|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Now Paul tackles the universal, the total sin problem of mankind, beginning with verse 18 of chapter one, right up to verse 20 of chapter three. Its quite a big chunk that he deals with in regards to the sin problem. And the question we must ask is, Why? Why does he begin with the sin problem?
The gospel is Gods Good News not for good people, but for sinners. And first of all, he has to convince us that in us there is nothing good. He has to convince us that we, in and of ourselves, are helpless. He has to destroy in us every confidence in the flesh. Because the gospel is not for 80 percent sinners or 90 percent sinners; it is for 100 percent sinners.
So he plunges into the sin problem which we cannot cover in one study. Its going to take three studies to deal with the sin problem. I want to warn you beforehand that Paul does paint a dark, dismal picture of the human race, to which you and I belong. It can be discouraging. So please dont go home and plan to commit suicide. Because Paul has some wonderful good news beginning with chapter three, verse 21. In fact, he begins the gospel with two words: But now. After he has painted a dark, dismal picture of us, he says, But now, dont give up hope. I have good news.
The stars shine the brightest on a night that is pitch dark. And it is only in the light of our total sinfulness that the gospel shines gloriously. So please remember that our next three studies are not pleasant, but something with which we need to come to grips.
Now I would also like to give you a little secret that I have discovered in my study of Pauline epistles: Pauls method of writing is, often, he will make a statement. You need to look for those statements because, once he has made a statement, he will try to expound on it, or he will explain it, or he will defend it. The statement of our passage today is verse 18. The rest of the chapter, verses 19-32, is simply expounding what he says in verse 18. So we need to understand the statement first before we can understand what hes trying to explain. What does he say in verse 18? He says:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
Thats the statement. He begins with the wrath of God. Whenever we read that statement, wrath of God, it sometimes makes our knees shake. So I need to explain the word. When the Bible talks of Gods wrath, we must not equate it with human wrath. It is not some emotional anger or a loss of self-control, where He lashes out on those who are against Him. That is not the Biblical definition of wrath. In fact, this passage is one of the finest definitions of Gods wrath.
A lot of people reading the Old Testament think of God as a God of wrath, ready to bring fire down upon the human race or those who sin. But I would like to explain that Gods wrath is not like mans wrath; in fact, James makes that clear. Mans wrath and Gods wrath are not the same. So we must never try to understand the wrath of God by our understanding of human wrath.
What then is Gods wrath? It is His hatred for sin. God hates sin. Why does He hate sin? Ill tell you why: because He loves us. God cannot love us and love sin at the same time. You know why? Because sin is a killer! Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:56:
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
Sin kills. It kills you and me. God hates sin because He loves us. He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [John 3:16]. Why did He give His Son? That we may escape that death that sin brings to us.
So the wrath of God is hatred for sin because He loves us. Please keep that in mind. Now there is a problem here because we human beings have difficulty separating sin from the sinner. When somebody does something bad, we look down on the individual. But God makes a distinction between sin and the sinner. He loves the sinner but He hates the sin. And He hates sin because He loves the sinner. We human beings, when we hate sin, we sometimes hate the sinners, too. And thats the tragedy, thats our human problem. So thats number one.
But as you look at the verse you will notice that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against two things, not against one but against two things. We have dealt with one. We have dealt with unrighteousness, which is synonymous with sin. But Paul says that Gods wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness.
That word, ungodliness, can have two meanings, basically, in the New Testament. For example, it could mean what Paul meant in Romans 4:5, referring to Abraham, that we are unlike God. Sinners are ungodly in the sense that they are sinners and God is righteous, Hes holy. So we are unlike God.
But here Paul is not using the meaning of ungodliness in that sense. The context tells us that what Paul means here is ungodliness in people who deliberately, willfully, persistently want to live without God. He hates that. He hates ungodliness. Why? Ill tell you why. Turn to John 3. Now you are all familiar with verse 16 which says that:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
God doesnt want any of us to perish, so He gave us His Son. In verse 17 He says:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
And then in verse 18 he goes on to say that those who believe in His Son shall not be condemned, but those who reject His Son already stand condemned:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of Gods one and only Son.
But the verse that I want you to look at is verse 36, at the conclusion of this chapter, John 3:36:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for Gods wrath remains on him.
