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Jan 8 2023 - Romans 1 - Is Wrath part of God's Nature?

The Book of Romans deals with many practical and theological issues that people have debated about the meaning from Century 1. There is tremendous value to live with confidence, not arrogance, with your best understanding – but at the same time respecting those who disagree.

Those who disagree with you have thoughtful understandings of what they believe.

I will read today’s passage through and then go back –

Romans 1: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of 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 over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another,

Phew! What a passage!

Last week, I asked, Who is the letter of Romans written to? We looked at verse 7 – it is the beloved of God, who are called saints. Written to the Christians of Rome, both Jewish and Gentile Christians, in Rome.

The first thing we, today, need to understand – and I have this in all caps: THIS IS NOT WRITTEN TO THE WORLD! THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT WRITTEN TO THE WORLD!

Paul has not written this for us to use this against the world – he is correcting problems in the Church in Rome – especially issues – like we talked about last week – the weak and the strong.

This passage is intimately tied to and connected to Romans 14. You could almost bridge the two – judging the weak and the strong. We will see that in the coming weeks.

As we read this, there are a lot of allusions to Genesis 1-11. It is bringing out hints – mirroring those chapters, especially chapter 3.

For us – what is also important – we should not try to use it to find specific problems in our society. We will be looking at it wrong if that is how we look at it. I believe that is very clear, as we look at it.

26-27 can be polarizing and difficult to look at and understand – next week we will be looking at same sex/gender relationships. The problem is we tend to focus on that. But first we need to understand 18-25.

I am going to read another passage – untitled, on purpose – from another version:

For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.

But miserable, with their hopes set on dead things, are those who give the name "gods" to the works of human hands, gold and silver fashioned with skill, and likenesses of animals, or a useless stone, the work of an ancient hand…For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life;

So, this sounds like a poetic way of saying Romans – but it is not from the book of Romans – but from the Wisdom of Solomon – in the Apocrypha – which some think is the Catholic Bible – but it is intertestamental writings that Jewish people were reading in the first century.

In context – in the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon (Solomon didn’t write it) he is describing the Gentiles.

When you look at certain Old Testament passages – he is explaining the presupposition stereotypes of Gentiles – this is your thinking – in order to reveal to them their prejudices – and to deal with them.

There was a recent survey – on how the conservative right views the progressive left – and vice-verse.

Those on the right – 89% believe that those on the left are brainwashed.

88% on the left

86% believe that people on the right are hateful

Same

Racist

Arrogant –

Let me say this – so that we understand the reading of Romans – what if, the Church today, consisted of half conservative right and half progressive left – and there was no other place to go – because that is what Paul is dealing with.

That might help us to read this letter in its context.

Now, into the passage – I need to start where we ended last week:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."

What does that mean? What in the gospel is being revealed.

Is my understanding of a term the same as Paul’s? Do I understand it like Paul did?

The thing about righteousness – I basically thought about doing the right thing – not sinning – moral behavior! And that is part of it, without question.

The difference – for Paul, righteousness and justice are part of the same word family.

The Righteousness of God

 Right, Righteous, Righteousness

Do Right

 Just, Justice, Justification

Do Justice

So, when we look at righteousness, we need to say righteousness/justice.

Setting Things Aright (Restoration of all things)

God’s faithful saving restorative justice is being revealed in the gospel (Michael Gorman)

Why?

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Put these together – Righteousness in the gospel – FOR the wrath of God is revealed.

How can the God of love and mercy have wrath? For some that is a hard thing! For some, who say it is not a hard thing – maybe you don’t understand it!

Wrath – it is there – in Romans – about a half-dozen times. We can’t ignore it. The problem is understanding it properly – and connecting it with what I said in the other verse – God’s faithful restorative justice.

Somehow God’s wrath is used in God’s faithful, saving, restorative justice.

We can’t understand, in this life, how this all fits together?

What is wrath? How is it revealed? Why is it revealed?

