More thoughts on Romans: Wrath and Righteous Deliverance

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

The statement above ends with a quotation from Habakkuk. The problem in that book is 1. That Israel is in great sin and 2. God promises to deal with it by bringing about the more sinful Chaldeans.  This presents a problem to Habakkuk: How can God respond to sin with more sin?

The Hell-in-a-handbasket message of Romans 1.18ff presents the same dynamic.  God responds to sin by punishing people by giving them over to more sin.  But how can God do this?  Why does he not stop it?  After all, while the punishment may be just, it doesn’t really satisfy a holy God.  It is mixed with kindness and patience all along the way, and a great deal of forbearance in passing over sin:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

God told Habakkuk that he would used the Chaldeans to bring about a righteous result.  The righteous will live by faith in God’s promise.  Likewise, the very piling up of sin on top of sin, and thus wrath on top of wrath, brings about a moment, the “present time” when Christ can be put forward to satisfy all that wrath and appease God:

But now the God’s righteousness has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— God’s righteousness through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, through faithfulness. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faithfulness of Jesus.

So like God’s kindness and blessing on the Chaldeans enabled them to be used to judge Israel and bring about a better situation.  God’s patience in enduring sin and allowing sin to pile on sin and build up wrath, precisely gave Jesus the moment he needed to add his own rejection to that sin and then propitiate the wrath of God.

Thus:

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means!

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

through the law comes knowledge [as in direct experience] of sin.

For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.

Having begun his argument with the prophecy of Habakkuk, Paul ends with a quotation from Elihu who tells Job of his sufferings,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Job wanted to know why he was subjected to so much suffering and he never got an answer.  Romans tells us why God has allowed the world to get so bad up to the first century.  It doesn’t answer everything, of course, but it does provide a partial answer and the evidence of that a full answer will be given some day.

The principle that must be remembered is that God does not judge arbitrarily (even if we can never know enough to predict when and how he will judge the world).  He let the world progress in evil until finally sending the flood.  He refused to give the land to Abraham because the Canaanites were not bad enough (Sodom and Gomorrah were worse, so he judged them sooner).  Throughout Israel’s history God was patient before finally judging.  And each time he saved a remnant and rebuilt a new Israel from grace so that their sin afterward was all the more serious.

When Jesus arrives, Israel is no longer good enough to be conquered by mere Chaldeans, and the Romans aren’t really bad enough to count.  Demons have been unleashed on Israel like never before.

So this is the picture: God decided not to judge Adam and Eve when they sinned.  If he wanted a chance to deliver a justifying verdict, he needed to produce the right opportunity for a Judgment Day.

And he did.  Romans explains how and why.

Thus, as I blogged earlier, without Romans John 3.16 makes no sense.

Here are my first notes I scratched out that led me here.

2 thoughts on “More thoughts on Romans: Wrath and Righteous Deliverance

  1. Christopher Kou

    Interesting take on Romans 9. Yes, I can see what you are getting at there. I will need to mull it over a bit before I’m totally on board, but I think I might agree.

    I had recently (in the past few years) come to the realization that Romans 9 is talking about Israel, and not about some abstract soteriological principle (though there are applications for Calvinism, of course).

    So if Israel had not transgressed and been rebellious, God’s plan for the Gentiles could not have (humanly speaking) been fulfilled.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Mark Horne » Blog Archive » Habakkuk and Romans: Both spell out post-millennialism as God’s justification for evil

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