Will You Escape the Judgment of God?
Scripture: Romans 1:18–2:11
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
Shortly after our first child was born, we took him in for his immunizations. My wife, as a new mother, could not stand to watch him get the shots. So I volunteered. I was sure I could handle it. The nurse told me I had to hold his arms and keep him pinned down. Just before the needle got plunged into his leg, he looked up at me and gave me the biggest grin. Then suddenly, the smile was transformed into a look of horror. I could see in his face what he must have been thinking: “What kind of a dad are you? I thought I could trust you. I thought you only wanted good for me!”
The gospel of Jesus Christ reveals to us the kind of God that we serve. He is good and gracious. He is full of mercy. A God who is love. But as we keep reading our Bibles, from time to time we find ourselves pinned down, staring up into the face of God and asking, “What kind of a God are you?” This text before us raises those kinds of questions.
Let’s be clear. God is perfect in his parenthood. He is good in every way. He is gracious and kind. But we are sometimes confused by, on the one hand, those characteristics of God that draw us to him, and, on the other hand, an experience of God that feels like he is pinning us down, and only pain is felt. This passage centers on the subject of the wrath of God. It is a difficult subject to discuss. We would probably rather ignore it, but we are committed in this church to the Bible as our authority, so we must see what it has to say.
God’s wrath against sin is difficult for us to understand, but we are helped as we read these verses and are encouraged to consider the essence of sin, God’s response to sin, and the hope that remains for sinners.
The Essence of Sin
First, let us consider the essence of sin in verses 18-23. The Apostle argues that God’s wrath against humanity is justified because human beings are without excuse for the way they have rebelled against God.
God’s Righteous Wrath
Verse 18 brings up the subject of the wrath of God. I realize we are uncomfortable with this word. I realize wrath is a strong word that carries with if for many people a connotation of furious anger, a red face, harsh words, strong and devastating actions. I realize that when the Psalmist describes God’s wrath like this:
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
And devouring fire from his mouth;
Glowing coals flamed forth from him (Psa 18:8)
that many might feel repulsed. We don’t want to think of God like this. So we shy away from speaking about God’s wrath.
But here it is in our Bibles. What should we say about it? Part of the problem here is that while the Bible can speak of God’s wrath as righteous, as connected to his righteousness, it does not speak this way about human anger. James 1:20 says that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” We humans cannot reflect the righteous wrath of God, for our wrath, however justified it may seem to us or to anyone else, is always mixed with our own sinfulness. But God’s wrath is bound up with his love and mercy, and when God’s mercy and love are met with opposition, his love becomes wrath. Let’s see how Paul makes this point.
I want you to notice the parallel between verses 17 and 18. In verse 17, we read that the righteousness of God—which we said means God’s own rightness, his own vindication, his justification—has been revealed or manifested or made plain in the gospel, in the story of Jesus, and in particular in his powerful resurrection from the dead. Now we read, in verse 18, that the wrath of God has also been revealed or manifested or made plain. It’s the same verb in both places, and so we should see that just as the gospel has made plain that God is in the right and that he ought to be believed because he is right, so also the gospel has made plain that God is “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” God’s being against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of humanity is what is meant by God’s wrath. But it’s only in the gospel that we see the rightness of God’s wrath.
The same gospel that reveals God’s righteousness and power to save also reveals God’s righteousness to judge. In the gospel proclamation, both are made plain. A big problem we seem to have is that we often evaluate God’s love and wrath on the basis of our circumstances rather than in the gospel. We think God loves us when life is good, easy, prosperous or we think God hates us when life becomes stressful, painful, or unbearable. But this is an unbiblical way to evaluate God’s feelings toward us, and this kind of error is such a common way to remain deceived about the Bible, the Christian faith, and the nature of God.
It is said of human beings, in verse 18, that they have suppressed the truth “by their unrighteousness.” This means that our unrighteousness and ungodliness, our sinfulness, is “an assault upon the truth.” What truth? The truth about God, who he is, what he is like, what he does or has done. Verses 19-20 argue that God has made plain to us “his invisible attributes,” specifically “his eternal power and divine nature” from the very beginning. This has been made plain to us “in the things that have been made.” The argument is that when we look at creation, we can clearly perceive something true about the nature of God, namely, that he is eternally powerful and that he is divine. In other words, when we see the material universe, we are right to conclude that standing behind it all is an all-powerful being who is not himself part of that material universe but is the uncaused cause of it all. If you don’t believe there is a God like this, it is only because you have suppressed the truth.
