For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them (Romans 1:18-19, emphasis added).
The first thing “the wrath of God” is revealed against is “ungodliness.” What exactly is “ungodliness?” Not according to our own definition of the word, but according to how does the Bible define it? What is “unrighteousness?” How does the Bible define these two very important words?
One would logically think that ungodliness is anything that is un-God, in other words, that is unlike God. Anything that is opposedto, or the opposite of God. Anything that has to do with thinking and doing in a way that is different from God’s way of thinking and doing. In this case, ungodliness would have to do with thinking and living by the principles of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil instead of the principles of the Tree of Life. In this interpretation, ungodliness would be centered on our goodness or rather, our lack of it.
The Greek word used for “ungodliness” used in this passage is asebeia, which means:
impiety, that is, (by implication) wickedness: – ungodly (-liness) (Strong’s Concordance).
Asebeia comes from the word asebēs, which means:
irreverent, that is, (by extension) impious or wicked: – ungodly (man).
In the Hebrew Old Testament there are a few words translated as “ungodliness.” Take for instance the word râsha, which connects ungodliness with morality, with a person that is condemned and guilty:
morally wrong; concretely an (actively) bad person: condemned, guilty, ungodly, wicked (man), that did wrong.
Yet another word—aveel’—meaning “moral perversion,” gives this word a connotation of moral distortion because its root word means to “distort morally,” to “deal unjustly.” In God on Trial: Have We Been Lied To? Is God a Killer?we saw these very characteristics being applied to the word “iniquity” itself—the moral perversion that Lucifer started in heaven. One thing is clear: ungodliness definitely refers to iniquity, the moral law of reward and punishment, which was a distortion and perversion of God’s moral law of agape love.
In Psalm 43 there is another word used for “ungodly:”
Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; Oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man (Psalm 43:1, emphasis added)!
In this verse, the word “ungodly” is a compound word made up of the word lô’ lô’ lôh, which is a primitive particle meaning “not,” and the word châsıyd, which means:
kind, that is, (religiously) pious (a saint): godly (man), good, holy (one), merciful, saint, ungodly.
Accordingly, this Hebrew word for “ungodliness” in Psalm 43: 1 refers to a person who is not kind, not pious, not good, not holy, not merciful. In essence, not like God, who is kind, pious, good, holy and merciful.
Ungodliness then, appears to have to do with thinking and doing in a way that is completely different from God’s agape way of thinking and doing.
On the other side of the spectrum, what is “godliness?” Godliness would seem to be anything that is like God. Jesus is godly—He is Michael, which means “who is like God?” Thus, we would normally think that godliness has to do with the fruits of the Spirit, those godly attributes that can make us have characteristics which are more in line with God’s agape love:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23)
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord (Ephesians 5:8-9, emphasis added).
While all of these are correct ways of understanding what “ungodliness” and “godliness” mean, we believe there is yet another layer of understanding in the Bible that needs to be addressed—a layer that tackles this problem at a root level. We can tap into this deeper meaning only when we keep in mind the fact that we are in the midst of a spiritual war in which the enemy has clouded our minds as to God’s true character. With this in mind, notice what the prophet Isaiah states:
For the foolish person will speak foolishness, and his heart will work iniquity: to practice ungodliness, to utter error against the Lord, to keep the hungry unsatisfied, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail (Isaiah 32:6, emphasis added).
In this verse we see through Hebrew parallelism that besides having the conventional meaning which we first discussed above, the word ungodliness also has to do with something else: with uttering or speaking “error against the Lord.”
By speaking “error” regarding who God is—regarding what His true character is really like—we keep “the hungry” soul “unsatisfied”—we keep “the Bread of Life” away from them. And we cause “the drink”—Jesus, the water of life, the truth about the character of God—“of the thirsty to fail.” Thus, having a wrong knowledge of God is the root cause of ungodliness. Because if we have a wrong understanding of God’s character, then all our actions will be in harmony with our wrong concept of Him.
The fact that “ungodliness” has to do with knowing or not knowing God’s true character is confirmed by the apostle Paul in the very chapter we are studying—Romans chapter one. Immediately after saying “for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” Paul says: “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” What “truth?” “The truth” about what or whom? Again, Paul quickly gives us the answer to these questions:
because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them (Romans 1:19, emphasis added).
