The most basic truth of the Gospel is that the righteous judgment and justified wrath of the infinitely perfect God was fully exhausted at the cross. All judgment and wrath was placed upon Jesus when “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
When Jesus said, “It is finished”, He declared that the judgment of God was fully satisfied and the full penalty was paid. Is. 53 describes in great detail how God poured out His righteous anger upon His Son. The New Testament says repeatedly that all judgment and wrath was “nailed to the cross”. (Col. 1:20, Col. 2:14, 1 Pet. 2:24) This freedom from wrath is for all who will believe.
In Jesus’ explanation of God’s brilliant plan to the highly educated doctor of the Law, Nicodemus, He makes it simple and clear that God was going to free everyone through giving the Son. To qualify for this freedom from wrath, a person must believe in the sufficiency of the offering of the Son.
John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
The requirement to obey here cannot mean “keep all the rules/laws” since the scripture says no one can perfectly keep them all. He says here that we obey by “believing in the Son” and then we receive the free gift He spoke about back in verses 16-17, “God so loved the world that He gave His Son…he who believes in the Son is not judged”.
Free From the Wrath to Come
The apostles repeatedly declared that this freedom from the judgment that must come at the end of this age is the very heart of our hope.
Rom 5:9-10: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
1 Thess 5:9-10:“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,”
1 Thess 1:10: “…and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”
So, Is There No More Wrath of God?
Do these promises mean God put away His wrath forever, for everyone? Sadly, no.
The scripture is clear that the justified wrath of the holy God must be revealed against all who reject His free gift through the cross. Make no mistake, there is a day of judgment coming at the end of this age. If we reject Christ’s free gift of righteousness (unearned rightness with God) we are left to defend our own self-righteousness in comparison to God’s perfect righteousness…and we will always lose.
This judgment is not based on God’s desire to punish but on the free choice we all must make.
Paul says that those who reject God’s free gift are “…storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…” (Rom 2:5) Take note that we do this for ourselves.
God must respond in righteousness and justice to our choice. God is not an all-powerful tyrant who is just “itching to pour out punishment”. On the contrary, “God loves the world so much that He gave His Son…any who believes in Him is not judged”! (John 3:16-17)
Jesus goes on to say “…he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) The issue of judgment and wrath which people will bring upon themselves is not “sins” but the sin of choosing to not believe in the free gift provided by a loving God.
Love and Justice
Remember, God is completely love…and completely just. Because He is the infinitely perfect God, is both completely love and completely just…at the same time. Because He is completely love, He has provided the free gift of righteousness through Christ and He is waiting patiently until the end of this age.
Because He is completely just, He will then judge all based on His perfect righteousness. Those who have received the free gift of Christ’s perfect righteousness are justified. Those who do not, will have to justify themselves with their own grossly inferior human self-righteousness. Sadly, they will fail.
Rom 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…”
Rom 2:5: “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…”
The context of this passage shows us that the “you” Paul refers to here are the people who have rejected the knowledge and requirements of an almighty God who is clearly revealed in all of creation.
The “Wrath” Question Has To Do With “Son-ship”
Eph 2:1-3: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…”
Eph 5:6: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Paul makes it clear and simple. It is based on believing, which produces “son-ship” by being “born again”. Or, choosing not to believe and remaining a “child of darkness”. He says there are “sons of God” or “children of God”; and there are “sons of disobedience” or “children of wrath”.
The word of God clearly and boldly declares that God reveals Himself through creation, by His Spirit and by His word. Any who desire a relationship with Him from their heart will find Him. He guarantees it. Those who are His through new birth, through spiritual regeneration, are forever free from judgment and wrath. This is truly good news.
All Are Not Children of God
But not everyone will choose to accept God’s free gift and become sons of God. Sadly, eternal judgment is a terrifying reality for all who reject His free gift of righteousness through the offering of Jesus on the cross.
Jesus spoke about judgment and hell on several occasions but always with a deep sadness of heart. Even when speaking harshly to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy and their refusal to hear the truth, He followed with, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34-35)
And again, “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42) This is a God of love who does not force Himself on people but has given people free choice…and grieves over the terrible choice that people, who should know better, are making. He knows the terrible consequences of their choice.
