The wrath of God is a forgotten doctrine, even in the evangelical church. Part of the problem lies in the area of definition. When we use the word wrath we tend to think of uncontrolled anger. While that may be true of human wrath, it is far from the truth about God’s wrath. Here’s a working definition: God’s wrath is his settled hostility toward sin in all its various manifestations. To say it is "settled" hostility means that God’s holiness cannot and will not coexist with sin in any form whatsoever. God’s wrath is his holy hatred of all that is unholy. It is his righteous indignation at everything that is unrighteous.
Please note these distinctions. God’s wrath is not uncontrollable rage, vindictive bitterness, or God losing his temper. The Bible says in more than one place that God is "slow to anger" (Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8). God never "loses his temper" the way we do. Wrath is God’s "natural" response to sin in the universe. He cannot overlook it, he cannot wink at it, he cannot pretend it is not there.
*Wrath is what happens when holiness meets sin.
*Wrath is what happens when justice meets rebellion.
*Wrath is what happens when righteousness meets unrighteousness.
*Wrath is what happens when perfect good meets pure evil.
As long as God is God, he cannot overlook sin. As long as God is God, he cannot stand by indifferently while his creation is destroyed. As long as God is God, he cannot dismiss lightly those who trample his holy will. As long as God is God, he cannot wink when people mock his name.
God’s judgment on sin (in this life) is generally not of the fire and brimstone variety. That rarely happens. When God wants to judge a community or a nation, he simply lets sin take it natural course. If we insist on destroying ourselves, God says, "OK, go ahead and destroy yourselves. I won’t stop you." He simply lets us go our merry way. The true judgment on the human race is that man has turned away from God and does not realize it.
What is the judgment of God when men turn away from him? God "gives them up" to their own devices (Romans 1:24-32). He lets them follow their own desires. He doesn't try to stop their meteoric descent into the abyss. God "abandons" the human race by letting men reap what they sow. Nothing more terrible could ever be contemplated. When men "abandon" God in their thinking, God "abandons" them. He respects the choices we make. If a man or a woman decides to live without Him, He says, "Fine. You can live without me. In the end, you'll be sorry. But if that's your decision, I'll respect it."
To speak this way is not to deny the biblical truth of God's grace that goes far beyond our sin. But our problem is not that we have over-emphasized God's wrath, but that we have hardly mentioned it at all. The late Francis Schaeffer remarked that if he had an hour to witness to a man he would never meet again, he would spend the first 45 minutes talking about sin, righteousness and judgment, and the last 15 minutes talking about the gospel message. That's a pattern we could all do well to follow. The gospel will never be truly Good News until people have first understood the Bad News that makes the Good News necessary.
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