What is God like? If you ask the average Christian to tell you about God, what is the first thing they will tell you? God is love! Is that true? Yes, it is absolutely the truth:
1 John 4:8 (NASB) The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
1 John 4:16 (NASB) And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
To say that God is love is the truth, but is it the whole truth? No! Love is one attribute of God, but He has many others: holiness, mercy, grace, justice, omniscience, immutability, sovereignty, and on and on we could go.
God's attributes are His characteristics, excellencies, or qualities exercised visibly in His work of creation, providence, and redemption. We call them attributes, not because we add them to the essence of God, but rather because they inhere in Him. They were and ever will be His. They tell us something about God's substance, His invisible essence.
Apart from an objective standard, we can make God to be anything we want. What is our objective standard? The Bible! The Bible is the self revelation of God. If we are going to know God, we must learn of Him from the Scriptures. The problem is that most everyone believes in a "god" of their own invention. They have made up a "god" that they are comfortable with - a "god" who is only love. He loves everybody and puts up with everything. He's just a nice gentle old man! This is not the God of the Bible!
Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.
Is it right for us to pick out one attribute that we like about God and reduce Him to that attribute only? No, when we do this we have created a God of our own liking. This is idolatry! Believing the wrong thing about God is idolatry. When we think of idolatry, we think of somebody in a mud hut with a little god on his table that he bows down to. Or we think of a pagan temple, very elaborate and ornate with a lot of people burning incense. But idolatry is much broader than that. Idolatry is simply thinking something about God that is untrue of Him. It is postulating anything about God that is not right. In its fullest stage, it is creating a god. In its secondary stage, it is making the God who is into something that He isn't. And maybe in its third level, which even Christians are guilty of, it is thinking thoughts about God that are untrue of Him.
Psalms 50:21-22 (NASB) "These things you have done, and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you, and state the case in order before your eyes. 22 "Now consider this, you who forget God, Lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.
Are you like Israel in this passage in Psalms--do you think God is like you? Do you think of God as an errand boy, a cosmic, doting old Grandpa; a gentleman who wouldn't hurt a flea. Does your God dismiss sin? Is your God at the mercy of Man or Nature? Is your God too small?
People, God is not like us. He is holy:
Isaiah 6:3 (NASB) And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory."
To be holy is to be distinct, separate, in a class by oneself. As Sproul puts it:
The primary meaning of holy is 'separate.' It comes from an ancient word that meant, 'to cut,' or 'to separate.' Perhaps even more accurate would be the phrase 'a cut above something.' When we find a garment or another piece of merchandise that is outstanding, that has a superior excellence, we use the expression that it is 'a cut above the rest.' R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985), page 54
This means that the one who is holy is uniquely holy, with no rivals or competition.
When the Bible calls God "holy," it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be "other," to be different in a special way. The same basic meaning is used when the word "holy" is applied to earthly things.
The God of the Bible does as He pleases, He accomplishes what He sets out to do, no plan of His is thwarted by the whims and decisions of mankind. He is wrathful against our rebellion, yet loving beyond our imagination. In one of the most concise and profound statements ever written on the subject of God, A W. Pink said:
The 'god' of this twentieth century no more resembles the Supreme Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. The 'god' who is now talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday School, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible conferences, is the figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality. The heathen outside of the pale of Christendom form 'gods' out of wood and stone, while the millions of heathen inside Christendom manufacture a 'god' out of their own carnal mind. In reality, they are but atheists, for there is no other possible alternative between an absolutely supreme God, and no God at all. A 'god' whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purpose is checkmated, possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship, merits naught but contempt." (Attributes of God)
God's holiness is linked to His righteousness and justice. The righteousness and justice of God is that aspect of God's holiness manifested in His treatment of His creatures.
