top of page
6509-the-crucifixion.jpg

Why do we need good news?

‘Unless we know what we need to be saved from, we do not have an adequate understanding of the gospel and cannot truly share the Bible's message with others.’ (RC Sproul)

What is this good news?

The Importance of Hell
Tim Keller

There are plenty of people today who don't believe in the Bible's teaching on everlasting punishment, even those who do find it an unreal and a remote concept. In 2003 a research group discovered 64% of Americans expect to go to heaven when they die, but less than 1% think they might go to hell. Not only are there plenty of people today who don't believe in the Bible's teaching on everlasting punishment, even those who do find it an unreal and a remote concept. Nevertheless, it is a very important part of the Christian faith, for several reasons. 1. It is important because Jesus taught about it more than all other Biblical authors put together. Jesus speaks of "eternal fire and punishment" as the final abode of the angels and human beings who have rejected God (Matthew 25:41,46) He says that those who give into sin will be in danger of the "fire of hell" (Matthew 5:22; 18:8-9.) The word Jesus uses for 'hell' is Gehenna, a valley in which piles of garbage were daily burned as well as the corpses of those without families who could bury them. In Mark 9:43 Jesus speaks of a person going to "hell [gehenna], where 'their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' " Jesus is referring to the maggots that live in the corpses on the garbage heap. When all the flesh is consumed, the maggots die. Jesus is saying, however, that the spiritual decomposition of hell never ends, and that is why 'their worm does not die.' If Jesus, the Lord of Love and Author of Grace spoke about hell more often, and in a more vivid, blood-curdling manner than anyone else, it must be a crucial truth. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says, "Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." He is speaking to disciples, some of whom will eventually be tortured, sawn in half, flayed and burned alive. Yet, he says, that is a picnic compared to hell. Clearly, for Jesus hell was a real place, since he said that after judgment day people would experience it in their bodies. Hell is a place not only of physical but also of spiritual misery. Jesus constantly depicted hell as painful fire and "outer darkness" (Matt 25:30; cf. Jude 6,7,13,) a place of unimaginably terrible misery and unhappiness. If Jesus, the Lord of Love and Author of Grace spoke about hell more often, and in a more vivid, blood-curdling manner than anyone else, it must be a crucial truth. But why was it so important to Jesus? 2. It is important because it shows how infinitely dependent we are on God for everything. Virtually all commentators and theologians believe that the Biblical images of fire and outer darkness are metaphorical. (Since souls are in hell right now, without bodies, how could the fire be literal, physical fire?) Even Jonathan Edwards pointed out that the Biblical language for hell was symbolic, but, he added, 'when metaphors are used in Scripture about spiritual things . . . they fall short of the literal truth." (from "The Torments of Hell are Exceeding Great" in volume 14 of the Yale edition of Edwards works.) To say that the Scriptural image of hell-fire is not wholly literal is of no comfort whatsoever. The reality will be far worse than the image. What, then, are the 'fire' and 'darkness' symbols for? They are vivid ways to describe what happens when we lose the presence of God. Darkness refers to the isolation, and fire to the disintegration of being separated from God. Away from the favor and face of God, we literally, horrifically, and endlessly fall apart. In the teaching of Jesus the ultimate condemnation from the mouth of God is 'depart from me.' That is remarkable--to simply be away from God is the worst thing that can happen to us! Why? We were originally created to walk in God's immediate presence (Genesis 2.) In one sense, of course, God is everywhere and upholds everything. Only in him do we all speak and move and have our being (Acts 17:28.) In that sense, then, it is impossible to depart from the Lord; even hell cannot exist unless God upholds it. But the Bible says sin excludes us from God's 'face' (Isaiah 59:2.) All the life, joy, love, strength, and meaning we have looked for and longed for is found in his face (Psalm 16:11)-that is, in his favor, presence, fellowship, and pleasure. Sin removes us from that aspect of his power that sustains and supports us. It is to us as water is to a fish-away from it our life slowly ebbs away. That is what has been happening to us throughout history. That is why, for Paul, the everlasting fire and destruction of hell is 'exclusion from the presence of the Lord." (2 Thessalonians 1:9.) Separation from God and his blessings forever is the reality to which all the symbols point. For example, when Jesus speaks being 'destroyed' in hell, the word used is apollumi, meaning not to be annihilated out of existence but to be 'totaled' and ruined so as to be useless for its intended purpose. The image of 'gehenna' and 'maggots' means decomposition. Once a body is dead it loses its beauty and strength and coherence, it begins to break into its constituent parts, to stink and to disintegrate. So what is a 'totaled' human soul? It does not cease to exist, but rather becomes completely incapable of all the things a human soul is for--reasoning, feeling, choosing, giving or receiving love or joy. Why? Because the human soul was built for worshipping and enjoying the true God, and all truly human life flows from that. In this world, all of humanity, even those who have turned away