Category Archives: Sinfulness
“The great danger is always to single out some aspect or phenomenon of God’s good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of human apostasy [sin], as the villain in the drama of human life. Such an error is tantamount to reducing direction to structure, to conceiving of the good-evil dichotomy as intrinsic to the creation itself. The result is that something in the good creation is declared evil. We might call this tendency ‘Gnosticism’… In the course of history, this ‘something’ has been variously identified as marriage and certain kinds of foods (the Gnostic heresy Paul warns Timothy against in 1 Timothy 4), the body and its passions (Plato and much of Greek philosophy), culture in distinction from nature (Rousseau and much of Romanticism), institutional authority, especially in the state and the family (philosophical anarchism and much of depth psychology), technology and management techniques (Heidegger and Ellul, among others), or any number of things. There seems to be an ingrained Gnostic streak in human thinking, a streak that causes people to blame some aspect of God’s handiwork for the ills and woes of the world we live in.”
—Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans, 2005) p. 61.
Yesterday may family spent the day at the new Civil War museum and driving through various battlefields in Gettysburg. It was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the war and especially the role these rocky battlefields (like Little Round Top) played in the outcome. It was a sobering reminder of the 620,000 young men and boys that died in the war and of haunting sounds that once filled this little town as thousands of men groaned from the pain of battle.
Leaving the battlefields left a sorrow in the heart and a residual question in the mind—what is the eternal purpose of wars like this one?
As we drove from battlefield to battlefield viewing thousands of memorials littered all over what is, in my mind, the worlds largest cemetery, the words of John Piper in his second and final message at the Resolved conference in Palm Springs were ever-present.
In his message on Monday evening—The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth—Dr. Piper said the following:
Every human has died. Animals suffer. Rivers overflow an inundate hundreds of city bocks in Cedar Rapids. Avalanches bury skiers. Tornados suck the life out of little Boy Scouts. Tsunamis kill 250,000 in a night. Philippine ferries capsize killing 800 people in a moment. AIDs, malaria, cancer, and heart disease kill millions. A monster tornado rip through cities. Droughts and famines bring people to the brink, and over the brink, of starvation. Freak accidents happen in ways you would not want to describe. Little babies are born with no eyes, six legs, horrible deformities. That is because of ONE SIN! The universe was subjected to futility and corruption in hope (Romans 8:20).
This is very important for you to answer: Why did God subject the natural order to such horrific realities when nature did nothing wrong? Souls did something wrong. Adam and Eve’s volition did something wrong. The earth didn’t do anything wrong. Why is the earth bursting with volcanoes and earthquakes? Animals didn’t do anything wrong. What’s the deal with this universal subjection to corruption, when one man and one woman sinned one time, and the whole natural order goes wrong? Disorder everywhere in the most horrible ways, a kaleidoscope of suffering in this world, century after century.
Here is my answer—and I don’t know any other possible answer biblically—God put the natural world under a curse so that physical horrors would become vivid pictures of the horror of moral evil.
Cancer, tuberculosis, malformations, floods, and car accidents happen so that we would get some dim idea of the outrage of moral evil flowing from our hearts. Why did he do it that way? Ask yourself an honest question: How intensely outraged are you over your belittling of God compared to the engagement of your emotion when your child is hurt, or your leg is cut off, or you lose your job, or some physical thing happens? Everything in you rises to say, “No!”
How often does your heart say “No!” with the same emotional engagement at your own sin? Not very often. Therefore, what God says, “Alright, I know that about fallen man, therefore I will display the horror of his sin in a way that he can feel.” That’s why Jesus, when the tower fell on the 18, said simply “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” The point of the falling of the tower and killing of 18 people was your moral evil (Luke 13:4). That was the point.
All physical evil has one point—sin is like that morally, we don’t have the wherewithal to feel it appropriately, therefore were going to get some help from the physical order. That’s the point of the world we live in, it’s pointing to the horror of moral evil. O, that we would see and feel how repugnant and offensive and abominable it is to prefer anything to God—and we do it everyday.
