Every word contained in His Word is true, yet too many teachings and Gospel messages leave out the terrible reality of the wrath of God. In a complacent world, a message of ‘unconditional’ love will not bring conviction and repentence. Both the world and the church need to hear the truth of the wrath of a sovereign God. If we do not speak it, we may well be the reason why some do not turn to Christ.
But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, And the nations will not be able to endure His indignation. (Jeremiah 10:10)
Believers and non-believers alike can readily understand the concept of a God who is love, though the unsaved may not necessarily believe it. Believers go one step further to the place of salvation. This involves God loving us so completely that He was willing to die to ensure that we could live eternally and escape damnation. All of these principles are absolutely true. They are contained in the Bible, and so we must accept and believe them. The very foundation of the Gospel is the infinite, merciful, and gracious love of God. This love is fused into our Christian lives. We are to love Him in return with all that we are and have. In addition, we are to love others as He loved us. The two greatest commandments are rooted in this as the pattern for our lives. But what of the wrath of God, another Biblical truth?
The wrath of God and the love of God.
Where the salvation message once carried the full, balanced revelation of both the love and the wrath of God, it has become diluted. To understand, we must look at how the attitudes, perceptions, and expectations of the world have slowly infiltrated the church. There are three general ‘camps of opinion’ in the world pertaining to God. The first is outright rejection – He does not and cannot exist, and everything is scientifically explainable. The second is the opposite extreme, where the unsaved use the unquestionable love of God to rationalise away the wrath of God. A God who truly loves us will never release His wrath on mankind. The third involves using the wrath of God to negate His love. His wrath is proof that He cannot love us as He claims to. Here, they echo some of the second but with a negative twist that justifies rejection of Him.
Over time, the second assumption has slowly infiltrated the church through unbalanced gospels on the ‘unconditional’ love of God. The word ‘unconditional’ isn’t incorrect. It perfectly defines His love. But the popular interpretation is that He loves us just the way we are. This implies that He has no desire to change us, which boldly defies a vast portion of our faith and foundation. The entire Christian walk is of laying down self and allowing Him to transform us into the image of His Son so we may be obedient and bring Him glory. God does not love us just as we are. He loves us despite how we are. That’s the true meaning of unconditional and it’s a lot less comfortable and cosy. The reality is that without preaching the truth of the wrath of God, preaching the love of God has no real relevance.
The wrath of God is the counterpoint for His love.
Our God is one of perfect and complete balance. We can look at ourselves to understand this, because we are made in His image. Every single human emotion must be in Him, too, with the difference that it is perfectly balance. As an example, He calls Himself Jealous. From a human perspective, jealousy can be an extremely negative and destructive emotion. But in God, it is perfect and complete, fully balanced by all that He is. The wrath of God and the love of God are counterpoints. His love – which contains His compassion and mercy – is sufficient to balance His wrath and judgement. The cross is absolute proof of this. He endured His own wrath and punishment out of His great love so that His perfect law could be perfectly fulfilled. The terrible beauty of the suffering and death of Jesus are evidence of His wrath.
But, we may argue, the antithesis of love is hate. God does hate, but He hates sin, not the sinner. It’s a deep and passionate hatred which manifests as His wrath towards those who do not repent. Still, it’s tempered with His love. There are instances of the wrath of God in the Bible – Sodom and Gomorrah and the flood, for example. But in all instances, His wrath is for the unrepentant and His hatred for the sin. The full evidence of His love lies in the fact that He holds His wrath back. We have yet to see the full wrath of God poured out on the earth. We wonder why Christ delays His return, but it’s because of His love. He will not come until every last sinner intended for the kingdom is safe. Once His people are removed, His wrath will no longer be held back.
The message of the cross and the wrath of God.
I often hear believers lament the ‘shallow’ faith around us. It’s a very relevant truth in these end times, because these are the ‘goats’ and the ‘tares’ that will be separated at the end. They are those who have said the words but not made the life commitment. They attend church, provided the worship makes them feel good and the pastor preaches a comfortable sermon. While we cannot sit in judgement on our brothers and sisters, the Word tells us that many will fall away and even the very elect will be deceived. It’s a fact and we need to face it and test our faith to be sure we are really in Him and pray continually for others that they may be strengthened. There are two reasons for this. The first is the comfortable Christianity that is preached so as to not offend the church members.
Inadequate and incorrect teaching lulls believers into complacency and makes them easy targets for the deceptions of the devil. At the same time, an equally dangerous reality is the preaching of an incomplete Gospel. Rather than offend or upset people, the wrath of God isn’t mentioned. People come to Christ because of God’s unconditional love, and they do so with the perception that it somehow automagically excludes them from the negatives. We can name it and claim it and God has to continually bless us because He loves us. He has to keep His promises, despite our own attitude and rebellion, because He is faithful even when we are not. People come to Jesus because of the perceived value rather than through genuine repentance. They have missed the critical message that the wrath of God is inseparable from the cross. It is His wrath that gives His love relevance.
The wrath of God and His sovereignty.
It’s true that His love is faithful to eternity. But it’s as true that the wrath of God is also eternally faithful. All the attributes of God apply equally to every aspect of His nature. His love is holy, but His wrath is too. To help us understand, He has graciously revealed different characteristics to us through His Word. But we cannot separate God into compartments and use only those that suit us. He’s a whole package, the great I AM, the only true God, the living God and the everlasting King. That’s absolute sovereignty. What this means is that, while His love is perfect, His wrath is too. We can find no fault with it. It also means that we can take what He says as absolute. If the Word states than none will be able to withstand His wrath, we’d better believe it.
There are also no ifs or buts in today’s verse. There is no ‘if He should decide to pour out His wrath’ or vague alternatives. Every word here is imperative. He will pour out His wrath and the earth will tremble. The nations will not be able to stand before it. The day is rapidly approaching when the dispensation of grace will pass away. I don’t doubt that, in His great love, He will stretch it out to the 11th hour, 59th minute. This world is rapidly running out of time, for believer and non-believer alike. For believers, our work in the harvest fields is critical, and it now includes the church. We cannot assume that the person beside us is truly born again and not simply a seat-warmer. Our sovereign God will fulfil His Word at the proper time, and His wrath will be terrible to behold.
Born-again believers and the wrath of God.
This isn’t a scare-tactic to try to generate some kind of hype or hysteria. It’s a message imprinted on my heart, one for every believer. We can daily giveh thanks that His great love has reached us and restored us, and live lives of repentance, not condemnation. No believer who is truly born-again of the Spirit needs to fear the wrath of God, for He has Himself already paid the price for us. But it does mean that we should examine ourselves in the light of His love and be quick to repent when He points out our sins and rebellions. We live by grace and faith in Christ alone, who has promised that nothing shall snatch His own from His hand. But our world is dying. We are surrounded by countless millions of people who will know the wrath of God.
It may be that some will perish because we did not share the full Gospel. People won’t come to Christ if they are comfortable. Simply preaching God’s love lulls them into a false sense of complacency that a God of love cannot also be a God of wrath. More than ever, we must preach the full Gospel of Jesus Christ, who took the wrath of God on Himself so we could be spared. We need to rethink the words we speak lest we inadvertently deceive those God desires to save.
Almighty God, sovereign Lord, forgive us for taking this lightly or avoiding confrontation by speaking an incomplete Gospel. Give us boldness and stir up Your love in our hearts so that we can preach the full Gospel of Christ. Turn our hearts and grant us Your compassion so we reveal Your truth to all who need to hear it.