Many people distinguish between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, almost as if He was two different Beings. According to their theology, the New Testament version of God has evidently reformed His wrathful ways, becoming entirely loving to the point of indulging human sins. Anyone who suggests that God still expresses wrath is, as a reader of this blog recently stated, toxic.
Certainly, we’d all prefer to focus on God’s love. I would! Nobody really takes pleasure in the idea that they anger God when they sin against Him, especially if He reserved the right to unleash His anger in a day of final judgment. So we isolate His love and mercy, convincing ourselves that He’s put all thoughts of wrath behind Him. Thus we snuggle into a nice, comfortable view of God that insulates us from all fear of judgment. As Andy Stanley famously said, we can “unhitch from the Old Testament.”
Such “unhitching” may be convenient, but it has an arrogance about it that we ought to acknowledge. Essentially, discarding the possibility of God’s wrath tacitly declares that we have authority to determine His nature and, consequently, His behavior toward us. As we shape Him into what we think He should be, we make Him manageable and keep ourselves in control of our relationship with Him.
More to the point, does the New Testament really annul the wrath of God? A thorough reading of the New Testament quickly puts that notion to rest — especially once you get to Revelation and read about the judgments that God will pour out during the Tribulation. I’ll not cover that section of the Bible right now. Instead, let me go to a passage in Romans about God’s love in saving us from His wrath.
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. ~~Romans 5:6-11 (NASB95)
We love this passage because it assures us that Christ died for us even while we were still steeped in our sinful ways. His death proves the amazing depth of His love for us,and we rightly bask in that love. But look at how verse 9 intensifies the wonder of Christ’s love by adding that His blood saves us from the wrath of God. Clearly, then, God remains wrathful, thus requiring some sort of appeasement for our transgressions against Him.
The beloved passage in Ephesians 2:1-10 also connects God’s love in saving us with the truth that we inherently deserve His wrath. Let’s look at the opening verses of this passage.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), ~~Ephesians 2:1-5 (NASB95)
We were by nature children of wrath, the text says. Only because of His love and mercy in sending Christ can we escape the torrential wrath that He will unleash in the Tribulation (see Revelation 6:12-17, 11:18 and 14:9-11 as just three examples). Apart from His mercy in sending Christ to die in our place, we indeed would receive the full force of His wrath.
As hard as it is to accept the truth that God is wrathful because of our sin, His very wrath actually shows the magnificence of His love. The more we understand how deserving we are of His righteous judgment, the more we stand in awe that He saved us from His wrath. Resisting the truth of His anger robs us of the joy in His amazing love for us. Please don’t ignore this truth simply to believe in a far less powerful image of His love.