Adam and Eve brought the universe into this present horrific condition by preferring their own way and fruit to God. All the physical evil the universe is not as bad as that one act of treason. …
The ultimate reason that there is a new heavens and a new earth is not that there might be new bodies for saints. That’s true. That’s just one of the reasons. The reason there is a new heaven and a new earth is because when God conceived of a universe of material things he conceived of everything: It will be created perfect. It will, by my decree, fall. I will labor patiently for thousands of years with a people recalcitrant showing the depth of human sin and I will at the center and apex of my purpose, send my Son to bear my wrath on my people. And then I will gather a people who believe in him for myself. And then I will return and I will cast all of the unbelievers into hell, which will demonstrate the infinite worth of my glory and the infinite value of my Son’s sacrifice, which they have rejected. And I will renew the earth and I will make my people so beautiful and then tailor this universe for them with this purpose—that when my Son is lifted up with his wounds, they will sing the song of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world in the mind of God who planned it all.
Therefore, be it resolved: We will endure any suffering. We will endure any assault, any slander, any reviling, any disease, precisely because we have a great reward in heaven, namely, Jesus Christ crucified.
-John Piper, sermon transcript, “The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth” taken from the 11:20-19:20 and 44:09-47:00 markers. You can listen to the entire message delivered at the Resolved conference here ( June 16, 2008 ) and you can listen to an earlier version of this message delivered at the Gospel Coalition here ( May 24, 2007 ).
“Feeling sorry for yourself is one of the strongest, most addictive narcotics known to man. It feels so good to feel so bad. Self-pity arises so easily, seems so plausible, and proves so hard to shake off.”
- David Powlison in the newest Journal of Biblical Counseling (Summer 2007, Vol. 25, No. 3) p. 7.
sermon delivered on July 29, 2007
by Pastor Mark Alderton
Sovereign Grace Fellowship
We continue our series on topics that affect our fellowship – our life together – and which are vital to biblical and effective fellowship that builds up the church and the individuals in it. The topic of this message is correction.
Correction is another word for adjustment or changing course. It doesn’t have to be about sin. It can be about improving something like how a team is organized or how a person plays guitar. But the focus of this message is going to be about bringing correction to the sin in our lives, about moving from sin to obedience to God.
There are many, many things that could be said about correction – about methods of correction, about the different levels of correction like counsel, reproof and rebuke, and so forth. Our focus this morning is going to be on one thing: how to give and receive correction for sin in a hopeful and grace-motivated way. We’re going to learn how to speak into one another’s lives about our sin.
Now, most of us are probably not thinking at this point, “How excellent! We’re going to talk about how to confront sin in my life. I’ve been feeling the need to have more correction. Why don’t we have a whole series on this?!”
More likely the idea of correcting one another provokes a feeling somewhere between tolerance and dread, unless you’re hoping that someone else who is hearing this will be more open to your correction after this message.
We generally don’t like correction. We like to get it over with as soon as possible and would be glad to avoid it altogether. It can seem so unfriendly and oftentimes it is brought with sinful attitudes and we respond to it in similar fashion.
Well, by God’s grace we’ll have a more favorable and faith-filled understanding of correction after this morning. Correction does not need to be a bad experience. In fact it should not be. There is a way to give and receive correction in a hopeful and grace motivated way. The Scriptures show us how.
sermon delivered on July 22, 2007
by Pastor Mark Alderton
Sovereign Grace Fellowship
[Along with Rick Gamache, Mark Alderton pastors a church in Bloomington, MN (suburb of Minneapolis). Mark is a very wise brother in Christ and gifted as an excellent expositor of God's Word. This sermon on confessing sin is 'lights out.' Literally! About 20 minutes before the sermon began the electricity went out. Mark continued with the sermon in a dark and hot elementary school gymnasium without any amplification. The manuscript is too good not to post here on TSS. Mark graciously offered this sermon on confessing sin and another for tomorrow on his follow-up sermon on giving and receiving correction. These sermons are a tremendous blessing. Thank you Mark! - Tony]
The topic of this text and this message is confessing sin. Or in other words, it’s about agreeing with God that we have done something wrong; that we’ve either done something he says we shouldn’t do, or failed to do something he says we should do.
