“The wrath of God,” the apostle writes. Lest we begin with a foundation of sand, we must immediately recognize that this “wrath of God” that Paul writes about is not a loss of temper or self-control, as we might consider wrath to be in human terms. When we hear the word “wrath,” it is so easy to consider this wrath to be like a child striking out if he doesn’t get what he wants, equated to our own emotional response of anger, but rather, what he evokes is a holy and righteous judgment. It’s so important for us to recognize this, because in equating it with an irrational loss of temper, it’d be such a small step to use this statement to justify our own temptation to anger, to bitterness, to violence. “Judgment” the apostle frequently writes of concerning the Lord, evoking instead the image of a judge determining the sentence of a criminal who is standing trial for wrongs committed; and much like that same judge, taking no pleasure in the sentence when it is announced. We must remember the words of the Lord Himself, through the prophet Ezekiel, “‘Do I ever will the death of a lawless man,’ says the Lord, ‘for My will is for him to turn away from the evil way and live.” (Ezekiel 18:23) Most judges find no pleasure in sentencing a criminal, whereas we, if transfigured to our own emotional response, take much pleasure in lashing out against one who has done wrong. This is not the Lord “getting even” with someone who has wronged Him, but rather, the Lord’s revelation of truth and power in confronting those who reject Him.
I find it very interesting that Paul had just written about the promises of salvation and hope, the power of the gospel to save, and immediately turns to teaching about punishment. Consider for a moment what this says about their culture, and how true it still rings in ours. Think of how much more strongly we respond to the threat of punishment than the promise of glad tidings. Why does anyone obey the speed limit? Is it because they are appreciative of the safety afforded them that everyone is lawfully abiding by this same limit; or is it the threat of receiving a hefty fine for breaking it? Think of our culture’s definition of fidelity in marriage. The majority of married people would probably confess, if asked anonymously, that they are not faithful in their marriage because of the happiness of their marriage, but instead because of the fear of getting caught if they’re not. It’s this whole mentality of “it’s only wrong if you get caught” that has managed to seep it’s way into our church culture as well. I see it all the time in our discussion, though in various wordings; this question, “what’s the bare minimum that I can do and still be saved?” While no one would directly word it that way, it’s something that you can read between the lines and see frequently. “Can a Christian watch (insert random TV show/movie here)?” “Can a Christian drink beer?” A big one in recent years, “now that it’s legal, can a Christian smoke marijuana?” Put a way that has been the topic of numerous arguments and blogs, debates, entire websites, “can a Christian lose their salvation?” What are we asking when we ask that question? Can we lose salvation? How far can we push the envelope? What sins can we still enjoy and be saved? I would argue that anyone that would ask that question is not “saved,” since salvation is a path which leas us into righteousness. I wouldn’t say that a Christian can or can’t “lose their salvation”, but rather, if your focus in salvation is what you can still get away with, then you should be worried. To the one whose focus is on if they can “lose their salvation,” I would admonish them to read the words of the apostle who taught us to constantly “evaluate yourself to see that you are in the faith.” Someone who focuses on obeying the Lord’s command to attaining to the “righteousness of God” never asks that question, because the answer is a given; however, when we continue to live in sin, pushing the envelope as far as we can, what we are really saying is, “how much shame can I attach to His name and He still ‘save’ me.”
And, consider to whom Paul is writing this warning. “The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Having already disclosed that it is possible to attain to the righteousness of God through the grace of the Lord and the Holy Spirit, Paul writes this as a warning to those who act otherwise. To those whose lives are still characteristic of unrighteousness and ungodliness. To those who reject the freedom from sin offered by the Holy Spirit. Further, he is stating that there is a two-fold way in which this can happen. The ways of error are many, but there is only one way of truth. “In all ungodliness and unrighteousness” he writes, thereby decrying not only those who don’t believe, but also those whose lives don’t reflect that belief. Those who proclaim the name “Christian,” but whose lives don’t characterize that belief. See, it’s so easy to verbally proclaim that we believe, and even to mentally assent to that belief, but as our Lord Jesus taught us, “you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16). Regardless of how good of Christianity we speak, if our lives aren’t images of that faith, then it is lip service, it is a chasing after the wind. There is no salvation in a unchanged life, because that is a life that has not been touched by the Holy Spirit, or a life that has quenched the same Spirit. The fruit of a life in the Spirit is a life of peace, contentment, compassion, love, mercy, forgiveness, charity; a life which places the well-being of even the lowliest of people above our own. It is a life worthy of bearing the name of a God who took on flesh and was crucified for a people who hated and despised Him, who cursed and mocked Him. Whose last words, in reference to those who were doing those very things, was “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” So often teachers are confident, which is important. But, they are confident to the point of arrogance. And that to their detriment. It’s important that all of us heed the proverb, “Iron sharpens iron, and a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17). And, being the people that we are, when we are confronted with something we don’t agree with, our first reaction is often to silence it. And that is exactly what Paul is teaching here. He’s warning them that the wrath of God will be revealed against those who continue living in ungodliness and unrighteousness instead of seeking the righteousness of God, and those who teach those same things. Anyone who teaches others that holiness and righteousness are unattainable or undesirable; that none of it is necessary for salvation, that we can continue on our own roads in life without turning to the Lord; those people will be subject to the wrath of God, as well as those who follow in their example. Remember, Jesus Himself warned that “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6). See, the Lord doesn’t expect perfection from us, but He expects us to strive for perfection; otherwise He would never have said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). We will sin, but we must constantly strive for perfection, and yet, so many teach that the Lord doesn’t only expect us to sin, but rather accepts us sinning. But, where in Scripture do we find that? I see multiple places where He tells us that if we do happen to fall into sin, He is faithful to forgive us, but nowhere does He tell us that we should aspire to that forgiveness. To the contrary, He warns us that “anyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34) but that He alone is the truth that can set us free. But, there are so many who teach that sin is not only tolerated, but accepted. John warns us that “if we say we have fellowship with Him and continue to walk in darkness, we lie and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:6) and further teaches us that “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth.” (3 John 1:4). To walk in the truth, to walk in the light, is to actively seek this “righteousness of God” that Paul had referenced already.
