I consider Hebrews and Romans to be two of the most doctrinally-heavy of the epistles, and there is a lot to teach from both of them. However, unlike Hebrews, we have a nice, clear introduction, telling us who wrote Romans (Paul – per verse 1), and who it was written to (certain people in Rome – per verse 7; apparently with a focus on Jewish followers of Jesus who were also among Gentile Christians, per verse 6).
In the first 17 verses of Romans 1, Paul greets his intended recipients and gives Jesus a lot of credit. He says some nice things about the recipients of this letter, and expresses a desire to see them.
The next verse is best studied in context, but let’s pause here for a moment:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
Romans 1:18 NIV
First, let us acknowledge that the wrath of God is real. God is loving, but He is also holy. His love is not some sort of all-permissive parenting style that gives us whatever we want, especially when what we want isn’t good for us. He does love us (more than we can fully understand, I suspect), but there are also things that justify His anger and even His wrath.
I think that some of God’s wrath may be related to the sinfulness of humankind being entirely incompatible with God’s holiness. Sin – including our sin – is contrary to His nature and His holiness, as well as the ideal life for which He created us to spend with Him.
However, it seems to me that perhaps the wrath of God is also related to His love for people. If you’ve ever had a child – or someone else that you love – stuck in a destructive habit or addiction, I think that you can appreciate the anger that you have towards the bad content in their lives that is harming them. In this anger, hopefully you also have a desire for that person to get better (and to make better choices), even if that means some uncomfortable decisions: Maybe an intervention is required. Maybe some time in a rehabilitation facility is necessary. Maybe the person you love needs to have his or her “security blanket” removed, because it is harmful. Maybe they need to experience some negative consequences of their choices, in order to understand why they aren’t good choices.
Along those lines, God is described as being “jealous” multiple times in the Bible (see Deuteronomy 6:14-15, and elsewhere). While we may think of jealousy as the “green-eyed monster”, which leads human beings like us to think bad thoughts and do bad things, I think that God – in His righteousness and love for us – is uniquely qualified to have “holy jealousy”. He doesn’t need our worship in order to be complete, but He created us to glorify Him, and He knows that our lives will be better when we are focused on Him, rather than other “gods” in our lives.
However, having said all of that, note what the wrath of God is being revealed against specifically in the verses above: “godlessness and wickedness” (or “ungodliness and unrighteousness” NASB). God isn’t just pouring out wrath on people arbitrarily or because He wants to see them suffer. (I suppose that Christians in Rome would have had a good idea of the Roman concepts of gods and goddesses, who were said to do selfish things just like that.) Instead, God’s wrath is revealed against sin, and those who suppress the truth.
Let’s consider the justification for God’s wrath, as well as how it fits into His overall holiness today, and continue studying this chapter in the next article.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 2, 2022
- The Lookout, January 2, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.