Calvary Road Baptist Church

“HAS GOD’S PUNISHMENT ALREADY BEGUN?”

Romans 1.18-32

 

Because you and I are limited human beings, limited in our experiences, limited in our wisdom, limited in our comprehension, and limited in so many other ways, we very frequently make unwarranted and erroneous assumptions about things that are simply not true. May I provide one illustration?

New Christians frequently find it jarring to realize that as believers in Jesus Christ they can simultaneously experience blissful joy and at the same time profound sorrow. On one hand, we know the joy of sins forgiven and the peace of mind and heart that comes from the unencumbered presence of the indwelling Spirit of God given to everyone who trusts Christ as his personal Savior. Yet on the other hand, we discover that we also experience the sorrow of family, friends, sometimes spouses, and others loved and cared for who are bound and determined to live their lives without regard for the will of God, the power of God, the holiness of God, the judgment of God, the Son of God, or the wrath of God. Nothing you can say or do seems to sway their resolute stubbornness that suggests that they regard your personal commitment to Christ as unimportant, meaningless, irrational, obnoxious, arbitrary, and unrelated to your otherwise careful consideration of facts and evidence when you make up your mind about far less important matters. They become experts at ignoring or explaining away what wonderful things God has done in your life. Therefore, it is not at all uncommon for many precious Christians with tender and loving hearts to react to the pain and heartache you feel toward your unsaved loved ones so that to protect yourselves from pain, to insulate yourselves from becoming distraught over the refusals of your parents, children, spouses, siblings, and others, you discover ways of living with your beloved but Christ-rejecting ones in a way that makes the pain bearable.

To ease the suffering associated with your awareness of your loved ones’ rejection of the gospel, refusal of Christ, and apparent determination to go to Hell, you begin to draw back a bit, bite your tongue considerably, and round off the edges of your Christianity to avoid their harsh and unreasonable complaints and reactions to your attempts to bring them to Christ. May I urge upon you a consideration that such a reaction as I have described is the wrong reaction? It is one thing to adjust your witness so that it is set forth with greater wisdom and grace and is thereby more effective, but it is another thing entirely to hold back from appropriate saying and doing merely to protect yourself from unpleasant feelings produced by adverse reactions. After all, your feelings and mine regarding the heartache and pain we experience because our moms, dads, siblings, and children are blind to the beauty of Christ is no reason at all to witness any less earnestly. Diminishing your pain does not in any way affect their destiny.

Please open your Bible to Paul’s letter to the Romans. There is something I am compelled to show you this morning that I sincerely hope will spark your concern for your loved ones and energize your efforts to pray for and speak to them about Christ. It’s found in Romans chapter one. There are three observations I would like to bring to your attention, but to get you from here to there I want to walk you through Paul’s foundational remarks. Long story short, Paul is a missionary writing to Christians who have heard of him but who have never met him, with the entire letter to the Romans being something of a position paper delivered to them so they will know precisely where he stands on important matters, in the hopes that they will agree with him and begin to pray for him and financially support his ministry when he comes to Rome on his way to Spain.

In Romans 1.1-6 Paul identifies himself to the Romans. He begins in verse 1 by naming himself, by describing his ministry as a servant of Jesus Christ, called an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God. In verse 2 he describes his message. In verses 3-4 he describes his master, the Son of God, made of the Seed of David, Who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, He became Jesus Christ our Lord. In verses 5-6, he describes his ministry, his reception of grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith for Christ’s name, among all nations, including the Roman believers who too are the called of Jesus Christ.

After identifying himself, Paul then addresses himself. He knows who his readers are; he knows what his readers are, verse 7; beloved of God, and saints, blessed with grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He follows with praise of thanks for their testimony, verse 8, with prayers for their blessings, verse 9, and with God’s permission to journey to them, verse 10. In verses 11-12, we see his passion, a love for them that longs to give to them and to establish them, as well as seeking to both comfort them and be comforted by them.

In verses 13-17, Paul expresses himself. Verse 13 very clearly reveals Paul’s desire to come to them so he might bear fruit among them and other Gentile believers. He points out that his desire is prompted by his moral obligation. In verse 14 he speaks of it as a debt he owes to others to bless them with blessings he has first received himself. Verse 15 is his declaration of his readiness to discharge his duty as a preacher of the gospel. Verses 16-17 assert Paul’s determination to get the gospel to Rome and beyond because of what the gospel is (not something to be ashamed of, but the power of God brought to bear to save both Jews and Greeks), and what the preaching of the gospel does (by revealing the righteousness of God by means of faith).

Those introductory details established for you to verify by your personal study at home, we come to our text for today, where Paul unfolds what the Roman believers were in large measure already familiar with, the spiritual litany of horrors of unsaved mankind. Of course, the problem is sin, as Paul concludes in Romans 3.23:

 

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

 

However, in this last half of chapter one, I want to rehearse to you three vital realities about God’s dealings with mankind’s sins, particularly those who are Gentiles, one of which I am quite sure you will find surprising. The implications are alarming.

 

The First Reality Is GOD’S REVELATION TO MAN

 

18    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

19    Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

20    For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

 

May I make two observations in connection to these three verses I have just read to you?