We are addressing this topic because we’re in a series dealing with those things that affect our fellowship, our life together as a church. And sin affects our fellowship, especially unconfessed sin, so this is a matter of importance to us.
I don’t know what you think of the idea of confessing your sins to someone or why you would want to do that. I can tell you what I thought of it growing up.
I was raised with the understanding that to be right with God you needed to go every once in a while to a priest and confess your sins to him in a confessional booth. I’m not sure how these appointments were set up – I know I never asked for them. But they were pretty intimidating to me and I thought that I’d better have some pretty bold sins to confess or the priest would think I was hiding something, and I wanted to get through this as quickly as possible.
So I got a list in my mind, and at the confession I’d say sheepishly, “Well, father (that’s what we called the priest) …”
… I got angry with my sister and I hit her
… I hit a golf ball through the house window and lied to my dad that someone threw a rock at it, and…
… I stole firecrackers out of my dad’s dresser drawer and blew up an anthill
Then, if all was right in the world, he wouldn’t ask for too much else, and let me go fairly quickly with an assignment to do some penance to show that my sorrow for my sin was real.
That was my idea of confessing sin. I didn’t like it and I had no idea why I needed to do it other than that it was expected of me.
Now that may not be your exact experience (and I would be glad if it wasn’t because that’s not a biblical model), but you may have some of the same misunderstandings and temptations related to confessing your sins to others.
Perhaps you don’t think you have much sin in your life to confess. Or perhaps you think that your sin is just between you and God and there is no need for others to know. Or perhaps you don’t know about the blessings God promises to those who live a life of ongoing confession of sin.
It’s overwhelming to count the number of Christian books focused on topics not explicitly biblical. Just on church leadership, the most popular books cover keys to increase attendance, tricks to design the best information cards, strategies to station greeters, and checklists for meeting the expectations of church visitors. However, it seems the greater challenge for the Church is excellence where the Bible is clear. Isn’t that what Mark Twain said?
Let me give you two examples.
When was the last time you confessed your sins to another Christian? That’s biblical (1 John 1:8-9). Or when was the last time you humbly received correction? That, too, is biblical (Heb. 3:12-13). Reformatting the information cards can wait.
Now, I’m not saying these two disciplines are easy or popular. They are not. It’s far more comfortable to circle the theological errors in other groups. And when it comes to popularity, publishers know a book on these topics would flop. Confession and correction rub the cat the wrong way. They are too painful to be popular.
Speaking of pain, have you ever stepped on a nail? I mean really stepped on one. Out of the blue, you’re walking along, minding your thoughts and then – silence! – you feel the odd sensation of the nail entering the bottom of your foot. Youch! (My foot just curled in reaction to writing that sentence.) The worse part is the expectation that someone now needs to pull the nail out. (Now my hands, both feet, jaw and forehead are all tense.) I think removing a nail is the most agonizing part of it all. But the nail must come out for healing to begin.
So it is with sin. Spiritual health demands sin be pulled out of our hearts. Despite the painfulness of confessing sin and receiving correction, this is the Christianity once for all delivered to the saints.
How we style the welcome cards is a matter of preference. Whether we confess sin and receive correction is a matter of faithfulness.
Our forefathers understood the depth of remaining sin. As you saw earlier today in the brilliant quote from Horatius Bonar, we may think we sail on a calm and sinless ‘wine dark’ sea. But it only takes an icy blast of trial to awaken the old man and churn the mud of sin – the idolatry, anger, self-centeredness – that remains in our heart. Puritan Richard Sibbes warns us too. Let Rome say she cannot err. But let us who know better be aware of our black hearts and proneness to sin.
The battle of mortification continues throughout our lives. Confessing sin and receiving correction is the appropriate awareness of our sinful condition. Because sin ever remains in our hearts, our confession of sin and openness to correction never ends.