But let us here deny the thought that if you are an atheist, you are deliberately lying about what you really believe. Or, that if you are a theist, it is because you are courageous enough to see what so many scientists today are just unwilling to see. It is clear in verses 21-23 that Paul is not saying that every human being enters into the world with God clearly revealed to them, but some simply suppress the truth. Rather, all of us are born suppressing the truth.
The Ruin of Idolatry
We suppress the truth, verse 21 says, every time we do “not honor him as God or give thanks to him,” and we all do this countless times every single day. It’s not just the pantheist who deliberately worships the material universe. It’s also the Christian who lacks gratitude toward God.
Verses 21-23 describe the way we human beings end up idolatrous, exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Verse 25 says it memorably: worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. This is, in biblical terms, idolatry. And it is the essence of human sinfulness. It is the reason for the wrath of God.
God’s Response to Sin
Next, in verses 24-32, Paul describes God’s response to human sin. God’s wrath is made plain by how he responds to sinful humanity. Three times in these verses we are told that “God gave them up” (vv. 24, 26, 28). The impression we get in these verses is that God arrests the sinner. He puts the sinner into custody. He does not ignore the sin but makes some deliberate response. But while these verses make plain God’s wrath against sin, they are not God’s absolute judgment against sin. They are just as much an act of mercy as they are an act of judgment, for in what follows God is hoping that sinners will come to see and hate this path of walking away from the truth about God. Let’s consider the three conditions into which God consigns sinners.
Consigned to Impurity
First, verse 24 says that God “gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.” This “impurity” is further described as “the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” So in this first prison where God has consigned sinners, the experience is that of the body being dishonored.
What does this mean? It will become more explicit in the next few verses, but we should not here that, according to the Bible, the result of sin is the dishonoring of our bodies. The proper view of the Bible about our bodies is that they are good and honorable. God, having made human beings in his own image, has crowned us with glory and honor (Psa 8:5). It is inconsistent with the Christian faith to minimize the body, to abuse it or disregard it. It is the reason, for example, that the standard Christian practice in dealing with their dead is to bury the body rather than to cremate it. Christianity is pro-body, and the impulse for Christians ought to be to care for and respect the body, not to mutilate it or dishonor it.
But when we exchange the truth about God for a lie, as verse 25 says, everything gets flipped upside down.
Consigned to Dishonorable Passions
This twistedness is clearly in view as Paul mentions the second condition into which God has consigned sinners. In verse 26, we read, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” He then goes on to describe in no uncertain terms homosexual behavior. Here we find the clearest biblical perspective on homoeroticism. It seems that Paul brings it up here because it is a clear example of the penalty that matches the crime. To worship mortal creatures instead of the immortal God is to turn the entire cosmos upside down. It is unnatural. It is not the way it is supposed to be. Homosexuality is to the body what idolatry is to the soul. It is, to put it bluntly, simply not the way God made things to go tother. It is unnatural.
Now this is the kind of talk that will really get you into trouble these days. So let me hasten to say two things. First, because we here at Crosstown are committed to the Bible as the final authority on what we believe and how we strive to behave, we simply cannot waver on this point. Homosexual behavior is, according to the Bible, sinful. It is something that ought to be avoided and, if committed, confessed as sin and repented of.
But let me also say that if you are someone who experiences same-sex attraction or if you have committed homosexual acts, then you are not a greater sinner than those who have not. There is another reason, I think, that Paul has brought up this issue, which we will come to momentarily. For now I simply want to say that here at Crosstown we do not see those who have sinned in this way as greater sinners than anybody else in this church.
The Debased Mind
In fact, if we move on to verse 28, we see a third condition into which God has consigned sinners. “God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Like what? Verses 29-31 describe a wide range of human sins, both general and specific. Can anyone here truly claim they are innocent of all these things?
The point of all three of these “prisons” into which God has consigned sinners is to demonstrate that God is not apathetic about human sin. He does not ignore it. What does he do? The gospel of Jesus tells us—thankfully, mercifully—God does indeed rescue and deliver from sin. But the point being made now is that you can’t be rescued if you don’t see the misery you are in. Thus, God’s wrath against sin, in which he does not just stand by and watch us go our own way but rather gives us a push downstream, plunging us further and further into sin, is as plainly revealed to us as God’s eternal power and divine nature are in the world he has made.
But here again is the problem. The human response to the revelation of God in creation is said to be a suppression of the truth. Likewise, in verse 32 we are told that although we sinful humans know what sin deserves—namely, death—we not only keep on committing sin but we find ways to congratulate others and encourage even more sinfulness. Is there any way out of this mess?
