Faithlife Sermons

God's Present Wrath

Romans  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

When we began studying Romans four weeks ago, I told you what I believed the theme of this letter to be: God’s Radical Gospel. This letter is the gospel through and through. That’s no different in today’s passage. Unfortunately, all too often, this passage is separated from the context with which it is in. Last week, we saw three motivations that spurred Paul to preach the gospel message to everyone. He was eagerly obligated to everyone, unashamed of the gospel because it was first the power of God leading to salvation, second because the righteousness that God gives is revealed or experienced in it, and lastly because without the gospel people are currently under God’s wrath. So there are two positive reasons for being eagerly obligated to preach the gospel, and a negative reason.
In that negative reason, that God’s wrath is experienced without faith in the gospel, we saw the why. Why is God’s wrath expressed? We saw that it is because mankind is ungodly and unrighteous. They know about God but what they know they suppress. They have enough proof, but refuse to believe. They made every excuse in the book to disbelieve, but none of them are good enough. That’s the context of this week’s passage.
Paul was explaining why he just had to preach the gospel message and did so unashamedly. Without the gospel being heard and believed, God’s wrath was being experienced by people all around him. Last week’s was why. This week’s is how. How is God’s wrath being expressed? How can we tell God’s wrath is being revealed? Or we could say: what does God’s wrath look like?
When we think of God’s wrath, we tend to think of natural disasters and national crises. Hurricanes, tornadoes, fire and brimstone from the sky, coup d’etats, invasions of foreign nations, etc. And those can all be signs of wrath and judgment. But more often than not, God’s wrath is much more subtle. As we look at Romans 1:24-32 this morning, my hope is that we see more than the fact that God’s wrath exists, but that we see God’s purpose for his present wrath. Paul shows two main purposes that God has for revealing his wrath. The wrath of God is revealed against the wickedness of man to show the wretchedness of sin and to bring about the willingness to repent. Paul’s tone in the passage is not anger. It is firm, but not angry. There is more desperation than indignation in this text. There is more compassion than consternation in this text. And we will see this as we look at Romans 1:24-32. As we study this morning, we will first see a picture of what the wrath of God looks like and then the two purposes behind it. So we will see
Wrath and Wickedness
Wretchedness
Willingness
Romans 1:24–32 ESV
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Wrath and Wickedness

The first part of this passage that we are looking at this morning paints a picture in a vivid way of what God’s wrath looks like.
Romans 1:24–27 ESV
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Quickly, we need to go back a couple of verses to verse 22. Paul put a “therefore,” on the beginning of this sentence in verse 24. Which means the argument that he just made results in this conclusion. So going back to his argument, we read in
Romans 1:22–23 ESV
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.
What we saw last week is that this does not mean that humanity gave to creatures what belonged to the Creator, but instead, rid themselves of God’s glory and took in exchange something infinitely worse: creaturely images. If God is no longer supreme in a person’s life, something, anything becomes supreme, and the only thing left if you take away God, is the non-God, creation. Therefore, God gave them over. Their desire was for the created and God gave them over to pursue the created. God created humanity to bring him glory and enjoy him forever. In other words, God was to be the passion and pursuit of our hearts. Which is why, Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “You made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its place of rest in you.” But we exchanged the glory of God, emptying our hearts of its passion for God and picked up in its stead a passion for the creature, first and foremost the self. And so, for that reason, in wrath, God gave us over to the passion of our hearts. But what is in the heart does not stay in the heart. As Woody Allen famously said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” It comes out eventually. And when it does, it isn’t pretty. Jesus said,
Matthew 15:19 ESV
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
Paul, in his effort to explain why he is shamelessly eager to preach the gospel to everyone, is telling the Romans that he sees God’s wrath being experienced all around him. Imagine for a moment the picture Paul is painting. Imagine a large hand in front of a man and or a woman on the right side of the canvas. That person his pushing the hand up and away from them, and on the canvas you notice that the hand is not touching the ground and is indeed being lifted. It is clear that the person does not want the hand in the way. It wants whatever is being blocked on the other side. Looking to the left side of the painting, you see all these ghastly ghouls and ghosts. The way they are positioned, it is clear they are ready to attack. You know if that hand is lifted, the person will experience unimaginable pain.
This is the picture Paul is painting. God is handing those around us to the passions of their hearts. And it is most evident in acts of homosexuality. That’s not the only way, but it is most evident. I quickly want to explain why.
God created humans to have a passion for him and then for one another. Humanity gave up the God-given, natural inclination to glorify him. Stop and think at how foreign that sounds. At one time we had a natural inclination to glorify God. Because we have rejected the passion for God, we have reordered our other natural inclinations. Some put money above people. Some put animals above people. Some put certain skin colors above other skin colors. Some put property above people. We read the parable of the Good Samaritan and are confronted with religious people putting themselves above the hurting and we know it isn’t right. We are disordered in so many ways. But in nature, there is a clear and natural way for sexual relations. The male and female bodies were built, engineered, for one particular set of intimate relations. And so, homosexuality, more than anything else, shows how far humanity as a whole has veered from God’s ordered creation.
God allowing humanity to veer is his revealed wrath. It’s subtle, but real. Mankind, having exchanged God’s glory for human images, is on a road heading to a cliff. And God is putting up warning signs. He sent prophets. He sent apostles. He even sent his Son. He continues to send pastors, teachers, evangelists, and you, to speak the warning, to give the truth. But as verse 25 tells us. They exchange the truth for a lie. And so God lets the person or even the whole society continue to careen toward the cliff. He gives them over to their own passions.
Stop for a moment and think about this. If you are a person who has never put their faith in Jesus Christ so that he is Master over you, wanting to be your own master instead, understand that wickedness is never unpunished. You may be thinking that God hasn’t poured out his wrath on you yet because he hasn’t struck you with lightning and therefore, why should you worry. But what you don’t understand is that God is, by no longer putting up roadblocks, pouring out his wrath on you and your life. Wickedness cannot escape God’s wrath.
If you are a believer. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ so that he is your Master, then understand that the wrath of God is no longer on you or your life. Christ has reconciled us to God. He has put us back in right standing with God by taking upon himself God’s wrath.
No matter what though, whether on Christ, if we are believers, or on you, if you are an unbeliever, God’s wrath must be satisfied. The temporal way that God’s wrath is poured out is what Paul is pointing out in this passage. He paints a picture of God removing his hand that restrain a person from going after the passions of his or her heart, thus handing them over so that the heart’s passions ravage the body in whatever way the heart wants.

