“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. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28-29)
In in the first part of this post I mentioned God’s wrath and talked a bit about the importance of being sons of obedience versus sons of disobedience. Let’s look at those concepts more closely.
According to the book of Ephesians we once were slaves to Satan, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (2:2); and we “were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (v. 3). When we think of God’s wrath, we often picture it as something that we incur by sinning. Most people maintain a “fairy godmother” view of God even when they don’t obey; they don’t want to believe that a God who is Love (1 John 4:8) could possibly be wrathful.
However, God’s wrath exists not because of our nature but because of His nature; His wrath must be present as the validation of His righteous justice. He does not have a “wrath gauge” that starts at “zero” and increases as we sin, waiting to erupt violently when the the full limit is reached. We all were once sons of disobedience because “through [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). As the very definition of holiness, God must uphold the warning He gave to Adam and Eve in the garden that disobedience would be punished by death (Gen. 2:16-17). Thus, His wrath existed before the creation of the world; it is part of who He is.
But here is the best part: God’s wrath does not merely prove His righteousness and justice; God’s wrath proves His goodness. His wrath is not an evil thing. Consider it. If He displayed no wrath to the disobedient, how could we trust that He has our highest interests in mind and that His ways are best when we live in this broken world? Without the existence of His wrath, His mercy would be meaningless. Without the existence of His wrath, there would be no benefit in following Him over following the lusts of our flesh because good men could not receive His favor and wicked men would not receive His condemnation (Pro. 12:2). Without the existence of His wrath, we would need to take the task of vengeance upon ourselves instead of “giving place to [God’s] wrath” (Rom. 12:19). Without the existence of His wrath, we could not have faith that good will triumph over evil and that Christ will be fully revealed to reign victorious over the entirety of His creation. Take a look at these verses, one from the Old Testament and one from the New:
“What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory[?]” (Rom. 9:22-23)
These are heavy words, but what they mean is that without God’s wrath, there would be no such thing as blessing or mercy. God, in the mystery of His eternal and infinite wisdom, planned before the foundations of the earth were laid, to display His goodness to humankind, the prize of His creation.
As “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), our inheritance was wrath. Thus, before we were saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we were partakers of God’s wrath, but now by the power of Jesus’ blood we have become partakers of God’s gracious and merciful favor, having been chosen by God to receive adoption as His children (Eph. 1:5). Now, though we were once “sons of disobedience,” we have been made sons of obedience.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Rom. 5:8-9)
We now know what exactly we saved been saved from, but what have we been saved for as sons of obedience? If wrath is no longer our inheritance, what is our inheritance?
We’ll look at the answer in the last part of this post.