Wrath. The word alone instills fear and creates an image of someone on a warpath exacting revenge on all their enemies. There are no warm fuzzies here. No hallmark moments. If the wrath of a human can be scary, then what is the wrath of God going to do to a person?
When you think of the fact that the Bible says God is love, then how does the wrath of God coincide with that? That one question alone forces us to investigate and make sure that there is real understanding of what the wrath of God truly is.
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What Does Wrath Mean?
If you go by this definition alone then you see that while wrath can have a tone of vengeance or revenge, it can also be justified depending on the circumstance. For instance, a person could commit a heinous crime and face the wrath of the courts. This would be completely justifiable because the punishment, or wrath, fits the crime.
If we apply this idea to God’s wrath then it’s possible to say that God’s wrath is displayed never to get back at someone, but rather to represent his justice. In other words, he is pouring out wrath as a form of justice – not to exact revenge.
What Does the Bible Say about God’s Wrath?
I want to share with you three Scriptures that can give us clues into truly understanding God’s wrath.
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5).
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:36).
In all three of these verses, we see mention of the wrath of God. What I want you to pay attention to is what the wrath of God is in response to. You will see God is responding to godlessness, wickedness, stubbornness, unrepentant hearts, and rejecting Jesus as savior. A simpler way of putting it is God’s wrath is in response to man’s sin.
A logical question to follow would be – is this justified? The short answer is yes. God stands as the judge of all mankind. Each of us will have to give an account for what we have done and how we have lived. God gives us the freedom to make the choice in how we will live. What remains is that whatever decision we make we must be aware of the consequences of those choices.
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I Thought God Was Loving, Not Wrathful?
What many people often struggle with is marrying the idea that God can be love, and at the same time God can exact wrath. After all can these two co-exist together?
From the very beginning God established a principle. He told Adam the day you eat from that tree you will surely die. When God judges sin or responds in wrath to sin he is doing so to uphold the principles or laws he has established. Without them, instead of any semblance of order we would have chaos.
The beauty of God’s principles are they don’t just apply to judgement. Because of his principles, God honors his promises. His principles are why he responds when we put our trust in Jesus for salvation. His principles are why we experience grace, mercy, favor, and answers to prayer.
Yet it is also the same reason a person can potentially experience his wrath. He is just, loving, and fair. From the exact same throne flows the love of God and the justice of God. We get to decide which one we will experience.
Isn't Anger a Sin?
The best way to look at this is to consider Jesus’ response to the money changers in the temple:
“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it ‘a den of robbers’” (Matthew 21:12-13).
When Jesus saw the abuses that were happening in the temple, he got angry. The people were being taken advantage of and the money changers had turned the house of God into a place of business. Greed and profit were the sole motivation of the day. His anger was justified and warranted a response.
The reason he wasn’t sinning is because he was responding to the desecration of the house of God and the mistreatment of the people. These are proper triggers to anger and are often referred to as righteous anger. Anger that results because people are mistreated. Anger that happens because the most vulnerable are harmed. Anger that arises when those who are defenseless or weak get run over or stepped on by those more powerful are all examples of righteous anger.
However, as right you are to be angry, it does not give you a license to sin. Being angry because of a justifiable reason is ok. Sinning because of that anger is not. I encourage you to heed the words of the Apostle Paul,
“In your anger, do not sin…” (Ephesians 4:26).
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God's Wrath Will Be Poured Out, One Way or the Other
Now that we have painted a better picture and hopefully brought better understanding to what is the wrath of God, there is still something hanging in the balance. How does God’s wrath impact you? Earlier I mentioned that God established a principle that sin will result in death. Another way of thinking about it is because of sin, God will have to judge that sin, which is his wrath.
The question remains what do we do with this question of judgement? Even in the pouring out of judgement, God has given us a choice. Let me explain.
Because all sin demands justice and all sin will be judged, God sent Jesus to take all the wrath and judgement of sin on him. God literally took out all his wrath against sin and poured it on Jesus.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Not only did God pour out his wrath, but it was his will and his plan along.
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10).
“For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-56 NLT).
Here is the choice that remains: You can accept Christ as your substitution and in him find the complete judgement of your sin paid in full, or you can choose to pay the price yourself. One way or the other the justice and judgement of God for sin will be fulfilled. God’s love and mercy allows you to not have to pay the penalty for your sin because Christ has paid it for you. Here again we see God’s justice and wrath, but we also see completely God’s love in action.
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The Good News?
You don’t have to worry about God’s wrath as long as one condition is met. You have put your total faith and trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary. His death gives you complete confidence that the requirements of God’s wrath have been met. As believers, that doesn’t mean God won’t use discipline to correct us. It means that we never have to worry about paying the ultimate penalty for our sin.
I know many people may still have a challenging time reconciling God’s love and God’s wrath. If you should ever struggle or are ever questioning what is the wrath of God, remember Romans 5:8:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In remembering this you will see the wrath of God and the love of God all wrapped up in the same act. You don’t have to worry about experiencing his wrath because if your faith is in Christ, he has taken it for you. You are a product of his grace. Yes, God may discipline you if it is required, but you will never know his wrath.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.