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Online Text Sermon - The Wrath of God Revealed, Romans ch.1 v.18

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleThe Wrath of God Revealed
TextRomans ch.1 v.18
Sermon ID438

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"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1, 18).

There is a sense in which the reading of this part of Romans 1 might be thought to be rather depressing. There are various lists and catalogues in Scripture of the sins of the human race. This indeed is one of the features of the writings of the apostle Paul, that again and again he gives us these lists concerning the sin of mankind in all its various forms. This, I believe, is the longest list of all. It is an astonishing summary of the corruption of the human heart and of the depravity of human nature. Many, many verses here, as you would have noticed, deal with nothing more nor less than the various manifestations of evil, of irreligion and of sin. However, I want to show you that this should never depress the Christian. If it depresses worldly people to hear these things, we who are believers understand why it is that the apostle Paul spends so long telling us about these various forms of evil that are manifested in the world and in society.

What is the reason why he tells us these things? It is not in order to make us feel that the world is as bad and as black as can be. No, it is for another reason. It is in order to prepare us for the grace of God. In the epistle to the Romans, Paul is giving us the Gospel but in order to make us appreciate the wonders of the Gospel he must needs begin by telling us the need for the Gospel. You see mankind's problem is that they don't know their need. If men and women all around us in Inverness - to look no further afield - knew what their real problem is, they would be coming here, and similar places, to find the answer; but they don't know their problem and their leaders are not telling them their real problem. For that reason the apostle Paul begins by explaining to us what is really wrong with the human race.

There are many explanations for the state of society, are there not. It makes you smile to listen to some of our politicians when they begin to analyse the problem in the modern world and the continuing rise in crime. They tell us, of course, it is all to do with lack of resources. That is the politically correct word - resources. If we were to put more money, they say, in to educating those in slums - the poor, the deprived, ethnic minorities - then things would greatly improve; people would behave much better and crime would go down they say. The real problem is that people are out of work; they are bored and so they have to take extra alcohol and drugs to compensate. You don't blame them do you if they decide they want to go in for a life of crime. Life is grim for the poor and it is all to do with money and resources, education and leisure. Whether they believe this or not, I don't know. I suppose they do. But if this is what they think is wrong with the human race, they have not the faintest idea of the gravity, the seriousness and the plight of mankind. So the apostle tells us here that our real problem is sin. All this list of sins is to show us how extremely dreadful sin is. If people don't know their condition they are never going to think that they need Christ.

My friends, if only we could persuade people in this community alone, for instance, that their problem is that of sin and that there is no cure anywhere for sin apart from in the Gospel. It is therefore incumbent upon them to come to the house of God to hear the Gospel expounded. If only, I say, we could persuade them of that, they would come. But they are not persuaded of that. What then does the apostle Paul tell us about sin. You see from the text it takes two main forms: "ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (text). Those two words summarise all sin. The first word ungodliness means as we are born by nature, we break the first table of the Moral Law - the first four Commandments:

1. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

In summary these are what we call the First Table of the Law. Ungodliness is breaking those Commandments.

The second word is unrighteousness. This is to do now with the Second Table of the Law. All the others -

5. Honour thy father and thy mother.6. Thou shalt not kill.7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.8. Thou shalt not steal.9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.10. Thou shalt not covet...

...within our hearts with lust or jealousy. None of that is permissible. All of that is a breaking of the Second Table of the Law.

Ungodliness - the First Table of the Law.Unrighteousness - the Second Table of the Law.

The First and Second Tables are contained in these two words: the breaking of the Law of God in every form.

Putting it another way, ungodliness means sins which are distinctly against God; unrighteousness is those sins which are against our fellow men. One is vertical, the other is horizontal. They are all sins which mankind is guilty of.

Why should these things be so very serious? The ultimate answer is right here in this text; it is because of God's attitude to sin: "the wrath of God" - the anger of God - "is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (text). "The wrath of God" means His holy hatred of all forms of sin and His determinate intention to punish all sin, sooner or later. This is the real condition of mankind; this is the real problem. Ultimately it has little or nothing to do with whether we are rich or poor, whether we are of an ethnic minority, whether we are employed or unemployed, whether we have had a good or a bad upbringing, whether we have had good or bad parents or no parents at all. Ultimately it has little or nothing to with these things. It has to do with our relationship to God - it is all wrong by nature.

