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TEXT: Romans 1:18-32

SUBJECT: Romans #4: Gentiles Need the Gospel

Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our study of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. From the first seventeen verses, we have learned what the Letter is about: It is about the Gospel, the good news of what God has done for Himself, and for us, in Christ.

What He has done for Himself is demonstrate His righteousness. God wants to be known as He and not as He isn't. The gods of Paganism had some good qualities: they were powerful and wise, and sometimes merciful and loving. What they were not is Righteous. But the Psalm says-

The Lord is righteous in all His ways.

He wants us to know that, and in the Gospel He proves His character beyond all doubts. Looking at the unfairness of the world, where the crooked prosper and the honest suffer, we wonder if the Lord really is this way; then we turn to the cross, and we know He is. The Gospel shows the Righteousness of God.

The Gospel not only tells us what God has done for Himself, but also what He's done for us. He has justified us or declared us Righteous. This also seems untrue, as long as we look at ourselves and other people. 'How can God say we're righteous when I know I'm not-and you're no better than I am!' When we look to the cross the riddle is solved, for there God made sinless Jesus-

Sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

When my sons were little, I put them to bed every night with Bible stories, all of which-I hope-featured the Gospel. They always enjoyed the stories, but they didn't always get the message. Once-in-a-while I'd ask them, 'Boys, if you're really good and obey your parents, will you go to heaven?' And most times, they'd say, 'yes'. They knew kids ought to be good and obey their parents; they also knew these things were in the Bible, but they got the rules mixed up with the Gospel.

The problem is not unique to sleepy little boys! Everyone is tempted to think this way, but we've got to resist the temptations by remembering what the Gospel is: Not what we ought to do for God, but What God has done for us! In the Gospel-Paul says somewhere else-

God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.

This is the Gospel, and as Paul says near the end of his life, it's-

Worthy of all acceptance.

THE QUESTION

This brings us to the second part of Romans. The section begins in 1:18 and ends in 3:20. I've been accused of galloping through the Bible at times, but even I won't cover that much ground in one sermon! But, remember, this is one big idea. The verses answer the question hinted at in 1:17, and that is.

Who needs the Gospel?

The short answer is, 'Everybody needs the Gospel', but Paul doesn't leave it there. In today's text, he explains why Gentiles need the Gospel. Later, why the Jews need it every bit as much. The Jewish part we'll look at later, but for now, Why the Gentiles need the Gospel.

GENTILES ARE UNDER THE WRATH OF GOD

Gentiles need the Gospel because they're under the wrath of God, v.18a-

For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

The word, wrath, smacks of a blind rage, an unjust, excessive anger, a loss of self-control. This is what it is-in mortal men. But not in the Lord. His wrath is just and wise and always fits the crime.

There's the rub. It always fits the crime. We all think of ourselves are more-or-less good people; not as holy as we should be, but decent enough. Of course, there's a Hitler here, a Charles Manson there, and so on. They deserve the wrath of God, but the rest of us don't: because I'm not a bloody dictator and you're not a serial killer. They've got it coming, but we don't. That's what we think, but the fact is-

We've all got it coming.

The Bible says, everyone deserves the wrath of God. After a long list of Old Testament quotations, Paul sums up the state of the world this way-

Now, whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under the Law that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God.

If the wrath of God is just and fair and wise, we should never think it is tame or lenient or bearable. It isn't! The prophets spoke of it in the most unguarded ways, Isaiah 13:9, for example, says-

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,

Cruel,

Both with wrath and fierce

Anger,

To lay the land desolate;

And He will destroy the sinners from it.

If the prophets spoke harshly of the wrath of God, they were not alone nor were they the most severe. No one spoke more often or more graphically of it than our Lord Jesus Christ. The wrath of God is real.

I have never understood people who say, 'I believe in Heaven, but I can't believe in Hell' or 'I believe in the love of God, but not His wrath'. I am tempted the other way: I know there's a hell, it's heaven I'm not so sure about; and the love of God? Well, maybe, but His wrath? No question about it.

Have you ever thought of what 'No wrath of God' means in the real world? It means evil triumphs. It means Hitler and Stalin and Mao Zedong got away with it. Hitler didn't feel the bullet; Stalin died in his bed while millions were starving in his work camps. The men who flew the planes into the skyscrapers died in religious ecstasy!

.If there is no wrath of God.

THE WRATH IS BEING REVEALED

This wrath of God-Paul says-is not an end of the world thing only, but is, even then-and now-

Being revealed from heaven.

The Flood wiped out the whole human race other than Noah and his family. Whatever means He used, this was not a 'natural disaster'-it was the wrath of God.

The destruction of Sodom is another example: the rich and sinful city reduced to ashes in a moment-by the wrath of God.

