The Foolishness of Man and the Wrath of God (Romans 1:18-25)

It was a hot day in the dry old West. As the train came roaring down the tracks, sparks were flying everywhere because of the hot temperatures. When the sparks flew, often they would begin a fire that would destroy ranches, homes and livestock.

One particular day, there was a fire that spread from a railroad train in West Texas and did major damage. As the old farmer who owned the property walked through the ashes of his home and ranch, he saw an old hen lying on the ground, burnt to death. Her wings were spread open. Upon moving the hen, to his surprise…several baby chicks ran out from under her burnt wings. When the fire came, the hen draped herself over her little ones and took the fire to save their lives. (Dr Larry Petton, Cross Pointe Community Church, February 2014)

We have a Saviour who did exactly that for us. When the fire of God’s holy wrath should have consumed us…Christ spread out His arms on the Cross and covered us in His blood!

Introduction

We shall be thinking more about this as we work through these few verses but first let us recap on what we discovered the last time we looked at Romans in verses 8 to 17. In summary we said that,

  1. Paul had heard of the faith of the Christians in Rome and wanted to go to them to strengthen their faith. For us this reminded us that we need to pray for those Christians in other countries, especially those who are being persecuted.
  2. Paul prayed that if it was in God’s will, he could go to the Christians in Rome. For us it reminded us that we need to continue to pray that God’s will is done in our lives
  3. And finally, Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel and therefore we too should not be ashamed of the Gospel but rather pray for opportunities to share our faith, for God’s glory.

We’ll be thinking more about God’s glory and wrath as we progress through these verses but for now let’s start at verse 18.

God’s Wrath

Paul starts this new section in Romans by making a statement about God’s Holy anger, His wrath as it says in the New King James Version. But let us not get confused by our impression of God’s anger. God’s anger is not a sudden outburst of anger. Israel’s first King, King Saul, had sudden outbursts of anger directed at David and tried to kill David twice with a spear (1 Samuel 18:11). No, God’s anger, His wrath, is the settled determined response of a righteous God against sin (The McArthur Study Bible, pg. 1693). You may have heard the term, ‘righteous anger’ which often refers to anger directed at an unjust situation. God’s anger is always righteous anger.

What about us? Is it ok for us to get angry about something? The simple answer is yes but the caveat on this is, what are you angry about? There’s a difference between being angry about those issues that God Himself has clearly defined in the Bible as wrong and are sin and those things that we get angry about because they affect us.

For instance, if you drive a car then imagine that you are driving down a road or a motorway and the person behind you is driving too close to your back end and then suddenly there’s a gap in the traffic ahead and they overtake you but are going too fast so they break in the space in front of you and you have to break. That situation might make you angry at the other person’s dangerous driving.

Compare that situation if you will with your reaction to the murder of the thousands and thousands of innocent babies through abortion.

Praise God that He doesn’t suddenly go into a rage.

Paul says here that,

“the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” Romans 1:18, 19

Man has chosen to suppress that which God has given us to remind us of His glory; namely our conscience, creation and God’s Word. Consequently because people choose to turn their back on God and suppress the truth, they are worthy of His judgement and His wrath. We see the evidence of this all around us today.

  • Our education denies our children of the knowledge of creation by teaching them that evolution is a fact. This lie is propagated throughout the media and Charles Darwin, considered the father of evolutionary theory, is celebrated like a hero.
  • The secular atheists force the removal of prayer from our Town Halls to deny the acknowledgement that it is God who ultimately rules this land.

These are the people, who in their sin – their unrighteousness – are inviting God’s Holy anger against them.

Paul further expands his thinking on the evidence of creation by saying in the next verse,

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,” Romans 1:20

Even though God may be invisible, what He has created is visible and can be clearly seen by everyone. Just look out of the window! Step outside and look at God’s handiwork. What Man can see with his own eyes, he denies in his heart.

But did you spot the crucial bookends that bracket this verse? Since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, in other words His creation, is clearly seen – so that everyone is without excuse. This puts to bed the notion that those people in remote regions that have not heard the gospel will somehow be accepted into heaven. We all shall be judged by God and we will not be able to use the excuse that we didn’t know about Him. There is no room in God’s word for exceptions to His requirement for acceptance into heaven. Romans 3:23 says,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

Yes we must support those who bring the gospel message to those in remote places but as we have read – there will be no one who will stand before the throne of God and say that they didn’t have the chance to repent and turn from their sins. However it is not the intention of God that any should perish without knowing Him; for it says in 1 Timothy 2:3-4,

“This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (NIV)

Let’s not forget that it was never God’s intention for us (mankind) to be separated from His love and less so that we should suffer the same fate as satan and his fallen angels. Hell was created for them, not for us (Matthew 25:41).

Denying God is Foolish

Paul further explains that even though we understand that since there is creation it follows that there also must be a creator, we still choose to deny this. He says in verse 21,

“… although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1:21

We have chosen to deny God and reject Him despite the evidence of creation and we have chosen not to praise Him for this world and acknowledge that every good thing comes from Him. This was the reason why God created Adam and therefore us – to praise and love Him.

Why is it that we want to deny that God exists? Because if deny that He exists and suppress the knowledge of Him then we can do what we want. We don’t have to answer to a God that doesn’t exist, we don’t have to answer to God for what we have done.