We will discuss this statement in more detail later on, but for now we simply want to stress that “ungodliness” definitely has to do with not knowing God as He truly is. We could simplify this verse and simply say that “the wrath of God” is revealed from heaven against the people that don’t know God—against the people that have exchanged the truth about God for the lie about Him.
Ungodliness, then has to do with knowing God through Satan’s portrayal of God—which is the lie. Satan has given us a false picture of God through the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the moral law it represents, and if we hang onto this false picture of God, we will inevitably remain “ungodly.”
As pointed out earlier, the Old Testament uses different words for “ungodly,” but one in particular caught our attention, and that is the word belıyaal. Notice what belıyaal means in Hebrew:
without profit, worthlessness; by extension destruction, wickedness: Belial, evil, naughty, ungodly (men), wicked” (Strong’s Concordance).
The word Belial is used only once in the New Testament:
And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer
with an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:15)?
According to Strong’s Concordance, in Greek, Belial is an epithet of Satan:
Belial: Of Hebrew origin; worthlessness; Belial, as an epithet of Satan: – Belial.
It is interesting to note that both in Hebrew and Greek Belial means “worthlessness,” as well as being a name for Satan. What is this “worthlessness” all about? We believe it is the same thing that Paul addresses a little further in Romans chapter one through the word “reprobate:”
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient (Romans 1:28, emphasis added).
The word “reprobate” helps us to understand what Belial’s worthlessness is, because it too is defined as “worthless.” Here is the definition of the word reprobate, adokimos, taken from Strong’s Concordance:
unapproved, that is, rejected; by implication worthless (literally or morally): – castaway, rejected, reprobate.
We could interpret this in an accusatory way through the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This interpretation would say that the people who are “reprobate” are so worthless that they are indeed deserving of being “unapproved,” “rejected,” and castaways. The people spoken of here are so “worthless” that they are the rejects, the outcasts of society. But that is not primarily what this is saying.
What this means is that people who are “worthless,” people who are the “sons of Belial,” do not receive from their “father Belial” any sense of approval, of belonging, of worth, or affirmation. They have no sense of how precious they are, how loved they are, how important they are to the One who really matters—to God.
“Sons of Belial,” those who are “reprobate,” have no positive self-respect or self-esteem. Anyone that has lived in the world without God understands what this feels like. It is a life filled with fear, darkness, hopelessness, uncertainty, negativity, restlessness and depression. Without the knowledge of God’s love for us, our lives are cursed by a sense of futility, a foreboding of defeat. Being in the world without God gives us indeed a feeling that we are worthless. This is a very painful condition to be in, and filled with emotional and physical anguish.
Those who have chosen to follow Belial are given over to a “reprobate mind.” It is not that God wants this to happen, but that He has no power to override our choices because of our freedom of choice. As painful as this is to Himself as well, God has to let it happen.
Those who are “given over” to a “reprobate mind” act according to their state of mind. Their actions reflect their mindset. They behave in ways that are socially unacceptable. And then the world, which operates by the reward and punishment system, pushes them further down through disapproval, contempt, rejection, and punishment. It is a vicious cycle from which only God can save us. Most everyone has experienced this to a certain degree.
It is God who gives us our true sense of worth. It is God who shows us that we are infinitely loved! It is God who tells us that we are His sons and daughters and as such we are indeed very special. It is God who lifts up our self-esteem, who assures us that we even have an inheritance—something many know nothing about. It is God who gives us a reason to live, who gives us hope, assurance, purpose, victory, peace, and rest in our hearts. Belial pushes us down to the point of despair. But Belial’s work of destroying us is turned around when we come to know the truth about God, when we come to know the true God of unconditional love. With all this in mind, note then what the Bible says about the sons of Eli in the Old Testament:
Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD (Samuel 2:12, emphasis added).
Eli’s sons were “sons of Belial” because “they knew not the Lord.” This is an extremely important point. It is very important to God that we have a correct knowledge of His character of agape love. So important, in fact, that Jesus had to come down here to give us the truth about Him. Why does this matter so much?