Paul ties all of these “ways of error” together. “Because what may be known of God is manifest in them,” he says, “for God has shown it to them.” The knowledge of God Himself has been placed within each one of us. And while some embrace that knowledge, others have chosen to suppress it. But, when we suppress that knowledge, we will cling to any other worldly wisdom that we can attain. Man was created to worship, and we must have something we can worship. If that something is not God, then we will ultimately find something else to worship. We make idols of psychiatrists, of plants, of scientists, of self-help gurus, of anything that we can that will help us ease the emptiness we find when we suppress the knowledge of God. Paul tells us that all of the evidence of the existence of God that we have ever needed has existed since the beginning of the world; the glories of creation itself are evidence of His existence. In the Psalms, we read that “the heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament shows the creation of His hands.” (Psalm 18:2), and thus, even the claims of ignorance are immediately rebuked. Rather, some, of their own free will, deny Him, and in their searching to do so, ultimately find something else to worship instead. They choose the creation over the creator; either through denial of His existence through finding other things to worship, or mocking His existence by proclaiming Him while still “twisting the grace of the Lord into sensuality” (Jude 1:4), all the while, trying to silence those with whom they do not agree.
We must always be very careful of this. The enemy is very subtle, he would almost never approach a believer with cloven hooves and a pitchfork, as the cartoons so often show him. No, rather, he twists the minor things in Scripture, things so subtle that it’s hard to distinguish. He tells us that we can never be holy and righteous, so why try. He tells us that no matter what our actions, good or wicked, it will have no bearing over our eternity, so we should enjoy ourselves now. He tells us that God has already determined who is and isn’t saved, and that we should never attempt to try to please God. He would never say “renounce God,” but rather He would say, “God loves you no matter what, you believe right? Surely, if you believe, you won’t die; don’t let anyone tell you that you should work towards your salvation.” He twisted Scripture in the garden, he twisted Scripture in the desert, and he’s still twisting Scripture today. He has us convinced that the Holy Spirit is no longer able to work miracles; that to love others, we must first focus on loving ourselves more. He would teach us to accept the teachings of the age, to “get with the times,” and to make Scripture fit over the foundation of the world, like latex stretching across a model. The Romans found their suppression of the knowledge of God in creeping things, and four legged animals, in birds; we find ours in science, technology, family, jobs, celebrities. We look to politicians for our salvation and find our contentment in the ledgers of accountants; while looking to musicians, actors, sports stars as role models. There’s a reason that someone we look up to is called, in our culture, an “idol.”
Consider these questions for a moment. When you need to find an answer to something, where do you seek that answer? Do you pray? Do you look to Scripture? Do you turn to the Church? Or, do you google it? What is the first thing you do in the morning? Do you awaken, and begin to pray? Do you awaken and look to the Scriptures? Or do you awaken and immediately seek the comfort of a digital screen, checking social media and email via a cell phone? Who are your gods? Where do you turn for solace, for comfort, for answers?
We too often turn to the idols of the age and allow them to control our lives, not recognizing the truth with which the apostle Paul wrote the phrase, “thinking themselves wise, they became fools.” We live in the most narcissistic, the most self-confident, the most independent, and the most depressed age of all time. We consider that we no longer need the Lord to provide for us, because we can provide for ourselves, and yet, is that true in the slightest bit? If so, then why is the most independent and self-confident generation of human beings also the most pessimistic and depressed? Could it be that we have no hope because no part of our lives require faith, which is the “assurance of things hoped for?” Could it be that considering everything that we think we know, we don’t really know anything and have allowed ourselves to become blinded to the truth that could truly set us free?
We must constantly seek our strength, our comfort, our wisdom in the Lord; growing fully mature in Him, and attaining to the righteousness of God, my brothers and sisters. Never let anyone silence the word of the Lord, never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, my brethern, whether your opposition be the staunchest atheist or the most amiable church goer.
May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved brothers and sisters.