For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. – Romans 1:18-20 ESV
In verse 17, Paul states that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God from faith for faith. That word, “reveals” in the Greek is apokalyptō and it means to make known what was once hidden. So Paul is saying that the way to achieve righteousness, which was at one time hidden or unknown to men, is through faith. Faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. That is why he says, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). This new or formerly hidden means to getting right with God was revealed through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, through the gospel. Now, in verse 18, Paul unveils another once-hidden mystery. The gospel also revealed the wrath of God. He states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” In the gospel, the good news regarding salvation through Jesus Christ, we also see the wrath of God poured out. Jesus’ excruciating death on the cross is both a picture of God’s love and wrath – at the same time. Isaiah, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, wrote of the coming Messiah:
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Peter referred to this passage when he wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). The full extend of God’s hatred of sin was revealed on the cross. The innocent died for the guilty. The sinless One had to pay the price for the sinful. God died for the godless. In order for men to be made right with God, He had to pay the ultimate price and sacrifice His own Son. Jesus came to die. His death was the only means by which the wrath of God could be satisfied, the sins of man could be forgiven and righteousness could be achieved. Later on in this same letter, Paul asks a somewhat rhetorical question: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:22-24 ESV). God would have been completely just and right if He had chosen to destroy all mankind, because all men are guilty of having rebelled against Him. They were all vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. But instead, God chose to pour out His wrath on His own Son, in order that men might be saved from destruction. Some have described that idea as divine child abuse. They struggle with the idea that God would kill His own Son, even though it was for a good cause – to redeem millions upon millions of people. But God knew what man couldn’t know – that a restored relationship with Him was impossible without His help. Man could never live up to God’s righteous standard. Man was totally incapable of producing the kind of righteousness God required. That’s why Jesus told His followers, “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). That statement from the lips of Jesus did not come across as good news to His audience. It sounded like mission: impossible. But that was His point. Their righteousness was going to have to come from a source other than themselves. It was going to have to be the righteousness of God that had been revealed from heaven in the form of Jesus Christ.
But while the gospel is good news, you can’t have good news without bad news. And the bad news is that God hates sin and has to punish it. He cannot tolerate or overlook sin. Mankind is inherently ungodly and unrighteous, and in their state of unrighteousness, they suppress or hold back the truth. This doesn’t mean they in some way restrain or the truth of God, but their actions deny the reality of the holiness of God and His expectation that His creation reflect that holiness. Paul goes on to say that they are without excuse. God has revealed Himself to them through His creation – “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20 ESV). The very existence of idols throughout the history of mankind lends credence to Paul’s statement. The human race has always recognized the existence of a greater power outside of our everyday experience. Men reveal the reality of God in their built-in need to worship someone or something. Martin Luther writes, “This demonstrates that there was in their hearts a knowledge of a divine sovereign being. How else could they have ascribed to a stone, or to the deity represented by stone, divine attributes, had they not been convinced that such qualities really belong to God!” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans).
So man is without excuse. But man is not without hope. While the full extent of God’s wrath was revealed on the cross and poured out on His Son, His love was also made known. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). God’s wrath was satisfied by Jesus. But men must accept God’s gift of His Son. They must rely on the payment made by Jesus to provide for them the righteousness they could never earn on their own. But John goes on to tell us the sad, but true reality. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). Men can choose to accept the love of God or remain under the wrath of God. He has provided a way of escape. But all men must choose to accept or reject it.