When we think of wrath – one reason we have a hard time – maybe your background – maybe you grew up in a house of anger? Those are tightly tied. That Anger you grew up with does not seem like God.

Sometimes preachers portray God that way – to ‘scare the hell out of people’! – God is not a god of blind rage.

Wrath is not a characteristic of God – not part of His nature.

A characteristic of God is LOVE

Faithful

Righteous

Just –

Those are part of his nature.

Wrath is not. Wrath is the response of a loving, faithful, just God to evil. It is a response.

TO put this in human terms. The Bible is clear, we are to forsake wrath – leave room for the wrath of God – and man’s anger does not accomplish the will of God.

Let’s say you see someone abusing a young child – you witness it – what will happen inside of you? There will be a response. Right? We could say – that is wrath. If God saw that (and He does) there is wrath there.

Now, because you experienced what we might call wrath – does that mean that is part of your character? Absolutely not!

But if a child spills milk – and that same response comes up? There is a problem at that point.

Wrath is not a permanent part of God’s nature, rather it is provoked or aroused by human conduct. God’s justice is a permanent fixture of God’s character, but wrath is a temporary response to evil.

Why? What kind of evil does Paul say God is responding to in wrath? What do we want to do? We want to jump ahead to vs. 26-27.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Ungodliness – ungodded. But we don’t have that word. Living without an appropriate reference to, and relationship with God. It is living a without God life.

It is the rejection of God that brings about wrath.

Now, living a life without God always results in idolatry.

It says – it always results in idolatry – because it leaves a void that must be filled.

19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

He goes back to Genesis 1

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

When humans try to live without God, their heart is darkened. It becomes black. And then that vacuum opens – and they seek to fill it - how do they do that?

22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Exchanged – important to understand as it appears several times here.

John Calvin said that the human heart is a perpetual idol factory – always inventing new ones.

What do we exchange? The radiant, resplendent power of God. Seen in the tent – all who saw it – and then in the temple – and the whole earth would be filled with the glory of God – everything magnificent about God – we exchange for crawling creatures!

It is what happened in the garden! They exchanged the truth for a lie.

They decided on the crawling creature rather than God.

Image – we were created in the image of God. That is who WE are. We are in God’s image.

We behold in a mirror the glory of the Lord – and we are transformed into that image. So, what we are doing when we try to live a life without God – we are rejecting the glory of God within ourselves – and become like 4-footed animals. When we reject God, we reject who we truly are. We reject our true self – becoming something else.

Finally: Everything you have just heard ties into this – and will tell us what wrath looks like – how God’s wrath is revealed.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them.

So when we think of wrath – this is a theme/design pattern throughout the Bible – wrath is God giving over – removing the restraints and restrictions on human evil. And it is basically saying this – he let them have what they lusted for – what they wanted – okay – you can have what you want – and the result is disastrous.

IN the story of the flood – that is exactly what Genesis tells us – the world was ruined because humans ruined it – and then – we say God destroyed the world – God ruined it., When God created the world, He created boundaries so that the water could not cover the land – and God removed that.

Genesis 6 starts off with relationships with spiritual beings – then sexual relationships – then violence and every form of evil – and God pulls back the restrictions. And destruction comes upon the earth.

Adam and Eve in the Garden. How many restrictions did they have? One! When they decided to live without God – what happens? You shall die. Did they die immediately? No, they were cast out of the garden – and all restrictions were removed – freedom to sin in all sorts of ways – and here we are!

That is not the most encouraging stuff in the world, is it? It sets up where we are going next week.

I will go back to the beginning – what is revealed in the gospel is God’s faithful, saving, restorative justice – and God is going to make all things right again. Yes, there is wrath and judgment – we can’t deny that – we see this in part – but after the Flood – we see restoration – but it doesn’t take humans long to ruin things again – but one day, everything will be fully restored – and God’s wrath will be involved in that process. For our minds – that is hard to understand.

25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.


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