Gordon E. Johnson


Sin, Its Origin and the Magnitude of God's Wrath

Romans 1:18-23 (NKJV)

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


In the briefest compass Paul has introduced himself: a missionary en route to Spain but an authenticated Apostle to the Gentiles.  His message is Christ-centered, rooted in the deity and humanity of Jesus the Messiah who was forever vindicated by the Spirit of Holiness that raised him from the dead. Paul's single message is the Gospel, God's ultimate Good News to all.

After such an introduction, in two concise verses, Romans 1:16, 17, Paul defines, defends and declares the wonder of that message: the transforming power of God unto salvation, from faith to faith, to all who believe. The gospel is rooted deeply in God's righteousness that must be satisfied because of man's rebellion; his righteousness was fully satisfied by the vicarious death of Jesus. This gospel is from eternity past to eternity future with a strong emphasis on its present application in justification and now in our sanctification.  But there is a formidable barrier to be considered before any grace can transform the sinner into a saint.

God's Holy Wrath Is Being Revealed Against Sin - Romans 1:18-23

What is most striking in Paul's masterful and systematic development of God's grace revealed in Christ is that he does NOT begin with God's mercy, nor his kindness, nor even his infinite love for the sinner.  That must wait until he has presented the death of Christ as a propitiation for the sins of all. Love appears for the first time in Rom. 5:5,8: "Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us But God demonstrated his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  

There can be no biblical appreciation for the greatness of God's salvation in Christ, without a corresponding sense of the greatness of man's sin. Hence Paul begins with man's sin in the sight of a holy God.

Paul's emphasis falls on God's righteousness that must be vindicated, not on our happiness or our forgiveness assured. This is a totally different approach than what we usually hear in the presentation of the gospel. We are so accustomed to our needs being met; God's righteousness must be met before any blessing can be ours. Sin must be atoned and then forgiveness may come.

For the next 64 verses Paul will diagnose man's sin, the insuperable barrier that only God can remove. No other Scripture portion deals in such depth and length with the malignant cancer of sin, as does Paul from Romans 1:18-3:20.  Paul begins abruptly by declaring: "For the wrath of God is revealed (is being revealed) from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom.1:18). This truth stands out as the fundamental truth of salvation. It is all about God himself, his righteousness and not about man's benefit.  We must understand that God's wrath is NOT as our wrath. Ours is capricious, arbitrary, personal, grounded in our supposed hurt. God's wrath is an extension of his holiness which is moral, measured and always just. The Creator has every right to judge the creature in rebellion. And Paul begins right there.

God's Original Provision of General Revelation and Conscience  - Romans 1:19, 20

God had, however, provided his creatures with all their basic needs. God surrounded man with the vastness and greatness of a divine creation that speaks of his glory and greatness. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world" (Psalm 20:1-4).  To visual proof God added invisible, internal evidence in providing an inner monitor that agreed with God's standards.  Conscience still is a faint echo of the original role of that moral guide. Presently, however, it is seared, defaced and often silenced (1 Tim. 4:2). 

God final verdict appears: "so that they are without excuse" (1:20), terse but true.

Man's Steep Descent into Lostness, Six Steps Downward  - Romans 1:21, 22

In spite of the voice of creation and conscience, our forefathers, Adam and Eve and the earliest generations, left a sad trail of rebellion and disobedience. God made them good, "very good" (Gen. 1:31). "Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes" (Eccl. 7:29). Man began surrounded by every blessing and honor that a gracious God could bestow and with only one simple condition to be obeyed --not to eat of a tree that would test their faith in God and obedience. They failed the test.

There followed six tragic steps downward, not evolution but devolution. Although Satan was the tempter in the Garden of Eden, no mention is made of his involvement; Adam according to Romans 5:12 – "through one man sin entered the world" --sinned and there follow the consequences still with us. Let us analyze those steps downward:

     "They did not glorify Him as God," Implicit is that they glorified themselves just as Satan did in the primeval fall in an earlier day in heaven. Compare Isa. 14: 12-15; Ez. 28:13-19.

      "Nor were thankful." The sin of pride is followed logically by the sin of ingratitude.

      "but became futile in their thoughts" Man's mind is forever distorted and deceitful.

      "and their foolish hearts were darkened" Man's heart is sealed in darkness.

      "professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" Man is doubly deceived.

      "and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man --and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things."  Man prostitutes God's glory and assigns it to creeping things, no lower category possible. The Fall of Man, the entrance of sin into the world, was no minor event; it was deadly and catastrophic in the nth degree.  No wonder Jeremiah sums it up tragically: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). Only now we begin to sense the greatness of a redemption that can remove the curse and return the believer to a position of "heir of God and joint heir with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).

Some Powerful Deductions from God's Indictment of Man  - Romans 1: 18-23

  1. Man's crass rebellion merits a commensurate judgment from God.
  2. God's wrath measure the enormity of the creature's sin before the Creator.
  3. God's original promise for the viceroyalty was turned into defiance toward him..
  4. Man's sin was no "mistake," "weakness," "infirmity;" it was blatant rejection.
  5. Doubly deceived, blinded, perverted and lost, man can offer God no good at all.
  6. If salvation is ever to come to man, it was originate in God's justice being satisfied.
  7. Man's sin in essence is my sin, my rebellion, my guilt that only Christ's blood can cover.

Dr. E. Gordon Johnson

August 8, 2007