Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Neglected Attribute of God

By Bruce Mills
This Sunday, I am going to do something which will never be done in 90 percent of the churches in America—I am going to preach on the wrath of God. This singular attribute has fallen into a state of neglect because it is associated with “fire and brimstone” preaching, which few people desire to hear in this post-modern culture.

Tragically, many—if not most—Christians embrace a user-friendly picture of God, and regard divine wrath as something for which they need to apologize, if not reject altogether. They find the truth of divine vengeance distasteful, as though His retribution is somehow unprofitable for discussion or a blemish on His holy character.

Some consider God’s wrath to be in direct contradiction to His divine love; that is, that it is somehow a violation of His tender mercy. Still others consider it to be an outmoded, antiquated view of God that has become too unsophisticated for modern man. Therefore, they either leave out the message of divine wrath when they attempt to present the gospel, or they alter it in some fashion to try to make it more appealing to man’s “itching ears.”

However, when they offer God’s love without mentioning His wrath, they fail in our attempt to genuinely present His grace to lost and dying people. They compromise the Bible’s clear teaching on divine ven-geance and in so doing, unknowingly hurt their own cause. By downplaying God’s wrath, they inevitably downplay His love. In reality, they have created a god in their own image.

You see, just as a god without love and mercy is not God, a god without wrath is not God.

In the Bible, there is certainly no attempt on God’s part to hide the severity of His fierce anger against sin. Scripture refers more to God’s wrath than to any other attribute, even His love. Those two divine attributes are inextricably linked, and an understanding of His love always requires an understanding of His wrath.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible presents a consistent picture of a holy God who reserves wrath for sinners, who is angry with the wicked every day, and yet who, at the same time, loves sinners with the strongest, most tender love.

But everywhere you go, if you get into any kind of spiritual conversation about God with people, and you mention God’s wrath, you will be asked, “How can God be wrathful and tenderly loving?” To the human mind, that seems like a contradiction.

But this juxtaposition does not mean that His love negates His holy wrath. Nor does it mean that His grace cancels out the severity of His judgment. Rather, just the opposite is true. His love necessitates His wrath. The God who loves righteousness must equally hate every form of evil, wherever it is found.

Regarding this balance in God’s holy character, Psalm 45:7 says, “You love righteousness and hate wickedness.” God’s wrath is an essential part of His divine nature; a necessary part of His perfect being that fully embraces and magnifies His love. God must punish all forms of evil wherever they are found, or His love would be reduced to mere sentimentality, a shallow emotion that is not love at all.

He is absolutely holy, and a holy God cannot be indifferent toward the sin that violates His unblemished, pure character. He cannot stand idly by and condone that which rebels against His morally pure nature. He must hate sin. He must judge sinners. Otherwise, He would cease to be holy—which is, of course, impossible.

So, don’t neglect the doctrine of the wrath of God. You don’t need to apologize for believing in it. It is taught by Scripture and it is essential to the character of God. You cannot understand the magnitude of God’s grace until you understand His wrath.

If you want a great resource which will further develop your understanding of this attribute of God (as well as many others), I recommend Steve Lawson’s book, Made in Our Image: The Fallacy of the User-Friendly God. Dr. Lawson does a wonderful job of detailing God’s attributes and transcendent glory. I have often referred to and used it in my ministry. It is available from Amazon for $14.99. It is well-worth the investment of your money and time.

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