By John MacArthur
The Wrath of God is admittedly not a popular subject. But it is an absolutely critical and central subject to any understanding of the gospel. Now there are a number of different aspects to the wrath of God.
There is what we could call eternal wrath, because it is the punishments that God brings on unbelieving sinners forever in hell. There is also eschatological wrath. That is the wrath of God released at the end of the world.
There is what we could call cataclysmic wrath – like a tsunami, a volcano, a hurricane, an earthquake, a plane flying in to the Twin Towers resulting in thousands of deaths.
And there is what you could call consequential wrath. Consequential wrath is the sowing and reaping – you live a certain kind of life, and you set in motion certain forces that will produce judgment.
But there is one other kind of wrath and that is the wrath that is presented in this passage. It is the wrath of abandonment. It is that wrath exhibited by God when He turns His back on a society.
One of the most tragic scenes of the wrath of abandonment in the Scripture involves the strongest man who ever lived, the mighty Samson. He is the original Superman, and a real one. We read in Judges 16:
“When Delilah saw that he had told her all that was in his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines…And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him. And then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains and he was a grinder in the prison, a job for a mule.” (v.18-21)
Because of his sin, the Lord left him – the judgment of abandonment.
We find a similar sentiment in Proverbs:
“Because I called and you refused, I stretched out My hand and no one paid attention and you neglected all My counsel and did not want My reproof, I will even laugh at your calamity. I will mock when your dread comes, when your dread comes like a storm and your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come on you, then they will call on Me but I will not answer. They will seek Me diligently but they shall not find Me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept My counsel, they spurned all My reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices.” (1:24-31)
There comes a time when god abandons men. God comes to a point where He lets a people go, lets them go to the consequences of their own sinful choices. They will not accept His counsel; they spurn all His reproof. Of the Pharisees Jesus said, “Let them alone, they are blind leaders of the blind.” (Matthey 15:14)
Terrifying words, “Let them alone.” It is frightening to think about that. Frightening to think that you might be abandoned by God, that the opportunity for salvation is past, that the day of grace is over.
The passages referred to point out that the wrath of abandonment happens to both individuals and nations. This is the story of history. All the nations of history go their own way. And like the nations of old, America is following the same cycle of having the truth, rejecting the truth, and being abandoned by God.
No scripture more directly confronts this abandonment and its consequences than Romans 1. Here is the most graphic and the most comprehensive discussion of what it means to be abandoned by God.
It is also the best passage that I know of to explain the moral chaos and confusion we experience in our own nation right now. God’s wrath is already at workd in our culture. We’re not waiting for it; we are currently experiencing it.
In verse 24, 26, and 28, you have the statement, “God gave them over.” This term paradidomi in the Greek can be used of a judgment made on a criminal who was then handed over for punishment. Each of these phrases expresses the fact that the wrath of God has acted judicially to sentence sinners. It is God letting them go to the uninterrupted cause and effect their sinful choices produce.
When this judgment falls, there is a depriving of restraining grace and sin runs rampant through a society. Sin is both the cause of this and the effect…and the next cause and the next effect…and it goes on and on and on.
Notice the wrath of abandonment in its progression. It follows three sequential steps. First, “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity that their bodies might be dishonored among them.” (v.24)
The first indication in a society of the wrath of abandonment is sexual immorality. When a society becomes pornographic, when the general character of a society can be seen to be immoral, this wrath is in effect. When man is abandoned by God, it operates only out of the passions of its own impure heart. The heart is wretched, and the body follows.
We can go back pretty readily in our own country to the sexual revolution connected to the hippie movement, connected to the Playboy empire’s beginning. Since then, our society has become increasingly pornographic until even the Internet is dominated by millions and millions of immoral pornographic websites to feed the insatiable lusts that dominate our culture.
This leads to the smashing and crushing of marriage. This leads to horrific and horrendous abuse of children, pedophilia, all kinds of child abuse that continues to run rampant because restraining grace has been removed. And sex runs rampant, marriage becomes a minor option as people engage in immoral behavior readily and constantly without commitment.
Step two is in verse 26. “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions.” Now we’re not just talking about passions; we’ve added degrading. We’re going down. There is a greater debauchery here. The degrading passions can be defined as gross affections, vile desires, perversion. And here it is, “Their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural.”
