“God is not mad at you. He is mad ABOUT you.”  Rick Warren, https://twitter.com/RickWarren/status/1087562593173032960. That was Rick Warren’s message to an unbelieving audience during a televised Christmas special some years back. His words sum up the modern sentiment regarding God’s attitude toward all of humanity—that His love for us eclipses all other dispositions.
Biblically speaking, however, Warren’s slogan is nothing more than a soothing lie. In fact, it’s an egregious and irresponsible act of pastoral malpractice from someone who should know the truth about heaven’s view of sinful men. God’s Word is replete with vivid warnings to the unbeliever about divine wrath. King David summarized it well when he said, “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11, KJV).
Put simply, Warren is neither telling the truth nor loving the sinner when he proclaims God’s love and dismisses His wrath. Charles Spurgeon had a far better grasp of his solemn pastoral duties when he said:
Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stop, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.  Charles Spurgeon sermon, “The Wailing of Risca.”
John MacArthur highlights both the critical importance of God’s wrath and the reason so many preachers willfully avoid the subject.
The idea of a wrathful God goes against the wishful thinking of fallen human nature and is even a stumbling block to many Christians. Much contemporary evangelism talks only about abundant life in Christ, the joy and blessings of salvation, and the peace with God that faith in Christ brings. All of those benefits do result from true faith, but they are not the whole picture of God’s plan of salvation. The corollary truth of God’s judgment against sin and those who participate in it must also be heard.
For Paul, fear of eternal condemnation was the first motivation he offered for coming to Christ, the first pressure he applied to evil men. He was determined that they understand the reality of being under God’s wrath before he offered them the way of escape from it. That approach makes both logical and theological sense. A person cannot appreciate the wonder of God’s grace until he knows about the perfect demands of God’s law, and he cannot appreciate the fullness of God’s love for him until he knows something about the fierceness of God’s anger against his sinful failure to perfectly obey that law. He cannot appreciate God’s forgiveness until he knows about the eternal consequences of the sins that require a penalty and need forgiving.  John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 1–8 (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1991), 59–60.
It’s foolish to think we can explain the gospel without mentioning God’s wrath. What does mercy mean apart from what we are spared from? What does the cross mean apart from knowing what Christ suffered in our place? What does salvation mean apart from knowing what we are saved from? To avoid or deny the reality of God’s wrath is to rob those glorious doctrines of all meaning.
Furthermore, God’s wrath is a major theme of the Bible. It is mentioned over four hundred times in Scripture throughout the Old and New Testaments. Moreover, Jesus Christ was the consummate authority on eternal damnation—almost all of our theology on hell is derived from the Lord’s own mouth while He walked the earth.
But perhaps most importantly, the doctrine of God’s wrath warrants robust discussion because it’s so rarely talked about in the church today. To perpetuate that problem here would be to shortchange our readership in an uncaring and unpastoral manner.
Throughout this year, we’ve looked at some of God’s fundamental attributes. We’ve considered His triune nature, His holiness, His sovereignty, and His love. Our hope is that, as this series unfolds in the days ahead, a healthy biblical understanding of God’s wrath will complement and illuminate those other attributes—moreover, that it will animate our evangelistic efforts, as we seek to faithfully emulate the gospel preaching of Jesus Christ and His apostles.
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