We who believe are empowered to live free of the fear of judgment for ourselves. But we must be moved to action by the eternal reality of the coming judgment upon others and we must sow the “word of His grace” to all we can…while there is still time.
Reach out to people, build relationships, demonstrate the hope we have in Christ, love the least among us, give generously to the mission of the Kingdom and help sow the word of His grace. Let’s passionately help grow His kingdom and help rescue people from the “wrath to come”!
I can relate to always wanting to do more for the Kingdom but not having the resources to do it all. I am experiencing more of that right now than ever before in my whole life. Our ministry brought in less than $200,000.00 last year; the lowest in several years.
And yet, we trained hundreds of leaders around the world who lead over a million people. We gave away thousands of DVDs, CDs, books and study guides that are now being used daily in several countries. That’s a lot of “bang for the buck”!
But we could have done more, trained more, reached more…if we just had more money. And God could have provided more money if He wanted to.
There can be a great frustration in knowing that we all could do more if we just had more and knowing that God could easily provide more…but He doesn’t.
I look to Paul’s writings and see a man who said he always hungered to go to places where the gospel had never been preached. And yet, he spent many of the most profitable years of his life (from any natural point of view) locked up in prison by Nero, the man John called the beast/anti-christ in Revelation.
How frustrating could that have been knowing God could have easily gotten him out at any moment…but didn’t?
Paul’s peace and life-fulfillment did not come from all he accomplished, the number of churches he planted or the volume of people he reached. It came from his absolute assurance that “all things work together for my good” (Rom 8:28) and “having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:10-11) .
Clearly, Paul was constantly pushing ahead to reach more and do more; and that desire was good and it was from the Lord. But he did not allow that desire to pressure him, drive him or make him feel guilty when God did not provide the means or opportunity.
Paul rested in the knowledge that God could open any door and provide any resource…when He chose to…because He does work all things after the counsel of His own will. At the same time, he never used the material blessings that came or the influence he had over other people to lavish on himself. In fact, he constantly warned “the rich of this world” to be very careful, to be very generous and always ready to give.
1 Tim 6:8-10- “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”.
Wow, doesn’t this sound like a severe warning to the current push among so many charismatics today that we should all be rich? How does this measure up to the popular message that we show the world how much God is blessing us by enjoying the best material things of this world?
Listen to the command Paul gives to Timothy in the next few verses-
1 Tim 6:17-19- “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
Look at that last line- “Take hold of the life that is truly life!” That’s what I hunger for!
So I want to always hunger to do more, reach more, bless more…without feeling guilty or fruitless when God doesn’t open the doors of opportunity or provide the resources to walk through them. I want to live in peace and rest, fellowshipping the Lord, as I wait to be led by the Spirit.
Here is a critical truth I am learning the hard way:
Knowing what you are supposed to do and become does not give you the ability to do and become. But it does create great frustration.
I am also learning that this often confusing, and frequently painful, frustration is a gift from God. It drives us to search for something different, something new, and to look for something that really works. This frustration with our inability is designed to drive us to Him in search of His ability. This is the very frustration the Law was designed to produce!
One of the main purposes of the Law was to cause people to run out of their own ability and run to Him. When sin shows up in our lives we must admit we are not trusting in God’s grace. God wants the law to force us into saying, “Lord, if this is what You require, I am not able do this by myself”. This frustration with our inability was meant to drive us to the source of true ability; the true Grace of God.
The Law clearly defined what it would take to live righteously before God. The Law pushes us in the direction of our only hope; true grace. And the frustration the Law produces in honest seekers is what brings us to God’s goal for all life, the New Covenant in Jesus.
The promise of the New Covenant is transformation by the power of the indwelling Spirit. Change is the evidence of true grace working in our lives. The commands in the New Testament help diagnose where we are not interacting with true grace. Our responsibility to confess where the Word tells us we are falling short, where we are sinning. We must put our faith in the Spirit who lives within us; in our heart, mind and body. Then we must interact with the Spirit as He changes us from the inside out.
This is both the hope and Good News of the true New Covenant!