Paul says almost the same as verse 21 in Ephesians 4:17-18,

“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;”

These two verses describe Man’s attitude to God. Man is futile in his thinking and his mind; and his heart and understanding are darkened. Because we were all created to worship God we all have that desire, that God shaped hole if you like, to worship something and if we deny God His rightful place in our hearts then we make something else our focus. For some its football, others it’s one meaningless relationship after another looking for love in all the wrong places. Still others are passionate about ecological issues and revere animals and creation above themselves. Whatever it is it may either satisfy that desire to be involved in something bigger than ourselves or divert our attention from our reality in the short term but in those moments of reflection we find ourselves asking,

‘There must be more to life than this’.

I’m happy to tell you there is – Christ Jesus came to give new life – and life in abundance (John 10:10). Eternal life with Him in Heaven and peace and joy in this life. Only through Jesus may we have a life that wants to glorify God and our thinking will be clear and our hearts enlightened in the knowledge of Him.

Let us not be fools and suppress the knowledge of God for the illusion of freedom. True freedom only comes through Christ Jesus and His saving grace.

This is what Paul says in the next verse,

“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”   Romans 1:22-23

Man thinks that he is so clever that he makes up his own philosophies and religions based on the creation rather than the creator. This is not a lack of understanding or intellectual deficiency but rather a moral ignorance that Man constructs to hide himself in.

We too can be like this though when we start to hold something in our lives that we think is more important than anything else. Idolatry, the worship of idols, is an affront to God and is effectively shaking a fist in God’s face. It is the breaking of the first commandment,

 “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3

In these shallow secular days, we idolise beauty, wealth and fame more than God. We seek after the temporary and not the eternal. This is foolishness. Paul says again in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that

“… the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

People would rather worship what they can see with their own eyes than the creator God who made them. To them the very notion of worshiping God is foolishness and yet they don’t realise they are in fact the fools.

This reminds me of the story of the King who summoned his chief court Jester and asked him to go on a quest into all the land to find a fool greater than himself. Upon finding the fool, the Jester would pass the Royal Jesters Sceptre to them and ask them to serve in the King’s court. After many years of searching news of the Kings ailing health brought the Jester back to the King’s chamber. By now the King was gravely ill. From his bed the King asked in a whisper,

“I am close to death Jester. Tell me – did you find anyone who was a greater fool than yourself?”

“No Sire” replied the Jester “but if I may enquire Sire – have you prepared for the afterlife?”

“No Jester” replied the King.

“Then I must give this to you Sire”

The court Jester had found the greater fool than him.

We would rather live in the moment in this World, where the pleasures of this life distract than seek an eternal destiny. This is foolishness.

God gives us up

God’s patience only lasts so long and then He has to act. Paul now connects these two themes of worshiping the created order and God’s response in the next two verses,

“Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 1:24-25

This is the most terrible part of this passage. As we withdraw from God in our sin, He withdraws from us. We create distance between ourselves and God. God is Holy and can have nothing to do with sin. When we sin God has to withdraw from us because He is Holy. This is why the start of verse 24 says, “God also gave them up”. God, as the true Judge, hands us over to the consequences of our sin. But God calls us to holiness as it says in 1 Peter 1:16,

“Be holy, for I am holy.”

Throughout the Old Testament God repeated this command and, for the Jews, the only way that they could be Holy was through the blood sacrifices but as soon as they sinned they were out of fellowship with God. As soon as they had a lustful thought or acted in anger, they were out of fellowship with God. Thank God for Jesus! God sent His Son as the once and for only blood sacrifice, that through Him we are washed clean and acceptable before Him, despite our ongoing sin.

But another important point can be made here. If we don’t confess our sins regularly then we will become further and further away from God. Let us ask the question of ourselves – Do we feel close to God now? How is our relationship with God? Are we confessing our sin as part of our prayer life or do we even recognise the sin in our lives?

Let’s not get confused by our relationship with God now though. God sees us through the death of His Son and we can never lose access to Him through Christ. Even though we sin and let God down, we live under grace and still have access to Father God. By confessing our sins we will have a closer relationship with the Lord and this is what He desires for all of us.

The Lie

OK the last point that we can draw out of verse 25 is about the lie. Did you spot it? Paul says,

“who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” Romans 1:25

Paul doesn’t say, a lie, no he says, the lie. What was this lie that people had exchanged the truth of God for? Well Paul says it here that they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator”. Just like we said about verse 22, this is idolatry. Worship of anything other than God is idol worship or, to put it another way, idolatry. This is the breaking of the first two of the 10 commandments in Exodus,

“You shall have no other gods before Me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;  you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” Exodus 20:3-5a

Man has not only created false religions throughout the ages but in this day and age it is easy to fall into idolatry even without worshiping a foreign god. What I mean is that the placing of anything above God is idolatry. This could be family, or computer games, or Facebook. These things in of themselves may not be bad but do we make more time for them than for God? How much time to we spend reading the Bible and praying verses our hobby or our passion? Let us guard our relationship with God jealousy because He is jealous of anything that we place above Him in our hearts.

Conclusion

In summary then

  1. God’s wrath, His anger, is meted out against those who deny His rightful place, let us not fall foul of His anger but rather have an attitude of continual repentance and thankfulness.
  2. People in this world are blinded by their own foolishness in their denial of the Creator God. Let us praise Him and ask God to show us those that need the message of hope, the gospel, so that they will be able to see clearly, as we see clearly.
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