Wretchedness

This leads us to the the purpose of God’s wrath. At first we saw that Paul was painting a picture of God’s wrath, but now we see that Paul gives us two purposes for God’s wrath. This first one is to show the wretchedness of sin.
Romans 1:28–31 ESV
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
When Paul lists these sins, he is not listing the sins of homosexuals, but of the unrighteous. The “they” in verse 28 does not refer to the homosexual but to mankind who exchanged God’s glory for the likeness of man. In other words, he describes every human being ever born. The list was and is meant to elicit a response to the effect of “Oh no! I do those things. Does that mean I have a debased mind?” And the answer is yes! If you do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, this is who you are. Paul is using similar language in verse 28 that he did in verse 24-25. The idea of God handing over humanity to their passions or in this case debased thinking. That’s why I say that he is showing how wretched sin is. Many Christians are appalled at homosexuality. And so they should be. The Bible calls it an abomination. But lets read,
Proverbs 6:16–19 ESV
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
Seven abominations listed: pride, lies, murder, inventing evil, malice, and false testimony. Are we as appalled at these abominations? Neither Paul, nor I are trying to lesson the sin of homosexuality, but seeking to show the wretchedness of all sin in general.
Notice again, the words, “God gave them up.” The people that Paul was writing about did not see fit to acknowledge God. What he literally says is that they would not consider to know God. They want to empty their thoughts of all things God. We’ve done this haven’t we, even as Christians? When some sin tempts us and we know that it is wrong, we have the Spirit convicting us, and we silence the Holy Spirit so we can have whatever is tempting us. Imagine what it is like for the non-believer. Conscience might or might not speak up. The more the conscience is denied, the more it becomes seared and no longer works. Here Paul is saying, that people are struggling to live life by emptying their minds of God, and in his wrath, God lets them. But there’s a problem. The mind will not and cannot stay empty. The more people empty themselves of God, the more they are filled with other thoughts. And Paul lists them. It’s not a comprehensive list; he doesn’t state every sin. But he gives enough to let us all know how wretched sin is. None of us born are immune to sin. We may not do one particular sin, but we do another. And any one of these sins shows that God’s hand is removed so that these sins flood into our minds, our hearts, our considerations.
Look at the list. This list is one of all types of unrighteousness. And remember
Romans 1:18 ESV
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
I don’t think I need to go through this list one by one. We know what the words mean. The one word I wish they had explained is maliciousness. It simply means doing evil for evil’s sake. Instead, I want us to notice the connection of verse 18 and verses 28 and 29. Verse 18 tells us that the wrath of God is revealed. How? Verse 28 tells us by handing people over. Why? Verse 18 tells us because of unrighteousness. Verse 29 tells us that at this point of handing them over, the people had already been filled with all different types of unrighteousness. Verse 18 tells us that the unrighteous suppress the truth of God. They stick their fingers in their ears and refuse to let thoughts of him in their mind. Verse 28 tells us that they will not even consider to know God.
Paul has come full circle. Why is he so shamelessly eager to preach the gospel? In part, because humanity is suffering the wrath of God presently. They refuse to even consider knowing him and so God is handing them over to what they’d rather know. He is handing them over to the things they are passionate about. Some are passionate for the same sex. Some are passionate about envy and getting as much in this life as they can. Some are passionate about themselves and are boastful and prideful and haughty. Some are passionate about throwing off the constraints of authority beginning at home with the parents. And the list goes on.
But it is not only the considering or the doing of these things, but the joy of seeing others do them as well.
Romans 1:32 ESV
Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Homosexuality is a practice deserving of death. But so is envy. So is murder. So is disobedience to parents. So is every one of those offenses Paul listed and more. Thus, the wrath goes even further that what may have been done in the dark because it would not receive man’s approval, is now done in the open, because it has been given a blessings by the general population, and man has gone to not only secretly enjoying such passions himself or herself, but celebrating the fact that others are doing them too.
We do not need to wait for a natural disaster or a terrorist attack to see God’s wrath being revealed. We see it every single day.
In fact, while Paul gives some piercing reminders of the wretchedness of sin, we need look no further than the cross. The cross displays the true wretchedness of our sins. As Paul wrote to the Colossians:
Colossians 2:13–14 ESV
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Willingness