from God, still are supported by 'kindly providences' or 'common grace' (Acts 14:16-17; Psalm 104:10-30; James 1:17) keeping us still capable of wisdom, love, joy, and goodness. But when we lose God's supportive presence all together, the result is hell. 3. It is important because it unveils the seriousness and danger of living life for yourself. In Romans 1-2 Paul explains that God, in his wrath against those who reject him, 'gives them up' to the sinful passions of their hearts. Commentators (cf. Douglas Moo) point out that this cannot mean God impels people to sin, since in Ephesians 4:19 it is said that sinners give themselves up to their sinful desires. It means that the worst (and fairest) punishment God can give a person is to allow them their sinful hearts' deepest desire. What is that? The desire of the sinful human heart is for independence. We want to choose and go our own way (Isaiah 53:6.) This is no idle 'wandering from the path.' As Jeremiah puts it, 'No one repents . . . each pursues his own course like a horse charging into battle. (8:6)' (We want to get away from God-but, as we have seen, this is the very thing that is most destructive to us. Cain is warned not to sin because sin is slavery. (Genesis 4:7; John 8:34.) It destroys your ability to choose, love, enjoy. Sin also brings blindness-the more you reject the truth about God the more incapable you are of perceiving any truth about yourself or the world (Isaiah 29:9-10; Romans 1:21.) What is hell, then? It is God actively giving us up to what we have freely chosen-to go our own way, be our own "the master of our fate, the captain of our soul," to get away from him and his control. It is God banishing us to regions we have desperately tried to get into all our lives. J.I.Packer writes: "Scripture sees hell as self-chosen . . . [H]ell appears as God's gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually chose, either to be with God forever, worshipping him, or without God forever, worshipping themselves." (J.I.Packer, Concise Theology p.262-263.) If the thing you most want is to worship God in the beauty of his holiness, then that is what you will get (Ps 96:9-13.) If the thing you most want is to be your own master, then the holiness of God will become an agony, and the presence of God a terror you will flee forever (Rev 6:16; cf. Is 6:1-6.) Why is this so extremely important to stress in our preaching and teaching today? The idea of hell is implausible to people because they see it as unfair that infinite punishment would be meted out for comparably minor, finite false steps (like not embracing Christianity.) Also, almost no one knows anyone (including themselves) that seem to be bad enough to merit hell. But the Biblical teaching on hell answers both of these objections. First, it tells us that people only get in the afterlife what they have most wanted-either to have God as Savior and Master or to be their own Saviors and Masters. Secondly, it tells us that hell is a natural consequence. Even in this world it is clear that self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness makes you miserable and blind. The more self-centered, self-absorbed, self-pitying, and self-justifying people are, the more breakdowns occur, relationally, psychologically, and even physically. They also go deeper into denial about the source of their problems. On the other hand, a soul that has decided to center its life on God and his glory moves toward increasing joy and wholeness. We can see both of these 'trajectories' even in this life. But if, as the Bible teaches, our souls will go on forever, then just imagine where these two kinds of souls will be in a billion years. Hell is simply one's freely chosen path going on forever. We wanted to get away from God, and God, in his infinite justice, sends us where we wanted to go. In the parable of Luke 16:19ff, Jesus tells us of a rich man who goes to hell and who is now in torment and horrible thirst because of the fire (v.24) But there are interesting insights into what is going on in his soul. He urges Abraham to send a messenger to go and warn his still-living brothers about the reality of hell. Commentators have pointed out that this is not a gesture of compassion, but rather an effort at blame-shifting. He is saying that he did not have a chance, he did not have adequate information to avoid hell. That is clearly his point, because Abraham says forcefully that people in this life have been well-informed through the Scriptures. It is intriguing to find exactly what we would expect-even knowing he is in hell and knowing God has sent him there, he is deeply in denial, angry at God, unable to admit that it was a just decision, wishing he could be less miserable (v.24) but in no way willing to repent or seek the presence of God. I believe one of the reasons the Bible tells us about hell is so it can act like 'smelling salts' about the true danger and seriousness of even minor sins. However, I've found that only stressing the symbols of hell (fire and darkness) in preaching rather than going into what the symbols refer to (eternal, spiritual decomposition) actually prevents modern people from finding hell a deterrent. Some years ago I remember a man who said that talk about the fires of hell simply didn't scare him, it seemed too far-fetched, even silly. So I read him lines from C.S. Lewis: Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others . . . but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud. To my surprise he got very quiet and said, "Now that scares me to death." He almost immediately began to see that hell was a) perfectly fair and just, and b) something that he realized he might be headed for if he didn't change. If we really want skeptics and non-believers to