The way of sin and death

Our new “Roman Road” sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Romans got off to a great start yesterday, in my opinion—not that I’m biased. I talked mostly about the thesis statement of Paul’s letter, Romans 1:16-17, but I also touched on v. 18 and God’s wrath. I said that in order for us to not be ashamed of the gospel, we have to understand why humanity needs it in the first place: human sin and God’s response to it (i.e., wrath or anger). You can read or watch my sermon later this week and decide for yourself, but I think I gave the congregation a helpful way of thinking about the meaning of God’s anger toward sin.

As I pointed out yesterday, contemporary American culture mostly doesn’t understand why God would be angry about sin. Here, N.T. Wright proves helpful to me again. I like the way this passage from his Paul for Everyone commentary (on Romans 1:28-32) points to the death-dealing way of all sin:

All this points to the critical statement: they know God’s decree, that those who do things like that are, literally, ‘worthy of death’. Don’t misunderstand. People suppose God’s laws are arbitrary. They imagine that God (if such a being exists, they might add) has invented a set of rules to amuse himself, and that he then enjoys the thought of punishing people if they don’t keep them… The ‘decrees’ of God are not that kind of thing at all. They are built into the fabric of creation itself. Evil behaviour is inherently destructive. It points, like a signpost, towards death. This is obvious in the case of murder and other violence; it should be almost as obvious in the case of gossip and slander, where someone’s reputation and life are pulled to pieces, often without any chance of redress. People who are self-important and boastful are effectively pushing themselves into space belonging to others, as though the others shouldn’t really exist. And so on. God has made the world in such a way that kindness, gentleness, generosity, humility—love in all its many forms—is life-giving, while evil in its many forms is deadly.

Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans: Part 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 26-27.

2 thoughts on “The way of sin and death”

  1. I totally agree! Although I have never been published, and likely never will be, occasionally I try to write something, one of which efforts I entitled, “The Wrath of God.” We need to recognize that God can be very angry about how we respond to him or other people–and, that he is RIGHT to be angry in that way. Wrath on our part is certainly sometimes wrong, because wrongfully motivated, usually because whatever we are angry about is “infringing” on something we want or think we are entitled to. But wrath at evil because of what it inflicts on its victims is totally good–and God-like. (Only, GENERALLY speaking, we should “leave room for the wrath of God” to remedy such injustices, rather than taking matters into our own hands to redress–though I certainly think the government as “God’s ministers” have some role to play in that respect, Romans 13.)

    1. Yes, I cover some of the same ground in my sermon. My main point is that if God isn’t angry (which of course isn’t often like human anger), God isn’t loving. We often want God to be indifferent toward sin, but that means wanting a God who is indifferent toward us.

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