Satan has painted God in a false light. He has attributed his own character traits onto God, including his own sense of what justice should look like, i.e. punitive justice. But God’s character and Satan’s character are as distinct as distinct can be, and have absolutely nothing in common—they are as far apart as light and darkness are apart from each other.
“Sons of Belial”—sons of Satan—know God through what Satan has taught them—not through what Jesus has taught them. The sad implication here is that if we don’t know the true character of God, we are in essence worshipping the Devil. We may be sincere in our worship but that doesn’t change the fact that we are worshipping the wrong person and learning the wrong principles from him.
Every human being who does not know the only true God as revealed by Jesus Christ is a “son of Belial.” We can even be Christians and be “sons of Belial.” This may seem really extreme and far-fetched. But the truth is, once Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Satan became the “god of this age.” He has deceived us all in regards to God’s true character. And God is now calling us to come out of that wrong mind-set. The time has come.
Satan has interposed himself between God and us, and as a result, instead of seeing God, we see him. The principles of reward and punishment of Satan’s kingdom are embedded in our entire being. It is only by beholding the true God of agape love which Jesus revealed that we can escape this cursed condition.
Satan’s deceptions are like a veil made of his lies, a veil which is interposed between the true God and us. This is not far-fetched at all, but is exactly what the Scriptures tell us. Take a look at the following verses written by Paul:
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech— unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:12-18, emphasis added).
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:1-6, emphasis added).
Did you notice the “veil”? What is the meaning of this veil? Isn’t Moses’ veil a type of something much greater? Isn’t the antitypical veil something that blocks our view, something that blinds our understanding of something else?
What does the veil block? It blocks our view of the gospel; it blinds us to the good news of Christ. Who has blinded our minds? It is “the god of this age.” What has he blinded our minds about? About “the knowledge of the glory of God.” And who removes this blindness from us? It is Jesus Christ, “who is the image of God,” whose face gives us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.”
And what happens if the blindness is not removed from us, if our minds continue being veiled? “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing…who do not believe.” We are “perishing” if we do not believe the good news about God which Jesus brought to us. We are dying in that mind-set that tells us that we are worthless, that we are condemned and cast away—we are dwindling away in hopelessness.
And what does Paul say happens even today, when we read the Old Testament? He says that the same veil, the same blindness regarding God’s glory—which is His character, His goodness—“remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament.” Why does the veil remain “unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament?” Because only Jesus Christ can take the veil away. Jesus, the personification of the principles of the Tree of Life, came two thousand years ago, after the Old Testament was written. He gives us the truth about the God of life. If we don’t pay attention to what He taught us about God’s true character, we will read the Old Testament through the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
The writers of the Old Testament could not give us something they didn’t have or had not yet seen. They had prophesied about the Messiah that was to come, but they hadn’t seen Him yet. The Old Testament is a record of the story of God’s church on earth prior to Jesus’ first advent. It is an accurate record of the history of the children of Israel because it was through their lineage that the Messiah would come to this world. The purpose of the Chosen People is made clear in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation:
Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth (Revelation 12:1-2, emphasis added).
This “woman” with a “garland of twelve stars” represents Israel, the Chosen People. The purpose of the Chosen People was to deliver a child to the world, a child who was God in human form.
Since the call of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans, God had a special purpose for the Chosen People. He had chosen them to “give birth” to this heavenly Child who was going to teach the whole earth the truth about God. They were not chosen to give us the full truth about God. they were chosen to give us the One who would give us the full truth about God.
Thus, because they did not yet know Christ, even the prophets of the Old Testament couldn’t deliver a completely true report regarding the character of God. This is in effect how Paul opens the Book to the Hebrews. It is as though the apostle is telling his kin: “Listen, we had the fathers, the prophets, and that is all fine, they had their role and they fulfilled it. But they were mere human beings, therefore they could not have a clear knowledge of the God of heaven. Only His Son has that, therefore only He can give it to us.” Listen to Paul’s words:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they (Hebrews 1:1-4, emphasis added).
Paul not only establishes Christ’s supremacy over the fathers and the prophets who were of the earth, “earthly,” but over heavenly beings too—the angels. This means that even angels could not have given something they didn’t have—the pure, unadulterated knowledge of God.
