For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18).
Three important questions need to be answered:
1. Who is it revealed against? Paul writes that God reveals his wrath against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. He is revealing his wrath against those who are not believers—those who do not believe the gospel. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9, Paul says that “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict [Christians], and to grant relief to you [Christians] who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 Paul writes, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” In our verse, of course, God is revealing his wrath against those who “suppress the truth.” Those who belong to Satan, not God, who are perishing, not living, are those who are the recipients of God’s manifested wrath in the world.
2. How is it revealed? Paul does not give us much as for how God’s wrath is revealed. But from the immediate context, we do have some clues. The word revealed in Greek is in the present tense. And I believe it is more than just a cognitive disclosure to the mind. Just like the same word in verse 17, it has some historical reality to it, letting us know that something is physically being manifested in the world. Verses 24-28 in chapter 1 tell us that God has given people to the lusts of their hearts to commit impurities (v. 24), to the dishonoring of their bodies (v. 24), to dishonorable passions (v. 26), and to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (v. 28). All of these things show us two paradoxical, yet non-contradictory facts: 1) God is sovereign over man’s sin, yet 2) people are to blame, not God. Though God, in his sovereign wisdom and insight, causes people to be given over to depravity, he is never to blame. We are sinners by nature and by choice.
In Romans 1, God’s wrath is something that is real, not just cognitive, something historical and not just futuristic. It is something that is being manifested in the daily life of unregenerate people. We can say that God’s wrath is revealed as a constant, ongoing reality in and through a sinful, unhappy, wasted life that is lived for the pleasing of self and not God.
At this point it might be helpful to say something to those who would think that a God who is full of wrath is either an archaic, mystical God, or simply no God at all. First of all, think of this question. If you were holy, perfect, and righteous, had never committed sin, and were completely and utterly pure, would you get angry at things that were not perfect, holy, and pure? I’m willing to bet you would. So God, in his perfection and righteousness, gets angry at all that is not righteous. Paul David Tripp has said, “You wouldn’t want to worship a God who didn’t get angry.” Some people would not argue with God getting angry at rape, murder, theft, or other “awful” vices. But when it comes to them personally, whether it is abortion, domestic violence, drunkenness, gluttony, impatience, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, or any number of other sins, they would say, “It’s my life. A God who gets angry at me is no God at all.” But turn the table. What if one of those awful things happened to you or someone you loved. Wouldn’t you want God to get angry at that sin?
The other problem is so-called Christians who don’t believe the God of the Bible gets angry. The problem above is one thing. This is altogether another. To say that the God of the Bible is not an angry God is simply nonsense. From Genesis to Revelation we see God hating sin, punishing unrepentant people, and destroying those who will not turn to him. Moo (p. 100) points out that “the OT regularly pictures God as responding to sin with wrath” (see Ex. 4:14; 15:7; 32:10-12; Num. 11:1; Jer. 21:3-7). He also notes that Paul stresses “the working and effects of God’s wrath. Paul speaks of wrath as a present reality under which people outside Christ stand” (see Rom. 3:5; 4:15; 9:22; Eph. 2:3).
3. When is it revealed? The tense and mood of the verb “revealed” tell us when God’s wrath will be manifested. The verb shows us that God’s wrath is continually being revealed. It is a present tense verb in the indicative mood (the exact same as verse 17). Moo said that it is difficult to give the same form of the same verb a present reference in one and a futuristic reference in another (p. 100). Paul does teach a lot about future, cosmic events that will bring God’s wrath once and for all at the end of history (e.g. Rom. 2:5, 5:9; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10). However, in this verse, it is an actual, present reality for people who are not believers. They are feeling God’s wrath now in an unhappy, wasted life—even if they don’t see it that way. And at the same time, as we know from other Pauline Scripture, they are also storing up wrath for themselves on Judgment Day (see the passages above).
These people upon whom God’s wrath is resting are experiencing this because they (literally) “hold in the truth in unrighteousness” (that is, to “suppress” [ESV]). God’s “truth” is not something that simply needs to be acknowledged or memorized. It is something that needs to be believed as true and obeyed. When someone suppresses a truth they are not giving themselves over to it in order to be developed and shaped by it. They are not living by that truth and thus make a mockery of God and all that he is and stands for. Finally, what is causing this suppression? Their very own unrighteousness. They are blind and dead, in the darkness of sin, and have no excuse (see 1:20; 2 Cor. 4:4-6; Eph. 2:1-5; cf. John 3:19). Their inability to make themselves believe the truth does not alleviate their guilt. It only increases it. It shows how totally depraved man is.