Question – My brother called me to tell me he was getting married today. I tried to show my support by telling him nothing would ever make me stop loving him but that marriage is a huge commitment and something he should be certain of before entering. While I gave my blessing I still have concern. He is 19 and has various issues surrounding him. I know we are to love people through all circumstances but I still worry even though I know the Lord does not worry about His creations. Was I wrong to show my support? He did not choose to have us present for fear of what we thought.
Answer – This a great question we all face in different ways throughout our lives with the people we love.
It’s always a difficult thing when people we love make choices that we believe are not good for them. If we didn’t love them we wouldn’t care. Because we do love them, we are concerned and we hurt for them because we know the odds are they may reap bad results from their choices.
To worry means we are not sure of the outcome and we are concerned it will be bad. God does not “worry” because He knows everyone’s outcome, but He is certainly “grieved” at our destructive choices…because He does know the bad outcome and the pain we bring upon ourselves.
It is true that God loves us no matter what we do, but because He loves us He cannot bless our bad choices…that would not be love at all. As a parent you will not stop loving your kids but you cannot bless their disobedience. If one hits the other because they are angry, runs into traffic or touches the hot stove, you can’t support or bless that and neither can the Lord.
But remember, if a person has not committed themselves to the Lord and been born again, they are not children of God and sadly, they are on their own. God has created all people but He is Father only to those who have chosen Him. And because He loves us He gives us the choice to be His child. He does not force His love on us because that would not be love but control and violation. He will lovingly deal with everyone through circumstances to give them the opportunity to call out to Him. And the Word says whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Of course, other people are not our kids so we have no right to force our choices upon them unless they want to know what we think…it’s the same with God. What do we mean and what do they think we mean when we say we “support” them in what the have chosen to do? We don’t really want to “support” bad choices because that means we agree with something that we actually think will really hurt them.
If someone is just telling us what they are going to do (or have done) but they are not asking for advice, then the best we can do is say, “I love you and I want your life to go well. If this is what you feel is right for you then I am praying that it all works out well for you.”
We don’t want be critical or rejecting (since they are not asking for our input) and we want to try and keep the door open for them to come to us if they see they have made a bad mistake. They may never choose to see it but we don’t want to become their enemies.
The prodigal son and his father are the perfect example. The son made up his mind to leave and the father didn’t fight him but let him go. But the father didn’t keep blessing or helping him either. When the son finally saw the bad choice he had made, he went home and the father fully received him. Since the father was very wealthy, he no doubt heard regular news about how badly the son was doing but he did not go get him or send money to him or talk bad about him to his neighbors. He loved him by waiting for him to see his error and turn around.
So keep praying for you brother, stay kind to him and stay quiet about his choices unless he asks. If it all goes badly, he may turn to you for advice since you have kept the relationship intact. Then you can point Him to the Lord for His help.
The amazing promise of Biblical grace is not behavior modification but true transformation. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we must fight against “conforming” to the image of this world but we must passionately pursue “being transformed” by the work of the Spirit into the image of Christ. So before we examine the process, let me give you the punch line:
Conforming is something negative I do.
Transforming must be done to me!
The Scripture uses two different words to describe what we do (conform) and what the Spirit does to us (transform). 1 Peter 1:14 warns us to “not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance”. Paul says the same thing in Rom. 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world”. In each of these verses, the word used for “conform” means to “fashion yourself”. It means to outwardly imitate or mold yourself to the behavior we see in the world. This is something we often do and it is destructive.
But the promise of true grace is that the Spirit will do something to us that will change the very essence of who and what we are. We don’t stop conforming to the world because we decide to stop conforming, but because we are being changed at the very core of who we are. The Bible refers to this as “transformation”. The Greek word used for this “transformation” literally means “metamorphose“.
Every grade school student comes to understand the process of metamorphosis by watching a tadpole change into a frog or seeing a caterpillar spin a cocoon and come out a butterfly. This is not behavior modification; this is true transformation.