The second step in the progression is lesbianism and homosexuality. The Holy spirit refers first to the degradation of women because they are usually the last to be affected in the decay of morals. This is because they have a protective mothering instinct over their own children. But when the wrath of abandonment is in force, even the women fall to the degrading passions.
But there’s a third step, in verse 28: “Just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind.” What is a depraved mind? The word literally means “tested and found useless, disqualified for its intended purpose,” a non-functioning mind. The third step in the progression that reasoning is so corrupted that it is crippled.
The moral law of God written in the heart has been literally stomped and replaced with cultural immorality. The conscience cannot function. So immorality goes in every direction and the mind is so corrupt it can’t find its way back. People don’t think right. Their brains don’t follow the paths they should. They advocate wretched things and depreciate virtuous things.
What flows out of this pornographic, homosexual, depraved culture? According to verse 29, “All unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful inventors of evil.” They even come up with new forms of evil. It’s like somebody opened the sewer of sin and let it run through society.
This is just any day in the newspaper, any day on the cable news network. This is just life in the world, in all its sinful forms. Without conscience, without restraint, a society becomes like lustful, immoral beasts running wild. It gets to the Jerry Springer level, where it’s just so bizarre and so corrupt that we laugh at the unconventional corruption. This is what happens when God abandons a society.
We’ve seen what it looks like when God abandons people and nations, but why does He do it? “The wrath of God is revealed form heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” God has abandoned our society because our society has first abandoned God.
There is no surer and no sadder evidence of a corrupted, wicked abandoned society than when that society will not tolerate anger against sin. Our society won’t tolerate anger against sin. Our society feeds on sin and wants no one to deny its iniquities. The major reason God abandons is summed up in one statement: “We suppress the truth.”
In the western world, in America, we’ve had the Word of God for centuries. But this nation and the world has suppressed the truth in unrighteousness; we have crushed it under the preferences for sin. You cannot plead ignorance in our country.
So we look at a society today, in particularly here in America, and we see a people amazingly influenced by the gospel; yet we see a people who do not honor God. Go back to verse 21. “They do not honor Him as God, they do not give thanks.” That is to say they do not thank Him for being the source of everything they have.
Man’s problem is not that he can’t find God, or that he can’t recognize God. Man’s problem is not that he can’t find the truth, or recognize the truth. It is that he will not. They don’t want to honor God. To honor God would then cause them to accountable to Him and to His law. Man would rather live without God in view at all.
The final straw comes in verse 23, “They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Men create their own gods to accommodate their own useless ideas. False religion is man at the bottom.
You see, man does not ascend from the muck of paganism and ignorance up to the truth of God. That’s not how it works. Man is not evolving up. He is descending. He falls from the truth of God into the slime of satanic counterfeit. The ultimate insanity is to reject God and create a non-God that doesn’t exist and worship that.
Is it any wonder that as a society then we are struggling with our ethics? Is it any wonder we are struggling with our ethics? Is it any wonder we are struggling with our morals? We have abandoned God and God has returned the favor.
That brings the question. Is there any hope? Is there any hope for this country? Is there any hope for the western world?
All I can say is, there is a word of hope in Psalm 81. Let’s look at verse 11. “But My people did not listen to My voice and Israel did not obey Me, so I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart to walk in their own devices.” That’s Romans 1. This happened to Israel.
But notice verse 13, “O that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways. I would quickly subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their adversaries.” And I love verse 16, “And I would feed you with the finest of wheat and from honey with the rock I would satisfy you.” This is a plaintive cry from God who says He would turn from abandoning them to defending them and protecting them!
The key is in the phrase “listen to Me” and “Walk in My ways.” The only hope for this or any other society is to hear the Word of the Lord and obey it.
And I would suggest that this is not a good time for weak men preaching weak messages in weak churches. This is a time for bold and powerful, strong biblical ministry that calls people to hear the Word of the Lord and respond. This is the only hope for any people or individual.
It’s not too late until Jesus comes. We can keep preaching this word to the end of the earth, so that those under this wrath may be saved and escape the final and eternal wrath.
Oh, Lord, may there be a great revival of Your Word, and may people listen to it and obey it, to Your glory we ask these things. Amen.
(From a sermon by John MacArthur. Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/sermons/80-314
COPYRIGHT ©2009 Grace to You)