On Divine Grace and Judgment

Biblical truth is vitally important and needs to be restated, reaffirmed and re-defended on a regular basis. This is partly so because biblical truth is so very often twisted, perverted and abused. Thus we find the New Testament writers constantly insisting on the vital importance of sound doctrine and solid biblical teaching.

They were fully aware of how much false teaching and how many false teachers were wreaking havoc amongst the churches. So they were constantly engaged in teaching the flock, reteaching, and teaching again. One can never spend too much time on teaching biblical truth.

Yet today most churches actually play down or minimise sound teaching. They think doctrine is a secondary matter at best, and so they spend most of their time on offering “how-to” sermons: how to live your best life now, how to feel good about yourself, how to lose weight for Jesus – all the things the early church never focused on at all.

jesus 19And if there is teaching, often it is woefully bad teaching – teaching which is substandard and sub-biblical. And I am speaking about pastors and Christian leaders here who should know better. They of all people should have the basics of biblical Christianity down pat, but too often they cannot even get that right.

Examples of this are to be found everywhere. Let me offer just one. Sadly one well-known Christian leader posted something recently which I was staggered to read. I had to read it three times to finally be convinced that he really was saying something this theologically and biblically confused. He posted this:

For those prophets stating that God is about to pour out his judgement on the world, you are taking away from Jesus sacrifice on the cross….. All Gods wrath and anger was poured out on him. we live under the dispensation of Grace, not judgment and it is an affront to our Lord to state otherwise. Even under the Old Testament Abraham talked God down from his wrath on Sodom, if there were but 10 righteous in the land……today we only need one – Jesus is our righteousness, He is our Lord who paid the price and redeemed us from the curse.

Wow, there is so much silliness, confusion and muddled theological thinking here that I don’t even know where to begin. But I must begin somewhere, so let me state that he seems to have no or little clue as to what the biblical story line is all about.

He offers us the incredibly unbiblical notion that somehow we are now living in a time of grace (whatever that means) and before this it was all judgment. Um, how can he say this if he has read the Bible through cover to cover? How can any leader make such a patently false and mischievous statement?

The simple truth is this: God always has been and always will be a God of grace, and he has always dealt graciously with us. God was gracious when he created the world. God was gracious when he made Adam and Eve. God was gracious when he provided coverings for the pair after they sinned.

God was gracious when he spared Noah and his family. God was gracious when he chose a godly line to represent him and bring in the Messiah. God was gracious when he rescued Abraham and Lot. God was gracious when he preserved his people in Egypt during times of great famine.

God was gracious when he delivered his people at the Exodus. God was gracious when he led his people through the wilderness. God was gracious when he gave his people the law. God was gracious when he raised up the judges. We could go on and on like this for pages. Everything God did in the OT was an act of grace.

But there is another fully biblical truth which we must never lose sight of: God always has been and always will be a God of justice, righteousness and holiness. Because of that, he must always act against that which defies his character and who he is.

Thus God judges sin, unrighteousness and evil all the time. He did so in the Old Testament and he does so in the New Testament. That divine judgment has not stopped after Calvary is plain to see if we simply read the book of Acts and the epistles.

Think of Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead; of Herod being struck down; of Elymas being struck blind; of Hymenaeus and Alexander being handed over to Satan; and so on. Judgment happens throughout the NT, and we see this in full flight in the book of Revelation.

This book is given over to judgment – and Jesus Christ is the righteous judge who does all the judging. Unfortunately it seems our leader cited above is not clear on these basics of Christianity. Yes Jesus judged our sin at the cross, and all those who avail themselves of that substitutionary atonement through faith and repentance are spared final judgment.

But even the believer is still judged in terms of chastisement, in terms of discipline, and in terms of a future judgment of his works. But individuals and nations that continue to shake their fists at God are of course still under his wrath.

They face the just wrath and judgment of God continuously. If they do not turn in repentance, they will face the music fully when Christ returns. And reprobate and godless nations, which were routinely judged by Yahweh in the OT, are still in the same position today.

While we may not have the same sure word of the prophets as to how and when this is happening as we did in the OT, there is no reason to believe that God no longer cares about and deals with the nations today. Indeed, that message comes through loud and clear in Revelation.

The simple truth is, God does not change, he has not changed, and he will not change. He is forever a God of wonderful grace. But he is also forever a just, pure and holy God who cannot countenance sin in any way. Yes, Calvary was the provision for this for individuals if they accept it and submit to it.

But that does not for a moment mean that he ceases to be holy or angry with sin. His just wrath will always burn against sin, because he always will be utterly holy and righteous. God today offers the same thing he has always offered to fallen man: grace and judgment.

Indeed, it can rightly be argued that even in his acts of judgment he is being merciful. They actually belong together. It is not a case of choosing which one we might prefer. They are both part of who God is, and we must embrace him fully with all his attributes working as one.

That we can all escape the final act of wrath and judgment if we come to Christ on the basis of what he did for us 2000 years ago is a glorious truth and one we must always proclaim and celebrate. But we must also proclaim and celebrate the fact that God is holy and just, and he will always judge sin. He has to, or he would not be God.

