The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, 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. 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.
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. (verses 18-21)
The last passage focused on “righteousness … a righteousness that is by faith” (Romans 1:17). This passage now begins to make clear why that gift of God is so desperately needed.
Paul tells us that the opposite of “righteousness” is currently active in the world, namely “godlessness and wickedness” (verse 18). That second word is literally the Greek word for “un-righteousness” – Paul is deliberately making a direct connection between God’s provision and our own desperate need.
“Unrighteousness” incites God’s wrath. He, more clearly than anyone, knows the impact of sin in our world, how it taints every aspect of human existence with its curse, and how it has infused the world with death. More fundamentally, the unrighteousness of sin is an affront to the very righteousness of God himself. As Judge of all the earth, his righteous justice is provoked.
Shortly, Paul will make it absolutely clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Here in Chapter 1, as he speaks about people giving themselves over to idol worship, his focus is specifically on the Gentile world. But in the examples of sin he brings forward, he is already moving in the direction of casting a net wide enough for everyone. Indeed, it seems to be built into human nature itself to “suppress the truth” (verse 18) and turn away from God.
Speaking right into the reality of our own world, this portion is one of the key passages in the New Testament that affirms scripture’s teaching condemning homosexual behaviour. Paul says it involves exchanging “the truth of God for a lie” (verse 25). There isn’t space here to discuss the complexities of the issue, but we need to hear the scripture speaking out clearly, contrary to our culture, that this is indeed sin.
To be clear, it is but one issue. There are multiple aspects of humanity’s sin and fallenness and unrighteousness. Paul launches into a broad listing of “wickedness” (verse 29, again using the word that literally means “unrighteousness”), which is only a beginning sample, yet specific enough to touch every single one of us: greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance, disobedience, senselessness, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness. It’s an incredibly painful list. It’s a painfully clear mirror.
Each of us is called to take our need seriously. The wrath of God is being revealed. But this sighting comes against the backdrop already provided in verse 17 – “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
God’s provision provides hope in the midst of dire need. Righteousness meets unrighteousness. Praise him.
Sovereign Lord, you are holy and righteous and just. We confess our own sin. On our own we are completely unrighteous. But in Christ, through faith, we receive a righteousness that meets us in our need. Praise your name. Thank you for your grace.
Reflect: Painful as it is, reflect on the listing of “unrighteousness” in verses 29-31. Allow the Lord to speak to your heart. Which is he specifically calling you to confess and repent? Once again, ask him to wash you clean. Stand in the righteousness of Jesus.