Which leads us to the second purpose Paul gives for God’s wrath. Technically, we don’t see it in this text that we have looked at this morning. But I don’t want you to leave here thinking there is no hope. When we think of God’s final judgment, we know that there is no hope afterward. There is no hope for those who die in their sins rather than die in Christ Jesus. But that is not true in God’s temporal wrath. We see this in next week’s text. And I will expound upon it then. But I want to point out to you Romans 2:4, because there we see hope for those under God’s present wrath.
Romans 2:4 ESV
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
God is patient. He is forbearing. He is kind. One of the main purposes behind God’s long-standing wrath upon people’s lives is to bring them to repentance. His wrath is actually a kindness. He could take them out at anytime. But he is patient, kind, and forbearing. He will hand people over their their passions so that they may one day see how wretched those passions are, repent, and believe.
That’s the story of the Prodigal Son is it not. The son rejected his father, impassioned with greed. He took his inheritance, blew it all by his lavish living. He had nothing. He was lower than low. He was feeding the most unclean of animals and desired to eat the slop he was feeding them. You can’t get much lower than that. But then we read Jesus’s words in
Luke 15:17–19 ESV
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’
And we know the rest of the story. The father saw him from afar, ran to him, hugged and kissed this filthy, smelly son of his. Though his son began to speak, but his father interrupted such a wonderfully prepared speech and called for a party to be thrown. Why?
Luke 15:24 ESV
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Conclusion

As we conclude this study of Romans 1:24-32, we have seen what the wrath of God looks like. It more often than not does not come in fire and brimstone, but in handing people over to the passions of their heart, allowing them to sink deeper and deeper into their own sin. We saw that God has a purpose for his wrath. He first shows us how wretched sin truly is. It is all pervasive. Every one of us has been affected badly by sin. Every one of us either are or have been so far down into the the dark pit of sin that we cannot get out on our own. But we also see that God has given his temporal wrath because he is kind and that kindness can lead to repentance.
If you have never put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are under God’s wrath. He does not pour his wrath on you simply because he is angry with your sin, but because you need to see how far you are from God because of your sin. You need to see that you are helpless without God’s kind hand bringing you back. You need the reconciliation that Jesus provides on the cross. Understand what John wrote in
John 3:16–18 ESV
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Jesus did not come into the world to judge you. As verse 18 says, you’re already judged and have been found guilty. He came into the world to save you if you will believe in him. I would love to talk with you about it. I am putting up my number on the screen. Text me or call me. Do not suffer from this wrath any longer than necessary.

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Beloved, Paul was not angry when he wrote these words. He was concerned for those who did not know Jesus because of all that he was seeing. Let me ask you: are you allowing what you see in the world to anger you or does it make you compassionate for those suffering under God’s wrath. Does it cause you to complain about all that is wrong in the world or in this nation or does it cause you proclaim God’s radical gospel? Paul wasn’t complaining about all the sin, but was explaining that it was all the sin that made him want to proclaim the gospel.
So brothers and sisters, let us not give up on God’s radical gospel. It is the only power to save people. It is the only way for a person to receive the righteousness that only God can give. It is the only way to remove God’s wrath from those around us.
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