Love and Wrath in the Gospel of Jesus Christ

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood,
much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,
much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
(Romans 5:9-10)

There has been a lot of buzz on the internet recently about the modern hymn, In Christ Alone, which has become one of our favorites in our congregation.  Apparently, while the Presbyterian Church’s Hymnal Committee considered the song because it is being sung in many churches, it was ultimately rejected because of the third stanza which sings:

“Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.”

The committee had suggested a change in the lyrics to:

as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified

but the writers of the hymn, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, would not approve the change in language, insisting upon the integrity of the hymn and the Biblical message it teaches through song.

So what’s the big deal about “wrath” anyway?  If you were to make a list of the virtues and characteristics that are valued in our world, wrath would certainly not be one of them.  People who are full of wrath are not the kind of people you want to be around, are they?  So would a wrathful god be a kind of god we want to worship?

We must keep in mind, however, that the ways of God are not the ways of man.  When we are angry and full of wrath, our wrath is stained with sin.  There are often times when anger is justified, but the apostle Paul warns us in our anger not to sin, because it is so easy to do so.

If we talk of the wrath of God, then, we must speak consistently with the nature of God.  God is revealed in His Word as righteous, holy, just, steadfast in love, and yes, at times even, a God of wrath.  In fact, one may even argue that the love of God implies his wrath.  Without his wrath, or shall we say, God’s holy anger, God’s love is nothing more than a Hallmark card sentiment that can be easily scorned.

Think of it this way: if a man is not jealous for his wife’s attention, angered when she gives her affection and adoration to other men, does he really even love his wife?  Dr. Bruce McCormack, theology professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, in his class on The Atonement, spent a good two weeks on the wrath of God.  I pulled out the notes this week (yes, I’ve kept them these 12 years), and found this:

“Wrath is not a characteristic of God; righteousness is.
Wrath is the reaction of God to the scorning of his love.  Wrath is love’s backside.”

When we sin, when we rebel against God’s law and His righteous way for our lives, we scorn the love of God and fall under the wrath of His judgment.  This wrath is reserved for all who have sinned, Ephesians 2:3 tells us “we are by nature children of wrath,” and as Romans teaches, “the wages of sin is death.”  We stand in need of salvation from the wrath of God.

Therefore, without wrath, there is no gospel.  When people talk about the gospel, they like to talk about the Good News of God’s love for us, in that He sent His Son to save us; and Amen to that.  But from what have we been saved?  From our bad thinking?  From our mistakes?  No, we have been saved, ultimately, from the wrath of God.

It was the wrath of God that was poured out on Christ upon the cross.  It was the wrath reserved for us that he bore for us.  Greg Gilbert, in his book “What is the Gospel” writes, “a righteous and holy God can justify the ungodly because in Jesus’ death, mercy and justice were perfectly reconciled.  The curse was righteously executed, and we were mercifully saved.”

It is only because of the cross, where Christ bore the wrath of God, that we now know and live in the love of God.  It is only because He suffered the wrath meant for us that we can sing:

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

And so we shall sing!


Full of the Holy Spirit and Faith

“he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith…”
(Acts 11:24)

I want this passage engraved on my tombstone.

I know it’s too early to think about that sort of thing, but since I am turning 40 in a couple of weeks, one might as well begin thinking about the inevitable.

All kidding aside, wouldn’t we all want this said about us at the end of our lives?  This passage comes from Luke’s description in Acts of the growing church in Antioch.  Believers who fled persecution in Jerusalem had assembled in Antioch, a predominately Hellenist (read Greek, or non-Jewish) community.  We read in Acts 11 that “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”  When news of this tremendous growth reached Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to teach and encourage the believers there, and while Barnabas was there, God continued to prosper and grow the church.  Barnabas rejoiced when we saw the grace of God present in Antioch, and he exhorted them all “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”  Then we are given a clue as to the success of Barnabus’ ministry, “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”

That Barnabas was a good man has been previously established in the book of Acts.  We first read of Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37.  There we find a man called Joseph, whom the disciples called Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement,” who, with many other believers, sold his property and gave the money to the poor.

This is the kind of guy people want to be around.  He was an encourager, building up others, helping equip and strengthen them for service.  And he was generous and charitable, considering the needs of others before his own.  This characterizes Barnabas as a “good man.”

But, as Matthew  Henry notes, “the goodness of his natural disposition would not have qualified him for this service if he had not been full of the Holy Spirit.”  That is a phrase that is worth considering.  It’s used to describe only two other people in the New Testament, Jesus, just after his baptism in Luke 4, and Stephen, when he was selected as a Deacon in Acts 6, and as he was martyred in Acts 7.

So what does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit?  It think that first we must remember that it is the Holy Spirit who awakens us to the gospel, who convicts us of our sin, and who leads us unto a saving knowledge of our savior Jesus Christ.  One cannot be a believer, one cannot be saved, unless the Spirit has first come and given life.  There is no such thing as life in Christ apart from the Holy Spirit – for it is the Spirit who gives life (John 6:63).

But there is a sense in which, once quickened by the Spirit from death unto life, the Holy Spirit may also fill individuals with power and equip them for ministry.  It was this outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that filled the disciples and enabled them to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation to the nations gathered in Jerusalem.  It was this outpouring of the Holy Spirit that strengthened Stephen to boldly proclaim the risen Christ even as he was being killed. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that equips and gifts the Church for ministry (1 Corinthians 12).  When the Holy Spirit fills a person, the result is a dramatic and mighty demonstration of God’s saving power.

Inwardly, the fullness of the Holy Spirit must also imply the crucifixion of the spirit of flesh.  Paul writes in Romans 8 that “the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus…” that we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…” and “you, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”  To be full of the Spirit is to live according to the Spirit, to seek the leading of the Spirit, through the Word of God (read and proclaimed), and through prayer.  It is following the lead of God’s Holy Spirit in every decision, every action, every word – placing yourself captive to the sovereign and gracious power of God’s Holy Spirit.

And, of course, Barnabas was a man of faith.  He knew and trusted the power of God for salvation.  He could give his possessions knowing his life was secure in the hands of his Provider.  He could encourage others to faithfulness because he knew that Christ was the Faithful One.  Again, Matthew Henry writes, “He was full of faith, full of the grace of faith, and full of the fruits of that faith that works by love.”

If you try to make a name for yourself, you will probably lose it.  But if you live selflessly, living by faith, living in the fullness of God’s Spirit, God will let the quality of your character be known.  “Seek first the Kingdom of God,” Jesus said, “and all these things will be added unto you.”  Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  Can the same be said of you?  It is my prayer that it be said of me.