“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith. For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:16-20 HCSB)
We live in a world where information floods our minds and fights for our constant attention. As it battles for our minds, we tend to focus on those things that seem important in the moment while minimizing or completely ignoring those that are of higher value and that which is of absolute highest value, God. We have become a people driven by the urgent or the critical instead of becoming the people of God. When things aren’t urgent then we seek our own fame or success and when they are we seek our own survival instead of living by faith and seeking His glory and honor.
Last week we took a look at what Paul meant by God’s righteousness being revealed by the gospel as it moves us from faith into faith. If you need to go back and review that, click here. Our conclusion was that our faith in God for the salvation of our souls is sufficient to draw us into an absolute and active faith which results in our full and complete obedience to the commands and teachings of Christ. The Apostle James tells us that real and living faith must result in an active and obedient faith. We must not be a people who simply “hear” the word, but a people who actually “do” the word. (See James 1, 2)
In today’s focal passage, Paul begins to paint a very, very stark contrast between those who move from faith into faith (belief/faith) and those who suppress the truth of God in their lives (unbelief/sin). My goal this week is to make certain that you are able to see and understand the stark differences between those who believe and those who do not believe and the effect that belief or lack of belief will have on each of us. I will tell you up front, many (most?) folks get very uncomfortable when a preacher begins to speak about God’s wrath or judgement. It’s not a subject we like to consider and it is often relegated to the stack of beliefs that many would label “old fashioned” and out of touch with a more progressive and permissive view of God. In other words, God is love and would NEVER condemn someone to hell or express “wrath” upon an unbeliever. We will look at this from two angles, the effects of belief on a believer and the effects of unbelief on an unbeliever.
First, what effects do faith or belief have on a believer? Let’s start with the simple statement that Paul quotes, “the righteous will LIVE by faith.” Generally, we would probably interpret that phrase to mean that faith will be evident in our lives by how we live on a daily basis. While it is true that faith will be evidenced by how we live, that is NOT what this phrase says or means. The phrase is literally referring to a person’s physical life. We would probably translate the statement to say, “the righteous will be REALLY and fully alive because of their faith.” In other words, you aren’t really living until you know and experience faith in Jesus Christ.
For clarification, think back on last week’s lesson. The view of a zombie is someone who mindlessly wanders around, pursuing “human brains” to sustain his life. Not much of a life. Just someone trying to get what they need to survive, and not really live. They might be alive, but they aren’t really living. In a very real sense, that describes someone without Christ. Jesus made this distinction very clearly to Nicodemus in John 3, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “But how can anyone be born when he is old? ” Nicodemus asked Him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born? “ (John 3:3-4 HCSB) The phrase “born again” has been misused and misunderstood at least since the 1970’s. While I don’t have time today to review that blatant misunderstanding of the phrase, let me simply stress what Jesus did… unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.
So, what does someone who has faith in Christ receive? LIFE! Life as God intended for it to be, or at least the beginnings of the life God meant for us to have and experience. I said “beginnings” because we have not yet realized its completion or fulfillment. There’s more life and more to the kind of life that God has promised and is yet to come. Let me take you back a few millennia… In the beginning, God created man and then he enjoyed a period of walking with God and enjoying life in the garden of Eden. He had everything he needed or wanted, life was good. Life was just like it was meant to be. Man was able to know God intimately, to walk with Him daily, to glorify Him continually and to enjoy Him endlessly. Well, almost… there’s one little problem. Ok, it’s really not so small. In fact, it is HUGE!
Most people, today, see the word and concept of sin as archaic and old fashioned. So, I want to be very, very clear in what I say here about sin. Right now, I’m NOT talking about your actions but more about your heart. When we talk about Adam and Eve’s sin then we typically get hung up on the issue of whether it was an apple or did the serpent talk and have legs, like a human, or some other trivial matter. In reality, those are just distractions or diversions from the core issue – rebellion against God and His authority over me and you. Yeah, did you see what I did there? This isn’t really all about Adam and Eve, but is really about you and me. Yes, they rebelled but we also rebel against God’s authority and rule over our lives. But, just like Adam and Eve, we tend to look at God and say: “you aren’t the boss of me! I AM!” (Think about the irony of saying that to the holy, infinite and great I AM – you’re not I AM, I AM!)
That brings me to a core belief – the existence and person of God. Paul says, that we “suppress the truth” since what we can really know about God is evident among us. EVIDENT – plainly visible, not hidden but clearly seen. Why would we suppress the knowledge or evidence of God that is clearly evident in our midst? One word – accountability. If God exists then we have to deal with how we are accountable to Him, designed and defined by Him and how we live out our lives in relation to Him. If God doesn’t exist then the only person we are accountable to is ourselves. I’m not going to try and detail the reasons why God’s existence is evident or clearly seen, this week, but we will look at this subject in more detail in the weeks to come. My point this week is that the sin of rebellion is a very real and present danger, if God exists.
So, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume for a moment that God does exist and created you and me. In fact, as God He would have created all of life. As the creator of life, He would know better than anyone else what life should be and who we are. God doesn’t just define what we are (human), but who we are (identity). He knows who we are, what we need and what really fulfills us. In fact, this IS the message of the gospel. Jesus put it this way, “A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10 HCSB) He didn’t come to steal life away from us, He came to give us life, life that is full and overflowing with what God intended and designed for us to have and need. Too often, people think that faith in Jesus is just intended to take away everything in life that is fun. If that’s what you think, then you have a very poor understanding of life and faith in Christ.
Let me see if I can illustrate what I mean. Let’s pretend that you’ve encountered someone who has invented some new, incredibly useful device that is intended to make life easier and better. Who is the best person to teach you how to use that device effectively and efficiently so that it gives you the intended and desired results? The guy who made it, designed it, invented it, created it? Yeah, that’s probably your best bet. But suppose you see someone on the street corner selling what appears to be the same device. It looks similar, but when you hold it and look at it closely, it is clearly a cheap imitation and they guy selling it doesn’t even know how to use it correctly. Would you buy the cheap knock off or would you go with the original? I’m going with the original. I’ve wasted money before on cheap imitations and they never deliver what they promise. How about you?
Now, what does a person get who chooses unbelief? Paul says that God’s wrath is revealed against man’s ungodliness and unrighteousness. The term ungodliness means the manner in which a person responds or reacts towards God. To be ungodly means that you fail to give God the respect and honor that He deserves. The term unrighteousness means to be the opposite of just or not just/unjust. To be unjust means that you fail to do what is right, inherently good or what should be done.
Do you recall how Jesus responded when asked about the most important command? “Just then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? ” “What is written in the law? ” He asked him. “How do you read it? ” He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:25-27 HCSB) That’s precisely what Paul is saying, to be ungodly is to fail to love God with all of your being and to be unrighteous is to fail to love your neighbor as yourself. Using my analogy of the inventor and his device for improving life, these two commands are on the top of his list of how to use this device and get everything out of it that he intended. Life as God meant for it to be can be best realized by doing those things, loving Him above everything else in life and loving others in the same way you love yourself. By the way, eternal life is really as much about quality of life as it is about longevity of life.
Finally, I want to deal with this idea of wrath and how God will respond to those who fail to love, respect and honor Him or fail to love others. First, the word “wrath” does not describe a sudden explosion of anger live a volcano erupting but it is more like a fountain that continues to flow and the water keeps overflowing the rim and being recirculated. I think we tend view the concept of God’s wrath more like the volcano and less like the fountain where God explodes in anger and starts throwing fireballs and destroying everything in sight. In reality, God’s wrath seems to be more like a slow, methodical and continuous outpouring of the natural outcome of refusing to follow the Creator’s design and instructions. Life doesn’t work well when you fail to follow His instructions and you are continually reminded of that fact by seeing, feeling and knowing that life isn’t meant to be like this.
Paul ends by saying, people are without excuse. We won’t be able to say, “If only I had known, I would have done things differently.” Everything you and I need to know about God and about life has already been revealed to us within creation. What does that mean? It means that God included the necessary knowledge and understanding of these basic instructions (love God, love each other) in our “programming” or in our souls. We’re without excuse.
If we truly know what we need and we readily recognize that life without these things is really unfulfilling and empty then why would we choose to ignore or walk away from them? If God has placed the knowledge of these things in our DNA and our souls really do long and thirst for Him, why would we choose death over life? Because we’ve believed that ancient lie, God is holding out on us. We look at the “fruit” and think, “What is He hiding from me?” We think that the commands that tell us “don’t” mean that God is just some great, cosmic kill joy or party pooper when what we need to understand is that He’s telling us, “if you do, it will destroy you. I know, I made you.”
So, let me conclude by stressing that the choices we make, especially those that are in relation to knowing and loving God and loving others, really impact our quality of life. When our selfishness drives us to focus our lives on loving ourselves more than anyone else then we begin to break the very design for life that God has built into us. Going back to our analogy of the inventor’s device, his instructions say “don’t touch that button or this setting” and we don’t resist the urge to “touch that button or change the setting” just to see what happens. Will life be perfect if we follow His instructions precisely? Come on, be honest. You know you’re not perfect. But even if you were perfect, just like Jesus, those around you aren’t and your life would still be impacted by the sin and imperfections of others.
Does that mean that life won’t EVER be perfect? It means that life won’t be perfect as long as sin exists in our world. Thankfully, there’s coming a day when God will restore this creation to its original design and sin will be destroyed. How can you participate in that day? Paul told you, “the righteous will live by FAITH.” Faith in God’s promises, faith in God’s power, and faith in the person of God, Jesus the Son. Are you ALIVE by faith in Jesus? If not, you can be… contact me through the comments section or send me a prayer request and let me walk you through that process.