Have you ever heard your pastor preach on the wrath of God? In many churches it seems as if preaching on such a topic is a thing of the past. Kevin DeYoung gives an example of the stuff you will even hear from some church goers: “We’re past that fire-and-brimstone, puritanical stuff. The God I believe in is a God of love.” John MacArthur writes that “God’s wrath is almost entirely missing from modern presentations of the Gospel. It is not fashionable to speak of God’s wrath against sin or to tell people they should fear God.”
We feel as if it hurts our witness to preach God’s justice and wrath; so, we choose to preach only on God’s mercy and love. But, as DeYoung phrases it, when “we minimize God’s justice, we do not exalt His mercy, we undermine it.” The oncologist is pained to tell his patient of a brain tumor. He does not enjoy this duty, but imagine the inhumane (easier) alternative. MacArthur asserts that such compromise “does not enhance evangelism; it undermines it.” Our willingness to neglect the doctrines of hell and holy wrath is ultimately not loving, it is a willingness to water down the Gospel, and it is out of line with Scripture.
Scripture’s Insistence Upon God’s Wrath
The biblical presentation of the Gospel includes mention of the wrath of God. The Bible could not be more clear about God’s wrath. It mentions it around 470 times. The adage that God “hates the sin but not the sinner” is simply not true for unbelievers. The Bible states that God hates not just sin, but also unconverted sinners (Ps.5:5).
After Paul’s thesis in Romans (1:16-17), his first premise includes the wrath of God: “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). Paul cannot be accused of being unloving towards his audience, he testifies before God with utmost sincerity that he was willing to even suffer the wrath of God on their behalf (Romans 9:1-5)!
Christ spoke more about the wrath of God and the judgement of God than anyone else in Scripture. He warned, “my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4-5). Ryan Denton writes that, “Hell reveals that God is a sin-avenging judge, not the apathetic grandpa of contemporary evangelicalism. Jesus used the most horrid descriptions imaginable when it came to Hell. Language fails to describe what omnipotent wrath will accomplish against the sinner in hell, yet we must do our best to communicate its realities”
This being said, we must remember to be careful not to blasphemously think of God as cruel or evil in any way. This doctrine ought to lead us to worship our God in seriousness and wonder. Beeke writes that “God’s wrath does not reveal any evil in his being, but his zealous love for justice. There was no divine wrath toward creation in its pristine purity. Only after the fall did God bar the entrance to paradise with the ‘flaming sword of his anger (Gen. 3:24).”
The Eternal Damnation of the Reprobate
We must take it to heart that there are millions of souls who will be tormented under God’s wrath for all eternity (Is.33:14, Mt.25:46, Lk.16:19-31, 2Thes.1:8-9, Rev.14:10-15). Jonathan Edwards solemnly warned:
Do but consider what it is to suffer extreme torment forever and ever; to suffer it day and night, from one day to another, from one year to another, from one age to another, and so adding age to age and thousands and thousands, in pain, in wailing and lamenting, groaning and shrieking and gnashing your teeth; with your souls full of dreadful grief and amazement, with your bodies and every member full of racking torture, without any possibility of getting ease; without any possibility of moving God to pity by your cries; without any possibility of obtaining any manner of mitigation or help or change for the better any way, without any possibility of hiding yourselves from God.
It truly is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Currently we go about our short lives in the midst of countless souls, blind to this reality. There are many around us who are “at rest when they are thus hanging over eternal burnings, at the same time having no lease on their lives and not knowing how soon the thread by which they hang will break, nor do they pretend to know. And if it breaks they are gone; they are lost forever, and there is no remedy!” We must sound the alarm, for “there is a Savior provided who is able to and who freely offers to save you from the punishment.” Let us plead with souls to “flee from the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7). Let us urge the lost to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way…”, and tell them the comforting news that “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12).
Does God’s Wrath Remain on You?
