Sunday, September 18, 2011

How is God's wrath being revealed in this present time? How is God's mercy revealed in the midst of the wrath?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes ...
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith;
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven
against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men
who suppress the truth in unrighteousness...
Romans 1:16-18

Three Ways the Wrath of God Is Being Revealed

We should ask, "How is the wrath of God being revealed?" The first thing to notice is that the word "is revealed" is the very same word and tense as in verse 17. There "the righteousness of God is being revealed." Here "the wrath of God is being revealed." In both cases it is a present tense, continuous action. In other words it is happening now, not just in the future. There is a day of wrath coming (Romans 2:5, 8-9; 5:9). But in advance of that final outpouring of wrath, God's wrath is also present.
How? In three ways at least that we learn about in Romans.

1. Universal human death is revealing the wrath of God.
From Romans 5 we see that universal human death is a revealing or a manifestation of the wrath of God. Death is the judgement of God on the ungodliness and unrighteousness of the human race rooted in Adam. In the middle of Romans 5:15 we read, "by the transgression of the one [namely Adam] the many died." Then in the middle of verse 16 death is called a judgment and a condemnation: "For on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation." So you can see that death is seen as a judgment and a condemnation, that is, as an expression of God's wrath against sin. Then in the middle of verse 18 you see it again: "Through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men." So the first answer is that the wrath of God is being revealed against human sin in universal human death.

2. Universal futility and misery are evidence of God's wrath.
From Romans 8 we see that universal futility and misery are evidence of God's wrath against human sin. Start at Romans 8:18: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (19) For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. (20) For the creation was subjected to futility." Stop there and consider what that means before we read on.

I think it means that the sufferings he speaks of in verse 18 are inevitable in this fallen world. And specifically it means that you may plan well for retirement, and the year before you plan to enjoy it you have a stroke, and all the planning seems futile. You work with your own hands for years to build a simple home, and the week before you move in, lightning strikes, and it burns to the ground. You labor all during the spring to plant your crops and when the grain is just ready to sprout, a flood takes it all away. The creation was subjected to futility. In verse 21 it's called "slavery to corruption."

Now read on in Romans 8:20 to see where that subjection to futility came from: "The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope." This means that God subjected the creation to futility. Satan and Adam could not be the one who did this, because Paul said it was done "in hope." Neither Satan nor Adam in the Garden of Eden was planning for the hope of the human race. They simply sinned. But God showed His wrath against sin and subjected creation to futility, not as the last word, but in hope. There would come a day when the seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). But the misery and futility of the world we live in is owing to God's subjecting creation to futility, and is a testimony to His wrath against sin.

3. The sinking degradation of human behavior reveals the wrath of God.
So the first way God's wrath is revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness is in universal human death. The second way is in the futility and misery and suffering of creation. The third is the one most immediately in Paul's mind here in Romans 1, namely, the sinking degradation of human thinking and behavior. You see this three times in Romans 1:24-28.

After describing the ungodliness and unrighteousness of man in Romans 1:19-23 Paul says in verse 24, "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them." In other words, God reveals His wrath against sin by giving people up to be more sinful. Again in verse 26: "For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions." And again in verse 28: "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper."

So these are three of the ways that the wrath of God is being revealed now in this age against the universal (3:9) ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. He has consigned all to death, He has subjected all to futility, and He has given many over to the degradation of their own minds and hearts.

There remains time perhaps for one burning question: Is that God's only response to the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men? The answer to that question is No - neither in the case of unbelievers or believers.

Take the case of unbelievers. Wrath is always mingled with mercy in this age of hope. Look at Romans 2:4-5. Here he speaks to those who are missing this great truth: "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (5) But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."

Yes there is kindness in the midst of wrath. God is always doing more than one thing. Jesus said, "He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). Paul said to the pagans of Lystra, "[God] did not leave Himself without a witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). He said this to people who were dying and suffering and sinning under the wrath of God.
God warns with His wrath and He woos with His kindness. He speaks both languages: severity and tenderness. Do you recall how Jesus interpreted the coming of John the Baptist as a severe, leather-girded, locus-eating, desert-living, adultery-condemning prophet, on the one hand, and His own coming as a party-going, wine-making, child-healing, sin-forgiving savior, on the other hand? He said, "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn." Instead, you said, "John has a demon and Jesus is a glutton" (Matthew 11:17). The gospel came with both languages, but they would not hear.

O, unbeliever, God is speaking to you in your pain to warn you, and God is speaking to you in your pleasure to woo you. Don't misread the voice of God.

Therefore let us awaken to the truth of Romans 1:18 that the wrath of God is being revealed now in this age against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. We can't understand the world or the gospel without that truth. But let us also awaken to the truth that God is revealing something else at the same time. He is revealing the gift of righteousness for all who will believe on Christ.

So let us flee the wrath of God, and take refuge in the precious power of the gospel of God. Amen.

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