THE LAST SIX COMMANDMENTS
We have seen what the word “ungodliness” means according to the Scriptures. But Paul’s next statement goes on to say that “the wrath of God” is not only revealed from heaven against ungodliness but also against all “unrighteousness of men.”
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men… (Romans 1:18 emphasis added)
What is “unrighteousness of men?” We saw how “ungodliness of men” referred to the first four commandments and it had to do with uttering “error” against God. “Unrighteousness of men” is related to ungodliness—it is the consequence of ungodliness. It is all the things men and women do to each other as a result of uttering error about God, as a consequence of not knowing Him, of having a false concept about Him. We are imitators of God—like it or not. This means we will be just like the God we believe in.
So, what is unrighteousness? Unrighteousness is manifested in all the ways in which we emulate a god that looks more like Satan than Jesus Christ. All the punishment we lash out, all the anger, mercilessness, the abuse; all the violent ways in which we harm one another, ways that are contrary to God’s pure and unmixed character of agape love, all of these fall under the category of “unrighteousness”—even when we use violence and think we are doing the right thing. Everything that is not in harmony with God’s character of unconditional, impartial, non-violent, freedom-giving love as revealed by Jesus Christ, is “unrighteousness of men.” Everything that stems from Satan’s principle of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is unrighteousness.
The apostle Paul is a great example for us. Before he met Jesus, Paul was a Pharisee, a zealot who was persecuting and harming people in the name of God. Listen to his own words:
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love, which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all long-suffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life (1 Timothy 1:12-16, emphasis added).
Paul’s life has become the best example for us to see the consequences of believing in a destroyer God versus the God of peace that Jesus came to reveal. In his own words, Paul became “a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” What Paul considered right-doing before he met Jesus—using force to eradicate perceived error—turned out to be wrong-doing—unrighteousness.
“Unrighteousness of men” then refers to the last six of the Ten Commandments:
5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
6. “You shall not murder.
7. “You shall not commit adultery.
8. “You shall not steal.
9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:12-17).
Jesus summarized God’s law as love for God and love for mankind. He said that on these two things the entire law hangs. But the first four precede the last six. It is only when we know the true God and His principles of love which Jesus Christ revealed that we can truly love each other.
…WHO SUPPRESS THE TRUTH IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS
Notice again what “the wrath of God” is revealed against:
For the wrath of God is revealed 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, emphasis added).
Those who are ungodly and unrighteous cannot have regard for God or for humanity. Their whole way of being is in direct opposition to God’s law of agape love, which is expressed through the Ten Commandments. Both the ungodly and the unrighteous “suppress the truth” about God’s true character of agape love in “unrighteousness.” What does this mean? How do they suppress the truth?
The ungodly and unrighteous exchange the truth for the lie. They believe Satan’s moral law of reward and punishment is a good and right way of doing things, and so they think that God’s righteousness is based upon reward and punishment. They suppress the truth of His law of unconditional love by using the conditional law of works which was “found in” Lucifer, in the beginning of his rebellion. This is how they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
Those who ascribe falsehood to God’s character suppress the truth about Him “in unrighteousness.” In other words, unrighteousness, which is Lucifer’s iniquity, takes the place of righteousness, and thus it suppresses “the truth in unrighteousness.”
…because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
According to this last verse, “the wrath of God” is revealed against those that exchange the truth for a lie because they know what they are doing. They are choosing a path which they know to be contrary to the truth. Why? Because “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” If they did not know what they were doing, “the wrath of God” could not be revealed against them. But since they know what they are doing, God is honoring their choice and allowing them to reap the consequences of that choice. This is the same thing the prophet Isaiah said in a different way:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20)!
Why does Isaiah say “woe to those” who can’t tell the difference between good (agape) and evil (Good and Evil)? Perhaps it is because if one can’t tell the difference between the two, one might find oneself in dire straits. This is like saying, “Woe to those that can’t tell rat poison from baking soda!” Why? The answer is obvious. If you think you are worshipping God, but you are really worshipping a god with the character traits of Satan—you will find yourself in a really bad place.