Getting my dog to stay in the yard by shocking him every time he steps over an invisible line, now that’s behavior modification. And it can save a dog’s life. But a caterpillar into a butterfly? That is true transformation. The very essence and character of the being has been changed. It no longer looks the same; it no longer acts the same; it no longer is the same; it has been transformed. Some amazing chemical process which I cannot understand has been occurring inside that causes a complete change on the outside. This is metamorphosis; change on the inside that, over time, shows up on the outside.
Metamorphosis (transformation) is the promise of true grace; an on-going interaction between us and the Holy Spirit that causes miraculous change in the very essence of who we are, what we are, how we think and how we behave. There is instantaneous change; being born again of incorruptible seed, freely reconciled to God and made to be children of the Father. And there is progressive change; being increasingly sanctified and growing into the image of His Son. This progressive change is the miraculous process of “spiritual tadpoles becoming Christ-like frogs”.
The New Testament makes it clear that this type of life does not happen automatically simply because we “believe in Jesus”. It becomes a reality only to the extent that we:
1) Believe that His plan is to actually live through us,
2) Humble ourselves and stop pretending we can do it, and;
3) Interact with the true transformer, the Holy Spirit.
For a larger discussion of this true “Good News” order Mark’s book, God’s Brilliant Plan: Searching for the Easy and Light Life Jesus Promised.
I fall short of my expectations in many ways. But one thing I have learned is how to regularly enter into, and enjoy, the presence of God. I do regularly encounter God by the Spirit. I can’t always encounter Him exactly when I want or exactly how I would like; and I certainly can’t get Him to do all the things I would prefer He do at the time I would prefer He do them…but I am regularly able to truly enter in and deeply enjoy His presence.
It’s certainly not because I am so special or so wonderful, but it is because I have learned something important about the role of the Holy Spirit. One of the primary jobs of the Spirit is to “pour the love of God” into the hearts of people who draw near to Him. I have come to expect Him to do that job on a regular basis, and I position myself through worship so He can regularly pour the Father’s love into me.
Paul tells us the most important foundation we must have for our lives is to be rooted and grounded in the revelation of God’s unconditional love for us.
“May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is.” (Eph. 3:17-19 NLT)
Do yourself a huge favor: Enter in and enjoy His presence often...at home, in the car, when you exercise, when you get up, when you lay down…present yourself to Him and enjoy His love for you!
Usama bin Laden is dead; Republicans and democrats are fighting over the debt limit.
So how should a Christian react to civil government?
This is a very important question in our current political, religious climate. I believe the New Testament clearly gives us answers from a time when the government the early believers lived under, Rome, was extremely hostile to them.
Firstly – The New Testament contains no teaching about how a civil government should conduct itself.
Jesus and the apostles taught about the Kingdom of God. The New Covenant Kingdom of God cannot be governed by any man made laws because the King lives and rules within the heart of each “citizen” and there is no land or territory to rule over outside of the human heart. One day the whole earth will be His literal territory and He will literally rule it. But in this present age, we cannot apply any of the teachings of Jesus to how a civil government should act.
Are there right principles in the New Testament that would be good for all people to live by? Yes, but the principles only truly work when the individual hearts are ruled by the King. If you doubt that, just look at how often the Body of Christ is broken, fighting and divided against itself because we do not allow the King to rule within us now. The apostles only address civil government by saying, “Honor the king, Honor Caesar, honor all men with gentleness and respect”. And though they were often mistreated, persecuted and many were “legally” killed, they trusted God to take care of them under any form of earthly, civil government.
Secondly – How we should act as citizens living under any earthly government is clear- “Render to Caesar what is due him”.
In saying this, Jesus saw there was a clear difference in civil governments and the internal Kingdom of God, which is designed to flourish under any type of civil government.
As I travel around the world training leaders in Asia, Africa and South America, I am constantly reminded that most of the world (and most of God’s people) lives under hostile, corrupt governments. Or at the very least, these governments are inapt and self-serving. But the Kingdom of God and its citizens are equipped to flourish under any form of civil government.
Paul tells us in Rom 13:1-7- “Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honor to all to whom it is due.” NLT
Paul understood the role of civil government and how a citizen of the Kingdom of God should relate to it.
