Recently, I conducted an Internet search for “songs about the grace of God.” Among the results was one website that comprised sixty-two pages of such songs. My curiosity piqued, I then searched “songs about the wrath of God.” Not surprisingly, the results were not nearly as robust.
Today’s Christian music seems mostly designed to engage listeners at the level of personal emotion and subjective experience. To that end, many songwriters put particular emphasis on God’s grace. Of course, it’s only right to praise God for the blessings He has poured out on us, and the for sacrificial work of His Son on our behalf. And it makes sense that singing about the amazing grace of our Lord would stir our emotions and make us feel good.
But the predominant focus on God’s grace might indicate a kind of myopia when it comes to His other attributes. In fact, some Christian recording artists and authors put so much emphasis on God’s grace that it renders other facets of His character either subordinate or virtually nonexistent.
Among these less heralded attributes of God is His wrath. As John MacArthur says in his sermon “The Wrath of God,”
The gospel message begins with a statement about the wrath of God. Frankly that’s diametrically opposed to most of our evangelistic technique. Most of our contemporary evangelism purposely avoids that theme. We talk about love, and we talk about happiness, and we talk about abundant living, and we talk about forgiveness, and we talk about joy, we talk about peace. And we offer people all of those things and ask them if they wouldn’t like to have all of those things. But we really very rarely talk about judgment.
The concept of wrath evokes the worst punishment imaginable. For some, the word may catapult their minds back to childhood experiences of physical, mental, or emotional abuse. Others falsely relegate the notion of divine wrath to the Old Testament, convinced that God’s covenant of grace negates the anger and judgment He displayed in ages past. Wrath would seem to be something that does not relate to the God of modern evangelicalism. The current emphasis on God’s love and mercy makes the idea of His wrath utterly inconceivable for many professing believers.
Worse still, that corrupted notion of God’s wrath has led to significant confusion about His grace as well. That Christians serve a God of grace is one of the more wondrous realities of being in union with Him (Acts 20:32; Ephesians 1:7, 2:8-9). It is also one of the most misunderstood truths. Apart from the common grace of God (Matthew 5:45), none of us could take even a single breath of air. Yet we treat God’s grace so casually that we fail to give Him the glory He deserves for His abundant compassion toward us (Ephesians 2:8). This is an egregious sin, for in doing so we take for granted that “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28).
The truth is, a biblically accurate understanding of God’s righteous wrath can only increase our appreciation for His tremendous grace. As Charles Spurgeon said, “If there be a God, he must punish men for sinning against him. How can any moral government exist if sin goes unpunished, if virtue and vice lead to the same end?” Charles Spurgeon, “The Sinner’s Only Alternative,” Sermon 2894 in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. vol.50 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1904), 363. Only sinners need God’s grace–and sinners we are (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23). Understanding the depth of our spiritual needs and the punishment due for our sinful rebellion enriches our understanding of the full majesty of His grace to us.
As passive recipients of the grace of a holy and righteous God, we have no right to be selective about which of His divine attributes we will celebrate and which we won’t. We must worship Him in the fullness of all His eternal attributes as He reveals Himself in His Word.
To that end, let me recommend to you John MacArthur’s sermon “The Reality of God’s Wrath.” In it, John explains that the wrath of God comprises five facets: His eternal wrath, eschatological wrath, cataclysmic wrath, sowing and reaping wrath, and wrath of abandonment. It’s in light of such full-orbed wrath that we begin to truly appreciate His grace.
God’s grace and wrath are not mutually exclusive. Far from it—both are fundamental to who He is as God. To be partial to the grace of God while not appreciating His wrath is not to worship the one true God, but to remake Him in our own image.
Click here to listen to “The Reality of God’s Wrath.”