What about the nonbeliever? Of course, the natural assumption of not believing indicates there is no thought or concern regarding God's wrath. That, to me, is the scary thing. People could live their entire lives and be completely oblivious to the eternity that awaits them. But...is that always going to be the case? I mean, will they only incur God's wrath, after blatantly refusing His gift of love and salvation, only at the time of death?
Fortunately, we don't have to wonder. God has made it clear by providing examples of His wrath even now so that there is no mistake. God doesn't make us blindly follow Him. Faith is required, yes. Blind faith? No.
What am I talking about? In Romans 1, Paul talks about God's wrath against mankind.
God's Wrath Against Mankind18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
This is a lot to take in. But suffice it to say, God's wrath is being poured out even now against those who would blatantly reject the Truth. Isn't that what it says? God's wrath is being revealed, verse 18, against those who suppress the Truth.
First, let's examine what this means for the nonbeliever. I say this because I believe this passage is directed toward only nonbelievers. In contrast, a believer is one who has accepted God's Truth and strives to live by it. The text tells us that God's wrath is directed toward the ones who suppress His Truth. What does that mean? To suppress is "to deliberately exclude (unacceptable desires or thoughts) from the mind." The whole idea here is that there are those who deliberately and consciously reject the Truth.
Naturally then, you have to understand what Truth is. To put it simply, Truth is God's Word. And God's Word is Jesus.
17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
It makes sense then. What nonbelievers are essentially rejecting is Jesus. And since Jesus is the only way to heaven and eternal life, the natural progression to this thought then is that these people are rejecting God's only plan of salvation; through Jesus Christ, His One and Only Son.
Next, the question I would imagine then is what is so grievous that God's wrath would be poured out now versus the Day of Judgment? There seems to be several causes outlined in this text: wickedness, godlessness, ungratefulness, and denying God as Creator by the evidence "from what has been made." But the one thing that I believe is the worse offense of all is worshiping idols in the place of God. This particular act is particularly important due to the fact that the first two commandments speak against it. "You shall have no other gods before me"...and..."You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below."
Consequently, the final consideration is in regards to what God's wrath looks like in this current age. The text here tells us that God gives the nonbeliever over to "the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another." Now at first this doesn't seem to be a very serious consequence to sin. In fact, it appears that God is giving the nonbeliever exactly what he/she determined they wanted by their own choice. They rejected God and decided living their lives by degrading themselves to shameful lusts was what they wanted. They didn't want God, and ultimately rejected the Creator and Truth. But instead, they sought after the lie and worshiped created things...which by the way, includes humans. By putting sex, health, their bodies...anything!...before God they are essentially doing that very thing.
Here's one thing that we have to consider by reading this text. God doesn't force Himself on us. He is the perfect gentleman and He is gracious and gives us the desires of our hearts. EVEN if that isn't Him. Sadly, what some people want turns out to be the worse thing that could happen to them. For example, they pursue unnatural relationships. So God gives that to them. Women desire women, men desire men, and God lets them. This, as the text explains, is the due penalty for their perversion.
The last part of this text goes over other serious offenses against God. In the same way, God gives them over to their desires, even though these things "ought not to be done." As a result, they're filled with all kinds "wickedness, evil, greed and depravity." You can read the rest yourself. Bottom line is is that God gives the unbeliever exactly the thing that he/she wanted more than Him.
Now, if you're like me, you're a little confused about what's going on here. You might be thinking about the cause/effect relationship regarding the offenses against God and the results of those offenses and are wondering...how does any of this look like God's wrath? I thought about that. One of the things we have to consider is what is the worst thing that could happen to any person? Is it bad health, sickness, or disease? The loss of loved ones like a spouse, mother or father, or perhaps a child of your own? Maybe it's losing everything you've ever had: possessions, career, relationships, etc. Ultimately I believe it's dying and going to hell. But what does hell look like? Fire and brimstone? That seems to be the first thing that comes to mind. But could fire and brimstone be an analogy and a mere representation of God's judgment? I mean the judgment itself of being sent to hell is a complete separation from God, our Creator, for all eternity.
Isn't that what sin did to Jesus when He bore our sin on the cross? For the first time in all of history, and never to be repeated again, Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world for all those would believe upon Him and incurred the wrath that was poured out for all time. Sometime between His death and resurrection, Jesus endured separation from the Father. That was what was complete anguish to Him, was it not? Think about it. To be separated from God is a punishment so severe that it's described as "weeping and gnashing of teeth."
If you think that this doesn't sound bad, think again. The world cannot possibly understand this concept because it has never been without God. The only reason the world hasn't fallen apart up to this point is because God's hand is on it. The Bible says that in Ecclesiastes, "the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him. All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead." But if God were to remove Himself from us completely and leave us to our own devices or remove Himself from the natural laws of physics and nature, the world would fall apart and we would be in utter chaos, if not dead.
Thankfully, God hasn't done that. Thankfully, God has not left us or forsaken us. And thankfully, God has given us a choice. We can choose to believe in His Son Jesus. We can accept his offer of eternal life. We can make Him the Lord and Savior of our lives. We can give Him complete control over our lives and circumstances. And ultimately, we can have Him as our Father and rest in His peace for all eternity. Or we can reject all that and be separated from Him for all eternity.
Don't think by being apathetic that you're avoiding having to choose either. No, it doesn't work that way. By not making a choice, you are actually choosing. God made it clear, "since what may be known about God is plain to them...God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
The choice is clear. If you choose not to turn to Jesus Christ as your only hope of eternal life, a free gift from God, you basically are condemning yourself to the worse thing imaginable to man...separation from God. That, I believe, is the wrath of God talked about in this text. The thing that isn't clear to me is when. Does it always happen the same way when someone chooses their own course of life over God's plan for their life? When does it happen? Now? Later? Clearly, the Bible teaches that God is patient. He is long-suffering. It's not even His will that any should perish, but for all to come to repentance. But when reading this text, it's clear that there are those that God chooses to demonstrate His wrath toward now, even before Judgment Day.
My hope is, if you're reading this, that you consider what God has done for you. Please don't trivialize his judgments or the consequences. They're serious and very real. Though being allowed to live in sin may not sound like such a bad thing, believe me it's the worse thing that could happen to you when God gives you over to a depraved mind. What you want is for God to continue to pursue you, to prick your heart, to get your attention. Because if He doesn't, or isn't, then it may already be too late.