“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
1) God of Wrath vs. God of Love? (Tom Edwards)
God of Wrath vs. God of Love?
Is the God of the Old Testament the same as the God of the New? For while some folks view the former as a God of wrath, they also see the latter in the New Testament as a God of love. But are these two different Gods?
It is true that we have more examples of God’s wrath in the Old Testament, such as the global flood of Noah’s day in which only 8 people survived (Gen. 6-8); the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah that eventually resulted in only 3 souls saved (Gen. 19:1-25); the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea (Exod. 14); some of the Hebrews destroyed by fire for murmuring (Num. 11:1-3); the earth that opened up and swallowed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with their families, for rebelling over the leadership of Moses and Aaron, along with the 250 consumed by fire for also doing so (Num. 16). Many of the Israelites then grumbled against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of being the cause for the death of Korah and these others. So God brought a plague upon these grumblers that led to the death of 14,700 of them (Num. 16:49). Many of Israel died for complaining about the food God provided (Num. 21:4-9). For joining in with the idolatrous worship of Baal, 24,000 Israelites perished by a plague (Num. 25:1-9). When David sinned by wrongfully numbering Judah and Israel, it resulted in 70,000 dying from Dan to Beersheba (2 Sam. 24:15). In defense of the city of Jerusalem and for the Lord’s sake, as well as for David’s, the angel of the Lord put to death 185,000 Assyrians who would have come up against the city (2 Kings 19:35). These are just some of the examples in the Old Testament of God’s wrath that brought about death.
Could it be that we don’t take God seriously enough, in our time, with regard to sin? Do we think more lightly of it because we are not seeing God’s wrath being outpoured today as it was in Old Testament times? Of course, it could very well be that the Lord sometimes still does carry out His wrath providentially, which we are not aware of nor can determine. But if He did, and we knew of it, would that change our attitude toward sin and our behavior?
What examples do we have in the New Testament of God’s wrath leading to the death of the wrongdoer? In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and his wife Sapphira were both struck down by God for lying, which resulted in “great fear” that “came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (v. 11).
Though people lie today without losing their lives for it, does that mean that God now approves of such? Is not lying still wrong? And would not God’s attitude still be the same toward it as when Ananias and Sapphira did so? Of course, the worse penalty of all for lying is that it is a sin by which one can be lost, ultimately kept out of heaven, and end up in the lake of fire eternally (cf. Rev. 21:8).
Another example is that of Herod. When acclaimed as having “the voice of a god and not of a man,” after delivering a speech, Herod was then struck down and died “because he did not give God the glory” (Acts 12:20-23). Again, however, does it mean it is now all right to do the same today, as what Herod was guilty of, just because that person would not be immediately struck by God for having done so?
Paul points out to the Corinthians that “many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1 Cor. 11:30) for having incurred “judgment” by failing to remember Christ’s death when observing the Lord’s Supper (v. 29). Instead, some were making a common meal out of it to fill their bellies rather than think upon the Lord’s great sacrifice and atonement for our sins. The King James Version speaks of that “judgment” as being “damnation” brought upon oneself.
So it is not only the love side of God that we see in the New Testament, nor only the wrath side of God that we see in the Old Testament. For even in the Old Testament it shows of the Lord’s great compassion for His people. And out of that far-surpassing love, He sent His prophets numerous times to the wayward ones to urge them to repent and return to Him. For as God instructs Ezekiel, “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezek. 33:11).
Consider also His message through the prophet Joel: “’Yet even now’ declares the LORD, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments.’ Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil” (Joel 2:12,13).
Let us remind ourselves that God sent His Son during the Old Testament times, who was “born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law” (Gal. 4:4,5). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (Jn. 3:16). Though that is read in the “New Testament,” yet the actual giving of His Son was during Old Testament times, as well as the life He lived up to His death (cf. Heb. 9:15-28). And the promise of the Messiah and the giving of His life for every sinner was prophesied several centuries prior to the New Testament Age (Isa. 53, Psa. 22). What a greatest of all indication of God’s love that was and is!
It must also be realized that God’s nature does not change (Mal. 3:6). Jesus Christ, who is “the exact representation of His [Father’s] nature” (Heb. 1:3) and, therefore, as much God as the Father (cf. Jn. 1:1-3), is also spoken of as being “…the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
That God, who never changes, has a love-side as well as a wrath-side can also be seen in Romans 11:22: “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” And we also see this in John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” It makes a great deal of difference in whether we choose to go the way of Christ or not.
By knowing that the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament, perhaps seeing those examples of His wrath will instill in us a greater reverence for God and the need to comply with His commands – rather than thinking of Him, as C.S. Lewis once wrote of the case of those who “….want not so much a Father but a grandfather in heaven, a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contended?’” (via The Problem of Pain).
And some go to even more extremes in actually wanting to have as little to do with God as possible. Lewis also writes in the same book, “We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.”
May the examples of God’s wrath in the Bible prompt us to realize more seriously the dangers of sin and be motivated to live holy lives instead. “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.’ And again, ‘THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:26-31).
But, as we have seen, the choice is up to us. We can either find it a terrifying thing to be in the hands of God, due to incurring His wrath, or a place of great blessing and protection and from which no one can pluck us out, due to abiding in His love by our obedience to the gospel. As Jesus teaches in John 10:27-29, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” To hear the voice of the Lord (by hearing the gospel) and following (by our obedience) is the key to avoiding the wrath side of God and enjoying His love — and may it be that we will ever do that!
(All Scripture from the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise indicated.)
The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation
1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
CHURCH OF CHRIST
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA 31501
Sunday services: 9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m. & 5 p.m. (worship)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917
http://thomastedwards.com/go (Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but back to March 1990)
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/audioser.html (audio sermons)