Objects of Wrath

If you were to ask any hundred people on the street today about their condition, and what God thinks about them, the great majority would say something like, “Well, I’m not such a bad person, and I think God is happy with me”. They would think that because they are not as bad as a Hitler, they must be OK, and God has no problems with them.

This of course is the exact opposite of what God himself has said about the human condition, and man’s plight without God. The Bible from cover to cover offers us a true picture of the state of those who do not come to God under his terms.

Indeed, if you were to go back to those same 100 people and ask them if they agree with the statement, “You are by nature objects of God’s wrath,” probably at least 99 would disagree strongly. While that is to be expected, my concern here is much graver.

I suspect that if you were to ask that very same question of 100 believers – those who claim to be Bible-believing, born-again Christians – you would also get a very strong negative reaction. Perhaps not 99 per cent, but surely a good two-thirds or more would violently disagree with such a statement.

No one knows what the exact figures would be, but I stand by my claim that the majority of those who call themselves Christians would very likely strongly dismiss the very notion that the unsaved are somehow objects of God’s wrath. Indeed, given how much theological revisionism is already taking place, especially amongst groups like the emerging church movement, we are finding fewer and fewer Christians who actually believe the lost are really lost.

All this is part of a bigger problem. We have lost sight of who God really is, thus we have lost sight of just how bad sin really is, and thus we have lost sight of God’s righteous and just punishment of sin. So we may talk about reaching the lost, but deep down I suspect far too many believers don’t really think they are all that lost, and don’t believe in concepts like hell anymore anyway.

As I say, we expect non-Christians to think this way, but it is shocking and sad when we find so many believers thinking like this. Thus as I so often have to do, I have to go back to square one; I have to go back to the Bible. You remember that book – the one probably most believers today pay only scant attention to?

We have to be reminded of some home truths here. So let me offer just one text which is likely to be as controversial for many believers as for non-believers. I refer to the classic Pauline text found in Ephesians 2:1-3. It says this:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

Wow, that is a pretty clear and devastating portrait of the natural man: dead in our sins; followers of Satan, slaves to our lusts; and by nature objects of wrath. This one verse alone certifies the truth that unredeemed man is not just morally sick, or spiritually ill. No, he is dead, and dead people cannot save themselves, reform themselves, or turn their lives around by themselves.

Paul’s diagnosis is crystal clear: natural man is dead, enslaved, and condemned. But I wish to here just focus on the last description: we are by nature objects of wrath. As I said, this does not go down very well today. But that is not surprising.

As James Montgomery Boice puts it, “The worldly mind does not take God’s wrath seriously because it does not take sin seriously. Yet if sin is as bad as the Bible declares it to be, nothing is more just or reasonable than that the wrath of a holy God should rise against it. In the Old Testament there are more than twenty words used to express God’s wrath. More than 600 passages deal with it….

“Taken together these passages indicate that God’s wrath is consistent, controlled and judicial. That is what makes it so frightening. The doctrine of wrath does not mean that God merely gets angry from time to time, lashes out in anger, and then forgets about it. It is rather that his wrath is an inevitable and growing opposition to all that is opposed to his righteousness.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this: “Here we come face to face with this tremendous doctrine which I know full well is not only unpopular at the present time but is even hated and detested. People can scarcely control themselves as they speak about it. The whole modern idea has been for a number of years, that God is a God of love and that we must think of God only in terms of love. To talk about the wrath of God, we are told, is utterly incompatible with any idea of God as a God of love.”

But they do not understand God and his holiness, so they do not understand God and his wrath. So just what is it? Lloyd-Jones continues, “Wrath is nothing but a manifestation of indignation based upon justice. Indeed, we can go further and assert that the wrath of God, according to the scriptural teaching, is nothing but the other side of the love of God. It is the inevitable corollary of the rejection of the love of God. God is a God of love, but God is also and equally a God of justice and of righteousness; and if God’s love is spurned and rejected there remains nothing but the justice and the righteousness and the wrath of God.”

Harold Hoehner comments, “The unregenerate are children destined to God’s wrath. What a horrible dilemma. It is saying that unbelievers have a close relationship to God’s wrath rather than to God himself. This is reminiscent of the wrath of God that is presently revealed due to the sin and disobedience of human beings (Rom 1:18–3:20; John 3:36). Paul makes it very clear in Romans that it is their wilful acts of transgression and disobedience that bring this wrath. Humans deserve God’s wrath because when they could know God, they wilfully turned away (Rom 1:19-21). Moreover, they not only turn away but they hate God (Rom 1:30).”

But…

While we could end things there, we cannot stay there, because Paul does not end there either. With two of the most important words in Scripture, Paul begins verse 4-5: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

“But God” is our only hope. Because of God our doomed condition can give way to new life. As John Stott says about this passage, “Paul first plumbs the depths of pessimism about man, and then rises to the heights of optimism about God.”

But the first step to experiencing those heights is to recognise who we really are, and acknowledge the depths of our condition. Without the bad news of the gospel, there can be no good news of the gospel. Plenty of closing quotes can be offered here. Let me present five of them:

“We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.” C. S. Lewis

“We have a gospel hardened generation of sinners because we have told them how to be saved before they have any understanding why they need to be saved.” Paris Reidhead

“Never does a person see any beauty in Christ as a Savior, until they discover that they are a lost and ruined sinner.” J.C. Ryle

“If I had one hour with every man, I would spend the first 45 minutes talking to them about God’s law, and the last 15 minutes talking about His great salvation.” Francis Schaeffer

“The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Saviour.” John Bunyan

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