In writing to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul addressed believers who were surrounded by individuals who practiced ungodly and unrighteous lifestyles. In verse 18, Paul states that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodly and unrighteous men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.
What does it mean to hold the truth in unrighteousness? Paul makes it known that the truth is that which may be known of God (v. 19). Believers know God through the Son. We know the Son to be the promised seed of woman who should bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). While God reveals Himself to believers through His scriptures, He reveals Himself to all men through His work of creation.
In verse 20, the Apostle states that God’s eternal power is evident in all of God’s creation. The physical universe is governed by cause and effect. The world about us did not come to be without a cause. Cosmology is the science of the origin and development of the universe. Men gain understanding of a cause by observing its effects. Scientists attribute an effect to a cause. Natural laws, while cited by scientists as causes, are effects of God, the ultimate cause of all things. To declare that creation is without a creator is willful denial of that which God has shown all men — that He is the cause of all things. There are consequences that result from this denial of God.
In verse 21, the Holy Spirit through Paul makes it known that men’s denial causes their hearts to be darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools. They choose to glory in themselves and that which they fashion with their hands rather than in God. The plain truth which should not be ignored is that God allows men to be given over to homosexuality. The result of rejecting God is manifest in men lusting for men (v. 24-27).
Return to verse 18. The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. Verse 18 does not state that God’s wrath will be revealed (future tense); it states it is revealed (present tense). How is (present tense) the wrath of God revealed? Consider first how the righteousness of God is revealed. God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith (v. 17). The righteousness of God is made known to men through the gospel of Jesus Christ. God gives His righteousness to all who believe. Abraham believed God and his faith was counted for righteousness. The cause is believing and the effect is receiving God’s righteousness. God created the law of cause and effect. To answer how the wrath of God (an effect) is revealed, one must identify the cause. The cause is not ungodliness and unrighteousness. If it were, believers could not receive God’s righteousness. The cause is man’s holding the truth in unrighteousness. God’s wrath is revealed in them who hold (present tense) the truth in unrighteousness.
Verse 28 states that God gave (past tense) those who did not want to retain God in their knowledge over to a reprobate mind to do things which are (present tense) not fitting (things that are unrighteous). Christians, today, like those in the church of Rome in Paul’s day, are surrounded by individuals who have been given over to a reprobate mind. In verses 29-31, Paul lists twenty-some nouns or adjectives that describe individuals who have developed reprobate minds. These are individuals who have ignored the plain truth which God has placed before them. Every adjective and noun which Paul lists is an effect which can be attributed to a cause —a reprobate mind. God’s wrath against them who ignore His plain truth is revealed in the manifestation of that which Paul lists in these three verses.
There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that those who hold the truth in unrighteousness know that they are unrighteous. There is hope that they can change, that they will not continue to ignore what God has made plainly known to them. The bad news is sad. They know that what they do is worthy of death but they do not change and have pleasure in others who also ignore God’s plain truth.
Believers do not hold the truth in unrighteousness but believers most certainly do the very things that those who ignore the truth do. We are called to reveal God’s righteousness, not His wrath. We are not to ignore His truth. We are not to live in the manner of them who ignore God.
We know to do good. We know that we are to love one another as He loves us. Let our walk be such that His righteousness is revealed to all men.