Psalms 97:2 (NASB) Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
God is holy and just, and He must punish sin. Even the slightest sin defies the authority of God, insults His majesty, and challenges His justice. Because of our sin, we all deserve God's WRATH according to:
Romans 1:18 (NASB) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
God does not hide His wrath. He reveals it, that is, He discloses it, brings it to light, makes it known. He expresses it, not in violent, uncontrolled explosions, but nevertheless by definite, observable acts. Whenever it is expressed, it is always against ungodliness and unrighteousness. Ungodliness involves irreverence, impiety, and blatant disregard for His will. Unrighteousness involves any kind of wickedness, wrongdoing, or injustice. In other words, God's wrath, unlike ours, is always expressed against sin.
You see, believer, the only thing we deserve is wrath; the only thing God owes us is wrath. If we really understood the depth of our sin and the holiness of God, we would thank God every day that He hasn't killed us.
Churcheanity is so lopsided on the issue of love that we have decided that God must love everybody! And if He doesn't love everybody, then He can't be our God. I think that most of churcheanity believes that they are worthy of God's love and goodness. People actually think that God owes them. In this twisted view, God is the debtor, and man is the creditor.
If God loves all men, it is strange that God sends some to hell as soon as they die. God loves some men to death? Loves them to everlasting torment? There is something wrong here. Either God loves man and will not send him into the furnace of His eternal wrath, or He sends him into His eternal wrath, because He does not love him.
Most people do not want to think of God's wrath at all, preferring to think and speak only of God's love. Those who do believe God is a God of wrath as well as a God of love prefer to think of His wrath in the past tense. Many seem to believe God's wrath is an Old Testament truth, and that with the coming of Christ, we are now safe to think only in terms of God's love. This is wrong thinking about God.
A. W. Pink observes:
It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight; they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God's wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.
Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God's wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Swengel Pa.: Reiner Publications, 1968 [Reprint]), p. 75.
The wrath of God is a prominent truth in the Scriptures. A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.
If we are going to discuss the wrath of God, we must first define it. What is God's wrath? First, we must understand that God's wrath is not like ours. Wrath to us may suggest a loss of self-control, an outburst which is partly, if not wholly, irrational. God's wrath in the Bible is never capricious, self-indulgent, or irritable. God's wrath in the Bible is always judicial. It is the wrath of a judge administering justice. Each person gets exactly what he deserves.
Wrath denotes God's resolute action in punishing sin. It is the active manifestation of His hatred of irreligion and moral evil. God is Holy, and His holiness demands that He not tolerate unholiness.
The Wrath of God in the Old Testament
Dr Leon Morris says of the Old Testament in his The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross: "There are more than 20 words used to express the wrath conception as it applies to Jehovah" and "these are used so frequently that there are over 580 occurrences to be taken into consideration" [p 131]. He adds that this conception "cannot be eradicated from the Old Testament without irreparable loss" [p 156]. So the Old Testament is full of the concept of the wrath of God.
The Old Testament not only speaks of God's wrath as one of His attributes, it speaks of His wrath as a part of God's glory:
Exodus 33:18-23 (NASB) Then Moses said, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!" 19 And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." 20 But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" 21 Then the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 "Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen."
Exodus 34:5-7 (NASB And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. 6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations."
God's glory is intrinsic - we don't give it to Him. It is His by virtue of who He is. If neither men nor angels were ever created, God would still be a God of glory. God's intrinsic glory is the manifestation of His attributes. When we see His attributes, it causes us to give Him glory - praise and adoration.
God's wrath brings Him glory. It is not an embarrassment to Him. He need never be ashamed, like men, for losing His temper. God's wrath is inseparably linked with His glory. God brings glory to Himself when He exercises His wrath.
God's wrath is provoked when men rebel against His Word. After God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He gave them His laws to guide and govern their conduct so they might be a holy people in whose midst He would dwell. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God described the blessings that would result from obedience to the covenant He made with them at Mount Sinai. Verses 15-68 provide a much more extensive and graphic description of His judgment as a consequence of breaking this covenant. In the context of Deuteronomy 28, it is clear that Israel will not keep His covenant and that they will be judged. God will not tolerate sin among His people any more than He will tolerate it in others. The Israelites were destined to drink deeply from the cup of God's wrath.