be properly frightened by hell, we cannot simply repeat over and over that 'hell is a place of fire.' We must go deeper into the realities that the Biblical images represent. When we do so, we will find that even secular people can be affected. We run from the presence of God and therefore God actively gives us up to our desire (Romans 1:24, 26.) Hell is therefore a prison in which the doors are first locked from the inside by us and therefore are locked from the outside by God (Luke 16:26.) Every indication is that those doors continue to stay forever barred from the inside. Though every knee and tongue in hell knows that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11,) no one can seek or want that Lordship without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3.This is why we can say that no one goes to hell who does not choose both to go and to stay there. What could be more fair than that? 4. The doctrine of hell is important because it is the only way to know how much Jesus loved us and how much he did for us. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says that no physical destruction can be compared with the spiritual destruction of hell, of losing the presence of God. But this is exactly what happened to Jesus on the cross-he was forsaken by the Father (Matthew 27:46.) In Luke 16:24 the rich man in hell is desperately thirsty (v.24) and on the cross Jesus said "I thirst" (John 19:28.) The water of life, the presence of God, was taken from him. The point is this. Unless we come to grips with this "terrible" doctrine, we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him he was experiencing hell itself. But consider--if our debt for sin is so great that it is never paid off there, but our hell stretches on for eternity, then what are we to conclude from the fact that Jesus said the payment was "finished" (John 19:30) after only three hours? We learn that what he felt on the cross was far worse and deeper than all of our deserved hells put together. And this makes emotional sense when we consider the relationship he lost. If a mild acquaintance denounces you and rejects you--that hurts. If a good friend does the same--that hurts far worse. However, if your spouse walks out on you saying, "I never want to see you again," that is far more devastating still. The longer, deeper, and more intimate the relationship, the more tortuous is any separation. But the Son's relationship with the Father was beginningless and infinitely greater than the most intimate and passionate human relationship. When Jesus was cut off from God he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. He experienced the full wrath of the Father. And he did it voluntarily, for us. Fairly often I meet people who say, "I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don't believe in Jesus Christ at all." Why, I ask? "My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin." But this shows a deep misunderstanding of both God and the cross. On the cross, God HIMSELF, incarnated as Jesus, took the punishment. He didn't visit it on a third party, however willing. So the question becomes: what did it cost your kind of god to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this god agonize, cry out, and where were his nails and thorns? The only answer is: "I don't think that was necessary." But then ironically, in our effort to make God more loving, we have made him less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a god like this will be at most impersonal, cognitive, and ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We could not sing to him "love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." Only through the cross could our separation from God be removed, and we will spend all eternity loving and praising God for what he has done (Rev 5:9-14.) And if Jesus did not experience hell itself for us, then we ourselves are devalued. In Isaiah, we are told, "The results of his suffering he shall see, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). This is a stupendous thought. Jesus suffered infinitely more than any human soul in eternal hell, yet he looks at us and says, "It was worth it." What could make us feel more loved and valued than that? The Savior presented in the gospel waded through hell itself rather than lose us, and no other savior ever depicted has loved us at such a cost. Conclusion The doctrine of hell is crucial-without it we can't understand our complete dependence on God, the character and danger of even the smallest sins, and the true scope of the costly love of Jesus. Nevertheless, it is possible to stress the doctrine of hell in unwise ways. Many, for fear of doctrinal compromise, want to put all the emphasis on God's active judgment, and none on the self-chosen character of hell. Ironically, as we have seen, this unBiblical imbalance often makes it less of a deterrent to non-believers rather than more of one. And some can preach hell in such a way that people reform their lives only out of a self-interested fear of avoiding consequences, not out of love and loyalty to the one who embraced and experienced hell in our place. The distinction between those two motives is all-important. The first creates a moralist, the second a born-again believer. We must come to grips with the fact that Jesus said more about hell than Daniel, Isaiah, Paul, John, Peter put together. Before we dismiss this, we have to realize we are saying to Jesus, the pre-eminent teacher of love and grace in history, "I am less barbaric than you, Jesus--I am more compassionate and wiser than you." Surely that should give us pause! Indeed, upon reflection, it is because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus' proclamations of grace and love are so astounding.

