The sliver of space between Romans 1:17 and 18 is the distance between hope and despair—the difference between paradise and perdition. Paul writes:
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
According to the Apostle two things are revealed in the Gospel: God’s righteousness and His wrath. On the cross, Jesus died to make us righteous before a Holy God. Redeemed sinners can enter heaven by placing their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) and He meant it. All that was required to purchase our salvation has been done. That is our hope! But, the cross also shows that God’s wrath must be appeased. His justice is as perfect as His love. Sin demands the full payment and that is what Christ, the eternal God accomplished in a moment of time in His incarnation. He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matt.27:46). That is hell—and that is what He bore so that we need not go there. Yet, if we do not receive His mercy—if we insist on standing before God in our own merits—then all our sin will convict us and the sentence will be passed—and that is despair!
The cross of Christ is the line between hope and despair. Remember, there were two other crosses on Calvary that day. On either side of Jesus, hung a sinner—judged and sentenced to death by Roman decree, still to face judgment and sentencing before the Supreme Court of Heaven. In these men, we see revealed the righteousness of God in one and the wrath of God in the other.
From the Gospel accounts, it is clear that both deserved what they received. At first both curse and scorn Christ—but, then, something happens—there is the revelation of God’s righteousness. One thief says to his fellow criminal,
“ ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward for our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ ” (Luke 23:40-43 NKJV)
The other thief, so far as we know, went out into eternity kicking and screaming, ranting and cursing into the outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth—forever.
If you travel down I-26 from Asheville, toward South Carolina, you will see a sign near Hendersonville marking the Eastern Continental Divide. On this rainy Tuesday, theoretically two drops of water can fall side by side to the pavement along that dividing line—one drop runs east and makes its way into a series of tributaries until at last it makes its way into the Atlantic Ocean. The other drop flows west, eventually dumping into the mighty Mississippi and ultimately ends its journey as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico—so close at first and so far away in the end.
So, in our eternal destiny, there stands the Man in the middle—Christ Jesus. Those repentant sinners who confess Him as Lord will flow from time’s channel into the pool of Paradise and join Him there. Those who harden their hearts in unbelief will traverse time’s tributary into the abyss of judgment. It is Christ who makes the difference between hope and despair. Now all humanity lives in that tiny sliver of space between Romans 1:17 and 18. What will your future reveal? Righteousness or wrath?