On the face of Romans 1:16-2:5 is about divine wrath and offers a list of sins. Culturally its highly offensive and uncomfortable. Applied however it offers a look in the mirror that invites us to receive divine kindness as good news whoever we are. It's a challenging study to have done at the end of freshers week in our second student Bible study of the year!
Unashamed of good news
Paul isn't ashamed of his gospel. What is that? What excites him? What makes him bold? Revelation - God has made known righteousness by faith. Not a new thing - he cites Habakkuk - but now it is coming. Now it is enacted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the Old Testament people have been made righteous by God and much sin has been tolerated. How can that be done justly? How can God justly justify ruinous people? That answer waits until Romans 3:21-26 but before that much has to be established.
He tells of people who are without excuse. Those who have had a plain revelation of God made to them. And they have suppressed this and exchanged this truth for a lie, exchanging worship of Creator for worship of creation. Everything has been turned upside down. Sounds like Israel's story.
Therefore "God gave them up to..." Three times (24-25, 26-27, 28-32)
Paul says God let them get on with their self-destruction in all kinds of directions. Our culture might want to debate whether such things are so wrong, but for Israel - the focus of his discussion - they were according to the law. And the surrounding descriptions of being malicious and debased make clear that such a way of life is bad. None of this is news - reading the Old Testament tells us this is how Israel often lived. That's not to say that the whole world isn't the same in the same ways -- its just not the focus here.
In his fatherly kindness God allows us to go our own way - much as the sons in Jesus' parable pursue their religious and irreligion (Luke 15), but in giving them up he doesn't abandon them, he remains concerned to welcome and embrace them into his family, when perhaps they are awakened by his gospel.
Is this to be understood as God's wrath revealed?
I think not - at least not in full. He says that wrath is revealed - but also that this is stored up for the day of wrath. The Old Testament scandal isn't too much wrath but not enough. God's forebearance makes him look lightweight on human evil and injustice. And even when he turns to speak of the cross - it's not wrath revealed against humanity in general but turned aside from us onto the Second Adam, Jesus.
A day of wrath is to come but need not be faced by any. Tragically it will be because we presume to know better than God to our destruction.
Another warning in chapter 2:1-5. Don't judge others. It seems instinctive for members of Adam's helpless race to judge one another, to look down on others who are 'sinful' and elevate ourselves. Paul says don't go there. We're all the same. We go different ways but to the same end.
We should understand from God's patience with humanity that he is being kind. He lets us sin - which will have negative consequences for his own reputation (2:20, 3:21-26) but gives people opportunity to repent to him.
A gospel-shaped life
(1) Don't judge others sin - we're all the same.
(2) Pay personal attention to God's kindness to you, and turn to Christ.
If he'll be so kind to me as to give me time to return to him, how can I look down on another? What a challenge to the believer's posture in this world? Where we're perceived as judgemental and hypocrites, might we become bearers of good news of the kindness of God. Nothing to be ashamed of in Christ there is kindness for any who will turn to Christ. Power to save any. If we dare believe such news.
"...they have rejected the fatherly invitation of God. And though all the gifts of God are so many evidences of his paternal goodness, yet as he often has a different object in view, the ungodly absurdly congratulate themselves on their prosperity, as though they were dear to him, while he kindly and bountifully supports them. Not knowing that the goodness of God, etc. For the Lord by his kindness shows to us, that it is he to whom we ought turn, if we desire to secure our wellbeing, and at the same time he strengthens our confidence in expecting mercy... But if any one brings this objection — that the Lord sings to the deaf as long as he does not touch inwardly their hearts; we must answer — that no fault can be found in this case except with our own depravity.[He] lead us, rather than invites, ...not ...in the sense of driving, but of leading as it were by the hand." (Calvin)Left to myself I doubt he is so kind. I try to minimise my sin. I try to justify myself. I try to elevate myself over others. But, the gospel of Jesus says - give up yourself and your own ways, and however bad it has got, however far you've strayed, turn and receive Christ.
In his Son he shows us his "fatherly kindness" (Calvin) for he is a kind Father. As Paul will says in chapter 10, let those who weren't seeking be found, those who didn't ask come to know him.
Further reading: Mark Horne - How is Wrath Revealed?
Picture: Ian Sane - Creative Commons