This is the Second Division after the Introduction.
These divisions are arbitrary and are useful in finding coherence in Paul’s thought process, from one theme to the next. Different interpreters have come up with different divisions that facilitate the study of the epistle. Thus, these divisions are no more than guidelines.
Romans 1:18-32 deals with God’s wrath, or rather its revelation. Godlessness and wickedness reveal God’s wrath. In verse 17 God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel, or the good news, as already pointed out in verse 2 and in verse 18 God’s wrath is revealed.
Before we discuss what God’s wrath is and is not, a word about revelation. Another word for revelation is manifestation or a even a sign. In other words, what one sees is a sign of something. Verses 18-32 are a sampling of godlessness and wickedness. There is no indication that any of that was prevalent among the Romans. We have already noted the affection and praises Paul had for the church.
What Paul is saying is that godlessness manifests itself in ever-increasing wickedness, suppression of truth, futility of thought, and perversion of all kinds. Those in recovery can very well identify with this truth. Lies become the truth and distorted thoughts find acceptance.
As it turns out, it even gets worse and worse. That is what Paul means when he says, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…”(verse 24). It is a cycle, one thing leading to something else worse. We could say, sin becomes punishment for sin.
This, in general, is the condition of unredeemed humanity: Humanity under God’s wrath. So, what is the wrath of God?
Although some bible translations have it as God’s judgment, there is some distinction between the two. The wrath of God is, literally, God’s displeasure. God’s holiness and righteousness cannot mix with godlessness or wickedness. The latter invoke God’s wrath.
As 2:1-16 shows, there is a day of judgment when God’s “righteous judgment will be revealed” and – quoting Psalm 62:12 – God “will reward each person according to what one has done”.
A proper understanding of the distinction between the wrath of God and God’s judgment helps avoid the sometimes painful indictments that some people pass on others.