Numerous instances can be seen in the Old Testament where God's wrath is demonstrated. In Numbers 16, God's wrath is poured out on Korah, Dathan, Abiram and some 250 others who rebelled against Moses as God's appointed leader:
Numbers 16:28-35 (NASB) And Moses said, "By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing. 29 "If these men die the death of all men, or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 "But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD." 31 Then it came about as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground that was under them split open; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah, with their possessions. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their outcry, for they said, "The earth may swallow us up!" 35 Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.
Korah, Dathan, Abiram and all those who followed him experienced the wrath of God in a way that had never happened before in history--the ground opened, swallowed them, and then closed over them. God thereby made it clear that Moses and Aaron were His appointed leaders, and at the same time demonstrated His righteous wrath upon those who rebelled against Him and the leaders whom He appointed.
In Old Testament times, God not only displayed His wrath toward rebellious Israelites, He also demonstrated His wrath against wicked pagans. He destroyed the inhabited earth by means of the flood (Genesis 6-9). He also destroyed the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). And after the exodus, He employed the nation Israel to destroy the wicked Canaanites for their sin, just as He had indicated earlier to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16):
Deuteronomy 7:1-5 (NASB) "When the LORD your God shall bring you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and shall clear away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, 2 and when the LORD your God shall deliver them before you, and you shall defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. 3 "Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4 "For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you. 5 "But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.
Deuteronomy 7:16 (NASB) "And you shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.
The Israelites were to be the instrument of God's wrath toward these Canaanites. They were to show no mercy. They must not allow any of the Canaanites to live. This was for Israel's own good. If allowed to live, the Canaanites would most certainly intermarry with the Israelites and also teach them to sin, duplicating the very sins for which God was pouring out His wrath upon them.
The Wrath of God in the New Testament
Those willing to accept that God is a God of wrath are sometimes eager for the wrath of God to be viewed as primarily an Old Testament matter that is no longer a threat for those who live today. They like to think that with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the subject of wrath is largely a matter of past history. But this is simply not the case.
Malachi 3:6 (NASB) "For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.
Since John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, we almost expect him to speak of divine wrath. But when John spoke of the wrath to come, he did so in relationship to the coming of the Christ. According to John's teaching, divine wrath was related to the coming of Messiah in two ways. First, he spoke of Messiah coming to experience the wrath of God. Second, John spoke of Messiah as the One who would execute the wrath of God.
When John the Baptist first saw Jesus and recognized Him as the Messiah, He spoke of Him as the Sin-bearer who was to experience God's wrath as the "Lamb of God."
John 1:29 (NASB) The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
The expression, "the Lamb of God," to which John referred has a rich Old Testament background. There was the "Passover lamb," sacrificed at the time of Israel's exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12), which was a type of our Lord (see 1 Corinthians 5:7). The "Lamb of God" described by Isaiah is clearly a reference to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. This prophecy speaks of the suffering of the Messiah as the Sin-bearer, the One on whom the sins of the world are laid and thus on whom the wrath of God is poured out.
Our Lord's greatest suffering came because He was the object of the Father's wrath. The great agony of our Lord is seen in these words recorded in the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 22 and then spoken by our Lord as He hung upon the cross:
Psalms 22:1 (NASB) My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
One of the most beautiful truths of the Bible for the sinner deserving God's wrath is summed up by the theological term, propitiation. Propitiation speaks of the satisfaction of God's holy wrath.
Romans 3:24-26 (NASB) being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
In a chapter entitled, "The Heart of the Gospel," J. I. Packer has this to say about propitiation in the context of his comments on Paul's teaching in Romans 3 and 5:
The wrath of God against us, both present and to come, has been quenched. How was this effected? Through the death of Christ. 'While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son' ([Romans] 5:10). The 'blood'--that is, the sacrificial death--of Jesus Christ abolished God's anger against us, and ensured that His treatment of us for ever after would be propitious and favourable. Henceforth, instead of showing Himself to be against us, He would show Himself in our life and experience to be for us. What, then, does the phrase 'a propitiation . . . by His blood' express? It expresses, in the context of Paul's argument, precisely this thought: that by His sacrificial death for our sins Christ pacified the wrath of God. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), p. 134.
