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December 5, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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In our previous article, we discussed how God’s love and wrath are not in opposition, and how they were displayed on the cross when Jesus died for our sins. The implications for how we live in light of understanding God’s love and wrath are significant.
God’s wrath may likely make us uncomfortable because we’ve missed in some way who God is. God is not equal to His creation. He stands apart from His creation as the author, maker, and sustainer of everything in the universe. God describes His power to Job in a series of questions, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!” (Job 38:4–7 NIV) highlighting His power and sovereignty over all creation.
In order to not be “put off” by God’s wrath, we must place God in His proper place in our hearts and mind. God is God. He created all that exists, and without Him nothing that exists could do so apart from Him. So, when He becomes angry when we sin, rebel, and question His authority, He has every right to because He is God! He truly knows best and, in His infinite wisdom, He knows how His creation ought to be. Yet, we turn away from His wisdom time and time again in our own understanding and in seeking our own glory.
Considering God’s love and wrath has ramifications for how we live out our relationship with God and others. So, here are some points to consider if you find yourself prone to maximizing or minimizing either of the two.
We may become prone to living in legalism. If we believe God is mainly an angry God who punishes sin, and we are righteous for not falling into sin, then pride and self-righteousness may be governing our motives and the way we practice our faith. If we think God is pleased with us because we “never sin,” this may hinder our service and love for our neighbors. Instead of being filled with grace and compassion toward others, our hearts may be filled with condemnation toward others, judging their sins and overlooking our own.
Paul was a Pharisee who once persecuted Christians. In Philippians 3 he describes his accolades and merits, explaining how he believed his self-righteousness earned him favor with God and justified his persecution efforts.
Likewise, if we tend to see God’s wrath as greater than His love and we feel as though we can never measure up to His standards, we may live in constant shame and guilt, fearing that God is angry with us and ready to punish and judge us over any imperfection or sin we commit. This may keep us from drawing near to God for fear of punishment, stifling our relationship with Him and keeping us from experiencing the freedom of His grace.
Peter experienced this after his betrayal of Christ. Heavy-laden with the guilt of his betrayal, in John 21 we read that he goes back to fishing, likely believing he was disqualified from serving God.
For both the self-righteous and shame-filled hearts, there is a need for repentance and reevaluation. To the prideful and self-righteous, the cross reminds us that we all fall short of His perfect standards and need Jesus to atone for our sins. We cannot be made right with a holy God apart from His grace (Ephesians 2:8).
Likewise, to the shameful and guilt-ridden, His perfect love drives out fear and His grace offers forgiveness. And through forgiveness, we’re invited to draw close to Him for He desires to show mercy toward us. Beholding the love of God reminds us we are both sinful and forgiven in Jesus thus melting away our pride and shame.
We may be tempted to downplay the role of sin or unwise habits and behaviors in our lives and in the world while limiting the healthy fear of the Lord that leads to wisdom and righteousness. We can easily commit this error, like Israel, who made a covenant with God and soon forgot to live holy and blameless as He had called them to. “But I have been the Lord your God ever since you came out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me. I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hosea 13:4–6 NIV).
If our view of God’s love overlooks the wrath displayed on the cross, we may believe that because He loves us the way we are that we can stay the way we are. After all, if grace abounds, what is the need for change? Maximizing God’s love at the expense of His holiness and wrath may leave us stagnant in our faith and blinded to our need for transformation. We should take heed of Jesus’ warning to a spiritually-apathetic church when He said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16 NIV).
If God’s love were all-affirming and not at all concerned with our sin, then Jesus would not have commissioned us to go out into the world to make disciples; there would be no need to share the gospel with those who are living apart from Christ. If there were no coming judgement, there would be no need for preaching the gospel to the lost. After Peter’s heart change, he boldly preached the gospel and many believed his message, giving birth to the Early Church (Acts 2).
The solution to this should also be repentance and acknowledging that Christ died to receive the wrath of God that we deserved. God’s holiness must be given more weight in conjunction with His grace. Paul is clear on this when he says, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! . . . Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness” (Romans 6:1–2, 13 NIV).
The gospel is simple: We are sinners who deserve the wrath of God, and because God is loving He made a way for us to be forgiven through His son Jesus. Both God’s wrath and His love are crucial to the gospel message. Overlooking or misunderstanding their importance renders the gospel void of its transformative power.
This final point is a call to live out the truth of the gospel . . .
The gospel is simple and complete. Let’s understand it fully, so we can live it boldly.
Gabriella Silva serves as a volunteer for Calvary’s communications and worship teams. She holds an M.A. in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about integrating her knowledge of human behavior with the truth of God’s word. When she is not writing resources or singing at church, Gabi loves to paint, cook, and enjoy time outdoors with her family and friends.