Paul expands his instruction now, from here to Romans 3:20, explaining why God’s wrath will come upon this world. The subject of the wrath of God is not one of our favorite subjects, however, it is essential that we understand it and that we share it when we preach the gospel.
If you only communicate about the righteousness, love, and mercy of God, and fail to talk about God’s wrath, then you are not sharing the gospel message. Notice the complete message of the gospel in one of the most well known passages of Scripture. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3: 16). If Jesus shared both aspects of perishing versus experiencing eternal life as He communicated the good news, you should too.
Why God’s wrath will come (vs. 18-20)
Paul states that the wrath of God comes upon men for two reasons, because of the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Ungodliness means that men are irreverent and rebellious toward God, and unrighteousness describes man’s injustice toward other men. This covers both our attitude and actions toward God and men.
These two aspects cover the first and second tables of the law (Ex. 20:1-17). On the first stone God wrote four commandments that covered man’s relationship with Him, and on the second stone He wrote six more that dealt with man’s relationship with other men. The two great commandments that Jesus taught in the New Testament reveal the same two distinctions (Matt. 22:37-40). These commandments described God’s righteous requirements and if man rebels against them, His wrath.
Because men suppress the truth (vs. 18)
Why do men behave in an ungodly and unrighteous manner? Paul explains that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They suppress the light of the truth that God sends to shine into their hearts. How can we be sure? Because in John 3:18-20, Jesus teaches us why men are condemned. "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."
God gives the light of His truth to every man. Either you come to the light or you hate the light. You either suppress the light of truth or you yield to the light. This is why some people will listen to the gospel and others reject it.
Did you know that you can suppress and depart from the truth too? Study James 3:14, James 5:19, and 2 Tim. 4:4 for further exhortation.
Because men reject the light of creation (vs. 19-20)
What light do men reject? Paul explains in verses 19-20 that men reject the light of creation, since the invisible attributes of God are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. The creation that is all around us is a revelation of the Creator, and because this evidence for a Creator is so obvious, all men are completely without excuse. Paul will also teach later concerning the light of conscience in Romans 2:14-15.
God has clearly proved His existence. His existence is revealed by what He has made: His physical creation or the physical world we live in, and the biological creation or the human body He has given us. The plant and animal kingdoms give testimony that God is powerful and wise. This is the truth men suppress in their hearts. Therefore, they are absolutely without excuse before God.
Why does Paul deal here with the most fundamental basic truth? Because it is the most powerful testimony that God exists! Men used to look up into the heavens and say, "Wow, there is an awesome Creator that’s created all these things." They used to look at their body and everything around them and acknowledge God is so intelligent. However, today man has such a high opinion of himself, his technology, and his own wisdom, that he thinks, "We can go out into space wherever and whenever we want. With our technology we know how life began and we can fix or replace any organ that malfunctions." With man’s increased knowledge he has exalted himself and become very arrogant.
However, in Psalms 19:1-3, it declares, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth His handiwork." Through His creation God is speaking every day and every night to every creature. He is saying, "I am more powerful and more intelligent than you could ever imagine." Do you acknowledge this (Ps. 139:14)?
How do we know God created all these things? Simple logic teaches you that the masterpiece of creation must have a master Craftsman that created it. The logic of cause and effect and order and design demand a Creator.
This is the best reasoning to use in witnessing to non-Christians. I usually ask them, "If you took a stick of dynamite down to the lumberyard and lit the fuse, what would come down after the explosion? Wouldn't it be chaos? On the other hand, order and design is a result of intelligence and it takes an intelligent builder to build a house. If I told you the Sistine Chapel in Rome and the paintings on the ceiling just appeared one day out of nothing, you would think, How ridiculous. Simple logic tells us that beautiful works of art like this, don’t just happen.
In the biological world, there is no such thing as spontaneous generation. Life didn't just happen. It took an incredible Craftsman to create your body. Look for a moment at your body. It declares to you every single day that there is a God who created it. Can man make a heart that will work and not fail for 70 years, that will pump millions of gallons of blood? No! Nothing man has made is as efficient as that simple little muscle God put inside of you. Think about it, every day two billion cells reproduce themselves inside you body. What an awesome creation you are! Look at your mind, which controls all the functions of your body. You don’t even have to think about it. They have been all ordered and designed by a master Craftsman. Remember, at the bottom of the creation vs. evolution debate is the basic problem of man suppressing the truth of creation. Man either must believe in a god of chance or the God who created all things. It’s your choice!
Do you realize that man has no excuse before God? God won’t even buy the excuse, "I never heard the gospel." Even from someone who grew up in the jungle of Central America. He is still without excuse. Why? Because the witness of creation has already been given to prove that God exists.
