Romans 1:18-21 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 1:18
  • Romans 1:19
  • Romans 1:20
  • Romans 1:21

Those who live unrighteous lives, believers or nonbelievers, will experience the wrath of God. God has given everyone knowledge of right and wrong, giving no one an excuse.

The righteousness of God is revealed by men and women exercising a living faith in the true and living God (Romans 1:16,17 – the theme verses). But God does not only interact with righteousness and justice in the world. As we saw in the theme verses and the context of the quote from Habakkuk 2, God also deals with unrighteousness/injustice lived by those who live in pride and disobedience to God. God does so by pouring out wrath on injustice. In Habakkuk, God removed His hand of protection and allowed the wrath of the Babylonians to descend on Israel. We will see in this section that God deals similarly with us as individuals. If we insist on living with pride and suppressing the truth, which God has placed in, and all around us (the innate knowledge we have of God), God will judge us in the same manner. God will remove His protection and “give us over” to our own sinful nature. It is important to note that we all have a sin nature. Believers are given the power over the sin nature, and that is something Paul will dwell on in this letter. But that power can go unused. If instead of using our God-given power, we give in to our sin nature we can still experience the consequence of living unjustly, and that is God’s wrath in delivering us over to our own nature.

The wrath of God pours out in judgment on those who walk in pride and disobedience to God. When we are judged, no one can claim, “But I didn’t know.” God has placed within each of us a moral compass; knowledge of what is right and wrong. We can see this in children. Children are quick to point out the moral failures of others; we hear them make statements such as, “That’s not fair,” or, “He won’t share.” However, children are usually reluctant to apply the moral compass to themselves, and this is the fundamental problem. We know what is right but want an exception for ourselves. This prideful way of living is the contrast to the righteous or just way of living, which comes only by faith in God’s way, as described in the theme verses 1:16-17. God never changes, and the same judgment God applied to pride in the Habakkuk 2:4 passage will be applied five hundred years later at the time Paul is writing Romans, or twenty-five hundred years later with us today.

Not only has God placed within each of us a moral compass (1:20), but God has also embedded within the creation all around us ample evidence that God is the Creator and that we are creatures who are accountable to Him. Later in Romans, Paul will quote from the Psalms to make the point that the creation itself is sufficient to convey the gospel, the good news (Romans 10:16-18). This prideful way of living is the contrast to the righteous or just way of living, which comes only by faith in God’s way. God never changes. He does not tolerate prideful living.

It is human nature to make excuses, but when it comes to answering to God for doing what is right, no one’s excuses will stand up.

Although God has also embedded within the creation all around us ample evidence that He is the Creator and that we are creatures who are accountable to Him, we tend to deny it. Like children who know innately that their parents know better, we tend to want to make our own way. This is true for believers as well. Although we have the power to overcome sin, unless we walk in faith, believers can (and often do) deny our Creator. When we do so we bring upon ourselves judgment and wrath as consequences of our behavior. Just as the elect Israelites in the time of Habakkuk, so it is with believers today – prideful self-seeking leads to judgment. The particular judgment referred to in this passage is that God will remove His protection and turn us over to our own sinful natures. God turning us over to our sin natures is akin to the picture of God removing his protection and turning Israel over to the invading Babylonians, as referred to in Habakkuk 2:4 (quoted in the theme verse of 1:16-17). God has given us His resurrection power to overcome sin, but if we decline to use that power and instead seek after our own self-orientation, God will judge us by removing His protection and giving us what we asked for.

Biblical Text

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

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