So I invite you to join me this week as we conspire to boot that wicked old man overboard in our seafaring pursuit of holiness.
The icy blast of trial awakens the old man
by Horatius Bonar
We are not at all persuaded that there is so very much evil in us. We do not know ourselves. Our convictions of sin have been but shallow, and we are beginning to imagine that the conflict between the flesh and the spirit is not so very fierce and deadly as we had conceived it to be. We think we have rid ourselves of many of our sins entirely, and are in a fair way speedily getting rid of all the rest.
The depths of sin in us we have never sounded; the number of our abominations we have never thought of marking. We have been sailing smoothly to the kingdom, and perhaps at times were wondering how our lot should be so different from the saints of old.
We thought, too, that we had overcome many of our corruptions. The old man was crucified. It seemed dead, or at least feigned itself to be so in order to deceive us. Our lusts had abated. Our tempers had improved. Our souls were calm and equable. Our mountain stood strong, and we were saying, ‘We shall never be moved.’ The victory over self and sin seemed, in some measure, won.
Alas, we were blind! We were profoundly ignorant of our hearts.
Well, the trial came. It swept over us like a cloud of the night, or rather through us like an icy blast, piercing and chilling us to the vitals. Then the old man within us awoke, and, as if in response to the uproar without, a fiercer tempest broke loose within. We felt as if the four winds of Heaven had been let loose to strive together upon the great deep within us. Unbelief arose in its former strength. Rebelliousness raged in every region of our soul. Unsubdued passions resumed their strength. We were utterly dismayed at the fearful scene.
But yesterday this seemed impossible. Alas, we know not the strength of sin nor the evil of our hearts till God thus allowed them to break loose.
It was thus He dealt with Israel; and for this end He led them into the desert. “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart” (Deu. 8:2). Their desert trials put them to the proof. And when thus proved, what iniquity was found in them! What sin came out which had lain hidden and unknown before!
The trial did not create the evil: it merely brought out what was there already, unnoticed and unfelt, like a torpid adder. Then the heart’s deep fountains were broken up, and streams of pollution came rushing out, black as Hell. Rebellion, unbelief, fretfulness, atheism, idolatry, self-will, self-confidence, self-pleasing – all burst out when the blast of the desert met them in the face and called Egypt to remembrance with its luxurious plenty. Thus they were proved.
Even so it is with the saints still. God chastens them that He may draw forth the evil that is lying concealed and unsuspected within. The rod smites us on the tenderest part, and we start up in a moment as if in arms against God. The flesh, the old man, is cut to the quick, and forthwith arouses itself, displaying all of a sudden much of its former strength. When it was asleep we did not know its power, but now that it has been awakened, its remains of strength appall us.
It is not till the sea is ‘troubled,’ that ‘its waters cast up mire and dirt.’ When all was calm, there seemed naught but purity pervading it, and ripple folded over ripple in the still brightness of its transparent green. But the winds break loose, the tempest stirs its lowest depths, and then all is changed. Thus we see it in the saints. When calamity breaks over them like a tempest, then the hidden evils of their hearts awaken. Sins scarcely known before display themselves. The heart pours out its wickedness. Hard thoughts of God arise. Atheistical murmurings break out and refuse to be restrained.
- Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Taken from The Night of Weeping and The Morning of Joy (Chapel Library) pp. 57-60. Also found in The Night of Weeping: Words for the Suffering Family of God found in The Life and Works of Horatius Bonar CD-Rom (LUX publications: 2004), pp. 36-37.
Could Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God be preached today? This is the question posed to Edwardian scholars Harry S. Stout and Kenneth P. Minkema.
Notice how the discussion in the video veers off into a broader question: Can any graphic sermons on hell be preached today? That seems to be another question altogether. … This has me thinking: How does the rise in horror films and the graphic portrayal of evil on major films influenced the preaching of God’s eternal judgment in our culture? Are the horrors of hell now less real or more real?
