In my last blog, I discussed that the word “salvation” in the Book of Romans does not mean salvation from hell. Instead, it refers to salvation from the negative consequences of sins here and now. In this blog, I would like to look at the word “wrath.”
A similar situation exists with this word. Often, when people hear the phrase, “the wrath of God,” they immediately think of hell. In the lake of fire, people will eternally experience the wrath of God. However, in the Book of Romans, the word never means that. Like the word “salvation,” wrath in Romans speaks of something that people can experience here and now.
The word occurs twelve times (1:18; 2:5 [2x], 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22 [2x]; 12:19; 13:4, 5). If we take time to look at some of these occurrences, we clearly see that the wrath of God refers to what we can experience in our present lives when we sin.
The first time the word occurs is key. In Rom 1:18, Paul says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven. Did you notice that the verb “is” is talking about now? Paul is not talking about something that will be revealed in the future, when people are sent to hell. In the rest of chapter 1, Paul talks about the sin of men and women who suppress the truth about God.
How is the wrath of God revealed? God’s anger towards sin is seen in that God gives them over to their lusts, their passions, and depraved minds (vv 24, 26, 28). Men choose darkness, and God’s wrath is revealed from heaven by God turning them over to the darkness they have chosen. Paul then describes the actions that flow from that and the destructive nature of those actions in the rest of chapter 1.
In Rom 4:15, Paul shows again that the wrath of God is something people experience in this life. When they violate the law of God, they experience the wrath of God. This, of course, supports what Paul says in chapter 1.
In Rom 12:19, once again we see how the wrath of God is something for the present day. Paul says that when we are wronged by somebody, we should not attempt to avenge ourselves. Instead, we should allow God to deal with the situation. Since God’s wrath is directed towards men’s sin, when men sin against us, we should let His wrath address the situation.
The last two times the word “wrath” occurs in Romans are in 13:4, 5. As with the other instances, these two verses show that God’s wrath is a present experience. However, here we are told that the government is an instrument through which God shows His wrath. When government authorities punish law breakers, they are acting in the role of God. God punishes sin, and sometimes He uses the government to do so. The government certainly doesn’t send people to the lake of fire!
The bottom line in all of this is simple. Sinful attitudes and actions bring the wrath of God into our lives. Even when people realize that the word “wrath” in Romans does not refer to hell, they often make another mistake. They conclude that Christians can never experience God’s wrath since they are His children. But that is not the case. If believers suppress the truth and live immoral lives, they too will experience God’s wrath. As Christians we are not immune to the consequences of our actions. For example, if we are law breakers, God may very well use the power of the government to discipline us.
If we want to avoid the wrath of God in our lives, Paul gives us the answer. If we walk by the power of the Spirit (Rom 5–8), we will experience life and blessing. This will be an experience of living by the power of the resurrected Lord. He will “save” us from the “wrath” that sin brings if we do so. But in the Book of Romans, this is not talking about hell.