Read the Passage: Romans 1:18–2:11
Wrath of God (1:18–23)
After declaring in Rom. 1:17 that “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith,” in Rom. 1:18 Paul notes that “the wrath of God is revealed . . . against all ungodliness.” The reason why God’s wrath is revealed, writes Paul, is because mankind suppresses His revealed truth. While the concept of truth in the Bible usually refers to special revelation (cf. John 17:17), in this passage Paul explains that the specific divine truth to which he is referring is the knowledge of God manifest to mankind via general revelation. By way of explanation, Paul cites two modes of general revelation in this passage: first, Paul appeals to that which is “manifest in them” (Rom. 1:19), which he later refers to as “their conscience” (Rom. 2:15); and, second, Paul cites “the creation” (Rom. 1:20). Through these two means of revelation God reveals “truth” (Rom. 1:18), which “may be known” (Rom. 1:19), and “understood” (Rom. 1:20).
In Rom. 1:21–23 Paul describes mankind’s willful rejection of God, who reveals Himself via general revelation. Paul writes that God’s self-revelation to men is adequate so that “they [know] God” (Rom. 1:21); however, natural man still rejects God. A consequence of this denial of God is that the hearts and the minds of men become darkened. Yet, the fact that general revelation is sufficient leaves mankind “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Note, however, that general revelation is inadequate to save men, for only Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Said differently, given the effectiveness of general revelation to reveal God, and the necessity of special revelation to save men, we can conclude that general revelation is sufficient for condemnation, but is not adequate for salvation.
Abandonment by God (1:24–32)
The most common way that God judges mankind is by allowing him to reap the bad harvest that comes from the sinful seeds that he sows. In reference to those who reject divine truth, three times in this passage Paul writes that “God gave them up” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). Such judgment of abandonment is referenced elsewhere in Scripture too (cf. Ps. 81:11–12; Hos. 4:17; Matt. 15:14; Thess. 2:11–12). Since our actions reflect our beliefs, when man inwardly rejects God the outward result is always sin and death, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Observe that in this passage, Paul uses sexual sin as an example of the downward spiral of sin that results from rejecting God. This is not to say that every sinner will fall into every sexual sin. Rather, it is likely that Paul uses the example of idolatrous sexual sin here, for homosexuality tends to be an all life-encompassing sin that entails many other transgressions.
Righteousness of God (2:1–11)
After citing the broad example of homosexuality in Rom. 1:26–17, Paul concludes his first chapter by listing twenty-three additions sins that are manifest in the lives of those who reject God. Paul’s purpose here is not to say that all of these transgressions will be committed by everyone; rather, his aim is to show that everyone will commit some of these transgressions. The one who would judge others for engaging in these sins is himself guilty, for judgment of others implies knowledge of God’s moral standards. Furthermore, awareness of divine law does not justify one’s own sins. Rather, knowledge of God’s moral standards actually makes one more accountable to God (cf. Heb. 10:26–29; Jas. 3:1). Indeed, the one with awareness of divine law who neglects self-evaluation is guilty of self-deception as well as of presuming upon God’s goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering.
In Rom. 2:1–11 Paul addresses religious moralists, particularly focusing upon his Jewish readers. This group would have enthusiastically agreed that sinners are condemned, as Paul argued in Rom. 1:18–32. Yet, these moralists would likely see themselves as worthy of divine praise. In Rom. 2:5–11 Paul points out that God will judge everyone who has sinned, for God “will render to each one according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6). Therefore, the religious moralists could only claim divine favor if they had never sinned, which, of course, would be a false assertion. Indeed, a commonality among all mankind is personal sin. What Paul is teaching in this larger passage, then, is that God’s righteous judgment is not based upon knowledge or possession of the revealed moral law, nor is it even based upon the ability to keep the law; rather, God’s judgment is based upon personal sin, which is a commonality among mankind.
- Why does Paul start his explanation of the doctrine of salvation in the book of Romans by arguing for the condemnation of all mankind?
- How does God usually reveal His wrath upon ungodliness and mete out divine judgment upon mankind (cf. Prov. 1:31; 22:8; Isa. 44:18; Gal. 6:7–8)?
- Is it fair to say that general revelation is sufficient to condemn mankind, but insufficient to redeem mankind? What types of things do people look at in order to justify themselves before God?
- Of all the transgressions that mankind can and does commit, why does Paul appeal to the sin of homosexuality in Rom. 1:26–27?
- What does Paul mean in teaching that “the goodness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4)? Who is more likely to accept the gospel: a blatant sinner or a religious moralist?