david-schrock.webp

The Wrath of God

David Schrock

God’s wrath, in perfect harmony with all of his divine attributes, is the holy action of retributive justice towards persons whose actions deserve eternal condemnation. SUMMARY Despite the disinterest of our secular age and many in the evangelical church, the wrath of God is a deeply biblical truth. It affirms God’s righteous displeasure with sin and his just retribution upon unrepentant sinners. Starting with a short history of this doctrine in America, this essay surveys the Old and New Testaments to think holistically about what Scripture says about God’s wrath. It concludes with a section that considers the importance of this doctrine for the sake of the gospel, theology proper, and Christian discipleship. In our secular age, God’s wrath is a foreign and unwanted truth. Nevertheless, the wrath of God is a theme that runs through the Bible, one Christians must consider to know the God who is love, light, and life. From Jonathan Edwards to Joel Osteen: The Elimination of God’s Wrath from the American Church In the Great Awakening Jonathan Edwards famously preached a sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” The passage is a vivid exposition of Deuteronomy 32:35, which reads, “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.” Focusing on the second line (“their foot shall slip in due time,” KJV), Edwards illustrates the perilous position of the lost. Those without Christ dangle over the flames of hell, like a spider over a flame.1 This kind of preaching ignited revival as it set salvation in the context of God’s holy wrath.2 By contrast, God’s wrath was eliminated from many (or most?) twentieth-century pulpits. Jonathan Edwards warnings against hell have been replaced by Dale Carnegie’s positive message of winning friends and influencing people. Speaking to churches and pastors devoid of God’s wrath, Richard Niebuhr famously described Protestant Liberalism’s gospel: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”3 This indictment highlights what happens when God’s love is divorced from his holiness. Without a clear understanding of God’s hatred for sin, the character of God becomes misshapen and the universe bends towards human individuals—regardless of their character. Love becomes pure affirmation. God becomes a personal friend who assists us in all of life’s difficulties. Robert Schuller’s and Joel Osteen’s television ministries, as well as the panache of the seeker-sensitive movement, eschewed God’s wrath. Instead, they built ministries with the power of positive thinking, which only added to disinterest in this biblical doctrine.4 Enter the twenty-first century, and “expressive individualism” has made God’s love into absolute affirmation of the individual. Even those with more traditional views of God are afflicted by a divine weightlessness that wafts through modern evangelicalism.5 As David Wells has observed, “In all Western cultures, . . . the love of God is welcomed and the holiness of God is given inhospitable treatment.”6 Accordingly, God’s wrath is not a divine attribute fondly received today. Nevertheless, the God of the Bible remains the same, as Nahum 1:2 declares, The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. Despite what is (not) preached from modern pulpits, the Bible is full of language describing God’s wrath. God’s Wrath in the Old Testament Leon Morris states, “There is a consistency about the wrath of God in the Old Testament. It is no capricious passion, but the stern reaction of the divine nature towards evil.”7 In short, wrath is the vengeance God takes towards all forms of wickedness. In the ESV, the word first translated “wrath” is found in Exodus 22:24, as God warns Israel of mistreating sojourners in their midst. If you do mistreat [the sojourners], and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. This verse captures the severity that God takes towards sin. As God warned Adam, “in the day that you eat of this tree, you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Death entered the world through Adam’s one sin (Rom. 5:12). And sin has always brought about the holy wrath of God. Long before the word “wrath” is found in the Bible, therefore, divine wrath is witnessed in human history. Death is God’s punishment upon all sin (Rom. 5:12–21; 6:23), and as Moses reflects in Psalm 90, the brevity of life is a mark of God’s wrath that stands over all humanity. In this way, God’s wrath is a common and inescapable reality in our sin-cursed world. Every cemetery is a testimony to God’s wrath, and every funeral a reminder that eternal death awaits us all, unless we take refuge in God’s wrath-bearer. Until that pivotal day, what we find in the Old Testament is that God’s anger towards sin is real and deadly. Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden (Gen. 3), the cosmic flood (Gen. 6–9), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), the defeat of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea (Exod. 14–15), and the incineration of Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10) are all examples of God’s wrath. Though only Leviticus 10:6 uses a word translated “wrath,” each of these instances display God’s zeal for his holiness. God cannot withstand sin, and while he may delay his justice, he will not deny his holiness. And thus, through divine intervention and secondary agents (e.g., the army of Assyria in Isaiah 10), God’s wrath will be vented fully. Importantly, God’s wrath is never hasty or disconnected from his other attributes.8 As Exodus 34:6–7 states, Yahweh is “slow to anger.”9 Such patience is another aspect of his divine glory and one that extols his wisdom to know when to be patient and when to act in justice. Indeed, God’s slowness to anger should be taken as motivation for repentance (Joel 2:13) and never a denial of his justice. For Exodus 34:7 goes on to say, “for he will not clear the guilty” (cf. Num. 14:18). From Genesis to Malachi we find a consistent testimony of God’s wrath against sin. This was true in