Should ‘Sinners’ be preached today? One contemporary of Edwards was the famous hymn writer Isaac Watts (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed”). After reading the text of ‘Sinners’ he wrote: “A most terrible [terrifying] sermon, which should have had a word of Gospel at the end of it, though I think ‘tis all true.” I agree with Watts. Strictly speaking I would not preach ‘Sinners.’ When it comes to explaining the beauty of the Cross, (perhaps) Edwards had the luxury of assuming this reality in his setting. But that is an assumption we cannot make today. Maybe no sermon better sets the groundwork to understand the love of Christ in His willingness to endure my eternal wrath as my substitute who drank the full cup of God’s eternal wrath I deserved. How can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me? But the sermon needs a ‘word of Gospel’ at the end.
‘Sinners’ in the hands of Mark Dever. In October of 2003 Mark Dever preached this sermon to his congregation (Capitol Hill Baptist Church; Washington, D.C.). His introduction is excellent and (from what I am told) the sermon was successful.
‘Sinners’ in the hands of Billy Graham. In 1949 Graham preached ‘Sinners’ and you can listen to some very loud excerpts over at the new online exhibit at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. Here is one …
Debatable. Since we are talking of the famous sermon, I am surprised how frequently writers suggest Edwards is remembered as a preacher of God’s wrath by an over-emphasis on this one sermon — Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God — over his greater corpus of sermons. I recently came across another reference by a very popular contemporary historian of the same opinion. However, apart from this famous sermon, entire books of manuscripts have been assembled with Edwards’ sermons on God’s judgment. One example is Unless You Repent: Fifteen previously unpublished sermons on the fate awaiting the impenitent (Soli Deo Gloria: 2005). Read our review here. Edwards frequently invited sinners to delight in God’s love but also warned them of God’s wrath — a balance modeled by Christ Himself. ‘Sinners’ is just one of many similar sermons.
The sermon itself. I would encourage you to read ‘Sinners’ if you never have (text here). On Wednesday July 8th, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut the scene unfolded like this: “Edwards, who had been building the intensity of the sermon, had to stop and ask for silence so that he could be heard. The tumult only increased as the ‘shrieks and cries were piercing and amazing.’ As Edwards waited, the wails continued, so there was no way that he might be heard. He never finished the sermon. Wheelock offered a closing prayer, and the clergy went down among the people to minister among them individually. ‘Several souls were hopefully wrought upon that night,’ Stephen Williams recorded, ‘and oh the cheerfulness and pleasantness of their countenances.’ Finally the congregation was enough under control to sing an affecting hymn, hear a prayer, and be dispersed” (pp. 220-221). Read more on this sermon in George Marsden’s excellent biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale: 2003) pp. 220-224.
Unbelief is Irrational
It’s not uncommon today for atheists to rise to their pulpits and boldly preach that belief in some god (let alone a specific god) is simply irrational. Dr. K. Scott Oliphant, professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary, disagrees. In a recently published essay he points to Paul’s words in the first chapter of Romans to make his case that unbelief is irrational.
Oliphant’s proposition is this: Unbelief is irrational because, at its core, all sin is irrational. He argues, “Sin is essentially, and will remain, deeply unreasonable, utterly irrational … Given that unbelief is at root the quintessential sin, it is therefore, necessarily, quintessentially irrational” (pp. 59-60). He backs up this proposition exegetically from Romans 1:18-32.
Oliphant begins by pointing to Paul’s emphasis in Romans that all people are covenantally bound to Adam or to Christ, walking under condemnation or justification (Rom. 5:12-21). The first two chapters of Romans are devoted to revealing God’s wrath upon those in Adam. Specifically, God’s wrath is kindled against sinners who “suppress the truth” (1:18).