"Propitiation" means God's wrath has been appeased for all who have trusted in Jesus Christ. The good news of the gospel is that those who have placed their trust in the Lord Jesus as the "Lamb of God" are no longer under the sentence of divine wrath:
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 (NASB) For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 (NASB) For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet and the one privileged to introduce Jesus as Israel's Messiah. When John spoke of the coming Messiah, he spoke of His coming as the One who would execute divine wrath:
Matthew 3:5-12 (NASB) Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 "Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 "And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 "And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
At the end of verse 11, John refers to the Christ event - it begins with Pentecost and ends with the destruction of Jerusalem. "He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire" - this speaks of wrath.
Romans 9:22 (NASB) What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
What if God, exercising His sovereign right of choice, makes some vessels of mercy while others are made vessels of wrath? Does God have a right to display His wrath? Does He have a right to display His Justice? Yes! Wrath and Justice are as much a part of His character as are mercy and grace.
"Willing to demonstrate His wrath"; this speaks of will of purpose, sovereign will. God wants to show His wrath, because He wants to reveal Himself, and He is a God of wrath.
Deuteronomy 4:24 (NASB) "For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Because God wanted to display His wrath, the entrance of sin into the world was necessary. Listen carefully, for ages, theologians have argued and debated over the origin of evil. Let me tell you plainly, it was God's will that sin should enter the world, He decreed it. Now if that shocks you, it is far more shocking to insist that sin has invaded the world against God's will. If that happened, He wouldn't be omnipotent, would he? Some folks say that God just permitted sin to enter the world. Permission is not a word to use with God. Nothing in the universe can be independent of the omnipotent Creator, for in Him we live and move and have our being. Therefore, the idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God.
God brings to pass in time what He has decreed in eternity. There is evil in our world, because God decreed it, and then created it for His own glory.
Revelation 4:11 (NASB) "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created."
All things, including sin, were created by God. Why did God decree sin? To display His wrath; "make His power known."
Romans 9:22 (NASB) What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
How does God make His power known? By the judgement of sin. Sin provides a means for God to be glorified. "Vessels of wrath"- they are objects of God's wrath. "Prepared for destruction" -The word "prepared" means that God created them for destruction so that He could display His wrath.
Divine wrath is not just a phenomenon of the Old Testament; it is a certainty for all who reject the Lord Jesus Christ.
Believers, listen carefully, you deserve God's wrath! But because of God's mercy, you will not get what you deserve, because God's wrath toward you has been born by the Lord Jesus Christ. Believers, we have this confidence:
Romans 5:9 (NASB) Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
The wrath of God is a reminder of the holiness of God and a measure of God's hatred of sin. God's wrath is proportionate to the unrighteousness that provokes it. The immensity of God's wrath toward sin is an indication of His holy hatred of sin. We should hate it as well.
God's wrath is the reason for the necessity of the Gospel (Rom 1:16-18)--atonement and salvation by grace are required, because of God's righteous wrath against sin. For the believer, God's wrath is turned aside (propitiated) by the Blood of Christ (Rom 3:25-26; 5:8-9). God's wrath against sin and sinners is so great that He sent His Son to die in the place of those who were to be redeemed--no lesser sacrifice would do. If we deny wrath, we essentially deny the Gospel.
The wrath of God should make us uncomfortable with sin. In addition, we should never forget that our sin resulted in the suffering and agony of our Savior on whom God's wrath was poured out. To think lightly of sin is to take Christ's suffering lightly.
The doctrine of the wrath of God instructs us not to fret over the wicked. While they may appear to be getting away with evil, they will come under the wrath of God.
Let us take the doctrine of God's wrath seriously. Let us neither neglect nor conceal it. Let us regard it as a part of the goodness and glory of God. May the doctrine of God's wrath be an incentive to evangelism and the proclamation of the gospel of grace. To the glory of God and our own good, may this doctrine be the basis for a grateful life demonstrated by holy living.
As the song, "NO EYE HAS SEEN," puts it: "Objects of mercy who should have known wrath, we're filled with unspeakable joy." Believers, we deserve wrath - but by God's grace we have received His mercy. Knowing the gospel should fill us with unspeakable joy!