In the long list of sins which is given to us, we see that one word summarises them all - it is the word against. Sin is against everything that is right and good. Sin is the very opposite of everything that is good. It is against our parents. Isn't that an interesting phrase to have there: "disobedient to parents" (v.30). Children are against their parents - even the very ones who gave them their birth and existence. Sin is against our own physical and moral wellbeing. Then there is this reference to "men with men" (v.27) and women with women (v.26). We know very well the consequence of that sort of behaviour results in terrible punishment - AIDS we call it. The phrase is right here - "receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet" (v.27). God has temporal as well as eternal punishments for those who commit these things. Sin is against our fellow man. Sin is against our own health, against our families, against God, against truth, against light. It also illustrates how very entirely and completely man is against the holiness of God. If there is one thing more than another about God that sinners hate, it is his holiness. So, the apostle tells us here what people have done; they have changed God - "changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things" (v.23). This is literally true. This is precisely how men represented God in the days of the apostle Paul - they worshipped everything, all sorts of creatures that they saw with their eyes. They made their images and idols in the form of cows, dogs, sheep, lions, even beastly things crawling upon the floor. This is all because they could not tolerate a view of God being perfectly holy. Of course, we can't by nature tolerate such a view of God because such a view of God entirely condemns our own lives and hearts. Therefore, man's religion automatically becomes debased: man recreates God. He invents God with his own hands - gods he can manipulate and handle; gods he can manage to live comfortably with. Whereas, the truth is that the real God is the enemy of all sin because of His infinite holiness and His infinite glory.

Paul tells us that society pays a very heavy price whenever it changes the true view of God. We see a most ominous phrase repeated here again and again: "Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness..." (v.24). See it again in v.26: "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affection". Again in v.28: "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind...". In other words, when people, when society changes its view of God and misrepresents the view and holiness of God, what always happens, says Paul, is this: God withdraws from society - common grace - so that the lusts, passions and depravities of man's heart are all the more poured forth and expressed. You must understand that we have a word for this; we call it reprobation. Reprobation is the word we give to whenever God gives people over to their own hearts' lusts. This needs a word of explanation.

In society God, all the time, is holding sinners in check. He does this in various ways - some of which are visible and some of which are invisible. One of the ways whereby God holds sin and sinners in check is through fear of punishment. That is why in society there must be righteous punishment and that is why God in the Bible has given capital punishment for murder. He has given that in all ages - He did so in the Old Testament, He does so in the New Testament. When a person commits murder they forfeit the right to live and they are to be judicially put to death by the act of the State. The reason for that is both because of the justice of it and also as a deterrent for others because if there is one thing sinners do not want to do it is to die. So God has imposed that punishment for murder and there are many other punishments - corporal punishment which God puts upon men and in this way He restrains their depravity. A man may want to strike his neighbour but if he thinks that if he is caught then he will be crushed, then he is restrained. The way it works is obvious. A child at home may want to do something which is forbidden. They may want to use a bad word to their parents or to disobey them but when they know that they are likely to be chastened for it, then they will think again. That is the way whereby, through common grace as we call it, God restrains sin.

In Christians God restrains sin in a different way. In Christians God restrains sin through special grace. That is to say He so inclines our hearts and our affections that we love what is right and we desire with all our hearts to do what is right; that is much more than common grace. Common grace does not give to anyone a desire to please God and to glorify Him but special saving grace does.