Hundreds of passages can be appealed to here, and in other articles I discuss many of them. Here let me remind you that what we find in Romans 1:18-32 is one of the most important and most powerful passages on these matters – and it was written after Calvary I might add.

Whole libraries are filled with commentary on this significant section of Paul’s epistle. Let me appeal to just one which so well explains what this is all about. R. C. Sproul in his discussion of this portion of Romans says this:

Three times in this section we read about human beings being given up by God. They are given up to their vile passions, the lust of the flesh, and their reprobate minds. When God judges people according to the standard of his righteousness, he is declaring that he will not strive with mankind forever. We hear all the time about God’s infinite grace and mercy. I cringe when I hear it. God’s mercy is infinite insofar as it is mercy bestowed upon us by a Being who is infinite, but when the term infinite is used to describe his mercy rather than his person, I have problems with it because the Bible makes very clear that there is a limit to God’s mercy. There is a limit to his grace, and he is determined not to pour out his mercy on impenitent people forever. There is a time, as the Old Testament repeatedly reports, particularly in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, that God stops being gracious with people, and he gives them over to their sin.
The worst thing that can happen to sinners is to be allowed to go on sinning without any divine restraints. At the end of the New Testament, in the book of Revelation when the description of the last judgment is set forth, God says, ‘He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still’ (Rev. 22:11). God gives people over to what they want. He abandons them to their sinful impulses and removes his restraints, saying in essence, ‘If you want to sin, go ahead and sin.’ This is what theologians call ‘judicial abandonment.’ God, in dispensing his just judgment, abandons the impenitent sinner forever.

Given that the sin homosexuality is singled out by Paul in this section of Scripture as the predominant example of why sinful man deserves the wrath of God, it seems we can say with full assurance that the West is long overdue for God’s righteous judgment. Despite what the leader I quoted may think, we are exactly at the place that Paul speaks about here.

If God judges Washington or San Francisco or Los Angeles or Canberra or Sydney today for this and other grievous sins, he would be entirely justified in doing so. The fact that individuals can now find the forgiveness of God based on what Jesus did at the cross does not in the least take away from the truths enunciated here in Romans, or in Revelation, or in the entire NT.

Because I think Sproul is so utterly spot on here, let me quote him again in closing, this time from his book The Holiness of God:

God’s grace is not infinite. God is infinite, and God is gracious. We experience the grace of an infinite God, but grace is not infinite. God sets limits to his patience and forbearance. He warns us over and over again that someday the ax will fall and His judgment will be poured out.
Since it is our tendency to take grace for granted, my guess is that God found it necessary from time to time to remind Israel that grace must never be assumed. On rare but dramatic occasions He showed the dreadful power of His justice. He killed Nadab and Abihu. He killed Uzzah. He commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites. It is as if He were saying, “Be careful. While you enjoy the benefits of my grace, don’t forget my justice. Don’t forget the gravity of sin. Remember that I am holy.”

[1906 words]

17 Replies to “On Divine Grace and Judgment”

  1. Hebrews 12:28-29 (NKJV)
    28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
    29 For our God is a consuming fire.

    Luke 12:41-48 (NKJV)
    41 Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?”
    42 And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?
    43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.
    44 Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has.
    45 But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk,
    46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
    47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
    48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.

  2. Thanks Bill. A much needed correction to the ‘infinite grace’ teaching that abounds. How could we revere one who proclaimed infinite grace without judgment of sin? If this were true, there would be no need for repentance, and God’s holiness would be forever compromised.

  3. Those who say you can go on sinning because God’s judgement was poured out on Jesus and all sin was therefore paid for have, I don’t believe ever encountered the risen saviour, but are just using the gospel for an excuse to justify their sin. When we are truly born again and have become a new creation, though we still sin, that sin becomes more hateful to us as we go on in our walk with the Lord, if a walk we have with Him. I pray the Lord will bless these people with the true fear of God which alone can bring them to true repentance as amazing grace makes so clear in its second stanza.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  4. Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Minister Bill. This is why so many “Christians” don’t like what I have to say! They think that I am very Judgemental and deny what I present them in scripture. God is actually requiring a higher standard from those who have crucified their sinful nature. Ephesians 5 teaches us this also. When we fail to walk in submission to God, we will fail to fulfil Gods will and purpose for our lives. It is only in His will that we are free. Freedom that we walk in came at a cost, it was the cost of Jesus obedience to the Fathers will. We, if we are not obedient to the Fathers will, will suffer the judgement of His wrath. The son’s of disobedience will suffer judgement. Do not think, that we will escape this wrath, if we neglect so great a salvation, which was purchased by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  5. Your articulation is always appreciated. Our church has preached “God`s wrath is always redemptive”. Nice man, but oh so sad in using internet for his doctrine. Also, what’s with all the new versions of The Bible, I read some are missing key words.

  6. I too am staggered that the Christian leader you refer to could say “…taking away from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All God’s anger was poured out on him”. Would Almighty God, our father in heaven, pour out his anger on his only begotten beloved Son, who died that we might be forgiven, who died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood? The gospel of God’s kingdom to come is lost on this person.

