The gospel is the power of God to save. To be saved implies that there is an impending problem from which we need to be saved. From what does the gospel save us? Paul’s answer is God’s holy judgment against sin (Romans 1:16–18). Paul calls this the wrath of God. During more optimistic times, many have doubted the existence of God’s wrath. They assumed that a God of love wouldn’t have wrath. In light of the horrors of the holocaust, the abuse of children, and the steady stream of suffering caused by the actions of evil people, many people are less inclined to doubt the possibility of God’s judgment against evil. In fact, a God who isn’t upset by the evil in this world couldn’t possibly be considered a God of love.
God’s wrath is not like ours. Our anger at sin tends to be highly selective. Some sins outrage us and others we secretly enjoy, but God’s wrath is against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18). Unlike us, God isn’t partial to any sin. He has holy opposition to everything that brings harm to His creation.
Paul teaches that God’s wrath isn’t directly against people. It is against their unrighteousness and ungodliness (Romans 1:18). People suffer God’s judgment against sin when they remain attached to their sin.
Paul also teaches that God’s wrath is just, because our sin is not committed in ignorance. Through creation, God has clearly shown us that there is a magnificent Creator. When we choose to worship anything in His place, including ourselves, we are willfully choosing idolatry over God, and we are without excuse (Romans 1:19, 20).
Idolatry is by definition self-referential. When we worship what we make, we are effectively worshiping ourselves. This is what Eve did. She was convinced the tree was “desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). Eve thought it would make her “like God” (Genesis 3:5). She attempted to idolatrously exult herself to the place of God. Paul implies that we are making the same mistake she made. Like Eve, through idolatry, we claim to be wise and become fools (Romans 1:23).
When we worship ourselves by worshiping the works of our own hands, we reject God’s restraining grace in our lives. In response, God honors our choice and, in an act of judgment, gives us up to our sin (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Accordingly, when people reject God and pursue lives of pleasure seeking with reckless abandon, they are experiencing the wrath of God. When people plunge into lives of sexual immorality, violence, and strife, they are experiencing life without God (Romans 1:29). The same is true of those who are evil-minded, and whisper, and backbite (Romans 1:29, 30). When we are unloving, unforgiving, and unmerciful, we give evidence we are under the wrath of God.
This brings us back to the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through the cross, God saves us by giving Himself in Christ. He became subject to His own judgment by taking our place on the cross so that we might be saved.