If you have not been born again, I plead with you to consider the wrath of God which currently remains on you. Put all of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: “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” (John 3:36). Please, friend, “flee and embrace Him who came into the world for the very end of saving sinners… who has paid the whole debt due to the divine law and has exhausted the eternal torments in His temporal sufferings… Therefore, believe in Him, come to Him, commit your souls to Him to be saved by Him. In Him you shall be safe from the eternal torments of hell… Through Him you shall inherit inconceivable blessedness and glory which will be of equal duration with the torments of hell. For, as at the last day the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment, so shall the righteous, or those who trust in Christ, go into life eternal.” What is stopping you from turning to Christ? Do not procrastinate, for today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). You are not guaranteed tomorrow.
We proclaim the wrath of God because we love God and we love sinners. Compromising here hides the full picture of the cross, where Christ was crushed under the full force of God’s wrath on behalf of those who believe in him. The cross was simultaneously the greatest demonstration of the love of God and the greatest demonstration of the wrath of God in all of human history. Christ knew that God’s wrath was to be poured out upon him at Calvary. He pleaded in Gethsemane that the cup of the wrath of God would pass from his hands, (Mt.26:39, Ps.75:8, Jer.25:15-16), yet he still went to the cross and agonized for sinners.
The Heidelberg Catechism says that we desperately need a Savior “who is truly human and truly righteous, yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.” Why did our substitute need to be a righteous human being? Because “God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for its sin; but a sinner could never pay for others.” Why did our substitute need to also be divine? “So that, by the power of His divinity, He might bear the weight of God’s anger in his humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.” Since Christ did this for me, I am His forever.
Consider the thousands of anxious Christians, struggling to believe they are loved by God. If only someone would cry out to them that Christ has satisfied the fullness of the wrath of God that they deserve! Consider the loving words of God to His people: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2). ALL of her sins have been dealt with, for “it was the will of the LORD to crush him” (that is, the Christ), in her place (Isaiah 53:10). To know that Christ has done this for you is to never doubt God’s love for you.
Further Application of the Doctrine
Rightly understanding the wrath of God helps us to endure suffering. Not even the worst we will endure is comparable with the past suffering of Christ, the present suffering that we deserve, or the glory that will be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Now, lamenting in times of great pain is a godly thing. Christians are not called to pretend that our problems and our suffering do not exist. We are given the incredible privilege to lament our suffering before God. But honestly, we sometimes resentfully feel like we are entitled to better treatment from God. But the only thing we are entitled to is God’s wrath, which Christ took for us. When we exchange entitlement for gratitude, then we are freed to live more joyfully. Therefore, in the midst of all of the current suffering our nation is enduring, our nonbelieving neighbors ought to be astonished at the songs of praise being lifted up from Christian homes.
Rightly understanding the wrath of God will free you from grumbling about your spouse. Behind such grumbling “is the pride that says, ‘I have the right to a certain kind of spouse or to a certain amount of sexual pleasure and gratification.’ You have no right to anything except judgement for your sins.” Beekes goes on to say that “when you see that you are a hell-deserving sinner, surely you must also admit, ‘I am receiving better than what I deserve.’ And if you have a believer for a mate, no matter how imperfect, you have cause to bless God every day.”
Rightly understanding the wrath of God will help to liberate you from the lust for revenge. Paul writes, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19). Knowing this can also help us not to be envious towards the wicked around us. Beeke writes that “Knowing that God will punish the wicked with sudden and total destruction, we no longer envy their attainments or resent their prosperity (Deut 32:35; Ps. 73:18).” Instead of envious hearts towards them, let us put on hearts of pity and broken-hearted love that lead us to evangelism and acts of kindness.
As Beeke also mentions, rightly understanding the wrath of God will also help us to mortify our sin. In a sense, we should “learn to imitate his wrath precisely because we imitate his love.” As Paul says, we need to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit, (Romans 8:12). We need to have wrath against our sin and detest it.
And finally, as believers in the wrath of God, we can be comforted, for we know that God is not turning a blind eye to all of the abominable injustices which plague our land, but hates injustice far more than we will ever hate it, and we can have additional assurance of the fact that He will make all things right.