There is no doubt that the Old Testament can also give us a picture of a loving God. Many of its passages are filled with comfort and inspiration. The problem with the Old Testament’s portrayal of God is that it gives us a portrait of a mixed God, a dualistic God of love and wrath, a Good and Evil kind of God. In essence, a God who is not “one,” as Moses had written:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deuteronomy 6:4)!
According to Jesus these were the most important words out of the entire Old Testament:
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31, emphasis added).
This is where the writers of the Old Testament had gone wrong, but they cannot be blamed, for Jesus had not yet come. According to Jesus, God does not have a mixed character—He is “One.” The mixture of Good and Evil—duality—belongs to the character of the god of this world. Thus, for this reason the people in the Old Testament were still sitting in darkness as far as God’s character of agape love was concerned.
Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father, after being dumb during his wife’s pregnancy finally spoke on the occasion of his son’s circumcision, eight days after his birth. When his mouth was opened, he spoke the following regarding John, Jesus, and God’s people:
And you, child [JOHN THE BAPTIST], will be called the prophet of the Highest [GOD THE FATHER];
For you will go before the face of the Lord [JESUS] to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76-79, emphasis added).
John the Baptist would go before Jesus in order to prepare God’s people to receive Him. He would pave the way, bring God’s people to the awareness that the Messiah had come. And the Messiah “would give knowledge of salvation to His people,” letting them know that their sins were forgiven. This whole passage is addressing God’s people. So when we read that Jesus would “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace,” what people is this talking about? This is talking about God’s people.
It was God’s people who were sitting “in darkness and the shadow of death.” Why were they sitting in “darkness and the shadow of death?” Because they were looking at God as a God of love and destruction, a God of life and death, a Good and Evil God.
Jesus came to reveal the “living God,” the God who is only love, only life, only good. This is the fundamental, most important message He came to give us. And this is exactly what the Apostle John declares in his first epistle. John literally sums up the core of Jesus’ message in verse five:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:1-7, emphasis added).
What is the message that the apostle John heard from Jesus? What is the fundamental, quintessential message that Jesus came to give us? The message is this: “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” God is not a mixture of light and darkness, of Good and Evil, of life and death. God is only light, only good, and only life. In Jesus “the life was manifested.” In Jesus the following words were fulfilled:
Hear, O people of God, “the Lord your God is one,” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
No, God does not have a dual character, as it was previously believed in the Old Testament. So if we want our blindness about God to be taken away, we need to turn to the Lord of agape love, to the God who is only life, which Jesus revealed. That is the only true God.
God knows that if we follow Satan and his mixed principles of Good and Evil we are destined to perish. But He loves us to such an extent that He cannot just sit and watch this happen. He had to come and give us the truth, which He did, in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ.
Because this issue of knowing the true God is so important to God and to us—that we know His true character—He addressed it four times in His very own law, which He gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The first four commandments warn us against ungodliness—against having a false knowledge of God. If we understood these four commandments properly, they would steer us in the correct knowledge of God—they would guide us into godliness.
We might ask the question: why did God center the first four Commandments on Himself? Is there a reason or purpose to this order? Our answer would be a resounding “Yes, absolutely, yes!” God knows that the root problem of the human race is having a wrong understanding of who He is. Thus, once the root cause is fixed, once we accept the truth about Him, the rest—our behavior towards one another, which is addressed in the remaining six commandments—will follow.
We are going to look at the first four Commandments now, and as we do so, we ask the reader to keep in mind that here we are on holy ground. The law of God reveals the essence of the Creator of this vast, fathomless and mysterious universe. We are now talking about “the living God”—the God who deals only in life and who is the Creator of all life. This God stooped down to reveal and share with us the mystery of His very being. What a privilege we have to be able to enter into this knowledge!
And as we continue, let us also keep in mind that we need to understand all biblical things in the context of the war—the great controversy between Christ and Satan. The war is between their respective laws, righteousness and iniquity, which are the two moral laws represented in the midst of the Garden by the two Trees— Satan’s “law of sin and death” and God’s “law of the Spirit of life.”