In Bible Study Fellowship this year we are going through Romans. We just finished Romans 1 and are starting on chapter 2. I had forgotten some of the fascinating things that the author, the apostle Paul, says about God's wrath, and his description of the progressive stages of unbelief and its consequences. I was struck anew by its relevance to our own oh-so modern times.
We don't hear much about God's wrath in the contemporary culture, and what little we do hear seems to be misinformed. Modern evangelicals don't find wrath very "seeker-friendly", I expect. I have heard some rather wild-eyed rants about God’s wrath from a televangelist or two. Liberal theologians generally eye it with the same disdainful regard that they reserve for the Garden of Eden, Noah, the Virgin Birth, Heaven and Hell and, well, most of what the Bible actually says. Rank and file Christians, along with marginal and nominal believers of all flavors kind of shift uncomfortably in their pews on the rare occasion that the topic wafts by. Agnostics, and so-called atheists, seem to have much the same viewpoint as the liberal theologians, actually. Hmm.
It is man’s propensity for sin, of course, that places us in the path of God’s wrath. But even the language we use when we talk about sin today seems often not quite right. We use terminology such as "falling into sin" and "stumbling into temptation" which makes it sound like we are victims of something, as though some outside force was forcing us to do bad things. Paul is very clear, though. We are not victims, but perpetrators. The sin is within us, not outside of us, and that is the message that nobody likes to hear these days.
Romans 1:16-17 gives us a taste of the antidote, though, and why Paul was so anxious to write this letter to the Christians in Rome:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
(c) New International Version