The act of suppressing divine truth is sinful or “unrighteousness” (1:18). So sin is by nature the suppressing of truth. “In other words, God’s wrath is revealed from heaven because, in our wickedness and unrighteousness (in Adam), we hold down (in our souls) that which we know to be the case” (p. 64)
So what knowledge is suppressed? Paul tells us we suppress the universal truths about God — that He exists, He is infinite, eternal, wise, unchanging, glorious and wise. Far from being a mere intellectual knowledge of God, there is included in this a very personal knowledge of God communicated from His Person to our person. So personal that Paul can write, “they know God’s decree that those who practice such things [sins] deserve to die” (Rom. 1:32). Every sinner that suppresses God’s truth and lives on in sin knows that sin is rightfully punished with death. But this and all truth about God is suppressed. The point is clear: God has spoken so openly and so clearly that every sinner knows these universal truths.
How do sinners suppress divine truth? By exchange. We take the glory of our great God and Creator and exchange His glory for superficial images of reality. The next step is to worship and serve the phantoms of reality we create. The truth of the created order becomes twisted into what we think is right. There is an exchange of the natural for the unnatural, like in the case of homosexual relationships (Rom. 1:26-27). Oliphant writes, “All of us, in Adam, are experts in inventing idols” and later he writes “we only retain that [knowledge] which will serve our own idolatrous purposes” (p. 69, 70). Paul tells us this idolatry – worshiping a false reality — is at the center of unbelief.
Paul then goes on to list all sorts of sins, not just homosexuality, but also unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless (Rom. 1:29-31). Oliphant writes, “All sin, as sin, is rooted in an irrationality that seeks in earnest to deny what is obvious and to create a world that is nothing more than a figment of a sinful imagination” (p. 72).
The sad reality is that for those outside God’s sovereign election, this personal knowledge of God will be drowned out by the noise and passions of the sinful heart. The witness of God’s existence in the heart becomes futile knowledge to an irrational mind. God reveals Himself all around, and blind sinners in Adam respond by suppressing this truth and living in a phantom irrationality.
Paul paints a humbling portrait of all unredeemed sinners. We did not learn Christ because we were more perceptive or less sinfully irrational. God alone opened our eyes. Oliphant says, “The truth that we know – that we retain, possess, and suppress – therefore, is truth that is, fundamentally and essentially, given by God to us. God is the one who ensures that this truth will get through to us. It is his action, not ours, that guarantees our possession of this truth” (p. 66).
This first chapter of Romans is useful to remind believers of our personal sin and irrationality. We are still tempted to live at the feet of a phantom shrine forged in our minds rather than live within reality. And rather than scoffing at the unbeliever, we can look at our own hearts and see where we — as seasoned idolaters! – continue to suppress truth and twist reality in favor of escapism, fantasy and worldly comforts.
But also armed with Paul’s teaching in Romans and brought under the humility of dead sinners raised to life by the power of God, we are prepared to think through apologetics, preaching and personal evangelism. All of our hearers have heard a personal message from a personal God and we are all without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Apparently evidence does not demand a verdict from irrational minds.
Understanding this awful irrationality of the sinful mind will cause us to once again pray like Spurgeon:
“‘Rise up, Lord!’ O God the Father, rise up! Pluck Thy right hand out of Thy bosom, and let Three eternal purposes be accomplished! O God the Son, rise up; show Thy wounds, and plead before Thy Father’s face, and let Thy blood-bought ones be saved! Rise up, O God the Holy Ghost; with solemn reverence, we do invoke Thine aid! Let those who have hitherto resisted Thee, now give way! Come Thou, and melt the ice; dissolve the granite: break the adamantine heart; cut Thou the iron sinew, and bow Thou the stiff neck!”
[This exegesis of Romans 1 can be found between pages 59-73 of P&R’s latest release edited by Oliphant and Lane G. Tipton titled, Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R) 2007.]
The importance of God’s wrath
Yesterday I posted some comments about my gratefulness to Christ for escaping the horrifying consequences of my own sinfulness, namely escaping God’s wrath (see Saved from the wrath of God). Today I want to return to the topic and post from a slightly different angle.
From my perspective – and knowing my own heart — we sinners are apt to forget the gospel. When we become ignorant of the gospel, we make unwise life decisions, bear children ignorant of the gospel, and live in marriages where the Cross is not central (Eph. 5:22-33). It’s to our benefit, humility, and joy to be reminded of Scripture’s emphasis upon the wrath of God poured out towards sinners. This is what Christians have been saved from. The wrath of God is absorbed in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ as our judicious and forensic Savior, and we are never beyond need of reminding.