    The more one becomes enlightened as to the mystery of our life on earth, the easier it is to spot someone who has no idea. For example when someone refers to God as “she” or speaks of “going to church on Sunday”.

  7. Absolutely, 100% correct. God may not be willing that any should perish but the way that leads to destruction is still broad and many go in there. Even if we make it we still have to go through the “refining fire” and we should, particularly in these times, remember that judgement starts with God’s people. When you look at the equivalent in many Earthly judges’ rulings you can see that hyper-grace is just another term for injustice and you would think it would be obvious to Christians, God cannot have any part in that. Why would Jesus need to die if it was just as simple as God changing the “rules” as to what makes something right or wrong? This sort of wand waving idea about reality and how it can supposedly be changed, completely ignores reality and what God is trying to teach us.

    You are 100% right about the idea that there somehow is a difference between the OT God and Jesus. For anyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God and came from God and was with God from the beginning, this is fairly basic heresy. The idea that Jesus was different to the Father is what condemned the Pharisees as they proved they were not obeying the first commandment by crucifying Jesus, whereas John the Baptist (who also did not understand what was happening with the New Covenant) was justified. If Jesus was different to the Father then the Pharisees could not have been condemned for what they did but as it was, they proved that they were just actors going through the motions.

  8. Thanks Rachel. Actually this is one of the few things he did get right. 2000 years of Christian teaching has always recognised that this – at least in part – is how we are to understand the atoning sacrifice of Christ. In a very real sense the wrath of God which should fall on us sinners was put on to Christ at Calvary. The biblical term is “propitiation” (see for example Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 9:5 1 John 2:2; 4:10).

    I discuss it in more detail here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/01/25/on-the-atonement/

    And here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/02/21/a-review-of-the-truth-of-the-cross-by-rc-sproul/

    See also here: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-cup-consumed-for-us

    The ESV Study Bible says this on propitiation in Romans 3:25:
    “Jesus’ blood ‘propitiated’ or satisfied God’s wrath (1:18), so that his holiness was not compromised in forgiving sinners. Some scholars have argued that the word propitiation should be translated expiation (the wiping away of sin), but the word cannot be restricted to the wiping away of sins as it also refers to the satisfaction or appeasement of God’s wrath, turning it to favor (cf. note on John 18:11). God’s righteous anger needed to be appeased before sin could be forgiven, and God in his love sent his Son (who offered himself willingly) to satisfy God’s holy anger against sin. In this way God demonstrated his righteousness, which here refers particularly to his holiness and justice. God’s justice was called into question because in his patience he had overlooked former sins. In other words, how could God as the utterly Holy One tolerate human sin without inflicting full punishment on human beings immediately? Paul’s answer is that God looked forward to the cross of Christ where the full payment for the guilt of sin would be made, where Christ would die in the place of sinners. In the OT, propitiation (or the complete satisfaction of the wrath of God) is symbolically foreshadowed in several incidents: e.g., Ex. 32:11–14; Num. 25:8, 11; Josh. 7:25–26.”

    John Stott summarises what biblical propitiation entails: “God himself gave himself to save us from himself.”

  9. Thanks for links Bill. This comes as something of a shock. Will check out.

  10. Hebrews 10:29 : ‘How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?’

    It seems to me that ‘grace’ has been confused with the word ‘tolerance’ which as we know has become an absolute like all the other politically correct words – equality, diversity,inclusion and non -discrimination. One thing for sure that when we go down that road we end up with infinite and absolute, injustice, lies and cruelty.

    David Skinner UK

  11. Hi Bill

    Thank you. Just the clarification that I needed. I have return to this again and reread. It’s wonderful to come across sound teaching around two ‘sensitive’ issues in the Church these days: sin & judgement and homosexuality.

  12. Hi Bill, interesting article. Do you know if Grace/judgement was around before Adam and also now, and in the future, in the 3rd heaven? Does Grace/judgement permeate all ages and all of the universe? Is it the nature of God?

  13. Thanks Gavin. You raise some important questions here. Briefly, theologians differ as to whether the wrath of God is an essential or fundamental attribute of God, or a relative or accidental attribute. That is, God’s love seems to be eternally essential to who he is, but his wrath, which is a function of his reaction to sin, may perhaps be a temporal aspect of his character, since sin itself is temporal. As just one example of this, Robert Letham, in his recently released Systematic Theology says this:

    “Some attributes are related purely to sin: wrath is the prime example. Apart from human sin, God would not exercise wrath, for there would be nothing about which to be wrathful. However, once he had created humanity and Adam had disobeyed his law, with the consequent devastating effects on the human race and the cosmos itself, God – being holy and righteous – reacted with settled hostility to the emergence of rebellion in his prime creature. This was no change in God; it was the creature that had changed.”

    However, some would argue that his wrath is an essential attribute, a function of who he always is. Wayne Grudem in his ST takes this approach. But much more needs to be said about this, so I may do an entire article on it. Thanks for asking, and stay tuned!

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