This past week’s sermon was largely on the topic of God’s wrath and judgment. These are difficult topics. They are difficult doctrines to grasp, both emotionally and intellectually. And that’s okay. It’s no surprise that when sinful, finite human beings try to understand an eternal, sovereign God they encounter things they can’t fully grasp, and even things that offend them.
But if we’re to take the view of God that the Bible gives us (which I’m convinced is accurate), we have to conclude that He is a God of both extravagant, undeserved, sacrificial love AND such perfect righteousness and justice that he judges sin. And if we are going to see this God as worthy of worship, we have to hold these two aspects in tension.
On the one hand, the biblical God is our judge. He sets the standards, he lays down the laws, and he determines the just consequences. And according to God, we have all fallen short of the glory of God, have become enemies of God, and are deserving of his wrath. Now, we might say that we don’t like these terms or that we don’t agree with his judgment. But if God is the judge, it means that we are not, and our feelings, objections, and intellectual struggles don’t have the final say (not that we can’t come to God with them, but they aren’t the final determiner of justice and reality).
And I realize that talking about God in such a way is not popular today. Many people find it offensive; and many Christians want to tone down this picture of God to be more palatable. And I’m not immune to that temptation. But the biblical view of God clearly includes his holiness, hatred of sin, and promise to inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). When people encountered God in the Bible, they fell on their faces in fear and trembling, crying for mercy. This is a vastly different view of God than that espoused by our “Jesus is my homeboy” t-shirts or our belief that God exists merely to give us a good life.
But we must not stop there. God is indeed our judge, but he is also our loving Savior. He came into His creation, and was willingly beaten, spit upon, and ultimately killed in perhaps the most painful method of execution that has ever existed. And all of this by the very people he created. Don’t miss the magnitude of this: the Creator God designed a plan for rescuing his rebellious creation that included Him entering into this world and experiencing the agony and pain of death, but more than that, bearing the full penalty of God’s wrath for our sin.
But to truly see the greatness of this love, we have to first see that he is our rightful judge. If He’s not our judge, and if we don’t deserve his wrath, His salvation is not much to speak of. He’s not really much of a Savior.
It’s precisely because our need is so desperate and our situation so dire that his provision is cause for such joy. God is not merely our helper, someone to assist us when life is tough. God is not merely our therapist, someone to make us feel better when we are insecure. He is not merely our teacher, someone to show us the right way to live. He is our Savior, who rescues us from death and eternal punishment, and brings us into eternal satisfaction and delight!
Which means that our efforts to highlight the seriousness of sin and God’s just judgment of it are not because we want to be needlessly offensive, cause unnecessary shame, or make God as hard to swallow as possible. Rather, these efforts have at two functions:
- We highlight the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment to show God’s grace and love to be as extreme as they really are. God came to earth, in the person of Jesus, and took on himself the full cup of God’s wrath that we deserved. Not only did he go to such an incredible length; he did it for people who had made themselves enemies of God.
- We highlight the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment to amplify our need to embrace Jesus as Savior. It’s no surprise that in church traditions where the doctrines of God’s wrath and judgment are downplayed, there is little evangelism. Why risk respect, friendships, persecution, or even your life proclaiming the gospel if sin and unbelief have only minimal consequences. But if God is judge, and sin leads to death and hell, and yet there is a Savior whose blood is sufficient to not only rescue us from God’s wrath, but bring us into His loving favor and care, then by all means possible, let us run to Jesus.