So why is the doctrine of God’s wrath so important? For starters, the gospel – that the wrath of God resting upon the heads of all sinners, is, in Christ, absorbed when He drank the cup of our condemnation and substitutes Himself for the redeemed – is always in a process of erosion. This is especially true today.
One of the most noted dangers of the New Perspective(s) of Paul is the de-emphasis on Christ as the substitute who absorbs the wrath of God. After citing direct quotations from prominent NPP writer N.T. Wright, T. David Gordon writes, “The enemies and powers defeated by Christ do not (for Wright) include God’s own wrath or judgment … when he explains Paul’s narrative theology, and the cross and resurrection as the center of that narrative, he is entirely right, but when he explains precisely what Christ therein triumphed over, the wrath of God is not among the panoply” [in Gary L.W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters, editors. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification (Crossway: 2006), p. 63].
The point is we are always in danger of forgetting God’s wrath. By sheer volume of Bible references, the wrath of God towards every sinner is the central consequence of our sinfulness. It is central to the work of Christ, central to the gospel, and central to living the Cross centered life.
So in hopes of stirring you up by way of reminder, here is a (short) list of some reasons why the theme of God’s wrath is important:
1. God’s wrath is biblical. The Scriptures are saturated with the wrath of God. Look for yourself. Talking about God’s wrath is nothing but letting the priorities of Scripture become our own priorities. We should be humbled and sobered by God’s wrath, but never silent. God has promised that sinners – all who are sexually impure, covetous, idolatrous, or otherwise impure and unrighteous – will face the wrath of God (Jam. 2:10; Eph. 5:3-6). Those who say otherwise are speaking empty and deceptive words.
2. God’s wrath reveals God. The wrath of God reveals His holiness, envy, perfections, an intense hatred of rebellion, His righteousness, His justice, His power. “I will make myself known among them, when I judge you” (Ezek. 35:11). Soberly, God reveals Himself in the damnation of the wicked. “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:22-23). The beauty of the Cross and the redeemed shines with greater luster when compared to the coming condemnation coming upon the wicked. Until we understand God’s holiness and wrath, we will only have wrong conceptions of Him.
3. God’s wrath reveals who we are. We are sinners. We exchange the glory of God for created things. We happily replace the joy of God for collecting Hallmark figurines, antiques and Beanie Babies (Rom. 1:18-23). We would rather treasure the fleeting things of the world and forfeit our souls (Mark 8:36). We are His subjects, but we do everything in our power to reject Him. We will abandon the natural biological creation to invent our own unnatural means of rebellion (Rom. 1:27). Every act of rebellion stokes the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). If we have become honest with ourselves, we know that we are wrath-deserving, glory-exchanging, sin-pursuing sinners that (apart from Christ) can only expect the eternal wrath of God’s holiness. This is who we are. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the great preachers of the 20th century, writes: “The way to appreciate your own sinfulness is not to look at your actions, nor your life, but to come into the presence of God” (Great Doctrines, 1:72). Step close enough to feel the heat of God’s holiness.
4. Importance of God’s wrath in the daily life of the Christian. To the question, “How are you today?”, C.J. Mahaney has popularized the response: “Better than I deserve.” Try it sometime. The barista behind the counter at Starbucks will give you a very puzzled look. But this will also be a great opportunity to share that an understanding of God’s wrath has made a permanent impact in your heart. So what do you deserve? Do you deserve perfect health? A venti Americano? Comfortable finances? An early retirement? Comforts? Vacations? The Christian knows better. Sinners (of which Christians will be until we see Christ face-to-face and have our sin burned away) deserve the wrath of God. It’s only because of God’s graciousness in the death of His Son that some sinners will be spared. Most sinners will get exactly what they deserve — the undiluted, eternal torment of God’s burning wrath. So why do we get angry when our comforts are disrupted by our spouse or children? Take a look into your own heart and ask: What upsets me? These disruptions are typically rooted in a misunderstanding that we are entitled to something other than wrath.