all nations and in all periods. While God passed over the sins of his people (Rom. 3:25), there is a consistent testimony to God’s wrath, one that carries over into the New Testament. God’s Wrath in the New Testament Some have argued the New Testament God is wholly loving, in contrast to the Old Testament God who is wholly vengeful. Such a Marcion-like division of Scripture, however, does not match the biblical data. From the ministry of John the Baptist to the wrath of the Lamb in Revelation, the theme of God’s wrath pervades the New Testament—and in many respects, it exceeds the judgments of the Old Testament. For instance, Acts 10:42–43 provides a striking reminder of how the Old Testament promised a savior and the New Testament warns of judgment. As Peter recalls, “[Christ] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Peter’s words indicate how Christ fulfilled all the prophetic promises and warn of a judgment to come (cf. Rom. 2:16). This promise of future judgment runs through the New Testament and serves as a backdrop for the message of salvation. Indeed, salvation according to Christ and the Apostles is a salvation from God’s wrath, which means that wrath continues to be a prominent feature in the New Testament witness. Consider three ways this is so. First, Jesus came to save his people from God’s wrath. John the Baptist warned of this “wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:7) as he prepared the way for Christ. Likewise, Jesus regularly spoke of God’s wrath when he described the conditions of hell—e.g., the “hell of fire” (Matt. 5:22), the “eternal fire” (Matt. 18:8), and a place where “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). In John 3:36, salvation in the Son is set in direct contrast to God’s wrath: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” From Jesus’s own lips, we can see why Peter said that Christ “commanded us to preach” about God’s judgment (Acts 10:42). Second, the rest of the New Testament is equally committed to speaking of God’s wrath. While some scholars have explained God’s wrath in passive and impersonal terms—i.e., men like C. H. Dodd limit God’s wrath to his “giving over” of sinners to a depraved mind (see Rom. 1:24, 26, 28)10—such a truncated view of God’s wrath denies the emphasis Paul and others speak of God’s personal judgment. From Romans itself, J. I. Packer makes the point that God’s wrath is his “resolute action in punishing sin.”11 Presently, God’s wrath is revealed in the way idolaters are handed over to sin and its corruptions (1:18, 24, 26, 28). Then, as it relates to salvation, God’s wrath awaits the future day of judgment (2:5, 8; 5:9). Going further, Romans 3:5–6 defends the righteousness of God’s wrath and his justification of the ungodly (Rom. 3:21–26; 4:5). In the gospel message, God propitiates his wrath by means his personal provision: As John Stott wonderfully puts it, the cross centers on God’s “divine satisfaction through divine substitution.”12 Moreover, Romans 4:15 explains how lawbreaking invites God’s wrath. Romans 9:23 describes “vessels of wrath” who will experience eternal destruction. And Romans 12:19 motivates trust in God by recalling God’s vengeance and future wrath. In all these ways, Romans, a letter dedicated to explicating the gospel, presents a full portrait of God’s wrath. The rest of Paul’s letters also present God’s wrath as the backdrop to his message of grace (e.g., Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1Thess. 1:10). Likewise, Hebrews speaks of God’s wrath, as it contrasts Israel’s wrath-inducing unbelief with the enduring faith of new covenant believers (see Heb. 3:11; 4:3). Most dramatically, Revelation assigns God’s wrath to Jesus Christ. Described as the “wrath of the Lamb” (6:16; 14:10), we discover that in the final account, it will be Jesus who executes God’s judgment (cf. John 5:22, 27; 9:39; 17:2). As we finish our survey of the New Testament, therefore, we are left in full agreement with R. V. G. Tasker, who concludes, These are sayings of terrible severity, but they are just as much part of the revelation of God made known in Christ Jesus as those sayings and deeds of the Master which so conspicuously display the divine love and mercy. To thrust these severe sayings on one side and to concentrate attention solely upon passages of the Gospels where the divine Fatherhood is proclaimed is to preach a debilitated Christianity, which does not and cannot do what Christ came into the world to do, viz. save men from the wrath to come.13 God’s Wrath in Theological and Practical Application From this survey, we are ready to define what wrath is and what it is not. First, the negative. Wrath is not a pagan idea assigned improperly to God. Scripture has “nothing to do with pagan conceptions of a capricious and vindictive deity, inflicting arbitrary punishments on offending worshipers, who must then bribe him back to a good mood by the appropriate offerings.”14 Neither is divine wrath anything like an “irrational temper,” where God looks like Anger, the red-faced cartoon from Inside-Out. Biblically-speaking, divine wrath is the right and righteous response of God to sin. Put positively, wrath, in perfect harmony with all of his divine attributes, is God’s holy action of retributive justice towards persons whose actions deserve eternal condemnation. God formed humanity to bring him glory. Yet, because we rebelled against his holy standard, the perfect judge of the universe has declared he will pour out his wrath upon those who have sinned against him without repentance or faith in his Son. Truly, the wrath of God is not the main message of the gospel, but the biblical gospel cannot be understood apart from it. On the cross, God the Son bore the full weight of divine judgment, even as he volunteered himself—in eternity and time—to drink the full cup of God’s wrath (Psa. 75:8). As we learn from his prayers in Gethsemane, there was no other way for wrath to be removed, but through his death on the cross (Matt. 26:39, 42). For all those who trust in Christ, this