Righteousness is God’s agape love—unconditional, un-condemning, impartial love. Mercy, kindness, gentleness, nonviolence, honesty, trustworthiness, unshakable integrity, truthfulness—these are all part and parcel of righteousness. Most importantly, righteousness is never violent, controlling, forceful or punitive, and freedom and respect for life are intrinsically entwined in the underlying spirit of the law of agape love.
Ultimately, “unrighteousness” is the iniquity that was found in Lucifer, which is the moral law of Good and Evil. In both the Old and New Testaments, the word “unrighteousness” is interchangeable with the word “iniquity.” Thus, those that suppress the truth about God are exchanging His pure, holy, uncorrupted character of love represented by the Tree of Life for Satan’s corrupted duality of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—reward and punishment—which is the counterfeit to God’s moral law of agape love.
The reason given for God’s wrath being poured upon all “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” is this: “because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.”
Can you see that what is involved here is having a correct knowledge of God? “What may be known of God”—what may be known of God’s true character—“is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.”
What this verse seems to be saying is that God has revealed who He is to every human heart—“what may be known of Him is manifest” in us, in our very hearts. In each one of us there is a basic understanding that God is only good. There is a basic knowledge that He is pure and loving. Even atheists know what God is all about because they are quick to point out how believers can be so inconsistent with the true God. How often have we, believers, been called hypocrites by atheists?
This verse also seems to be telling us something else that is very significant: that “the wrath of God” is never poured out against those who are in ignorance. Those upon whom wrath is poured out, deep down know who God is. But they have rejected His principles for Satan’s counterfeit. This is a conscious, deliberate decision—and this is an important point.
In Micah, God speaks to every one of us through the prophet:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)?
To do justly, to love mercy—this is what it means to walk humbly with God, and God has shown us this. The Psalmist states:
Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You, and on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name (Psalm 79:6).
This verse tells us that knowing God is extremely important. But doesn’t it also seem to be contradicting what Paul just said above “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them”? After all, it is telling us that God’s wrath will be poured out on those who do not know God. But if God has revealed Himself to everyone, then who doesn’t know God? How do we make sense of this apparent contradiction?
We must understand the biblical language involved here. In a biblical sense, to know someone is to have an intimate relationship with them. And so, the answer to this paradox is given in the verse itself, which follows that wonderful rhetorical device called Hebrew parallelism, in which one line—through contrast or intentional repetition—defines the other: “Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You”—first line; second line: “and on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name.”
“To not know” God and to “not call on” His name are one and the same thing. So, the meaning given here is that not knowing God means not calling on His name. Thus, deep down they may know Him, for “God has shown it to them.” They know that God is just and merciful. But the problem is that they choose not to follow His principles, which is the same as choosing not to have an intimate relationship with Him. And even more important, they choose to not call on His “name,” and “name” refers to character. What we see here is that instead of imitating God’s character of mercy, of agape love, they choose to follow the unjust and unmerciful ways of the gods—their severe and cruel moral teachings from the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil.
You may ask, “Why would anyone make such a choice? According to Jesus, it is because “their deeds were evil.” Notice how Jesus addresses what is involved in rejecting the truth—the light—about God:
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21, emphasis added).
Those who choose to not “call upon God” and His just and merciful principles do not do so because they prefer to operate within the realm of punishment, which is the realm of the gods—the realm of Good and Evil. This is their preferred mode of being because it suits the natural instincts of the flesh—anger, punishment and revenge. This is why they turn a blind eye—or rather, a blind heart—to what God has shown them about His principles of peace, goodness, forgiveness, mercy and love. They feel that justice must be punitive.
Again, note very carefully: the wrath which is poured upon those “nations that do not know” God and who “do not call on” His name is not an arbitrary act of God—it is not a punishment from God for not knowing Him. Rather, it is cause and effect. By staying within the jurisdiction of Satan—through living by his law of sin, which is the moral law of Good and Evil—they incur the wrath of the oppressor—they suffer the consequences of living by the principles of his realm. They suffer the desolation, ruin, chaos, and destruction which are built into Satan’s oppressive and cruel system of violence, and which has become a part of them.