One of the major theological problems we have at present in Western mainstream Christian circles is the inability to reconcile two of the attributes of God – His ‘love’ and ‘wrath’. We often see these as mutually exclusive and conclude that they cannot simultaneously describe the character of God. As a result, churches will speak confidently of God’s love (which it should), but either become shy and awkward about God’s wrath or abandon any discussion of this altogether. This causes confusion, leaving many wondering is God a God of love or wrath?
This is not consistent with the teachings of the Bible. God has an array of attributes that describe Him – it is a mistake to elevate any one of these above the others and this can only distort the truth of who God is. Sometimes (especially in other religions) the wrath, judgment and anger of God is the sole focus which removes any concept of love and grace – on the other hand, Christians can be guilty of focusing only on love and grace, thereby removing God’s holiness and justice. In reality, all of God’s attributes work in perfect harmony.
When speaking of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, Paul states:
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3, emphasis added)
The word ‘for’ which we have highlighted is crucial and also appears in many other passages which make the same point – Christ died a substitutionary death on our behalf. In fact, the term ‘first of all’ above is translated ‘of first importance’ is some versions meaning that Paul is stressing this is critical to a correct understanding of the gospel. Jesus Himself states below that He came to give his life ‘for’ the sheep:
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep (John 10:11)
Again, Peter makes the same point where he plainly teaches that when Jesus died, it was the just ‘for’ the unjust – a substitutionary punishment and exchange of positions, Christ on our behalf:
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (1 Peter 3:18)
If Christ didn’t die in our place, to free us from sin and restore our broken relationship with God, what would be the point of the cross? We must be careful not to cheapen what happened on the cross – there was no other way. The reason that Christ died for our sins was to satisfy the ‘wrath’ of God. The Bible couldn’t make this clearer and frequently speaks of God’s wrath – here are a couple of examples:
The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:35-36, emphasis added)
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10, emphasis added)
Notice in the two passages above the terms ‘love’ and ‘wrath’ are both used describing God. There is no conflict here – both attributes work in perfect harmony. There can be no such thing as real love without the willingness to deal with rebellion (or sin) – the concepts of love and grace HAVE to include justice and wrath.
It is very important to stress God’s love and grace to the unsaved, but it is also a serious mistake to remove the concept of God’s wrath, justice and holiness. At best, this distorts God’s character – at worst, it removes the saving power of the gospel. Our God IS a God of love – however, we will all one day face our God when He judges sin once and for all – without accepting the substitutionary work of Jesus we have no hope and are doomed to face God’s wrath.
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:23-25)