punishment is removed. For those who refuse Christ, God’s wrath remains (John 3:36; Rom. 2:6). At the final judgment, God will separate those for whom Christ bore their wrath from those whom will bear the punishment themselves. Still, the eternal realities of heaven and hell can only be understood with a proper understanding of God’s wrath. Even more, the nature of God himself and his divine love is revealed through in his wrath. In other words, God’s love is a pure and holy love, and just as God calls his people to hate evil (Psa. 97:10; 101:3; Amos 5:15; Rom. 12:9), so God hates evil (Psa. 5:4–6; 11:4–7). God’s wrath magnifies the holiness of his love. Whereas love in our modern culture is regularly devoid of any moral standard; God’s love is actually defined by hatred towards sin and the gift of his Son to propitiate his wrath (1Jn. 4:10).15 Similarly, the mercy of God is seen only in its relief of God’s wrath. In other words, mercy defined biblically is more than God’s generic pity for the poor and needy. Without denying common grace, God’s mercy, as expressed in the gospel, is what declares the wicked righteous by means of Christ’s wrath-bearing sacrifice. Paul defines the gospel as “the mercies of God” (Rom 12:1), which he takes eleven chapters to explain (Rom. 1:18–11:36). And critically, the gospel is the good news which resolves the problem of God’s wrath.16 Finally, God’s wrath generates wisdom and praise when we understand the fullness of God’s justice and mercy. In Psalm 90, Moses finds understanding when he considers the wrath of God. And in Revelation, John recounts the smoke of God’s judgment upon the wicked. Remarkably, instead of inviting the forced applause, the wrath of the Lamb evokes endless praise in the people of God. Therefore, we will let the great multitude of God’s redeemed have the final word about God’s righteous wrath, as they teach us to embrace this doctrine and not reject it. 1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (Rev. 19:1–3). FOOTNOTES 1The full quotation reads, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousands times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.” `Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Peabody, 2000), 10. 2An isolated reading of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” does not capture Edwards’ obsession with heaven and the beauty of God’s glorious grace. Citing John Gerstner, Justin Taylor rightly corrects the notion that Edwards had a morbid fascination with God’s wrath: “What most of us don’t know is that while ‘Edwards did know his hell . . . he knew his heaven better.’” “Introduction,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 15. 3H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), 193. 4Schuller, Osteen, and other purveyors of positive thinking go back to Norman Vincent Peale and his 1956 book The Power of Positive Thinking. 5David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 88–117. 6David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 121. 7Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd Rev. Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 150 8It’s worth acknowledging at this point, that any time we speak about one attribute of God we are liable to misrepresentation because God’s nature cannot be divided into various attributes. For example, to speak of “balancing” God’s wrath with his mercy applies materialistic language to a God who is Spirit. It applies quantitative language to a God who is simple. Alas, our analogical speech poorly reflects the manifold perfections of God. 9In addition to Exod. 34:6–7, see Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Jer. 15:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nah. 1:3. 10Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 184. 11J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 154. 12 John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986) 159. More fully, he states, “Divine love triumphed over the divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice. The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy.” 13R. V. G. Tasker, The Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God (London: Tyndale: 1957), 36. Cited by Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 183n1. 14Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 148. 15On the relationship between love and wrath, see Tony Lane, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” 159–67. 16Romans 1:18–3:20 identifies God’s universal wrath as the problem which God satisfies through his self-propitiation in Christ, described in Romans 3:21–26. Cf. D. A. Carson, “Atonement in Romans 3:21–26” in The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 119–21. FURTHER READING A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Swengel, PA: Reiner, 1968). Tony Lane, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” in Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God, Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 138–67. Leon Morris, The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment (Inter-Varsity, 1960; Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006). Leon Morris, “The Wrath of God in the Old Testament, in The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 147–54. Leon Morris, “The Wrath of God in the New Testament, in The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 179–84. Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” J. I. Packer, “The Wrath of God,” Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 148–57. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Revised and Expanded (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1998). John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986). R. V. G. Tasker, The Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God (London: Tyndale: 1957). Available online by PDF. David Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014). This essay is part of the Concise Theology series. All views expressed in this essay are those of the author.