You see, there is one sin that God cannot forgive, and thats the sin of unbelief. If you reject the gift of God, then there is no way that God can save you. So, His wrath is against ungodliness because He loves you; He doesnt want you to be lost. We will see this more and more as we go along. So in summary:
Having said that, I want you to look at the next thing that is extremely important in verse 18:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
Gods wrath, says Paul, has been revealed, against two things:
I want to emphasize the order in which the Apostle points his finger at mans problem. You will notice that he puts ungodliness first. Then, in his thinking, unrighteousness follows. To him, the big thing, the important thing, is ungodliness. Now this is important for us to realize. Especially today, because the modern approach is that mans real problem is unrighteousness. We read about the terrible things that are taking place in our country, and we say that mans problem is unrighteousness. Ungodliness is hardly mentioned. But unrighteousness is the consequence, unrighteousness is the fruit of ungodliness. So the problem is not unrighteousness, it is ungodliness. When man turns his back to God, the result of that is unrighteousness. So the cause of mans problem is not unrighteousness, the cause of mans problem is ungodliness.
We need to be aware of this because, for the last few decades, unfortunately, the American nation is gradually beginning to turn its back to God. Ever since secular humanism has come in, we have been turning our backs to God. What we have been seeing is unrighteousness. But unrighteousness is the fruits of this. I will mention this more as we come towards the end.
But I want you to realize that it is not possible to solve mans problems of unrighteousness that we are seeing today by human effort. There are many who are saying today that we need to have more dialogue. These are modern theologians who are saying this. The world is torn, they say, it is divided in all kinds of sections political sections, color divisions, racial, you name it. It is a world of various kinds of curtains bamboo curtains, iron curtains and all that man needs is to reconcile man with man. Hardly anything is mentioned in terms of mans relationship to God, which is the heart of the problem.
Sin today is regarded as sickness, a disease which needs to be cured by man. Sin sometimes is looked upon as the remnants of our animal nature: it is only a question of time, as we develop and progress in life, that we will get rid of this problem. But all the time, as I mentioned, it is man in terms of man, man in relationship to man. But the problem is not there; the problem is mans relationship to God. This is the key problem and we need to realize that.
So Paul is saying God hates, He detests, His wrath from heaven is revealed, against ungodliness, and its fruit, unrighteousness. Then, having made that statement, you will notice why. It is because man, deliberately, in His sinful state, wants to suppress the truth. Man does not like, says Paul, to retain the knowledge of God because he detests God. We will see that the reason that man does not like to retain the knowledge of God is because man, who is egocentric, does not want to accept the fact that he can do nothing to save himself.
You see, man doesnt like to be a beggar. Man hates to be given a gift when he cant repay it. You have to live in the third world to realize this. They will accept your foreign aid, but they hate you for it. Why? Because you are revealing that they are incapable of helping themselves. That is unpleasant to the human ego. So many Americans overseas wonder why these third world people do not love them when their country is pouring so much into their country. Well, its for one reason: because you are revealing that they are beggars. They are incapable of saving themselves. Man doesnt like to think that he cant save himself. He wants to do something towards his salvation. And Jesus says, Without me you can do nothing! And thats painful.
How is the ungodliness of man revealed from heaven? First of all, it was revealed in the Bible, in the history of the Old Testament. You will notice that, ever since the fall of man, this has been his tendency: to run away from God. Let me give you some examples.
Adam and Eve before the fall were happy to welcome God; they had communion with Him every day. But when Adam sinned and God came to visit them, what did they do? They ran away from God. And man has since then always been running away from God. Now look at Romans 1:19:
...Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
In other words, if man does not have a knowledge of God, says Paul, it is not because hes ignorant about God, it is because he has deliberately pushed God out of the picture. Man began with a knowledge of God. If he has failed to know God today its because he does not want to know God. Look at verse 20:
For since the creation of the world Gods invisible qualities his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
In other words, God has revealed Himself to man:
When Adam and Eve sinned, Gods image was not totally wiped out. There was still left in Adam and Eve, and in the human race, a desire to seek after God. God said to the first parents, I will put enmity between Satan and you [Genesis 3:15].
Besides this, Paul says, Nature, creation, tell me how on earth can you imagine that this complex, highly refined, highly planned, highly organized world of ours could come about just by chance? By the mixture of gases that suddenly produced life and with the evolutionary urge gradually improved until we became what we are? Boy, if I take some scrap metals and put them in a bag and shake them for a million years, or for 50 million years, I will not get a Cadillac. All I will get is some polished iron that is worthless. The creation of this world is so highly organized, ... I mean, we boast of our technology, and I am sure that the angels up there are laughing at us. They think, Wait till they come to heaven and realize what else they have to learn. We will realize that we knew nothing on this earth.
