The Good News About God’s Wrath

by Cameron Buettel, Friday, September 18, 2020

Ray Comfort once told me that sinners seek after God in the same way a thief seeks after a policeman. That’s a colorful way of describing the fallen human condition, but it’s also biblically accurate. The apostle Paul put it succinctly: “There is none who seeks for God” (Romans 3:11). John MacArthur expands on this biblical truth in his Romans commentary:    

Men are not naturally inclined to seek God. That truth was proved conclusively in the earthly ministry of Christ. Even when face-to-face with God incarnate, the Light of the world, “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19–20). As David had proclaimed hundreds of years earlier, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good” (Psalm 14:1). Sinful men oppose the idea of a holy God because they innately realize that such a God would hold them accountable for the sins they love and do not want to relinquish.

Every person, no matter how isolated from God’s written Word or the clear proclamation of His gospel, has enough divine truth evident both within and around him (Romans 1:19–20) to enable him to know and be reconciled to God if his desire is genuine. It is because men refuse to respond to that evidence that they are under God’s wrath and condemnation. “This is the judgment,” Jesus said, “that . . . men loved the darkness rather than the Light” (John 3:19). Thus “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11, KJV). [1]

Due to our dire sinful predicament, we actually need God to seek us—and He begins that work by alerting us to impending danger. We should heed the words of John the Baptist, who warned his hearers to “flee from the wrath to come” (Luke 3:7). God’s wrath is integral in awakening us to our greatest problem—but it also points us to God’s solution to that problem.

Satisfying God’s Wrath

Paul’s great gospel discourse begins with the revelation of God’s wrath in Romans 1:18. And it climaxes two chapters later with the propitiation of God’s wrath.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 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; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21–26, emphasis added)

For the sake of our current theme, I want to zero in on three crucial theological points from this passage concerning God’s wrath. First, that we are all guilty “for all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), and therefore deserve God’s wrath. Second, we can be “justified”—gain a righteous legal standing before God and no longer be under His wrath—by grace through Christ’s redemptive work (Romans 3:24). And third, God can justify sinners (without compromising His justice) because Christ has now satisfied God’s wrath—being “displayed publically as a propitiation”—as a substitute for His people. As John MacArthur explains, reconciliation between God and man hinges on Christ propitiating—or satisfying—God’s righteous wrath against sinners:

Romans 3:25, 1 John 4:10 and 1 John 2:2 all say that Christ made propitiation for our sins, meaning that His sacrifice on the cross satisfied God. The offering of Christ was sufficient to placate God’s wrath against sin and fulfill all the holy demands of His perfect justice. God could not be satisfied with us until His own Son’s sacrifice fully paid the price of our sin. He could not take us into His family until His bought our forgiveness.

How do we know God was satisfied? Because He raised Christ from the dead, took Him into glory, and seated Him at His own right hand (Hebrews 1:3).

When we talk about being saved, when we talk about being delivered, it’s important to know what we are being saved from. We are delivered from our own sin, of course. We are saved from an eternity in hell. But those things are possible only because God Himself safeguards us from His judgment, through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. [2]

Ultimately, God saves sinners from Himself—from the judgment that His justice demands. That’s why the gospel of Christ is robbed of its true meaning without the essential component of God’s wrath. It affirms God’s justice. It necessitates a Savior. And it explains the cross. We provoked God’s wrath by our sin, and Christ satisfied it by His substitutionary atonement. That’s what makes the good news actually good news.

When preachers ignore—or even deny—the doctrine of God’s wrath, the repercussions are devastating. Their god becomes a vain idol who is indifferent to evil. The perpetrators become the victims. Their savior doesn’t really save us from anything. And their cross becomes a tragic death—not a triumphant victory.

We cannot afford to live in ignorance of this glorious doctrine. It must be affirmed. It must be proclaimed. And it must be embraced as the truth that necessitated our glorious Savior. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:8–9).

___________

[1] John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Paul (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books 2017) 162

[2] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary : Romans 1-8 (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1991), 67-68

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