- Who is God? - God’s Kingdom - Who are we? - The problem of sin - God’s mercy and grace - Our response - New life in Christ Who is God? (1) God is our Creator. He is unique, true, personal, loving, holy, righteous, and just. Ps 145, Ps 119:137-138 (2) God is perfect, magnificent, higher and superior to anything there is in His creation. Isa 6:1-5 (3) God created all things for His glory. Rev 4:11 God’s Kingdom (4) In and through Jesus, God, the king, is coming in a new way into the world to establish his saving rule. First, in the hearts of his people and in their relationships by triumphing over sin, Satan, and death. Then by the exercise of his reign, gathering a people for himself that live as citizens of the kingdom. Then Christ returns and completes the reign by destroying all corruption and establishing a new heavens and a new earth. Ps 103:19, Mat 6:10, Mat 13:24ff, Heb 2:5ff, Rev 11:15-19, Rom 8:21, Rev 21:1-8 Who are we? (5) God created us in his image with dignity, worth, and value, for His glory. Gen 1:27, Is 43:6b-7 (6) God requires us to live in obedience and worship Him exclusively. Gen 2:16-17, 1Cor 10:31, Rom 1:21-23 The problem of sin (7) But we have all failed to do this. We are all wilfully sinful and this separates us from God. Rom 3:10-12, Rom 3:23, Eph 4:18, Col 1:21 (8) One day God will judge everyone according to what they have done and execute perfect justice. Rom 2:5-11 (9) Sin is so serious that sinners deserve eternal punishment, and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Mat 25:46, Mar 16:16, 2Th 1:9, 2Ti 1:9 God’s mercy and grace (10) But, because He loves us, God sent his only Son Jesus Christ into the world to provide for sinners the way of eternal life. Joh 3:16-18 (11) Jesus suffered the wrath of God to atone for the sins of the whole world so that those who trust in Him might be forgiven and reconciled to God. 1Pe 3:18 (12) Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the ultimate vindication of the truth of these claims. Rom 1:4 Our response When we are convicted by the Holy Spirit of our sin, the righteousness of Jesus, and the judgement to come (Joh 16:8-11) then we: (13) Repent Turn away from our sinful, selfish thinking and behaviour towards God’s way - worshipping Him alone, knowing and doing His will, loving Him and loving everyone. Act 11:18 (14) Believe That Jesus atoned for our sin by taking our punishment on the cross. Joh 3:18 (15) Are baptised Baptism is an urgent and essential act of righteousness following repentance and a desire for forgiveness. Act 8:36-37, Mat 3:15-17, Act 22:16 Baptism signifies union with Christ and membership of His body, the Church, through spiritual rebirth. 1Cor 12:13, Joh 3:5-6 Immersion in water signifies burial of the old life, washing away our sins, and resurrection to new life, being clothed by Jesus through faith in Him. Col 2:11-12, Rom 6:3-4, Gal 3:26-27, Eph 4:24 (16) Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit The Spirit empowers us, enables intimacy with God, helps us be effective witnesses and live this new life of abundant peace, joy, and freedom that we could never experience without Him! Act 2:37-38, Joh 14:26, Act 1:8, Act 6:10 New life in Christ Eternal life is a free gift to all who repent and trust in Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Mar 16:16, Eph 2:8-9 (17) This new life brings: -Peace with God, peace with ourselves and peace with everyone. Joh 14:27, Rom 5:13, Rom 12:18 -Faith. Mar 11:22-24 -Forgiveness of sins. Luk 24:47 -A personal relationship with Jesus. Joh 17:20ff, Php 3:8 -A personal counsellor. Joh 14:16-17 -A new mind. Joh 3:6, Rom 12:2 -Freedom from the law’s curse. Rom 8:1-4, Gal 3:13, Rom 6:14, 22 -A life of repentance, love, and obedience. Joh 14:21 -A living hope. 1Pe 1:3b -Joy unspeakable. 1Pe 1:8b -A new purpose. Php 2:13, Rom 12:2 -Fruitfulness. Gal 5:22-23a