5. God’s wrath kills self-righteousness. If ever there was a truth that would break a self-righteous sinner like me, it’s the truth that God’s wrath rests upon me eternally if I am uncovered by the righteousness of Christ. My church attendance and good works and kindness and charity are a flick of water into a raging furnace. What can I do to cool the wrath of God? In light of His blazing holiness, what efforts, what works, will extinguish His wrath towards each of my sins? The popular wax gospel of human invention — that God will be pleased with me because I am not as bad as others – melts near the furnace of God’s wrath. Even a great and righteous prophet must pronounce condemnation upon himself in the presence of a holy God (Isa. 6:1-7).
6. God’s wrath exalts the work of Christ. How easily we forget that the searing pain and scorching suffering of Christ can never be pictured by His lacerated back and the holes in His hands, feet and side. These physical pains are only a surface-level visual to the horrors of the Son drinking down the cup of God’s wrath (Mark 14:32-36 with Jer. 25:15-38). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Or to put it another way, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). The Gospel is centered around God’s wrath. For in His anger towards sinners He transferred the wrath from His children onto His only Son and then crushed that only Son. Until we catch a glimpse of the horrors of God’s wrath, we will never begin to see the horror and the beauty of the Cross.
7. God’s wrath motivates evangelism. How can we be quiet? “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). The thought that sinners would rest content in self-righteousness was appalling to the Apostle Paul. All self-righteous sinners, and especially the religious, need to hear the gospel to be saved from the wrath of God. This gospel travels on the wings of preachers sent out with the self-righteous killing Gospel (Rom. 10:1-21). What loosens the mouth to speak the Gospel is a heart that has seen a glimpse of the eternal wrath awaiting sinners (Acts 17:30-31).
8. God’s wrath drives me deep into doctrine. I can only escape God’s wrath if I am justified. So what is justification? Justification is the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to me, whereby God declares me “righteous” and takes my sin and wrath and transfers these upon the account of Christ, whereby He is declared “guilty” and endures the wrath I deserve. By faith, I entrust my salvation alone to Jesus Christ, my sin is atoned, I am declared righteous, I have the hope of eternal life and enjoy peace with God (Rom. 3:9-5:21; Gal. 3:1-14; Phil. 3:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:21). If I am not justified, I am not safe from the wrath of God. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:9). The wrath of God gives significance to doctrines like justification.
9. God’s wrath reveals the beauty of our adoption. We are all by nature sinners and this makes us naturally “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). But now the enemies of God can be reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10). We are more than justified and declared righteous, we are taken into the family of God! Through Christ, our relationship to God radically changes! By faith alone, we come back to our Father in all our filthy sinfulness and He runs to us, grabs us, kisses us, celebrates over us, and calls us His children (Luke 15:11-32). If you are justified, God has taken His judgments away from you and now sings over you with loud singing (Zeph. 3:14-17)! The wrath of God was paid in Christ and through this beautiful Gospel I am now accepted. It’s not because I am good enough or ever will be obedient enough, rather because of His graciousness alone. Every day I can wake up knowing I am a child of God and that will never depend upon my own appeasement of God. Jesus, Thank you!
Jesus, Thank You (song by Pat Sczebel, Sovereign Grace Ministries)
The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me
Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You
By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end
Related: Propitiation is the theological term for the appeasement of God’s wrath in Christ’s substitutionary work for sinners. Theologian John Murray writes, “Sin is the contradiction of God and he must react against it with holy wrath. Wherever sin is, the wrath of God rests upon it (cf. Rom. 1:18). Otherwise God would be denying Himself, particularly His holiness, justice, and truth. But wrath must be removed if we are to enjoy the favor of God which salvation implies. And the only provision for the removal of wrath is propitiation. This is surely the import of Romans 3:25, 26, that God set forth Christ a propitiation to declare His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the ungodly.”