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

[1436 words]

19 Replies to “Objects of Wrath”

  1. Indeed, how can anyone preach the good news without the bad news? Why do we need saving unless we’re sinners deserving God’s wrath? No wonder so much “gospel” preaching falls flat or produces false conversions.
    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  2. So god created humans just to give himself something to be annoyed about? Doesn’t say much for your deity, does it? Why should anyone want to please anything so unreasonable?

    Martin Jarvis

  3. Thanks Martin

    But you are rather amiss here – on every count. God created us to have a love relationship with him. Sadly we have told him to get lost, and we live in defiance of his good plans for us. Parents do not have kids to ‘get annoyed at them’ as you foolishly put it. They have kids to share the love. But any loving parent will expect the best from their children, and will rightly punish any wrong doing because of their great love for them.

    And of course no society on earth could last if evil was not punished. Justice demands it. It is a good thing we have a just God who will reward every right and punish every wrong. A perfectly just God who perfectly administers just justice is good news indeed. There is nothing unreasonable about that whatsoever.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Martin – there is no one as blind as he who will not see!
    Steve Davis

  5. Thank you Bill. You succinctly describe the issue of wrath with a clarity I have not read or heard before.
    Peter Wall, NZ

  6. Bill,

    I, for one, would be enriched if you could follow this up with an article exploring why Jesus stopped short in his recitation of Isa 61, recorded in Lk 4:18-19.

    I think this omission of Christ’s brings out some important truths to add to your “Buts”… that the New Covenant message and ministry of Christ did not emphasise the fact that, while under law, we are under wrath. Instead, the message of Jesus – of the arrival of his Kingdom reign -borne out in his public ministry on earth, and mandated to the Church, puts the emphasis elsewhere.

    The balance is something I wrestle with, and think every sincere Christian must also wrestle with, because as you point out, it’s all part of the truth we proclaim.

    Where do we place the emphasis? Well, I’m wondering what Jesus’ omission tells us, in this regard…

    Cheers,
    Alister Cameron

  7. Thanks Alister

    While an article would be a good idea, and I hope to do it soonish, a short reply here can suffice. Jesus of course stopped where he did in his reading of Isaiah to emphasise his servant role in his first coming, while in 2b we find emphasised his messianic role as judge in his second coming. Thus this entire Isaianic passage is fully being fulfilled in Christ, and there is no discrepancy here at all. (Indeed, 61:1-3 is one long sentence.) As I wrote above, God’s love and justice are both fully part of who he is.

    And for anyone suffering oppression, the favour that Jesus speaks about in 2a will of course nicely be implemented by his just vengeance spoken of in 2b. So the text is a whole which cannot be divided in terms of who God is, but it can be divided to an extent in terms of when and how these aspects of God’s character are fully made manifest.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  8. Thanks Alister

    Hey, I aim to please! So what’s your next query? Just kidding – got my own work to do now. But that was a good topic actually so thanks for suggesting it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. Ross,

    If you had gone to dictionary.com online you would have found this definition of Isaianic:

    Isaianic
    I·sa·ian
    [ahy-zey-uhn or, esp. British, ahy-zahy] Show IPA
    adjective
    of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Isaiah or of the book of the Bible bearing his name.
    Also, I·sa·ian·ic [ahy-zey-an-ik or, esp. British, ahy-zahy-] Show IPA .

    Origin:
    1880–85; Isai(ah) + -an

    Dictionary.com Unabridged
    Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013.
    Cite This Source

    Spencer Gear

  10. The ‘Great’ Commandment is “Love the Lord, thy God”. Therefore the great ‘sin’ is not to so ‘Love’. Paraphrased this means “Get priorities correct” which too few do. But IF we really ‘love’ we refrain from anything, any action or behaviour unworthy of the beloved.
    For the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Saviour to mean much, a conversion must occur. But to what, from what? I no longer cheat at golf, on my tax return or on wife or associate Unless such occurs is there any ‘conversion’?
    Man abnegates all responsibility; but still claims ‘forgiveness’ without any repentance or change; & still claims ‘to be saved’.
    Alas. ‘Tis necessarily not so.

    Arthur Harwig

  11. A thought crossed my mind today that if life in the universe were not quickened by the Creator God, how would the first emerging amoeba or animal life be programmed for survival, procreation and purpose (i.e. teeth and predatory behaviour) if it merely evolved in response to optimum conditions of light and heat?

    Another thought today: we are becoming so detatched from truth as mankind tries to impose its will on natural law that it is like going through a valve that ratchets shut after entry so that it is impossible to get back when you realise you are going the wrong way.

    Isaiah’s words “woe to those who call evil good and good evil, put darkness for light and light for darkness and who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” ring so true to today, where we see the ultimate absurdity of atheists wanting to have church rituals without the element of God. We see people wilfully denying things that they know are true – with the sole purpose of exerting power over truth. Such anti-Christ behaviour pays homage to and owes allegiance to the fallen angel Lucifer, more commonly known as Satan, whose way is the way of darkness and death.

    Rachel Smith

  12. To my previous post regarding optimum conditions for life I should have added water and oxygen and a fortuitious positioning of our planet in the Orion spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy to my meagre understanding of the subject.

    Rachel Smith

  13. God’s wrath has to be on anything that does not come up to His standard of goodness, or else His love is no longer perfect. If God’s love wants the best for us, His creation, then letting any sin, anything that less than what His goodness enter into the equation of what is accepted, His love would be no longer perfect. I wonder why people find that so hard to see.

    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  14. Pertinent insights Rachel, and Isaiah’s words here are so apt for our times.

    I also think of Matthew 13, 14 – 15:

    “And the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in them, which says, ‘Hearing you will hear, and you will not understand, and seeing you will see and you will not know.’
    For the heart of this people has become dense, and they have hardly heard with their ears and their eyes they have shut, lest they would see with their eyes and they would hear with their ears and they would understand in their hearts and they would be converted and I would heal them.”

    Paula Pike

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