However, if men respond to the light given, God will give them more light, the light of the gospel. Cornelius, the Roman centurion, is the best example of this truth (Acts 10). This man believed and feared God. He didn't know who God was, therefore, an angel was sent by God to tell Peter to go witness to this man. He heard the gospel and was saved. I believe that’s why missionaries are out in the jungles. Because someone is asking and seeking more light. See also the example of Philip being sent to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29).
The Results of Man’s Rejection (vs. 21-32)
1. Futile thoughts in a darkened heart (vs. 21-22)
"Futile thoughts" are the result of a person’s choice to suppress the truth of God and reject the light. The word futile describes thoughts that unsuccessfully search. People know about God but they will not glorify Him as God. This means that they won’t give Him that supreme place in their life. They are unthankful for all of God’s blessings and praise themselves and their own achievements. People profess themselves to be wise, when in reality they become fools. The theory of evolution is a good example of this foolishness. Have you noticed how hard scientists work to find some way to prove this foolish idea, even though it contradicts the second law of thermodynamics, even though there is no evidence in the fossil record of any transitional forms, and even though it is contrary to simple logic?
Or, consider the contradictory philosophies of man. These are his attempt to understand himself, others and the world around him. Consider the Stoics. They believed that virtue was the greatest good in life. Yet, the Epicureans believed that finding the greatest pleasure in life was most important. In our modern times philosophers became Existentialists which believed that life was absurd and therefore, you must find good as you see it based on your own values and choices. Paul rightly described the struggle of these individuals as those who are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). Remember, this is only because their understanding is darkened simply because they are "alienated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). Therefore, if you want to keep yourself from this frustration, it is very important that you glorify God and yield to the truth instead of suppressing it.
2. Idolatry (vs. 23)
Here is another of the foolish things that men do who have suppressed and forsaken the truth. Man is a spiritual being, and therefore must worship something, but what? So he changes the "glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things." Therefore, man either deifies himself or a creature that God has created. Consequently, man is either changed by God, or he must change God into his own image (2 Cor. 3:18).
Now you may be thinking, I don’t see everyone worshipping idols in the world. How can this verse be true? However, there are billions of people who openly worship Hindu idols or the Buddha. Yet even here in the United States there is great idolatry going on every day. Paul taught that idolatry is covetousness (Col. 3:5). The word covetousness describes a lust, a desire to be greedy for more.
3. God gives mankind up to his own immoral desires (vs. 24-28)
Paul continues to describe man’s departure from God. "Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Romans 1:24-28).
Now you may be thinking, Does God really give someone over to do what they want? Yes! If God didn't do this He would be forcing people to do what He wanted. Therefore, the Father gives men over to their own devices. In Genesis 6:3, God declares, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever." He proved His determination not to strive with men by judging the whole world by the flood. In other words, God’s patience has a limit.
The level to which man has been given up in our country today is seen by the number of people who live in adulterous relationships, practice fornication, and openly display homosexuality and lesbianism. These behaviors clearly violate God’s will for mankind (Lev. 18:22).
However, that doesn't mean that these people can’t be saved. Just because God has given them over to do these things doesn't mean that He wouldn't forgive them if they repented. Paul explained that many such people were a part of the Corinthian church of his day. "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:9-11). What a glorious statement Paul makes when he declared, "and such were some of you." God forgives any and all sinners who come to Him in honesty and repentance (1 John 1:9). He will wash them as white as snow (Is. 1:18).
But, if men will not repent of such sinful lifestyles, He will finally give them over to a reprobate mind. The word reprobate means a mind that is unthinking, rejected, and void of any knowledge of God. To be reprobate is what Jesus called the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31). This is where a man or woman fights so hard against God in rebellion they harden their hearts so that they will not believe or repent. In John’s gospel, he explains that there were people who hardened themselves and rejected Christ to the point that they could not believe. "But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them" (John 12:37-40).
Knowing these things, share with people where they are headed. Make it clear that they are hardening their hearts to ultimate destruction.
4. Every evil behavior (vs. 29-32)
The ultimate result of living independently of God is what Paul now lists. "Being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them." What a list!
These are the sins that people will commit when they reject and suppress the truth of God. All these actions make a person worthy of death. Most of us have committed every one of these sins. But, remember, even though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life (Rom. 6:23). Isn't this truth marvelous? It’s a gift! You can’t earn it and you can’t deserve it. You simply repent and ask Him to forgive you and He gives you a gift -- eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit that enables you to follow and to serve Him. What a deal!