Paul reminds us that the gospel is Gods power for salvation to everyone who believes, regardless of status or nationality (V.16) because in it God’s righteousness is revealed from “faith to faith” (V.17). That is, this gospel is sourced in Gods’ righteousness and believers who walk by faith in this God show His righteousness in their lives. How can anyone be saved apart from this gospel? Note that this gospel produces obedience sourced in righteousness and is thus lived out by faith or trust.
Why this view? Because the next section explains and describes the results of a life that’s antithetical to this gospel, this righteousness and this faith:
“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.”
Note the following: First, God’s wrath is revealed—unveiled—through the sentence decreed by heavens’ court. It’s against the unrighteousness of men (mankind) not of animals. This argues for a quality possessed only by humans created in God’s image (i.e., the ability to morally reason). As many already intuitively know, our pets are not the problem, we are.
Second, wrath is revealed because the truth is suppressed. This argues for a state of affairs that’s actually real not illusory, where the creature deliberately resists the Creators demands. This “unrighteousness” which is contra God’s “righteousness” Paul will soon explain. Contextually however, righteousness can be described as the activity of living dependently on God through submitting to His gospel, to His Son and is thus “the obedience of faith”.
Third, evidently rebels possess the knowledge of God because God has made it plain to them. Thus, one can’t justifiably say, “not enough evidence”, a la Bertrand Russell. In fact, ignorance is impossible to claim before the judge of heaven and earth who sees all. Paul continues and explains why:
“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.”
Fourth, this knowledge comes through creation. Not only does God place the knowledge of Himself in every one ever born, He provides nature as a secondary means to such knowledge. This sentence goes contra the Darwinian evolutionary noetic structure that denies any immaterial realities and affirms only that physical (i.e., matter) entities exist. Creation reveals God’s invisible attributes, such as a mind which is required to explain the design detected in this world. It reveals God’s artistic acumen through the myriad of creatures, landscapes and starry heavens. Clearly the earth is a masterpiece calling for particular usage and care which requires a delicate balance between humans and all creatures.
Creation also reveals God’s “eternal power and nature”. An accident is not the cause of creation, but an all-wise, all-powerful, all-benevolent Creator is. He provides the necessary conditions for the earth to flourish (e.g., sun, rain, seasons, etc.). The point here is that God’s wrath is justly revealed from heaven because the creature knowingly decided to rebel against the LANDLORD of creation by not acknowledging His existence. These choices had horrible results plundering rebels into a state of “abnormality”, i.e., contra their intended design:
“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. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
When the creature is the measure of all things, humanity ends up trading in gold for glitter, life for death. That’s what idolatry produces. The road to idolatry is marked by a dishonorable and thankless heart. Idolatry can be defined as, “the act of disproportionately treasuring created things over against the Creator”. I can’t think of any greater insolence than ignoring the One responsible for our existence. But that’s exactly what happened here. Idolatry comes from an ungrateful heart and results in a darkened mind—they became futile in their thinking…. It’s ironic and sobering that those who fancy themselves “enlightened” are too often blinded by their own rebellion. The creature here becomes obtuse not astute revealed through what they love.
This foolishness is evident by what was exchanged; the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man…. The eternal One was replaced by the temporal creature or image of it such that destruction resulted. We have been created and designed to worship God alone for our highest good, but when the reverse occurs (i.e., worship the creation, and thus commit idolatry) we are plunged into the abyss. When people dishonor God they do so at the expense of dishonoring themselves and their loved ones. So God in response to such rebellion does something:
“24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
God’s response here is to “give them over” to what they crave. That’s sobering. Dishonor the giver of your life and what you “crave” He will make sure you indulge in. The craving of course is the lusts of their hearts to impurity so that these lusts become the cause of their bodies being dishonored. If God is dishonored (i.e., not being properly related to as Creator and master) then the creature is dishonored by how they use their bodies (v.24b), that is, by not properly relating to each other as image beaers.
God gave them over for a purpose and the reason is that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Again, this unrighteousness of suppressing the truth arises which makes much of the creature and ignores the Creator. There’s a key sentence here revealing how ludicrous the exchange is to worship the creature rather than the Creator, “who is blessed forever. Amen”. Somehow, the lie is believed by the creature (who is temporary) that true happiness can only be found by rebelling against the Creator (who is eternal). Paul says that the opposite is true.
This Creator is blessed, happy, joyful, content, etc., always and forever, not miserable, grumpy, or discontent like the creature too often seems to be. Why the misery? Because the creature when worshipped is not living according to design and thus self-destructs. Lasting joy eludes them because they lack the resources the Creator only possesses.
This dishonor/honor, truth/lie, corruptible/incorruptible dichotomy is demonstration the contrast between righteousness and unrighteousness. There’s a way things ought to be according to Paul, and because of the creatures rebellion, God’s wrath has justly been revealed, as he further explains:
“26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips,30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
The wrath of God is manifest by Him giving human beings over to their own lusts, be it; homosexuality, expressed murder, strife, gossip, slander, etc. The point is that because the great exchange took place between the creature and their Creator, death rather than life resulted. Why? Because the creature rebelled against the Creators design of how to live (dependently on Him), God thus expressed His wrath, and continues to do so.
This state of affairs is precisely why the gospel is such good news and Paul is so eager to preach it. The gospel must be preached because all men are without excuse and have rebelled against the righteous Creator God whose final revelation is with the gospel of His Son, Jesus of Nazareth. (SDG)