He exercised his lawful right as a free born Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar when he was beaten unlawfully; he did not turn the other cheek. Clearly, he knew of Jesus’ teaching but had a very different interpretation of it then we seem to have today.
Some have taught that Paul was wrong to object to his unlawful beating and that is why he was imprisoned out of the will of God and his ministry cut short. That is a very poor, and dangerous, reading of the Scripture. Paul made it clear over and over that his chains were the work of God’s will and that they were for the “furtherance of the gospel”. And he never felt God let him down by not getting his freedom.
Nor did he ever pray that God would curse Nero for jailing him. He certainly could have cursed Nero or called for the judgment of God against this mentally deranged, demon-possessed Caesar who despised believers and delighted in finding new ways to make them suffer (lions come to mind here). In Acts 13, one leader who withstood him was smitten with blindness!
Rather, he gave thanks for every situation because knew that God was the ultimate authority who was in complete control of his destiny.
Thirdly – When the law went against clearly defined instructions from God, the apostles disobeyed the law, obeyed God…AND… took the painful, and sometimes deadly, consequences without cursings or threats. They trusted God in all situations without anger or revenge.
Jesus did use His power and stopped the Pharisees from hurting Him or killing Him on several occasions because it was “not yet His time”. When it was the Father’s time, He surrendered His life and allowed them the ultimate power, without anger or revenge, but instead He said, “Father, forgive them”. But this was for what they did to Him, in God’s timing, not what they did to others, wrongfully. He had choice words for the rulers when they took advantage of others, wrongfully.
The Old Testament teachings gave instruction on how a civil government should rule itself because Israel was an actual earthly government with a geographical area and borders to rule. Although we must remember that God’s desire was to be their King, He did bless them when the demanded a king and allowed them to reap some bad things from their choice. However, He led them to have an army and defend themselves. He led them to make and keep agreements with other “pagan” nations. Even when it came to war. They were a literal earthly nation. The Kingdom of God is not a literal earthly nation.
Lastly – As citizens we have legal civil rights but we must exercise them with humility of heart and love for all, knowing we are “pilgrims and strangers” on this earth.
And we must not mistakenly try to apply the values of the New Covenant to any literal nation. America is not now nor has it ever been a “Christian nation”. There is no such thing. It is a nation that has had much Christian influence and I am deeply grateful to have been born here. But there is no such thing as a Christian nation. When He returns He will restore paradise on earth and it will be a “Christian universe” because He will be all in all and God over all!!! I grieve over the unholy mixture of politics and Christianity when it seeks to do what only He can do at His return. At the same time, I do believe that humanly righteous, just values exalt any nation.
I believe abortion is wrong for any nation because it devalues life and is destructive to any people, regardless of whether they believe the Bible or not. I was brokenhearted when the abortion doctor was murdered under the horrible guise that the killer was “doing God’s will”. If that were true, the first century would have been awash with Christians killing lots of people who treated them horribly. The apostle Paul would have continued his role as a killer. It would been just been against the Romans instead of the Christians he killed before his conversion.
I believe capital punishment is humanly just, not because it is “Christian”, but because civil nations must protect their people in the best way humans can do that. Though human justice will always be far less than perfect, in Old Testament Israel, it was based on just the testimony of two or three people. We have far better ways to ascertain the truth about a crime today. Until the Kingdom fully comes and divine righteousness reigns, civil governments must strive to do the best humans can do. I have twice been the foreman on juries and took my role as a citizen very seriously, knowing we could not do our job perfectly, but we had to do it, nonetheless.
I was greatly relieved when I heard Bin Laden was dead. I didn’t “rejoice” that a human being was dead but I was glad that human justice came to one who had years of opportunity to respond to the call of God on his heart, rejected it, and caused such horrible injustice to so many around the world.
How do I know that he had ample opportunity to respond to the call of God? Because Romans 1 says all of creation declares the reality of the one true God and anyone who responds to the message of God’s reality in creation will find God responding to him with greater revelation of Himself. And God has never been restricted to human help in revealing Himself to any who sought Him, thank God! And God is the one who is ultimately in control of life and death.
Mark Drake is an internationally known author, teacher and leader. He focuses on equipping leaders around the world in New Covenant Grace.