Rom 1:16-18 NASB: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." (18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
What does it mean to suppress the truth in unrighteousness? Well, let's look at this passage from Romans to see if we can get a clue. First of all, in verse 16 Paul is stating the fact that he is not ashamed of the gospel. Why would one need to be ashamed of the gospel? Well, it would have to be that the good news, was such good news, such unbelievably good news, that it would make the person proclaiming it to seem foolish. Isn't it interesting that Paul in 1 Corinthians stated that the gospel was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the religious. And so it remains today, the true gospel, the real message of the death, burial, and resurrection is still foolishness to those outside of Christ and a stumbling block to those with a religious bent.
I have had pastors look me in the eye and tell me. Yes, I know how gracious God is but if I let my people know that message they will abuse it. They will sin more, they will not pay enough offerings, they will be given a license to sin. What they really mean is they will be difficult to control. These pastors are suppressing (holding down) the truth in unrighteousness. There is but one righteousness. It is the righteousness of God imputed because of faith. It is best stated in this passage: Rom 1:5 NASB "through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake," The only obedience that matters to God is believing the report.
Now while the current understanding has those suppressing the truth in unrighteousness as being the so called world, unbelievers that is clearly not Paul's intent in this passage. There is a very interesting phrase in verse 22. It simply says, "professing to become wise they became fools." This is a direct reference to humanity gaining the knowledge of good and evil. The knowledge of good and evil does not give a clue as to the nature of the righteousness of God. If it did, religion would have figured out that God was gracious from the very beginning. After all in Gen 1:31, after creating male and female God said it was very good. That is the first place in the scripture that God declares man righteous because he said so.
Yes, it is hard to believe that God imputes righteousness for faith. Yes, it is hard to believe that one is righteous simply because God has said it. Still that is the gospel (good news.) So, every-time any minister knows about the grace of God, and does not proclaim it loud and clear, he/she is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. This is what the Jews of the first century were doing in Jesus time. They were suppressing the truth in unrighteousness when they denied the gospel and did not believe the report. Think about it. There is no way that those who do not believe the gospel, who are members of the so-called world are suppressing the truth. They are not even thinking about the truth. The do not know the truth, and therefore cannot suppress it.
Only the religious mind that was born of the knowledge of good and evil can suppress the truth. They are the only ones interested in suppressing the truth of the gospel. It is for the fear that some might sin. It is a religious phenomenon and it has unfortunately crept into the church by the leaven of the Pharisees. Pastors, ministers, I implore you. Stop suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.