But in spite of everything that God has given in terms of evidence, man does not want to retain the knowledge of God. This is the fundamental problem with sinful man. He thinks he can live without God. What does he do when he turns his back to God? Look at verse 21, first part:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him ...
So there are two problems now:
Do you know that the moment Adam sinned, legally, he had no right to live one second? Do you know that the moment Adam sinned, he should have died? (By the way, if he had died, we would have died in Him.)
But because God had planned a way of escape, because God from the foundation of the world, predestined all men to be redeemed in His Son, He kept Adam and Eve alive and allowed them to have children. Why? Not because He hates us, but because He wants us redeemed. God is the source of every blessing that comes in this world. And what do we do? Man is unthankful, He is not only ungodly but hes unthankful. And Paul goes on to say [in the rest of verse 21]:
... but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
When man turns his back to God, when man rejects God, all he is left with is darkness. Man thinks he can live without God, but the answer is, he cannot!
You know, when we were in Ethiopia, the year after we arrived, Ethiopia experienced what is known as the Marxist Revolution. What disturbed me was to see how many Christians, both in the other churches and in our churches (especially the educated Christians), who fell for Marxism. They did not fall for the practise of Communism, they fell for the ideology.
I said to myself, there must be something attractive. So I began buying books. I bought Karl Marx and Engels The Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital, and I began reading ... and it is heavy stuff, very heavy stuff. I realized that the heart of Marxism is that man is able to save himself. The essence of Marxism is ungodliness; it is an atheistic philosophy.
This is how Karl Marx put it. He says that the problem is mans selfishness. He admitted that man is selfish. He called it self-alienation, his term for selfishness. He said that man is selfish, but he said the reason why he is selfish is because of his environment. Of course, by environment, he meant, to a large degree, capitalism, which was the situation in 19th century Europe. He said, It is capitalism that has made us greedy. It is capitalism that has taught us that we must live for ourselves. So therefore I have a gospel, not the gospel of Jesus Christ, but my gospel is: change the environment, and man will be redeemed.
Of course, the mechanics of changing the environment is a revolution. The purpose of a revolution is to get into the hands of the people the property and the riches and the wealth of the country. Once they have this in their hands, the second step is to change the environment from capitalism to socialism. Those who have must be forced to share with others who do not have.
So the work of socialism is to confiscate private ownership the banks, businesses and make equal distribution. Wonderful! Then Karl Marx states that this is only a transition stage; this is the gospel which will save man from economic and social injustices.
Then he said, once man has learned and been taught how to share, it will become spontaneous. Sounds wonderful, doesnt it? Well, Russia has changed her environment for the last 70 years. I wonder how unselfish the Russians are?
The problem of man is not his environment. It is his nature. And science cannot change my nature. God can change my sinful heart and give me a heart of the flesh. But man cannot. So every human attempt to save himself (and I say humanism is part of that program) is bound to end with failure, because Jesus made it clear:
Without me, you cannot do anything.
And so Paul is showing here that man has within himself a tendency to turn his back to God. Now how does God react to this? Listen to verses 22-23; what does man do:
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Now you may say, We dont do this today. We are living in sophisticated, educated America. We dont worship four-footed beasts. No, you dont. But we do worship ourselves. Even in the church, its becoming a problem. There is something that is creeping into our church which was introduced by liberal theologians and that is the historical-critical method of interpreting Scripture. Its a big term. What does it mean? It simply means that the human mind becomes the measuring stick of truth. Its a very subtle form of ungodliness. Man must interpret scripture on what is rational to him, what makes sense to him, what is within the framework of human experience.
We cannot use the scientific method to interpret Scripture! This was an inspired Book. It is the Holy Spirit that must enlighten us. But man thinks that he has the solution to all his problems.
What does God do to such people? Does He bring fire and wipe us all out? No. Listen to verse 24. Listen to verse 26. Listen to verse 28. This is their finest description of the wrath of God. You will discover that unlike human wrath, Gods wrath is passive. How does Gods wrath work? How is it revealed from heaven? Look at Romans1:24:
Therefore [because man insists on living without Him, therefore, Paul says] God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
Because of this [because man refuses the blessings of God], God gave them over to shameful lusts [and to uncleanness]. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God [Please notice mans problem: he does not want to retain God in his knowledge.], he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
In other words, God says to mankind, Okay, I have tried and tried to convince you that you cannot live without Me, but you insist that you can. I am not going to force you (God is love). I am going to let you go. If you think that you can live without me, go ahead and see how wonderful you can make this world.
What happens when man turns his back on God and lives independent of God? What happens when God draws back His restraining forces? What happens? Unrighteousness becomes rampant.