'For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God...' 1Pe 3:18

 

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy. Act 9:20; 1Th 4:14; Col 2:15; Joh 3:18; Ps 16:11

What does the New City Catechism say?

- Why did God create us? - How can we glorify God? - What does God's law require? - What is sin? - Will God allow sin to go unpunished? - What does Jesus save us from? - How can we be saved? - What does God save us for? ​(4) Why did God create us? God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory. Gen 1:26-28; Col 3:10; Eph 4:24. (6) How can we glorify God? We glorify God by enjoying him, loving him, trusting him, and by obeying his will, commands, and law. 1Cor 10:31; Rom 11:36; Ps 73:25-28 (7) What does God’s law require? Personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience; that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbour as ourselves. What God forbids should never be done and what God commands should always be done. Mat 22:37-40 (16) What is sin? Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law—resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation. Ex 34:7; 1Joh 3:4; Isa 65:17 (18) Will God allow sin to go unpunished? No, every sin is against the sovereignty, holiness, and goodness of God, and against his righteous law, and God is righteously angry with our sins and will punish them in his just judgment both in this life, and in the life to come. Rom 6:23; Eph 5:6 (28) What happens after death to those not united to Christ by faith? On the Day of Judgment, those not united to Christ will receive the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them. They will be cast out from the favourable presence of God, into hell, to be justly and grievously punished, forever. Rom 2:15-16; Mat 25:41-43; Luk 16:24,26; Joh 3:36; 2Th. 1:8-9, Rev 20:14-15 (29) How can we be saved? Only by faith in Jesus Christ and in his substitutionary atoning death on the cross; so even though we are guilty of having disobeyed God and are still inclined to all evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of our own but only by pure grace, imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ when we repent and believe in him. Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5-7 (Intro) What does God save us for? Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever. Rom 11:36; 1Cor 10:31; Ps. 73:24-28; Joh 17:21-23.

bottom of page