February 28, 2021
"Who Goes to Hell and Why"
Last month, I realized that a sermon on suffering had to include a word or two on the sovereignty of God.
In the same way, I realized that a sermon on hell had to include a word or two on the wrath of God.
One of my favorite worship songs contains a line about the wrath of God. The second verse of "In Christ Alone" says this:
In Christ alone! - who took on flesh, Fullness of God in helpless babe. This gift of love and righteousness, Scorned by the ones He came to save Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied For every sin on Him was laid Here in the death of Christ I live.
That verse actually generated some controversy as liberals within many churches and denominations were uncomfortable with it. Which is pathetic, in a way. As we'll see, and it's a point the Bible makes, without the wrath of God…without God's righteous anger over sin, then what would be the point of the cross? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross if all God needed to do was say, "I'm a God of love and grace. Your sins are forgiven. Because I love you so much - unconditionally - you all will go to heaven." You don't need a cross if there's no wrath of God.
I love how Charles Spurgeon frames it:
"Be not like those who dream of a God who is all love, and nothing else. These persons talk in maudlin sentences, as if they believed in an effeminate God, who winks at sin, and is utterly destitute of one single atom of integrity or holiness."
Before turning to five truths about the wrath of God, let's reach back to what we know about what God knows. God knows everything. God knew you before the world began. Jesus said that he chose you to believe in him and serve him and follow him before there was a you. God knows your heart. God knew your heart before you were born. Therefore, God knows who will believe in His Son and who won't. God knew who would reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. God knew who would have a rebellious heart. Likewise, God knew who would have a repentant heart. God knew who would turn from their sin and follow Jesus. God knew who would accept and who would reject the offer to follow Jesus.
We also know, from the story of the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, God tried to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. But Pharaoh rejected all of God's entreaties. His heart was hardened against God. It got to the point where the Book of Exodus says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. In other words, that's where Pharaoh's heart was and that's where Pharaoh's heart was going to remain, so God exerted His sovereign will to complete the process.
Some believe that God's foreknowledge of who will accept and who will reject Jesus is behind the meaning of John 15:16:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should
go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you
ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
It is a sort of election-lite. Now, I don't mean that in a derogatory or diminishing way. That's how those passages in the Bible can be dealt with. God based His choosing on what He knew we would accept or reject. Warm-hearted, kind-hearted, devoted followers of Jesus Christ can have legitimate disagreements on such things. God doesn't arbitrarily condemn some while saving others.
However you see it working - and there are Bible passages and interpretations to lean in one direction or the other - the cross saves followers of Jesus Christ from the consequences of God's wrath for sin while unbelievers experience that full wrath. The elect of God are saved, the non-elect are not. That is an important facet of the full expression of the sovereignty of God.
There will always be people who push back against Biblical truth. Especially uncomfortable truth. Here's something you might want to write down:
We don't want to change ourselves - we want to change God.
So, lest we fall into the trap of trying to change God, here are five truths about the wrath of God.
1. God's Wrath is Just
That's what the debate was about over verse 2 of "In Christ Alone." People who, from my point of view, have a weak grasp on the fullness of Biblical truth, dismiss the wrath of God as not keeping with His love and forgive-ness. They plant their flag on an interpretation of the unconditional love of God which has no room for His wrath. As with their rejection of the lyrics of verse 2 of "In Christ Alone," they say a God of wrath is not worthy of our worship.
To which I say, rubbish.
In Romans 2:5, God's wrath is said to be in accord with God's justice:
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.
God's wrath is proportional to human sinfulness. Which is to say it is never overdone. Every sin amounts to cosmic treason against the goodness and grace of our Creator. And the worst part is, when it comes to our sin, most of us either excuse it or undervalue the weight of our horribleness. I think we all know how that goes.
That's why Proverbs 24:12 says:
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?
Here's how one man sums it up:
"God's wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil."
- J.I. Packer, Knowing God
2. God's Wrath is to be Feared
As Paul says in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." God's wrath is to be feared because we are all justly condemned sinners apart from Christ. "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" is how Paul describes the work of Christ in Romans 5:1. While it is God's good pleasure to save us in Christ, it is within His determining will to do what He promises. Jeremiah 32:17 assures us that, "Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you." If God determines it, God does it. And finally, Jesus himself promises eternal punishment for unbelievers:
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
- Matthew 25:46
I know those who object to the wrath of God only want a gentle Jesus, meek and mild. But Matthew 25 tells us otherwise.
3. God's Wrath is Consistent in the Old and New Testaments
Here are but a few examples of the wrath of God from both Testaments:
Jeremiah 30:23 - "Behold the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked."
Nahum 1:2 - "The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies."
Romans 1:18 - "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."
Revelation 19:15 - "From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty."
4. God's Wrath is His Love in Action Against Sin
Here's what the Bible tells us. God is love. Plus, God does all things for His glory. 1 John 4:8 says, "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." That is a clear and beautiful thing. And then Romans 11:36 says, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." We say "amen" because it declares a wonderful truth about God. So these are two wonderful truths. God is love and God does all things for His glory. Therefore, God rules the world in such a way that brings Himself maximum glory.
Now here's how that all fits with the wrath of God. God must act justly and judge sin. You understand that, right? What kind of all-powerful, all-loving, perfect Creator would God be if He ignored or overlooked our sin? In other words, sin cannot stand in the presence of the glory of God. So God's wrath is His response to sin. God's love for His glory is seen in His wrath against sin.
Indeed, God's love for His own glory is a sobering reality, and it is especially bad news for sinners. As Hebrews 10:31 puts it:
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
5. God's Wrath is Satisfied in Christ
Remember, the good news is that the bad news is old news. When you are
in Christ, the bad news is old news. When you recognize the seriousness of your own sin, the bad news is old news. When you know what it means to be lost, the bad news is old news. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." Because of what Jesus did on the cross…Till on that cross as Jesus died/ The wrath of God was satisfied/ For every sin on Him was laid/ Here in the death of Christ I live…because of what Jesus did on the cross, God has done what we could not do, and he has done what we don't deserve.
See how Charles Wesley expressed this good news:
AND CAN IT BE THAT I SHOULD GAIN
AN INTEREST IN THE SAVIOR'S BLOOD?
DIED HE FOR ME, WHO CAUSED HIS PAIN?
FOR ME, WHO HIM TO DEATH PURSUED?
AMAZING LOVE! HOW CAN IT BE
THAT THOU, MY GOD, SHOULDST DIE FOR ME?
Soli Deo Gloria - To the Glory of God Alone!