God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness
Scripture reading is from the NIV (New International Version):
1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
1:19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
1:20 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 people are without excuse.
1:21 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.
1:22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools
1:23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images
made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
1:25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.
1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.
1:27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
1:28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.
1:29 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,
1:30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;
1:31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
1:32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Commentary from the Believers Bible Commentary:Romans 1:18-32
C. The Universal Need for the Gospel (1:18-3:20)
1:18 Here we have the answer to the question “Why do men need the gospel?” The answer is that they are lost without it, and that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against the wickedness of men who suppress the truth in an unrighteous manner and by their unrighteous lives. But how is God’s wrath revealed? One answer is given in the context. God gives men over to uncleanness (1:24), to vile affections (1:26), and to a reprobate mind (1:28). But it is also true that God occasionally breaks through into human history to show His extreme displeasure at man’s sin—for example, the flood (Gen. 7); the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19); and the punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Num_16:32).
1:19 “Are the heathen who have never heard the gospel lost?” Paul shows that they are, not because of knowledge they don’t have, but because of the light which they do have, yet refuse! Those things which may be known of God in creation have been revealed to them. God has not left them without a revelation of Himself.
1:20 Ever since the creation of the world, two invisible characteristics of God have been on display for all to see: His eternal power and His divinity or Godhead. The word Paul uses here means divinity or godhood. It suggests the character of God rather than His essential being, His glorious attributes rather than His inherent deity. His deity is assumed.
The argument here is clear: Creation demands a Creator. Design demands a Designer. By looking up at the sun, moon, and stars, anyone can know there is a God.
The answer to the question “What about the heathen?” is this: they are without excuse. God has revealed Himself to them in creation, but they have not responded to this revelation. So people are not condemned for rejecting a Savior they have never heard of, but for being unfaithful to what they could know about God.
1:21 Although they knew God by His works, they did not glorify Him for who He is or thank Him for all He has done. Rather, they gave themselves over to futile philosophies and speculations about other gods, and as a result lost the capacity to see and think clearly. “Light rejected is light denied.” Those who don’t want to see lose the capacity to see.
1:22 As men grew more conceited over their self-styled knowledge, they plunged deeper into ignorance and nonsense. These two things always characterize those who reject the knowledge of God—they become insufferably conceited and abysmally ignorant at the same time.
1:23 Instead of evolving from lower forms, “early man” was of a high moral order. By refusing to acknowledge the true, infinite, incorruptible God, he devolved to the stupidity and depravity that go with idol worship. This whole passage gives the lie to evolution.
Man is instinctively religious. He must have some object to worship. When he refused to worship the living God, he made his own gods of wood and stone representing man, birds, animals, and creeping things, or reptiles. Notice the downward progression—man, birds, animals, creeping things. And remember that man becomes like what he worships. As his concept of deity degenerates, his morals degenerate also. If his god is a reptile, then he feels free to live as he pleases. Remember too that a worshiper generally considers himself inferior to the object of worship. Created in the image and after the likeness of God, man here takes a place lower than that of serpents!
When man worships idols, he worships demons. Paul states clearly that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice to idols they sacrifice to demons and not to God (1Co_10:20).
1:24 Three times it is said that God gave man up. He gave them up to uncleanness (1:24), to vile passions (1:26), and to a reprobate mind (1:28). In other words, God’s wrath was directed against man’s entire personality.
In response to the evil lusts of their hearts, God abandoned them to heterosexual uncleanness—adultery, fornication, lewdness, prostitution, harlotry, etc. Life became for them a round of sex orgies in which to dishonor their bodies among themselves.
1:25 This abandonment by God was because they first abandoned the truth about Him for the lie of idolatry. An idol is a lie, a false representation of God. An idolater worships the image of a creature, and thus insults and dishonors the Creator, who is eternally worthy of honor and glory, not of insult.
1:26 For this same reason God gave people up to erotic activity with members of their own sex. Women became lesbians, practicing unnatural sex and knowing no shame.
1:27 Men became sodomites, in total perversion of their natural functions. Turning away from the marriage relationship ordained by God, they burned with lust for other men and practiced homosexuality. But their sin took its toll in their bodies and souls. Disease, guilt, and personality deformities struck at them like the sting of a scorpion. This disproves the notion that anyone can commit this sin and get away with it.
Homosexuality is being passed off today by some as a sickness and by others as a legitimate alternative lifestyle. Christians must be careful not to accept the world’s moral judgments but to be guided by God’s word. In the OT, this sin was punishable by death (Lev_18:29; Lev_20:13), and here in the NT those who practice it are said to be worthy of death (Rom_1:32). The Bible speaks of homosexuality as a very serious sin, as evidenced by God’s obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah, where militant “gays” ran riot (Gen_19:4-25).
