“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Romans 1:18 ESV)
There are few subjects in the history of the human race more feared and less studied than the wrath of God. In our day, the wrath of God is rarely mentioned from the pulpit (or the pew). Instead, most people balk at the idea that God would ever be angry. One theologian at the turn of the century summarizes well our popular view of God: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”
The Bible offers us a view of God that is utterly opposed to the wrath-less God of popular opinion today. References to the wrath of God can be found in nearly every book of the Bible (for a representative sample, see Deut 16:22, Jer 10:24, Amos 5:12, Matt 5:22, Rom 2:5, 1 Thess 1:10, Rev 6:16-17). Together with many other verses, these Scriptures make it clear that God’s wrath is the anger he expresses and executes against sin. Paul tells us in Romans 1:18 that the wrath of God currently is being revealed from heaven. We see his wrath, Paul says, in God’s handing over individuals and even entire cultures to their own wicked ways (Rom 1:18-25). Moreover, in Romans 2:5, Paul testifies that God’s wrath will one day come to full expression in everlasting punishment for sin in hell (see also Matt 25:46).
Therefore, the wrath of God is a terrifying reality. It is too much for us to take in, once we stop to think about it. But since it is a Biblical truth and since it is such a controversial subject, let me offer three items for you to consider as you think about God’s wrath, for his glory and your joy.
First, God’s wrath is not opposed to God’s love. This is how the debate is often framed today; either you reject God’s wrath or you reject God’s love. But the Bible doesn’t present us with these false alternatives. In fact, the Bible teaches us that the very culmination of God’s wrath and God’s love was at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was God’s love that sent Christ to appease God’s wrath against our sin. So God’s wrath and God’s love are not opposed, but are seen in perfect balance when we look to Christ.
Second, God’s wrath should remind us of the seriousness of sin. My sin and your sin provokes God’s holy, just wrath against our willful disobedience. Consequently, sin is no trivial thing. If we keep rejecting God and choosing sin instead, only the fearful prospect of everlasting wrath awaits us (Heb 10:27). As the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us, every sin deserves the wrath and curse of God. When I look at my own life, I am distressed to see how lightly I treat my sin. If only we could grasp something of God’s anger against our sin, maybe it would not seem so enjoyable.
Third, God’s wrath should, paradoxically, cause us to rejoice. We should rejoice in the wrath of God when we see so much injustice in the world. Evildoers seemingly go unpunished. Horrific sins are committed every day and those who perpetrate them seem to live happy, whole lives. But a day of reckoning is coming, when all sin will be judged and God’s wrath will be poured out on all those who have sinned against him. Knowing this should cause us to rejoice, but it should also motivate us to evangelism. We must not rejoice in a self-righteous way that scoffs at sinners. Instead, as fellow sinners who have been saved by sheer grace, let us weep that so many would choose wrath over God’s free offer of forgiveness in Jesus. Let us love our neighbors enough to tell them the truth about God’s wrath.
God’s wrath should also cause us to rejoice in our worship. When we realize how awful is the wrath of God, how much we deserve it, and yet how God has showered his grace upon us instead, it should make worship the sweetest thing in all the universe to us. We who deserve the worst have received the best in God’s son, the wrath-remover (1 Thess 1:10). Because of this amazing reality, our worship should be filled with praise, joy, and awe!
This week, meditate on what you have been saved from—God’s wrath. Be amazed at grace again! Say to yourself, “Imagine! Someone like me, who deserves God’s wrath, is a beloved child of God!” And ask God to bring someone across your path who is still under his wrath, that you might able to tell him or her the greatest news we have ever heard: God is more angry with sin than we can possibly imagine, but he has more grace for sinners who deserve his wrath than we dare to expect.