First, and a fact that is somewhat surprising to some people, God’s wrath is open for people to see for themselves, according to verse 18:

 

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

 

“This is not an impulsive outburst of anger aimed capriciously at people whom God does not like. It is the settled, determined response of a righteous God against sin (cf. Pss. 2:5,12; 45:7; 75:8; 76:6,7; 78:49-51; 90:7-9; Is. 51:17; Jer. 25:15, 16; John 3:36; Rom. 9:22; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:5,6). is revealed. More accurately, “is constantly revealed.” The word essentially means “to uncover, make visible, or make known.” God reveals His wrath in two ways: 1) indirectly, through the natural consequences of violating His universal moral law, 2) directly through His personal intervention (the OT record ­ from the sentence passed on Adam and Eve to the worldwide flood, from the fire and brimstone that leveled Sodom to the Babylonian captivity - clearly displays this kind of intervention). The most graphic revelation of God’s holy wrath and hatred against sin was when He poured out divine judgment on His Son on the cross. God has various kinds of wrath: 1) eternal wrath, which is hell; 2) eschatological wrath, which is the final Day of the Lord; 3) cataclysmic wrath like the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; 4) consequential wrath, which is the principle of sowing and reaping; and 5) the wrath of abandonment, which is removing restraint and letting people go to their sins . . . . Here it is that fifth form, God’s abandoning the wicked continually through history to pursue their sin and its consequences.”[1]

 

And pursue their sin and its consequences they most certainly do. Paul ends the verse by pointing out the obstinacy of the unconverted:

 

“who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

 

Despite many protests of the unsaved to the contrary, God’s witness is unmistakable, verses 19-20:

 

19    Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

20    For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

 

They may claim they do not believe in God. They may insist that God as we know Him does not exist. However, their protests are belied by the declaration of God’s ever-truthful Word. The reality of God and the eternal power of God are clearly in evidence in the world around us that we cannot help but take notice of, from the earth on which we live to the universe that surrounds us. This is what is called God’s natural revelation of Himself to mankind. A ball point pen on the ground screams both a designer and a maker. A pair of shoes tied by the laces and hanging from a power line in the alley shows by its existence that it has a maker. The same is true of the universe, my friend, and of life everywhere we find it. God is real, and He has revealed Himself just as the portrait painter reveals himself in his artistry. Psalm 19.1-3:

 

1      The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

2      Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.

3      There is no speech nor language, where their voice [which is to say the voice of the heavens] is not heard.

 

The Second Vital Reality Is MAN’S RESPONSE TO GOD

 

How do sinful “men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness,” seeing that they are willfully blind to the evidence and are, therefore, “without excuse,” respond to God? In the remaining verses of Romans chapter one the Apostle Paul describes Gentile conduct with three somewhat parallel descriptions:

First, in Romans 1.21-23, we see man’s rebellion described in one way:

 

21    Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22    Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

23    And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

 

Notice, if you will, that Paul here describes both passive and active rebellion against God: Unsaved man’s passive type of rebellion is described in verse 21:

 

“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

 

Notice where they started, and by they I refer to unsaved mankind, sometimes even in our own families. They knew God in some way. They were aware of Him and took notice of His existence, His power, His certainty, and the underlying reality of everything that is. That said, they nevertheless chose to do nothing; not glorifying Him as God nor being thankful for His many blessings. So, what happens when you reject the most foundational of all truths? They

 

“became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

 

Unsaved man’s active kind of rebellion is described in verses 22-23:

 

22    Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

23    And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

 

This, too, we see happening around us. Unsaved people think they are so profound, so deep in their thinking, and they are so certain of all that they wrongly hold to be true. And what about changing the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things? Are we not watching those around us exalting the status and importance of animals while denigrating the importance of unborn children? Commercials make dogs and cats that have been mistreated seem so humanly sad while the plight of those made in the image of God is completely ignored.

Next, in verse 25, we see man’s rebellion described in another way:

 

“Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”

 

What, specifically, is the sin involved here? It is changing “the truth of God into a lie.” This was the basis for sinful men worshipping and serving something created more than the eternally blessed Creator. What are worshipped are idols for some, one’s self for others, pets and critters for others, money and possessions for others, the environment with others, and who knows what else? What is tragically sinful is worshipping and serving anyone or anything other than the Creator.

Third, in the first half of verse 28, we see man’s rebellion described in a third way:

 

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

 

Imagine the seriousness of this crime of willful ignorance in light of the purpose for which God created the human mind, as a repository for the truth about the glory and majesty of Almighty God. Of all the wonderful things man is capable of knowing, it is the knowledge of the one true and living God that is the highest truth which one made in the image and likeness of God can possess. Yet unsaved individuals decide that they do not want to retain God in their knowledge, meaning what truth they possessed about God was discarded, tossed aside, and treated as being of no consequence.