God's wrath was poured out on the enemies of His people, first the Egyptians racked by the plagues and then drowned in the Red Sea. Later the same wrath fell on the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Phoenecians, and the Greeks. These were not theories or interpretations. They were facts-facts on the ground, verifiable judgments. Sidon was once the trade capital of the world; by the time Paul wrote this, it was a poor fishing village.

The Divine wrath that had been revealed in the past, was still a work. The Empire boasted of the Peace of Rome, but the peace was a mile wide and an inch deep. How could an Empire be just when the Emperors were assassins and perverts? Even then, Rome was wobbling, and before long, it would collapse.

The sword of God's wrath has not been sheathed. The disasters of today are the sirens of God's wrath. This doesn't mean Haiti is more sinful than America because it had a big earthquake and we didn't. The earthquake was God's warning to the whole world! Every day, God's wrath is being revealed from heaven, that's what Paul says. And he's not alone. Psalm 50 says-

The heavens shall declare His righteousness,

For God is Himself the Judge.

SUPPRESS THE TRUTH

Why is the Lord so mad at the world? Paul tells us, in v.18b, because they-

Suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

The key word is suppress or as the King James says, 'hold down'. Everyone knows there is a God, including people who say they don't know it, or know there isn't a God. If everyone knows it, why do so many deny it? It's because of their unrighteousness. They deny the existence of God because His existences poses a threat to them. If there is a God, they ought to do what He says, but they don't want to do what He says, so.there is no God.

If most people then-and now-have never seen a Bible or heard a Christian sermon or studied the proofs for God's existence, how can Paul be so sure they're guilty and not merely uninformed?

He tells us in v.19, but he doesn't elaborate-

Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

Not everyone agrees with me on this point, but what I think this means is something like this: Humans are the Image of God, and this means, we all have an innate or inborn sense of God. Not watered by His Gospel, however, this knowledge wilts, and then it gets buried under a heap of wrong beliefs and personal wishes.

This inborn sense of God is then confirmed by all the facts of life. Visible things imply the Invisible God. If only we would interpret them correctly and not through the lens of self-will.

God is mad at the world because we all know Him, but we don't acknowledge Him and we have no interest in doing what He tells us to do.

WHAT'S BEHIND THE UNBELIEF

What's behind this unbelief is not a lack of knowledge but a lack of piety, vv.21-25-

Because, though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like a corruptible man-and birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.

Therefore, God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The Gentiles know God-Paul says-but they don't want to glorify Him or thank Him for what He's done, and this leads to pride and folly, and these to worshiping men-like gods, and this to serving animal-gods, and this to sexual perversion, and this to honoring anyone or anything but the Creator!

It is self-will, self-delusion, in fact, self-worship that leads men to reject God and makes His wrath on them perfectly just.

WHAT BAD RELIGION LEADS TO

Bad religion leads to bad living. Starting at v.26, Paul names the fruit of idolatry, and there's nothing noble or virtuous on the list. Homosexuality, fornication, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, gossip, slander, open hatred of God, pride, boasting, juvenile delinquency, and a lack of discernment, a lack of trustworthiness, of love, of mercy, of forgiveness.

If all this wickedness weren't enough, they top it off with being proud of their wickedness and cheering others on in the same, v.32-

Who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but approve of those who practice them.

Paul was not exaggerating for effect. Every city in the ancient world, outside of Israel, was cluttered with divine images and all the vices that inevitably go with them. Paul's world was a sewer, every bit as stinking and poisonous as the one we live in.

WHAT GOD DID ABOUT IT

Because God is righteous, He will not let it go unanswered forever. How did He answer the filthy, idol-making Gentiles of the First Century?

With the Gospel. Social reform won't work, because the problem with man is not society; it's the heart. For society to change, the heart has got to change, and nothing changes the heart but the Gospel.

Some years ago, I was in Jamaica, and I asked our cab-driver if he had ever been in the US. Yes, he had-he told me, back in the 1940's. But he didn't like his visit because of Segregation. He wasn't allowed to eat at the restaurant he wanted to or sleep in the hotel of his choice. He had to eat and sleep in places designated for black people. I told him the laws have changed since then, and I'll never forget what he said in reply-laws.

I don't know if that man was a Christian or not, but he understood the problem with men is too serious for laws to solve. It takes the Gospel.

This is why Paul preached the Gospel and stuck to the Gospel. The Ancient World was universally religious. Christians were persecuted, in part, because the pagans took them for Atheists. If they didn't worship the gods of Rome or Greece, they must not believe in god-that's how the heathen thought.

But religion won't do. Romans 1 says it's part of the problem, not part of the solution. The Gospel is the solution. Then and now. For the Jew first, and also for the Greek.

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