“God is a god of love, not of wrath!” — “God’s not mad at you; He’s mad about you!”
Perhaps you’ve heard statements similar to these. In our current cultural moment, it’s easy to see why these sentiments are so appealing. Man, in an effort to justify his preferences, lifestyle, or actions, has redefined both the concept of “sin” and the very nature of the God he sins against. We don’t like to acknowledge that the things we love are the very things that God hates. And as a result, those things in life that many once saw as wrong, sinful, or unspeakable—which ought to draw attention to man’s need of salvation—have now been repackaged as right, virtuous, and defensible. God is redefined as one who only loves, only affirms any and every whim of the human heart.
Is it any wonder that Paul exclaims, “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” owing to the fact that “people will be lovers of self,… proud, arrogant,… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:1–5)? Do you see the appearance of godliness in the statements we began with?—“God’s not mad at you; He’s mad about you!”, “God is a god of love, not of wrath!”.
Yet, however godly these may appear, something is off. Something about these statements—though often uttered by well-meaning Christians—does not align with what God reveals to us in his Word.
Paul helps us here…
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom 1:18).
Here is a reality that the hearts of men desperately want to suppress; namely, that God’s wrath is real and directed toward mankind on account of our sins. And as Paul goes on, we discover the essence of mankind’s sinfulness—that which makes our actions sinful.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened… and [they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom 1:21, 23).
Rather than honoring God, giving him the glory due him, we have replaced God with anything and everything else in his creation, most notably with ourselves. We live for the glory of ourselves. And by virtue of this process we have become enemies of the very God whom we have unsuccessfully attempted to dethrone (Rom 5:10; Phil 3:18; Jas 4:4).
As such, his wrath has been kindled against us. In accord with his holiness, righteousness, justice, and passion for his glory, he will repay us according to the wages of our sins. Just as God deserves glory on account of his righteousness, we deserve death (see Romans 6:23) on account of our unrighteousness.
Yet some may suggest that, according to Romans 1:18, God’s wrath is “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”; not against men themselves. It is the idea that God hates the sin, yet harbors no wrath against the sinner. But this is neither valid nor sufficient, as the greater testimony of the New Testament is plain:
John 3:36—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.
Romans 2:5— But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
Ephesians 5:4–6— 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
From these three passages alone, it is clear that God’s wrath is directed toward sinners themselves on account of their sins. His wrath is not merely against the sin in question.
So, why am I obsessed with making this point clear? Why work so hard to prove from scripture that God’s wrath is very much real and aimed at sinful people?
Consider Paul’s words in Romans 5:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom 5:6, 8–9).
What is it that God, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, saves us from? Paul writes that God saves us “from the wrath of God.” He saves us from his very real wrath, which is aimed—rightly—at sinful people. I labor to make this clear because if it is not, then we will struggle to believe that we actually need to be saved. And if a person is not convicted over their sins to the point of repentance and trusting Christ to be saved from the Father’s wrath, they simply will not come to faith.
If we do not allow God’s wrath against sinners to take up its rightful place in our gospel theology, then we will either (1) lull people to their deaths believing that God merely loves them and takes no issue with their sins, or (2) we will disciple believers to be apathetic toward their own sins and negligent in their pursuit of holiness. In other words we will cultivate congregations full of dead faith, hearing but not doing the word, professing faith in Christ, but having no works to speak of (Jas 1:22–25; 2:17). Either way, we promote an inaccurate and unbiblical theology of sin which may lead to eternal death rather than eternal life. And we are guilty before God of leading people away from a fuller, biblical, intimate knowledge of who he is as judge, and a true knowledge of who we are as sinners.
If we are going to suggest that “God is a god of love, not of wrath”, then we will censor the very truth which shows a person his need of salvation. And ironically, we will at the same time dilute the potency of the love of God which we claim to insist upon so adamantly. It is against the backdrop of his wrath toward sinners that his love for sinners leads him to sacrifice his own son for them. As Paul elsewhere so beautifully encourages believers, “God has not destined us”—that is, believers; those saved from the wrath of God through faith in Christ—“for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:9).
Our culture expends untold amounts of energy in arguing against these truths. Yet, the good news of the gospel is not that God is not mad at sinners. Rather, it is that God—being angry at the unrighteousness of men—has lovingly provided a way for his wrath against them to be removed. His love is not shown in excusing, validating, accepting, ignoring, or approving of sin. His love—the proof and substance of his love for you—is shown in the satisfying of his wrath by the spilt blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.
We must not welcome people into Christ’s Church by suggesting that God’s wrath is not against them. Nor must we seek to satisfy God’s wrath through some other means than by the powerful gospel of Christ. Rather, we must preach the glorious news that God has prepared a way to avert his wrath toward sinners by placing it on Christ instead. May we continue to believe that this is so.
- Pray that we each would have the courage to show the glorious news of the gospel to those around us.
- Pray for our students and faculty as they begin classes on Monday.
- Pray for the full funding of The Alex Steddom International Student Fund to support its grantees for the next year.
- Pray for those preparing to speak at Godward Life and for those planning to attend.