The Hope for Sinners
We find some hope in the opening verses of chapter 2. But in order to see this hope clearly, there are still some blinders that need to be removed from our eyes. For example, we can see Paul’s rhetorical move that he is making by the shift in pronouns, from the third person “they” in chapter 1 to the second person “you” in chapter 2. Paul is using the literary technique known as diatribe. It’s when one begins to engage in an imaginary dialogue with an opponent, emphatically objecting to the opponents’ line of argument. What he’s doing is turning the tables on certain individuals who may have thought of themselves outside the force of what was being argued in chapter 1.
Paul says in verse 1, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself.” If you found within you any degree of self-righteousness as you listened to the indictment against sinners in chapter 1, well, you played right into the hand of Paul’s rhetorical goal. I said earlier that Paul may have had another reason for bringing up the issue of homosexuality. That other reason was to reveal the self-righteousness that is thick within the sinful heart. If you hear the indictment against certain sins like homosexuality and find yourself eager to say, “Yep! Amen! Those people deserve God’s wrath. Boy, are they going to get it!” then you have fallen right into Paul’s rhetorical trap.
We all see so much more clearly the sins of others. All of us, when hearing about the kinds of things other people do, find ourselves from time to time shaking our heads and thinking (if not saying), “Can you believe that?” Such comments are a self-indictment. Paul is saying here, “You who are so quick to judge others, don’t you see that you, too, will be judged?” We all find it so easy to criticize others. Can you critique yourself by the same standard? No, you can’t, so no, you don’t. But we should. Like many of you I’ve been listening to the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. But as you listen to it, watch out for the self-righteousness that so easily floods the soul. Sin lurks not only in that church; it lurks in this one, too, and in every other church. And you know why? Because sin lurks not only in some fallen preacher’s heart but in yours as well. So listen, but be careful about judging. Listen, and be humbled.
Meant for Repentance
Now Romans 2:1 might remind you of Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Many people like to recite this verse, but it needs to be said that it will not do to use these words to promote some misguided view of tolerance or non-discrimination. It is as clear as can be that neither Jesus nor Paul thought that if we just don’t criticize anyone for their sins then we will not be judged for ours either. The point is that what we tend to do is to come down hard on others while being far more lenient on ourselves. What we should do, Jesus says, is suspect that the impulse to judge others for the speck in their eye is always hindered by the log that is lodged in our own eye.
Paul says much the same thing here. In verse 3 he says, “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” If you say, “Well, I don’t do the same things, now do I? I am not a sinner like that!” then you are really blind to the nature of sin. The one who engages in homosexual activity is guilty of violating the seventh commandment, but there are plenty of other ways that heterosexuals break the same commandment. They do not have to sin in precisely the same way to be guilty of the exact same sin.
What should we do, then, when we notice the sins of others? Simply ignoring the sin under the guise that we must not judge is missing the point. Verse 4 gives us a better path forward. We should be overwhelmed by the riches of God’s kindness, his forbearance and patience. And we should notice that God shows us such kindness in order to lead us to repentance. That is, we should aim for change. God is patient with us in our sin only because he means for us to be transformed out of it.
Seeking Good Works
Notice verse 6. God “will render to each one according to his works.” God will, in the end, prove to be just. He will give us what we deserve. You will find this taught repeatedly throughout the Bible, in the Old Testament as well as the New. Verses 7-10 set up a contrast, and state it twice. God’s judgment will take into account our deeds. We will all get what we deserve. And God has shown enormous patience toward human sinfulness, waiting for us to turn away from our sin and do what is right. But if we don’t get there, then God will spare no one. He is, as verse 11 says, an impartial judge, even if we are not.
So the question remains for all of us to answer. Will you escape the judgment of God? Will I? How so? Paul has already demonstrated that all of us are without excuse in the face of God’s wrath. None of us deserve eternal life but rather “wrath and fury” (v. 8), “tribulation and distress” (v. 9). Is there another way to eternal life?
Paul has already given us the answer. It is in the gospel of Jesus that God’s righteousness is revealed “from faith for faith” (Rom 1:17). The righteous can indeed find life, but only by faith in Jesus.
In his mercy, God pins us down—all of us—making us feel his wrath against human sin in order that we might find life in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
 Gustav Stählin, “Ὀργή, Ὀργίζομαι, Ὀργίλος, Παροργίζω, Παροργισμός,” Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), 5:425.
 For a clear refutation of the modern attempt to re-evaluate these verses in order to make them favorable toward homosexuality, see Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 6 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 95–96.