The gospel offers pardon and forgiveness to homosexuals, as it does to all sinners who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians who have fallen into this heinous sin can find forgiveness and restoration through confessing and forsaking the sin. There is complete deliverance from homosexuality to all who are willing to obey God’s word. Ongoing counseling assistance is very important in most cases.
It is true that some people seem to have a natural tendency toward homosexuality. This should not be surprising, since fallen human nature is capable of just about any form of iniquity and perversion. The gross sin does not consist in the inclination toward it but in yielding to and practicing it. The Holy Spirit gives the power to resist the temptation and to have lasting victory (1Co_10:13). Some of the Christians in Corinth were living proofs that homosexuals need not be irrevocably bound to that lifestyle (1Co_6:9-11).
1:28 Because of men’s refusal to retain God in their knowledge, either as Creator, Sustainer, or Deliverer, God gave them over to a debased mind to commit a catalog of other forms of wickedness. This verse gives deep insight into why evolution has such enormous appeal for natural men. The reason lies not in their intellects but in their wills. They do not want to retain God in their knowledge. It is not that the evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that they are compelled to accept it; rather, it is because they want some explanation for origins that will eliminate God completely. They know that if there is a God, then they are morally responsible to Him.
1:29 Here, then, is the dark list of additional sins which characterize man in his alienation from God. Notice that he is full of them, not just an occasional dabbler in them. He is trained in sins which are not fitting for a human being: unrighteousness (injustice); sexual immorality (fornication, adultery, and other forms of illicit sex); wickedness (active evil); covetousness (greed, the incessant desire for more); maliciousness (the desire for harm on others; venomous hatred); full of envy (jealousy of others); full of murder (premeditated and unlawful killing of another, either in anger or in the commission of some other crime); full of strife (wrangling, quarreling, contentiousness); full of deceit (trickery, treachery, intrigue); full of evil-mind edness (ill-will, spite, hostility, bitterness); whisperers (secret slanderers, gossips);
1:30 backbiters (open slanderers, those who bad-mouth others); haters of God (or hateful to God); violent (despiteful, insulting); proud (haughty, arrogant); boasters (braggarts, self-paraders); inventors of evil things (devisers of mischief and new forms of wickedness); disobedient to parents (rebellious to parental authority);
1:31 undiscerning (lacking moral and spiritual discernment, without conscience); untrustworthy (breaking promises, treaties, agreements, and contracts whenever it serves their purposes); unloving (acting in total disregard of natural ties and the obligations that go with them); unforgiving (irreconcilable or implacable); unmerciful (cruel, vindictive, without pity).
1:32 Those who abuse sex (1:24), who pervert sex (1:26, 27), and who practice the other sins listed (1:29-31) have an innate knowledge not only that these things are wrong but also that they themselves are deserving of death. They know this is God’s verdict, however much they seek to rationalize or legalize these sins. But this does not deter them from indulging in these forms of ungodliness. In fact they unite with others to promote them, and feel a sense of camaraderie with their partners-in-sin.
EXCURSUS ON THE UNREACHED HEATHEN
What then, is God’s answer to the question “Are the heathen who have never heard the gospel lost?” The condemnation of the heathen is that they did not live up to the light which God gave them in creation. Instead they become idolaters, and as a result abandoned themselves to lives of depravity and vileness.
But suppose an individual heathen does live up to the light God gives him. Suppose he burns his idols and seeks the true God. What then?
There are two schools of thought among evangelical believers on this subject.
Some believe that if a pagan lives up to the light of God in creation, God will send him the gospel light. Cornelius is cited as an example. He sought God. His prayers and alms came up as a memorial before God. Then God sent Peter to tell him how to be saved (Act_11:14).
Others believe that if a man trusts the one true and living God as He is revealed in creation, but dies before he hears the gospel, God will save him on the basis of the work of Christ at Calvary. Though the man himself knew nothing about the work of Christ, God reckons the value of that work to his account when he trusts God on the basis of the light he has received. Those who hold this view point out that this is how God saved people before Calvary and how He still saves morons, imbeciles, and also children who die before they reach the age of accountability. Romans 2
The first view can be supported by the case of Cornelius. The second view lacks scriptural support for the era following the death and resurrection of Christ (our present era), and it also weakens the necessity for aggressive missionary activity.
Paul has shown that the pagans are lost and need the gospel. Now he turns to a second class of people, whose exact identity is somewhat in dispute. We believe that the apostle is talking here to self-righteous moralists, whether Jews or Gentiles. The first verse shows that they are self-righteous moralists by the way they condemn the behavior of others (yet commit the same sins themselves). Verses 9, 10, 12, 14, and 15 show that Paul is speaking to both Jews and Gentiles. So the question before the court is: Are the self-righteous moralists, whether Jews or Gentiles, also lost? And the answer, as we shall see, is, “Yes, they are lost too!”