for disobeying God if God has not even gone so far as to reveal Himself to men.  It would seem that such a man could stand before God’s seat of judgment and appeal his case, saying, “It is not fair that You judge me for rejecting you since I never had an opportunity to know anything about You.”


This verse provides the answer.  The man who has never heard about God already has an understanding of the existence of God.  The fact of God’s existence can be understood through the existence of the visible creation.


Since the creation of the world...


Being understood through what has been made









His invisible attributes...


...have been clearly seen









His eternal power and divine nature



There is a play on words here.  The invisible (“unseen”) has been clearly seen.  How do you see the unseen?  By the marks it leaves in the visible realm.


Do you remember the story of Robinson Crusoe?  He was a sailor who was shipwrecked upon a deserted island.  He spent years also, searching the horizon for a ship, but none came.  And then one day, Robinson Crusoe was walking along the beach, and he saw something in the sand.  It was a footprint.  A human footprint.  He could see the toes and the heel and he could see that it did not match his own footprints.  What was his conclusion?  What did he decide upon seeing this footprint?  He concluded that there was someone else on the island.


What would you have thought if he had said to himself, “My goodness!  Look at the way in which the wind and the waves have sculptured the sand on this beach so that it resembles a human footprint!  It must have taken natural selection billions and billions of years to have such a design come about by mere chance!”


Sound a little silly?  Of course it does!  But this is exactly what men have done with regard to the revelation of God in His creation.  We have in creation not a single footprint but an entire universe of footprints.  The entire universe is a giant billboard which points to the fact of God’s existence.


Furthermore, Paul says that this evidence is “clearly seen.”  It isn’t as though the evidence were not there.  It isn’t even as though man’s eyes were blinded so that he could not see the evidence.  He HAS seen the evidence and he has seen in clearly.  And then, rejecting the evidence, he has chosen to ignore it and has sought to find some other “scientific” rational for the universe.  Man willfully refuses to see that which God has shown him. This involves a self-blindness.


The excuse that, “I’ve never heard” is no excuse because man innately has a knowledge that God exists.  That knowledge is available to anyone who will seek.  God is “a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  But that is not all.  Knowledge of God is not merely available, it is already a present possession.  Man knows that God is.  He cannot help but to know it.  And this knowledge renders Him without excuse.


The phrase “without excuse” is translated from the Greek word anapologetos.  It is from the same root as the word translated "defense" in 1 Peter 3:15 (“make a DEFENSE to everyone who asks you to give an account of the hope that is in you”).  The point is that there is no defense that can be made for man’s actions.  They cannot be explained away.


Many unbelievers want to dictate the terms upon which God is to present His credentials.  God is regulated to One holding His evidence in His hands, waiting to be judged.  But you don't judge God!  HE is the judge.  And you are the defendant.  And to make matters worse, you are a defendant without a defense.  You are without excuse.  You can never say that God did not make Himself known to you because the very world in which you live is a silent testimony to the power and the “Godness” of God.


The universe proclaims the existence of God.  It doesn’t merely indicate a faint possibility of the existence of God.  It shouts out through the expanse of the creation that God is there!  Verse 19 says that God has made this obvious to man (“God made it evident to them”).  And because God has made Himself obvious to man, man is without excuse.





            For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:21).


Every once in a while, I have some unbeliever say to me, “I believe in God; I believe that somewhere there is a Supreme Being.”  When they say this, it usually seems to come with an expectation that I will congratulate them on their “belief.”  But this verse tells us that it is not enough to be aware of God’s existence.  God also demands honor and thankfulness.


Have you ever done a service for someone and had them ignore it?  It might have been something as simple as opening a door for a lady or picking up a book that had been dropped or it might have been the acknowledgment of a gift.  We are in the habit of thanking people for the smallest things.  But God gives EVERYTHING.  We read in James 1:17 that “every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”


However, once the knowledge of God is rejected, the result is mere “foolish speculation.”  This speculation extends to...


  Man’s origins

  Man’s salvation

  Man’s destiny and the end of the world

  The character of God


When man rejects the revelation which God has given of Himself, he will believe anything and everything, no matter how silly.





            Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four‑footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:22-23).


The giving away of God’s glory was no accident.  It was accomplished under the guise of professed wisdom.  Men “professed themselves to be wise.”  They even called themselves “Professors.”  But their “wisdom” was really foolishness of the worst sort.  Notice the downward spiral of man’s descent.


Having departed from the worship of God, man seeks another image which to worship.  The gods of paganism were fashioned after the images of created beings.  The Greeks worshiped gods after a human form.   The Egyptians and Babylonians worshiped gods which were represented by lower forms of life.  Both of these forms were to be found in Rome.  The downward spiraling of idolatry runs the gamut of creatures.


1.         Man.


The Greek and Roman gods were fashioned after the likeness of men.  This could be a reference to that type of worship.  But it could also be a veiled reference to the emperor-worship which was only now beginning in Rome.


2.         Birds.


The symbol of the Roman Empire was the eagle.  Its standard was looked upon as an idolatrous symbol by the Jews.  Indeed, one of the Jewish revolts had been sparked when Pontius Pilate brought the images of the Roman eagle into Jerusalem.


3.         Four-footed Animals.

This progression begins with God and ends with man bowing down to a snake.


When the Israelites had come out of Egypt and encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, they entered into the sin of idolatry as they fashioned for themselves a golden calf.


4.         Crawling Creatures.


The Egyptians worshiped all sorts of animals of both the higher as well as the lower orders.  They held all sorts of insects and crawling creatures to be sacred symbols of their gods.


An understanding of this progression will teach us several things about the way man is.


           It explains the existence of Idolatry.


Why does idolatry exist?  It exists because man realizes that God exists.  And when he turns away from worshiping the true God, then he feels compelled to make up a replacement and to worship that replacement.  Idolatry therefore becomes a psychological necessity for one who has rejected God.


           It teaches us that man did not originate as an idolater.


He did not begin with animism and work his way up through polytheism to monotheism.  The opposite is true.  Man began with the knowledge of God.  But the knowledge of God was so uncomfortable to man in his sin and rebellion that man turned away from God and sought a more comfortable god of his own making.


How many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t believe that God would do a thing like that!  MY god certainly is not like that!”  Such a person is beginning the same downward spiral into idolatry.


           It teaches that idolatry is not an indication of man’s search for God.


It is just the opposite.  Idolatry is the evidence of man’s rejection of the truth.  Idolatry makes God angry.  And not just the kind of idolatry which makes a statue of a man or a bird or a cow or a creepy crawly.  All idolatry makes God angry.  Even the sophisticated and subtle kinds.


After all, there are many things that WE do that God also calls idolatry.  Paul says in Colossians 3:5 that greed amounts to idolatry.  Why?  Because it involves putting something besides God as first place in your life.


Is God first place in your life?  Does He hold the pre-eminent position in all that you do and in all that you are?  If not, then you are engaged in idolatry.  And that makes God mad.  The good news is that you need not experience the wrath and the anger of God.  He has prepared a way of escape.  That way is through repentance and faith in His Son.  God sent His Son to be the answer to His anger.


Lessons Learned

  • Divine revelation is sufficient.  God has revealed himself to man so that he is left without excuse.
  • Human sin is deliberate.  Men deliberately turned away from God and resolved not to know Him.
  • Human development is downward.  Man is not getting better and better.  He is de-evolving into a being less than what he was created to be.
  • Human evil is progressive.  Sin begets sin which begets more sin.


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