Wrath: Suppressing the Truth

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” (Romans 1:18-19)

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul describes why God gets so angry with human society. The idea of suffering “the wrath of God” should terrify us. Better to be ignored by God than to become the focal point of his perfectly reasonable anger. Paul shows how human culture falls, step by step, into chaos and destruction.

wrath_350It all starts with the one powerful lie: There is no God. Or better: The God of the Bible is not really God. If there is a God, he is different—less powerful, less good, less holy, less interested in us, not so serious about sin. We eliminate God by changing what we mean by the name “God.”

To believe that lie is a choice—and a foolish one. Why? Because God is not hiding, Paul writes. He made himself plain to everyone. He’s available for examination. To disbelieve him requires a strategy to hide from truth.

Think: Do you think God’s anger against sinful humans is justified? How has he made himself plain to us?

Pray: Ask God to give you wisdom and insight into Romans 1 as we study it this week.

Do: Make a list: Write down ways in which God makes himself plain to people.

Wrath: Without Excuse

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

“Yeah, but . . . they didn’t know about evolution when Paul wrote this, right? They didn’t know about the big bang and Darwin’s theory. They didn’t have the Discovery channel. If they had, maybe Paul would have written this differently.”

wrath_350Whatever your take on the dance between the terminology of creation and evolution, Paul’s words here stand as God’s Word. God is knowable from what he has made. What he has made, in part, is conveniently listed in chapter 1 of his book. And that creation reveals him. Who could create the universe from nothing without endless power? How could any being create the universe if he were not God?

I’ve heard all the debates (and I’ve mangled a few arguments), but the first step to dismissing God is denying the reality of his act of creation. We can’t know God if we don’t believe he made it all. And if we refuse to see him in what he had made, we are “without excuse.”

Think: What are some of the things God’s creation tells us about him?

Pray: Thank God for revealing his character by what he has made.

Do: Make another list: Start it with two items – eternal power and divine nature. Follow those with other of God’s qualities that are obvious in his creation.

Wrath: Darkened Hearts

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:21-23)

Have you ever found yourself caught up in a really good TV show built around an ongoing mystery? The show Lost is an example. When it was new, it was a huge phenomenon. Hardcore fans were obsessed with figuring out what was going on on that island. After every episode, they would get online and start taking apart the clues. What was that book Ben was reading? Is the name of that new character an anagram?

wrath_350Of course, what they were really trying to figure out is what the show’s creators were up to. They wanted to know what those guys had in mind. To figure out the mystery behind a show like that, you have to start with the assumption that someone is creating the show and that they have a purpose. And when the mystery begins to fall apart and get tedious, you blame the writers (not the island).

Paul’s point in this passage is that you cannot hope to understand real life if you don’t start with the idea that somebody created it and is running the “show.” It would be like thinking that Lost was somehow happening all on it’s own without a storyteller. You’d end up looking to the created things (Jack, Ben, the smoke monster) for answers instead of looking to the writers. You’d be a fool, Paul says.

Eliminate God as the starting place, and all our knowledge is out of context. We come to the wrong conclusions about everything.

Think: When you are watching (or reading or playing the game of) a good story, how aware are you of the storytellers? How much do you wonder what they are up to in telling this story?

Pray: Ask God to help you filter every attempt to understand the world through the truth that he created it and deserves to be glorified and thanked.

Do: Write out Proverbs 9:10 on a piece of paper and memorize it this week.

Wrath: Degrading

“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Romans 1:24)

Are you following the progression in Romans 1 this week? 1) God is knowable from creation. 2) People willfully ignore him as Creator: no worship, no thanks. 3) Their thinking becomes foolish. 4) They worship images of creation instead of God. And now 5) God releases them to fully surrender to sexual degradation.

wrath_350It’s how the world has worked since the very beginning. Reverse engineer this list. If you notice that the society seems to be wallowing in sexual degradation, you should conclude that it started with rejecting the Creator God followed by refusing to worship and thank him followed by the worship of creation (including our own bodies).

God expresses his wrath on humanity, in part, by allowing people to fully indulge in sin and to experience all the painful consequences of those choices.

Think: Have you ever made the connection between rejecting the Creator God and sexual immorality? Why do you think it’s so easy to miss?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to treat sexual sin too lightly. Thank him for his incredible grace, mercy and forgiveness in Christ. (That’s what the rest of Romans is about!)

Do: Make some time to start reading the rest of Romans. Notice exactly how God made a way for us to escape this cultural pattern of godlessness, foolishness and sin.

Wrath: Rock Bottom

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips . . .” (Romans 1:28-29)

Paul finishes his description of the cultural downward spiral away from God by listing the ultimate result – a society in absolute, sin-fueled chaos. Everyone does evil. Everyone hurts everyone else. And everyone is fine with that (until they get hurt).

wrath_350Did you notice his summary of the first step: “they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God.” It doesn’t always start with a fist-shaking defiance against the Almighty. For many, it’s more like, “Eh, what’s the big deal? Maybe there’s a God; maybe there’s not. If there is, what does it really matter?”

We might recognize our culture in some of Paul’s description, but we’re far from rock bottom. Those of us who have committed to “knowing God” through Jesus still have an influence here. We can still proclaim with our lives and Christlike love that knowing God – the true Creator God of the Bible – matters most of all.

Think: What can Christians do to influence our culture to take God seriously and treat him with respect?

Pray: Ask God to allow your friends and family to see Christ in you every day as evidence that he is real and active and worth knowing.

Do: Copy from verses 28-32 Paul’s list of the kinds of things a society embraces when it reaches rock bottom.

Wrath: No Better

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

We’ve spent this last week reading about humanity’s downward spiral away from God. We’ve seen how people start by refusing to know him and end up with a society that suffers all the ugly consequences of sin. It would be easy for those of us who are believers to say, “I’m glad I believe God and have escaped that mess.”

wrath_350That’s probably exactly what some of Paul’s Jewish readers were saying to themselves. They were God’s people, after all. They thought Paul’s description did not apply to them. But he pulls the rug out from under them – and from us. We are no better, no more righteous. We have no room to judge those marching away from God. We, too, are sinners who deserve his anger and punishment. (You remember Romans 3:23 and 6:23.)

Fairly or not, some Christians are known as people who sit in judgement of those outside the church. Instead, we should become the people who say, “Big news! God is giving away eternal life for free to all of us sinners! Come and see!”

Think: Does it ever make sense for us to judge or look down on those who are not in Christ on this side of heaven? Are we any better in ourselves?

Pray: Ask God to give you real compassion for those who have rejected the Creator, and ask that they will see his compassion in you.

Do: Make two short lists. On one, write words that describe a judgmental attitude toward unbelievers. On the other, write words that describe a compassionate, welcoming spirit.