So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in it is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. (Romans 1:15-18 KJ2000)
Paul preaches here that the wrath of God comes against all who hold the truth in unrighteousness. He thus makes the wrath of God part of his gospel. We might wonder, especially if we believe that all unbelievers and sinners are cast into an eternal hell, how God’s wrath could ever be considered “good news” to anyone. Yet, Paul said that is because it is part and parcel of the good news (gospel) he preaches.
Could Paul simply be saying that the wrath of God against sinners is good news to us who believe because it means that a day comes when we will be glad and clap our hands at the fall and destruction of our enemies? No indeed, for God teaches throughout his word that we must not rejoice when we see our enemy judged, lest God turn his wrath away from him.
Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles. Lest the LORD sees it, and it displeases him, and he turns away his wrath from him. (Proverbs 24:17-18 KJ2000)*
Why then is the doctrine of God’s wrath part of the gospel, part of the good news of knowing God? To understand this we must know the purpose of God’s wrath. What does he intend that it accomplish? First we see that God’s wrath comes against or is “revealed from heaven” against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” This means that God intends us to be godly and righteous, terms which, of course, represent the intrinsic moral characteristics of God himself. The ultimate purpose of the gospel is to transform humans into beings who are like God. God created us “in his image,” but he did not program us to be always good. Had he done so, we could never have been like him, for we would never have known evil and would never have developed that peculiar godlike character which knows both good and evil and yet chooses the good because his core nature is good.
This explains why God placed the serpent in the midst of the garden of Eden. God knew that the serpent would deceive Eve and cause her to eat the forbidden fruit. Likewise he knew that Adam would eat in order to remain “one” with his wife. He knew they would disobey his command not to eat and yet he planned that they would eat. It was after this that God said,
“Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever…” (Genesis 3:22 KJ2000)
But why is wrath itself important? Because many men simply will not learn God’s ways unless forced to by divine intervention known as “wrath.” Take the time to read the book of Ezekiel. There you will see that God pronounces judgments upon every surrounding nation of Israel and upon Israel itself. Then after the pronouncement of each judgment, in anticipation of the result the wrath will bring, God says, “Then you will know that I am the LORD!” Here Paul begins his gospel by making God’s wrath an actual part of it and by identifying who that wrath comes against. God purposes wrath to bring men to the knowledge of Himself and he purposes his gospel to make men fully into his image.
* God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked and neither should we. When we see or learn of the destruction or judgment of an ungodly person we ought to learn to mourn for them, that they did not learn righteousness while they lived. If they do still live, let us pray for their repentance and faith. This reality is to be distinguished from that of rejoicing when God ends the rule of the wicked and establishes his Kingdom as we see in the following verse:
The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. (Psalms 58:10 KJ2000)