For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. — Romans 1:18
In the first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, the Apostle put forth a foundational truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: that all have sinned and are deserving of the wrath of God. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a philosopher and writer of the 1700s, found that truth unpalatable. Rousseau was a notoriously ungodly and blasphemous man who lived in open licentiousness for decades. He ultimately wrote a twelve-volume autobiography covering the first fifty-three years of his life, titling it, The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. However, this massive “confession” was no outpouring of genuine humility or remorse for his vile manner of living. Rather, it was Rousseau’s attempt to explain and justify his misdeeds. His premise was that in spite of his sinful behavior, he was fundamentally a good and honest being, and better than other men. He even addressed God himself in his opening words, stating, “Power eternal! Assemble round thy throne an innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals, let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; . . . and, if he dare, aver, I was better than that man.”(1)
Rousseau was just one of countless ungodly people throughout history who have done their best to excuse sin. They have contested the authority of God, rebelled against His judgments, and attempted to “hold [suppress] the truth in unrighteousness.” God will not tolerate this! Our focus verse makes it clear that God’s wrath — a holy response to what is unholy — will be poured out upon all who oppose the truth.
In today’s society, God’s wrath is deemed harsh and intolerant. People ask, “How can a good God send people to Hell?” or “Why would a good God allow the evil we see in our world?” It seems that God’s character is on trial, and people feel free to set themselves up as His judge. However, man’s opinions do not change the truth: God’s wrath is in perfect accord with God’s justice. How could an infinitely righteous God respond in any other way to unrighteousness? How could the purity of God react in any other way to impurity? God’s perfect moral nature can never be soiled by complicity with man’s guilt.
Paul was not cautious about addressing this topic with the Romans, and in our focus verse he began laying the groundwork for his case against man’s unrighteousness. He pointed out in verse 20 that man is without excuse for his rejection of God, because God has revealed Himself to man in His Creation. There certainly is enough visible evidence of God in the world around us to lead humanity to acknowledge and glorify the Creator, so refusal to do so is deliberate rejection. As a result, the wrath of God is being poured out. God has given the rebellious over to the consequences of their sins — a process with dreadful repercussions that are more and more manifest in our society today.
Let’s not be confused by the loud voices around us which question God’s authority and rebel against His judgments. Our eternal destiny hinges upon whether we acknowledge God or reject Him!
Verse 18 begins Paul’s explanation of the unrighteousness and guilt of all mankind — a theme which continues through chapter 3. In today’s text, the Apostle delineated God’s condemnation and wrath toward the ungodly, pointing out why they were without excuse, and describing the inevitable downward spiral of sin. He began chapter 2 with a condemnation of the moralist who judges others.
Paul stated that God’s wrath (holy revulsion) against the ungodly was because they had ignored the knowledge of God as revealed in nature (verses 18-20). The verb translated hold in the assertion that they “hold the truth in unrighteousness” has the meaning of “suppress,” “restrain,” or “stifle.” Furthermore, the unrighteous had suppressed the revelation of God to their conscience, and were not grateful for the good things that came from His hand (verses 21-23). This rejection of God plunged them deeper and deeper into darkness, in which they exalted their own reasoning and ultimately created their own images of deity.
In verses 24-32, the Apostle described God’s response to this rejection of fundamental light: He “gave them up” or turned them over to the outcome of their sins, which was “uncleanness” (or sexual aberration) and degradation. The phrase “gave them up” is used again in verse 26, where Paul explained that because the unrighteous accorded more honor to things that were created than to the One who created them, God “gave them up” to “vile affections” (or sexual perversions) which included homosexuality. Although homosexuality is often defined in contemporary society as a lifestyle choice or physiological inclination, this passage clearly indicates that homosexual activity is a sin, and that it is a result of mankind denying and disobeying God.
In verse 28, Paul repeated for the third time and with dreadful emphasis that God “gave them over” to a “reprobate mind” because of their revolt against Him. In verses 29-32, he followed up with an inventory of vile and depraved behaviors, and concluded that even though godless men knew that those who did such things were “worthy of death,” they still condoned such activities.
In chapter 2, Paul expanded on the deplorable condition of the ungodly to stress that the moralist who judged another individual, in so doing acknowledged that a standard of righteousness existed. Therefore he too was “inexcusable” and would not escape judgment for rejecting God’s goodness and longsuffering. The Apostle asserted that God would judge “according to truth” (verse 2), and would “render” (recompense or deliver) to every man according to his deeds (verse 6).
(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. God’s plan of salvation
A. The need: the human race is universally guilty
1. The heathen are guilty (1:18-32)
a. Light is given (1:18-20)
b. Light is rejected (1:21-23)
c. Depravity is the result (1:24-32)
2. The unconverted are guilty though moral (2:1-9)
Paul was straightforward in his exposure of sin and his assertion of universal guilt. We too must take care never to minimize or excuse what God deems as unrighteousness.
1 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, London: 1903, accessed through http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3913/3913-h/3913-h.htm, April 12, 2019.