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!


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