 

The Third Vital Reality That We Will Conclude With Is GOD’S RESPONSIVE WRATH

 

Just as Newton’s third law states that every action has an equal but opposite reaction, so in the spiritual realm there are consequences for every decision and action or inaction taken. Many people suffer from the delusion that if they do nothing in response to God there will be no consequence. They are wrong. Others suffer from the delusion that if they do nothing in response to God there might be consequence, but that consequence will not take place until after they die. They, too, are wrong. What we will now take note of, surprising to most people, is the Apostle Paul’s explanation of God’s wrath poured out upon sinners in this life for their rebellion against Him. God’s wrath is described following the three parallel descriptions of sinful rebellion we have just surveyed:

First, in response to the sin detailed in Romans 1.21-23,

 

21    Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22    Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

23    And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things,

 

we see “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against” such conduct described by Paul as God’s deliverance in verse 24:

 

“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.”

 

Two words stand out in this verse: Uncleanness as a consequence of God’s judgment and dishonoring their own bodies between themselves as another consequence of God’s judgment. Thus, because sinful individuals passively and actively sin against God, He punishes them by giving them up to uncleanness through lust and sinning against their own bodies. Such people are self-destructive. And this happens before you die, while you are yet alive.

Next, in response to the sin detailed in verse 25,

 

“Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”

 

we see “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against” such conduct described by Paul as God’s deliverance in verses 26-27:

 

26    For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

27    And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

 

Most people think that lost people engaging in same-sex fornication will cause God to punish their sins, and He will. However, they never stop to consider that the reason people engage in same-sex activity in the first place is because “God gave them up unto vile affections . . . working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” In other words, getting the punishment that is appropriate. Thus, same-sex sinfulness is a declaration to anyone who has the eyes to see that God has already begun to judge those individuals before Judgment Day!

Finally, in response to the sin detailed in the first half of verse 28,

 

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,”

 

what God does in response, and the behavior people engage in as a result of God’s punishment, is as follows, beginning with the second half of verse 28:

 

28    . . . God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

29    Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

30    Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

31    Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.

32    Who knowing the judgment 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.

 

In response to disapproving of God, it is declared that God in turn disapproves of you by punishing you with a reprobate mind. Refuse to use your mind the way God wants? Okay, then God will judge your mind, resulting in your doing the kinds of inconvenient things listed in verses 29-32. Notice, from verses 29-31, that such people are filled,

 

“filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness,”

 

are might I say stuffed,

 

“full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity,”

 

are puffed (related to their arrogance),

 

“whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters,”

 

and astonishingly displaying as a consequence of judgment rather than a cause of God’s judgment, they are

 

“inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.”

 

Here we see evidence of how young they are that God has begun to punish in this way for refusing to think about Him. Verse 32 concludes the Apostle Paul’s comments related to unsaved Gentiles:

 

“Who knowing the judgment 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.”

 

Despite their stubborn denials to the contrary and claims of ignorance (“I didn’t know”), they know the judgment of God. They know such sins deserve the death penalty, all the while doing the same themselves, and enjoying every illicit pleasure they wrongly observe with delight and engage in themselves.

 

My friends, there are three disturbing but obvious conclusions to be drawn from the text we have considered today, with applications of these truths that should be incorporated into our Christian conduct and ministry.

First, there is no such thing as a static status in the life of an unsaved person, be he child or adult. You are spiritually always on the move. Thus, no one is spiritually stationary. Those who are Christians always grow, however, erratically and inconsistently. Those who are lost, which is to say those who reject the gospel, refuse the person and work of Christ, and choose not to retain God in their knowledge, are constantly and without question becoming more and more sinful with each passing day.

Next, it is clear that God does visit punishment upon the unsaved, even during the course of their life here on earth. Do not think you can live your life as a lost guy without suffering the punishment of God, both throughout eternity in Hell and then in the lake of fire, and also before you die and enter eternity. Remember when you were younger, and you had pleasant thoughts toward God and unpleasant thoughts about sin? Remember when you experienced fear for God and displeasure about personal sins? But then your attitude changed and you now not only do not fear God any longer, you rarely even think about Him. This passage we have considered is about you.

Do you realize what this means about your unsaved mom or dad, about your unsaved spouse, about your unsaved children, and about you if you are unsaved? It means that if God has not yet begun to punish you for sins committed against Him in this life, He will. And His punishment will affect both your attitude toward sins (making them more appealing and enticing to you), as well as your ability to think reasonably and rationally (which happens when you are turned over to a reprobate mind). This does not mean such people as are hereby judged by God cannot be saved, only that their ability to deal with the truth of the gospel is hindered as a directed consequence of their own decisions to sin against God. You never benefit from sinning against God.

What, then, should we who are God’s children do? Well, we should certainly give up the notion of doing nothing! What we have learned today is that our unsaved loved ones are in even more danger than many having supposed, with their danger growing more difficult to deal with each passing day. Our prayer lives need to be more concerted and focused. Our walk with God needs to be more intimate and devoted. Our devotional life needs to be more meaningful. This Christian life we have been given by God’s grace is not a hobby. It is a vocation.

In answer to the question has God’s punishment already begun, the answer is “Yes!” Therefore, pray, live for Christ, witness to others, and faithfully serve God. And thanks be to God for the Word of God which gives us guidance by which we can live our lives and reach our loved ones with the gospel.

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[1] See footnote for Romans 1.18 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1693.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org