Over my last several posts we have looked at the first seventeen verses of Romans, which was Paul’s introduction to the members of the churches in Rome. Then last week looked at Romans 1:16-17 which serves as the thesis statement for the book. In this post, we will start on the actual teaching of Romans. Romans 1:18-20 is part of a bigger section that runs from Romans 1:18 and goes through Romans 3:20.
Most commentators seem to agree that this opening section, Romans 1:18-32 primary target is gentiles. They also seem to agree that later in Romans 2 Paul will turn his attention to the Jews in the churches in Rome.
Romans 1:18 starts off with one of those little words that have so much meaning, that is “for.” The NIV leaves it off, but it is in the Greek and important to fully understand the meaning of the passage. As one commentator puts it, the “for” shows us that “the gospel is necessary because there is such a thing as the wrath of God, because only the gospel of salvation by grace through faith brings deliverance from that wrath.”
In our modern day churches, at least here in America, much of the preaching focuses on the love and forgiveness side of salvation. We are taught through various evangelical training programs to share the Gospel as a better way, a way of forgiveness and blessing. Reading Paul’s preaching makes it clear that the reason for salvation is to be saved from the wrath of God. This makes good sense when one stops and thinks about it from a logical perspective. If we need saving, the question that naturally follows that is, “saving from what?” Paul’s consistent answer is, saving from the righteous wrath of God. Love and forgiveness is a major part of it, but we must not forget what we are being saved from, otherwise we do a disservice to God and those we reach out to.
As this section progresses we come across both an answer to a very popular question and a hard truth to accept. The popular question is “what about some random group in some random location that has never heard the Gospel?” As we will see in this section, provision is made for them. There is also a hard truth in this section that speaks directly to our modern society who thinks we are so smart and do not need God.
The scripture says in Romans 1:18 that they “suppress the truth” and Romans 1:19-20 explains that everyone already knows the truth. It clearly says that the truth of God has been made clear to all humans since the creation of the world. This tells us two things. The first thing is that the random person in some random location that supposedly never heard the Gospel does, in fact, know about God because God himself has made it plain to them.
This comes back on us here in America, and I assume elsewhere, where we are so wrapped up in our scientific understanding of the world that we claim God is not real. We claim things like evolution proves there is no God, or the Big Bang proves creation happened without God. Christians today fighting against that typically feel we have to convince people of God, but the scripture is clear, they know God is real but they suppress that truth.
Psalm 19 clearly lays out that all of creation displays God. There are lots of simple ways to explain that, but probably the most famous is the example of finding a watch in the woods. Sure there have been some counter arguments to it, but it is not meant to be a scientific proof, just an illustration. The story goes like this: if you are walking through the woods and come across a watch on the ground. Is your first thought, “wow look how this complex device appeared suddenly and completely by itself!” No, the normal person looks at it and recognizes it as created by a person and lost by a person. It is plain to anyone that the watch had a watchmaker.
In the same way, the world we live in shows that everywhere. From the largest most massive super galactic cluster to the tiniest thing we can find. Everything shows the hand of a creator. If we just pick one thing to look at, say you. You are made up of a massive number of cells, each of those cells has an immensely complex self-replicating and self-repairing blueprint in it that contains all the information need to make your body. That blueprint we call DNA. DNA contains information, and modern science understands that information must come from intelligence, and cannot come from random processes. This means the only way we could have a blueprint for life in our cells, which contains information, is if some intelligence put it there. You can think of it as God’s personal signature on you as his work of art.
Romans 1:20 ends with “so they are without excuse.” That is a hard truth for many to accept, for it means that everyone born has no excuse not to accept the free gift of salvation. From that, it is easy to see that this passage also implies that everyone that is punished in Hell, is there because of their own choice, not because they were sent.
My next post will further develop this point, but for this week we should be able to find some comfort in the fairness of God with regards to our salvation. Everyone is given a fair shot, no matter where or when they live. They can either choose to “suppress the truth” or accept it, but no one can claim ignorance.
 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 75.