As I thought through the structure of this passage (especially in making the mindmap here), I noticed what at first seemed a lopsided structure. That is, it looks like the first half is pointed forward to the end of v20, while the last half is pointed back to it. But then I recalled an old poetry class, where we looked for what we called fulcrums, the point on which a poem turns in mood, emotion, whatever. And I think this happens with prose, too, as the flow of an argument turns on the main point of a section.
That is, as Paul writes “.…So they are without excuse. For.…”, he is building reasons before and after what I now take to be the central thesis of this section, that people are without excuse. There is no way in which people will be able to say to God, “But .…” and avoid his wrath on that account. His wrath is revealed, and there is no excuse.
Another point of detail, that a number of people I talked with this weekend missed, is the object of wrath. Later, in ch 9, Paul seems to talk about people as “objects of wrath”, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. If we look carefully at the opening verse, “the wrath of god is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”, we see that God’s wrath is against our ungodliness and unrighteousness, not against us. This of course immediately begs the question of the difference, but I think it is important. If God’s wrath is against our sin, then we have options. That is, will we keep our sin, and hold it close to ourselves, and get burned up with it? Or will we let it go, and escape that wrath ourselves? As Christians, we understand that the wrath of God against our sin was satisfied in Jesus as he bore our sin on the Cross. Our sin has real consequences, real wrath. And as we trust Jesus, he bears that cost, so we don’t have to, so we can survive the coming day of wrath, and even some of the wrath that is currently visible (IMHO).
So, when we talk to those who don’t honor God or give thanks to him, we can have confidence that this isn’t because they are truly ignorant. There is something in each of us that gives testimony to the presence and character of God. And nature itself screams out his eternal power and divine nature, as we see the beauty and order of what he made, and as we see that what he made was clearly meant to outlast us.
Someone said that we must deny the truth about God, if we are going to allow ourselves to keep sinning. Because if we allowed ourselves to feel the full weight of that truth, we would be forced to change –to get out of the way of that bus coming at us, rather than tell ourselves it isn’t really going to hit us.
One final note, given the presence of idolatry in this passage. We may have a hard time connecting to this charge today, since we don’t think about idolatry much. But if we think about the things that we sacrifice other things for, the things we cut out time and energy for, those are the things that are truly valuable to us. And personally, I was sickened to watch players kiss the Lomardi trophy last Sunday, as happy as I was with the victory. 😉
Let’s not forget to let the reality of our sin and God’s wrath sink in. As we consider what the power of God for salvation (v17) is saving us from, it is important to understand clearly what the consequences of our sin are, both for today and in eternity.