Rom 1:18-21 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
We do not like to think about God’s wrath. Certainly, from an eternal standpoint, we have no need to ever fear His wrath. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, endured that in our stead on the cross. However, we should never use that as an excuse to partake in ungodliness or unrighteousness. I was never afraid that my natural father would destroy or disown me for bad behavior, but I always knew that behavior would have consequences. God is our perfect Father, and we should not expect Him to be less in His parenting of His children.
The language in these verses has always pulled at me. God’s wrath is revealed against men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. It is not something revealed to men who do not know the truth. Unless we know (hold) the truth, we cannot recognize any judgement we may face as coming from God.
Everything that follows in these verses is directed to men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. Sometimes the ungodliness of such people is very obvious: it is observed in their hateful language, their ill treatment of others, and a general attitude of self-centeredness. Some ungodliness is less obvious; apathy for the things of God, teaching that Jesus Christ alone is not sufficient to purge us from our sins, and loving creature comforts more than our Creator.
However, if God has shown us the truth then we know when the wrath (chastening) of God is made manifest. It can be made manifest in a way that many are aware of it, or it may be that God reveals it only to our hearts. Either way, rest assured that His wrath is revealed from heaven. It is holy and just and deserved.
Many believe that men should know there is a God because of their ability to see the natural world. It is supposed by this that no man, whether He has been quickened by the Spirit or not, has any excuse for not knowing the power of the Godhead. However, I am persuaded that it is not in the power of the natural man to see and know that there is a God simply by observing the natural world. I admired the physical beauty of the natural world for a number of years before I saw the handiwork of the mighty God in that beauty.
I go back again to Paul’s assertion about those who hold the truth in unrighteousness. Once God has made His existence known to us, then we have the ability (life) to grasp the invisible things of Him by the things that we are able to see. We then are without excuse because when we knew God we did not glorify Him as God. Men today still marvel at the wonders of this universe and are never thankful to God.
There was an article reported by NPR on November 18th of this year. The condensed version is that scientists have discovered that if they filter out all know sources of light, there is still a glow (or light) in space that has no known origin and no known explanation. Because He has revealed to me that there is a God, I know the answer to this mystery: before God made the sun, moon, or stars He said “Let there be light and there was light (Genesis 1:3).” This is all the answer that I need, and my heart rejoiced when I read this report.
Notice, finally, that Paul does not say these men were always vain in their imagination (which is certainly the case for those who do not know God). They became vain, which indicates a change in their estate. Also, he did not say they had always had a heart of darkness (which would be the case before they knew God). Instead their foolish heart was darkened; again, a change in condition.
If we hold the truth, let it be with thanksgiving that God has revealed Himself to us, and if we hold that truth in unrighteousness may we know of a certainty that the heavenly wrath of God will be made manifest!