Paul is not telling us something that happened in his day. This is not simply ancient history. This is the Biblical view of human history. It happened during the flood time. It happened during the history of Israel. It happened in the Christian church since Jesus Christ. This happened in this country.
This country was established on the principle that was stamped on our coins: In God We Trust. But a few decades ago, we felt that we dont need God. So the first thing we did, in the name of separation of church and state, was that there must be no more praying in the schools. In other words, we were telling our kids, we dont need God. We have science, we have technology, we dont need God. Today, the discussion is going on, that we dont need that inscription on our coins. There are people today, who are fighting to remove that inscription, In God We Trust from our quarter. They dont want it any more.
Yes, our forefathers, those in the depression, they needed God, but we have social security, we have welfare, we have oil, we have technology, we have computers, you press a button and boy...!
Theyre telling me today that there is a computer, and Im looking forward to it, that you can speak to and it types what you speak, with the correct spelling. The only trouble is its $15,000 at the moment. So if any of you have $15,000 to spare, because this African bush preacher does not know how to type. I have to handwrite all my material and my poor wife types it out. Sometimes my secretary does it and she has a hard time understanding my handwriting.
Wonderful inventions! Of course, people forget that science has also invented the monster that can wipe us all out in a few moments. But the trouble is, has technology, has science, improved life in America? Or is crime increasing by leaps and bounds? I dont care how many reformed movements are brought out in this country, I dont care how many legislations, how many mitigations of justice we instill in our system. As long as we turn our backs to God, there is no solution.
Now what does God do? He says, Okay, you dont want to live with me. Go ahead. And man begins to live without God, and things get worse and worse. They try everything under the sun to solve their problems. They try education, they try dialogue. They try increasing the budget to stop drugs in this country. And everything is failing. God is waiting until we raise up our hands and say, God, we cant do it.
When my son was young, we were about ready to go to Sabbath school. He was just a kid, three years old I think. My wife said to me, Could you tie his shoelaces?
I went up to him and I said, Let me tie your shoelaces. He looked at me and said, I can do it!
I could have used my authority, because we were getting late for Sabbath school, but I thought, no, Ill let him do it. So I stood back. He tried and he tried. It looked so easy when Daddy tied his shoelaces. He looked up to see if I was going, but I wasnt, and I think he was telling me, Why dont you go away? But I waited there, and he tried and tried. Finally, he looked up to me and said, Daddy, you do it.
We are Gods children, and God is extremely patient with us. He lets us have our own way. He says, You think you can live without me? Go ahead. He allows us to make a mess of our lives. He allows us to make a mess of our country and our community, of our marriages and everything else, until we come to the end of our resources and say, God, please, you take over.
He doesnt say, I told you so. Now you can wallow in your mess. He doesnt do that. He says, I will accept you with open arms.
America is heading in that direction. America is about to reach the end of her resources. When our social security collapses, and when our resources collapse, and when every attempt to solve the problems collapses, and we turn back to God, He will not reject us. America will be ready to hear the gospel again. And who will preach the gospel to them? It is you and I.
But before we can do it, we must realize and reach the position that Paul reached himself. Paul was a Pharisee. He had attained quite some success in his life. Read Philippians 3, verses 4 to 6: he was a pure-blooded Jew, he was circumcised the eighth day, he was zealous for God. Regarding the righteousness of the law he was blameless. Until God opened his eyes and sin revived and he realized that he deserved death. Then he was willing to count all things but loss for Jesus Christ.
The question is, Have you lost all confidence in yourself? Have you realized that your only hope is in Jesus Christ and His Righteousness? That is the purpose of exposing us to our problem. We dont have to learn the hard way. The word of God says that Gods wrath is revealed from heaven against ungodliness and unrighteousness. I dont have to go through the process to learn it. The word of God tells me that. So why are we waiting to learn the hard way? Let us realize now that our faith looks not at ourselves, but on Jesus Christ, and His Righteousness.
May each one of us realize that Gods wrath is against ungodliness and unrighteousness because He loves you, not because Hes angry with you. He wants you to turn back to Him. He wants you to accept Him as the only Source of hope and of salvation and of Righteousness. Whether it is in terms of your standing before God or whether it is in terms of Christian living, the formula is always the same: Not I, but Christ.
And Ill tell you, folks, the not I is the hardest part. That is why Paul spends verse 18 right up to chapter 3 verse 20 on the sin problem. He wants to establish in our hearts that the gospel is not I, but Christ. And may we learn this lesson.