Pastor Chuck DeVane
Special to The Sentinel-Record
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
-- Romans 1:18-23, ESV
They always tell you the worst things first. There have been symptoms and there have been suspicions. There have been examinations and there have been tests. Then, you sit down with the oncologist, and she spills it out. You have cancer. It will kill you.
Of course, there are other things to talk about, too. There are treatments. There are surgical remedies. There is hope. But in order to fight the good fight, you have to deal with the honest, gut-wrenching, worst things first.
If Paul had been a 20th century evangelical, Verse 18 might have read something like, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." Instead, the steely-eyed Apostle puts stylus to papyrus and blurts out, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven." It looks like God is angry with us and has a terrible plan for our lives.
"Wrath" is a punishing word. Many roll their eyes and think, "OMG," what have I done that is so terrible to deserve such punishment? It is a little word we have not met yet in Romans. It will appear in 3:9 and 45 times more afterward. It is sin.
Sin is the cancer that mutates and makes man militant against his Maker, leaving God with no choice but to destroy it completely, including the person in which the sin, the cancer, went unchecked and untreated through life. "Wrath" is a fate worse than death, and when a lost person comes to face it, they will most certainly wish, to coin a biblical phrase, they had never been born, and lament the fact they were never born again.
The sin we will deal with in Romans is mostly a missing of the mark. It is not so much doing wrong (although a list of harmful sins are provided in this text and elsewhere), but failing to do what is right. Here, among the worst things first, we learn that "the wrath of God" is for not being godly and not being righteous, "ungodliness and "unrighteousness."
Unbelieving is a failure to believe, to actively and persistently trust the Gospel and obey God. "Ungodliness" is the failure to be godly, to pursue the God who has revealed Himself in creation and in the revelation of His word and His Son, Jesus Christ. "Unrighteousness" is the failure to be right with God and do what is right. Otherwise, one will simply "suppress the truth" revealed in God's word and in God's Son, Jesus Christ.
Paul states that unless you are an incognizant child or an incoherent adult, unable to think reasonably and deeply about creation and a Creator, you are "without excuse" to not pursue God, not discover His word, not acknowledge His Gospel, not accept Him and live under Him grace and guidance as Savior and Lord. The result is a life spent in "futile" pursuits, "foolish" thoughts and actions that are "corruptible," non-lasting, useless, lost. As a different Paul wrote, money cannot buy you love, not God's love. Success doesn't supersede to the next life. Pleasure in the wrong things will result in unimaginable pain, namely "God's wrath."
And so we have the worst things first. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." The cancer of sin which causes people to ignore the gospel, disobey the word of God, and partake of the blessings of creation in ways the Creator condemns, will metastasize and bring men to a fate worse than death.
Good news will be aplenty on our road through Romans this year, but we cannot appreciate it nor appropriate it unless we accept the worst news first. Stay tuned.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].