“I don’t believe in the God of which you speak. My God would never punish someone in hell forever. I believe in a good God.” So the popular sentiment goes these days concerning the wrath of God. However, if one is to be good, then there must be negative reactions to certain things. For example, if I claimed to be a good father, there should be certain things to which I react negatively. Some of those things may include the following: the abuse of my child, wrong attitudes in my child that will lead them into future difficulties, dangerous situations in which my child may find herself. If I’m a good father, I must have a negative reaction to these things. If I’m aware that my child is suffering abuse, I will not calmly stand by and condone that action. If I detect that there are wrongful and sinful attitudes in my child that will lead them on a trajectory of greater sin, I will not apathetically sit and refuse to give correction. If I’m aware of a dangerous situation into which my child is placed, I will not simply stand by and hope for the best. In each and every one of these situations (and many more instances could be listed), the display of my goodness as a father is shown through a very strong negative reaction.
So why is it that we come to the issue of God and His goodness, so many are eager to claim that He is good simply because He refuses to punish? Can we say in any meaningful way that God is good if He condoned the evil activities of Hitler? Can we say that God is good if His reactions to the mass murderer Charles Manson and the cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer are the same as the Christian you sit next to in church each and every Sunday? God’s goodness is not found in some false unlimited approval of everything. God’s goodness is based on His perfect standard of righteousness, which is an attribute of who He is. He is perfectly righteous, perfectly just, perfectly holy. And as such, there must be a reaction against things that are not perfectly righteous and not perfectly just and not perfectly holy. It is inconsistent to say that God is good and that God will never punish (or be wrathful). However, it is consistent to say that because God is good, He must punish anything that is in violation of His holy standard.
Probably what is more startling than the fact that many claim that a good God would never punish (or display wrath) is the fact that there is a day of reckoning that is on the way of which the majority of the population seems clueless. The Nicene Creed, which has been confessed by believers in the church from the time of Jesus’ ascension to the present day declares, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.” Countless millions walk around every day living their lives as if this day is not rushing toward them. In their daily routines, they get themselves into jams, dilemmas, and predicaments, and are required to invest much time trying to find solutions to all of these problems. Yet at the same time, they walk around failing to acknowledge the fact that the ultimate predicament is heading their way—the day when they will stand before the tribunal of God. They will stand before God, the righteous Judge, in all of His white-hot blazing holiness and justice. There, they will have to account for every sinful thought, word, and deed. And each day, as they live oblivious to this unalterable appointment that they will surely keep, they continue to heap up wrath against themselves.
Of course, this is definitely not a popular doctrine in our day. Everyone wants to be politically correct and no one wants to be told that they are wrong. More so, no one wants to be told that they will be punished because they are wrong. But that does not change the indisputable fact of God’s righteous, fierce wrath. Probably one of the most hated, yet most easily proven doctrines in all of Scripture is the wrath of God. Even Jesus Himself, whom some are willing to recognize as a good man and a good teacher, had much to say about the wrath of God. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus spoke of being “guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus speaks of the seriousness of the wrath of God when He says, “And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, then for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.” In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” In Matthew 13:41-42, Jesus, speaking of this coming day of wrath, said, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In Matthew 25:46, Jesus said, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Notice in this last verse that the punishment for the wicked is just as long in duration as the life is for the righteous (eternal punishment, eternal life). There are many more passages that we could survey, but I think these make the point: Jesus was serious about the coming wrath of God…so serious that He loved those whom he addressed enough to warn them. The question is: Do we?
Do we have enough love toward those with whom we work, visit, recreate, eat, and converse to tell them of this coming predicament of all predicaments that is heading their way? On a lesser scale, if we knew that the drink that they were about to consume was poisonous, we would warn them. If we knew that the bridge ahead was out on the road they were traveling, we would warn them. If we knew their toddler had opened the gate and was leaning over the edge of the pool, we would warn them. So how is it that we, as believers who know for sure that they are heading toward this day of wrath like a runaway train, keep silent for fear of offending them? If we were to keep silent about a poisonous drink, a washed-out bridge, or a toddler being near the edge of a pool, that would be the height of immoral behavior. Our silence would lead to untold pain and tragedy. However, this pain and tragedy that would be the result of our silence would only be temporal. But exponentially, infinitely above and beyond this very real temporal pain, keeping silent about the holiness and wrath of God leads to eternal tragedy, anguish, and sorrow.
Let me give you some very sobering words from our doctrinal statement, the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. In chapter 32 titled “Of the Last Judgment,” it states, “God has appointed a day wherein He will judge the world in righteousness, by Jesus Christ; to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father; in which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon the earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil. The end (purpose) of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the eternal damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient; for then shall the righteous go into everlasting life and receive that fullness of joy and glory with everlasting rewards, in the presence of the Lord; but the wicked, who know not God and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments and punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.”
These are, admittedly, strong and sobering words to read. In other words, this is the bad news. So, is there any good news at all? Given the fact that sinners are racing to the day of wrath, is there any way that it can be avoided? Here’s the good news: Jesus satisfied the demands of God’s justice for His people as He received upon Himself the full measure of God’s wrath upon the cross. I like how R. C. Sproul puts it. He has said that when Jesus was on the cross, He went to hell for us. The apostle Paul stated the principle much earlier than Sproul when he said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” It was on the cross that our sin was credited to Christ, and His righteousness credited to all those who would ever believe upon Him. When Christ was on the cross, God the Father poured out the full, hellish measure of His wrath upon Christ and Christ consumed every bit of it for His people. On the cross, Christ comes as our High Priest presenting the perfect sacrifice—Himself. And as He was suffering upon that cross, Christ screamed (Matthew 27:46), “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” The reason Christ cried out was because there upon the cross, as God the Father was pouring out His wrath upon Christ, God was turning His back on His Son in an act of infinite, holy revulsion and wrath. This shows the depth of God’s mercy and love toward sinners. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” So in a very real way, it was my sin along with the sins of everyone who would ever believe upon Christ that nailed the nails and drove down the thorny crown and most of all, called forth the just wrath of a holy God to be poured down upon our Savior. And there upon the cross, God the Father treated Christ as if He had committed every sin of every person who would ever believe upon Him. And wrath was poured out for each and every one of those sins.
The cross is our only hope of salvation—our only escape from God’s wrath. Have you escaped this wrath by grace through Christ alone? If you have, do you see your lost friends and family as heading toward this day of wrath? I pray that you do and that you care enough for their never-dying souls to give them the warning and the way in which they can avoid the wrath of God. Love them enough to give them the law (the bad news) and the gospel (the good news). Soli Deo Gloria.