But what I am talking about is this common grace and here is what the apostle Paul tells us. When society does not like to know the truth about God - His glory, His holiness, His majesty, His sovereignty - when society wants to cast off the fear of God, then the punishment that they have to pay from God is this punishment of the withdrawing of common grace from society. You see that illustrated in the days just before the flood - those ominous words that God gives to Noah: "My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh" (Genesis 6:3). That was a warning that society was becoming very depraved, so corrupt that God was going to withdraw the influence of common grace from them; the Holy Spirit was going to give them over and give them up so they would do these evil things for which the waters of the flood gave them a condign punishment. So it was in the days of Paul. As the apostle travelled about the Mediterranean countries and Greece, Rome and Asian Minor, he saw evidences everywhere of societies depraved and given over and given up by God to all these terrible lusts which form his list and catalogue here. He explains the reason behind it. It is not an accident when society becomes so depraved - it is a sign that they have so displeased and angered God that He has withdrawn from them all restraint. Just as a man might do with dogs that are wild when he wants to keep them under control, he has a strong chain about their neck and a leash. They are chained and can do no harm. If a man wants to amuse himself with perverseness and enjoy the cruelty of these beasts, he might unleash them all and watch them kill one another. So it is with human society: when God's anger reaches a certain pitch for society's sin he takes away the leash from their necks as it were, and he watches men brutalise and rush at one another. This is precisely what is being depicted here. For instance, you see it in verse twenty-nine. What sort of society was it that the apostle Paul lived in? People, he said, were "filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers" (v.29) and so on. The last verse of this chapter is the climax: "Who knowing the judgement of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them" (v.32).

That was the way it was. They had their amphitheatres and coliseums - huge grounds, rather like a football stadium today. You can go to Italy today and see the ruins of them. They would hold maybe eighty thousand people. What did they do? What did they come to watch? They came to watch spectacles of games. The games consisted of gladiators - one with a sword and the other had a long metal fork and a net. They were trying to kill each other. The crowd would roar with pleasure. They would bring on a few innocent girls and throw them in the middle, getting some wild beasts to kill them or crocodiles to eat them. They would watch the girls running for their lives as the beasts chased them. Later on Christians were thrown in to amuse the crowd. See the beastly character - they knew in their consciences that this was against God and that those who did such things were worthy of death. Not only did they do these things, but they enjoyed watching those who did them. Today it would be like watching crime on television. Not only do people do the crime, they enjoy watching it. It is terrible! Listen to the news for fifteen minutes and you hear of little girls of ten years old who have disappeared, and we all weep and go on our knees with the dreadful thought -"Where are these girls?" A few minutes later they are talking about a play they are going to have on the radio or television which is all about crime. Our society is what it is because it wants to be! People want crime; they love crime; they want murder, lust, drunkenness and filth. They do so because God has taken away His Spirit and He has left people to be what the human heart longs to be - depraved in every form.

So, my friends, this is the problem with society. This is the problem with man. As I close I need not say this to you my dearly beloved friends because you know and believe the truth, but I must say it again for your hearing and for your comfort; there is no way to cure this disease of sin but through the Gospel: the blood of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the new birth, faith, repentance, regeneration, conversion, uniting our hearts by faith to Christ. I say, there is no other solution. Social workers may have their place but they can't put right what is wrong. The police have their very important function but they cannot put right what is wrong. The House of Commons and the House of Lords, even if they have a will to do so, they cannot put it right. You see how greatly we need God to visit us again. That is what He does every time He pours out His Spirit in fresh reviving of His church.

My friends, these little Prayer Meetings in Scotland and England, they are vital! If ever we stop praying, the heavens will fall upon our society by one means or another. Your prayers are holding back this wrath of God which the apostle Paul speaks about. Don't underestimate the tremendous importance of the Prayer Meeting and of waiting on God in public, in private and in the family. It is our only hope. If ever our society gets to the point when no-one is praying and no-one is calling on God, then, I say, He will give over the whole of society. Thank God for Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank God for the blood and death of our Saviour. We believe it, we know it, we've tasted it, we've felt the power of it; we have been healed from this terrible evil of sin. Let us, therefore, not hesitate to go cheerfully into society and, when God gives us opportunity, to say a word to sinners under the wrath of God. Tell them that the real problem is not political but spiritual. The consequences are not merely temporal but eternal. Christ has the key to the human heart. O, my friends, that He would come in the power of His grace and pour out fresh anointing upon us all that society may feel its profoundest need of the grace of God. There is no other cure. There is no other hope. We are grateful indeed, beyond all words, that we who live in this crooked, wicked, unrighteous and ungodly world, that we have been delivered from the wrath to come.

May God help us to see our lives in such a light and to live to His glory.

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