The context of Romans 1:18 begins in Romans 1:14 where the apostle Paul stated that he was “under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So for [his] part, [he was] eager to preach the gospel to [those also who were] in Rome” (Romans 1:14-15). Paul then went on to state the truth that he would preach to them nothing but the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified for it and it alone is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ reveals the righteousness of God and the righteousness that is from God on the basis of faith (Romans 1:16-17). The gospel of God which concerns His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:1-4), is the only remedy for sinners who are rightly under the wrath of God for their unrighteousness and ungodliness.
Don’t forget that Romans is the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of the Gospel. After establishing both the content and the intent of the Gospel which he preached, Paul went on to explain the gospel and why he preached it. From Romans 1:18 through Romans 3:20, the apostle established the truth that all men are sinners – the Gentile and the Jew. Because all men are sinners all men are rightly under God’s wrath and are in need of rescue from the wrath to come. So in the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit speaking through the apostle Paul began with the wrath of God against sinners.
Now let me ask you: doesn’t the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ reveal God’s wrath against sin? Doesn’t the crucifixion of the sinless Son of God for our sins demonstrate first and foremost God’s wrath against sinners? When we look at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ we should immediately comprehend and see God’s wrath against sin – He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf; He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him and by His scourging we are healed. This is called Penal Substitution and is the only way that a holy God can forgive sinners and still be holy and just.
The wrath of God is the starting place of the Gospel. Men must know the danger that they are in before they will seek a remedy. Just as men don’t seek out cancer treatments without knowing that they have cancer so men do not seek refuge in Jesus Christ without knowing that they are sinners who rightly deserve the wrath of God. Jesus said that it is not the well who need a physician but the sick and so men must know of their sin-sick condition and its inevitable outcome before they will seek help from the Savior. The fact of a man’s guilt must be established before he can be a recipient of God’s grace or else you no longer have grace but what is earned. Much of today’s evangelism is the offering of grace without guilt which is not really grace and then you end up with response without repentance and no one will live who doesn’t repent.
Beware of preachers who claim that they are not called to preach God’s wrath but are only called to preach God’s love. They are not preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ if the wrath of God and the love of God are not balanced in the proclamation. The apostle Paul mentioned the goodness of God which leads to repentance right in the middle of this section dealing with the wrath of God and he mentioned both side by side (Romans 2:4-5). Paul didn’t get to the Gospel being a demonstration of the love of God until Romans 5:8. So the starting point of the gospel is the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men establishing their guilt before God’s grace and love are offered. It is against the backdrop of the just wrath of God against sin that the brilliance and magnificence of the grace and love of God are magnified.
To avoid offering a magic-genie Christ or a utilitarian Christ we must accurately proclaim the Holy Spirit inspired gospel. Preaching only the grace and love of God apart from His wrath against sin is to misunderstand and misapply the purpose of the death of Christ which leaves people in their sins while giving them a false sense of assurance of salvation. When we are not balanced in our proclamation of the Gospel we will be in danger of either turning the grace of God into licentiousness by focusing primarily on God’s grace and love and thereby offering grace without guilt which leads people to believe that they can be saved from the wrath to come without actually being saved from their sins or we will be in danger of denying God’s grace by focusing primarily on the wrath of God and thereby leading men into legalism where they are motivated by fear of punishment and attempt to establish a righteousness of their own derived from keeping the law. Only proclaiming the whole gospel and keeping the truth balanced will help people to understand and properly apply the death of Christ on their behalf so that they are neither licentious nor legalistic but actually loyal to God because of His love for them as shown against the backdrop of His wrath.
While many may desire to downplay or deny the truth that God is a God of wrath it doesn’t nullify the truth that He is. Our text says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” So we see here that men suppress the truth about God, especially the truth about His wrath, even though God reveals and demonstrates His wrath from heaven. Most people like to believe that God is not and cannot be a God of wrath, especially when it concerns them. Just as in Jeremiah’s day so it is in our day when men believe and false prophets preach that God isn’t that way – “They have lied about the Lord and said, ‘Not He; misfortune will not come on us, and we will not see sword or famine.’ The prophets are as wind, and the word is not in them, thus it will be done to them’” (Jeremiah 5:12-13).
Let’s look at some major ways that God has revealed His wrath and the certainty of His wrath from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men:
One - God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment (2 Peter 2:4)
Two - God did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly (2 Peter 2:5)
Three - God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter (2 Peter 2:6) – “made them an example” means that God exposed them openly to public view the same as a corpse lying in state.
Four - God, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe (Jude 5).
Five - God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all (Romans 8:32).
The greatest revelation of the wrath of God from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men was demonstrated at the crucifixion of the sinless Son of God in the place of ungodly and unrighteous men – “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18).
So why preach the gospel? Because the gospel of God which concerns His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:1-4), is the only remedy for sinners who are rightly under the wrath of God for their unrighteousness and ungodliness.