Theology means “study of God.” Sunday school theology is a theology we learn from within the church. It is seductive in the sense that it tells us the characteristics of God we want to hear. It neglects the harder-to-hear characteristics of God in an attempt to sound “sexy” and attractive. For instance, in many churches we learn that God is a God of love, mercy and grace. These are all true, but if this is all we learn about God we are ignorant to the wholeness of who He is. If we only know the side of God we want to hear, we miss the side of God we need to hear. God is not only a God of love, mercy and grace, but He is also a God of wrath. God’s wrath is something we don’t like to think about because it doesn’t fit our childhood picture of who He is. Keep in mind that our perception of God has no bearing on the reality of who He is. If we accept the truth that God is also a God of wrath, it will give us a harder-to-hear, but better understanding of who He is; thus, giving us a deeper need and appreciation for the gospel.
When theologizing about God, if we forget about His wrath we miss a very important part of the gospel. If God was only a God of wrath, we would be hopeless. If God was only a God of love, grace and mercy, we would believe in a feel–good/false gospel that feels good because it is oriented around our sensitivity and comfortability. Here is where wrath fits into the math equation of the gospel:
Wrath = Hopelessness
Love, Grace, Mercy = Feel-good/false gospel
Wrath + Love, Grace, Mercy = Gospel
John 3:36 says “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Many people look at this verse and only want to read the first eight words. We don’t like to read the part that reveals that those separate from Christ have the wrath of God on them. If we take out any part of this verse, we miss out on the amazing and life-changing truth that is the gospel.
The gospel is the good news, but you can’t have good news without the bad news. The bad news is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There’s more bad news. “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2). There’s more bad news. “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Here is the bad news in a nutshell: we all sin, our sin separates us from God, and whoever is separate from God will be recipients of His wrath. If that was the end of the story, we would be hopeless, but we have hope because of the gospel. Now that we have looked at the bad news, let’s look at the good news.
The good news is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). There is more good news. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). There is more good news. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). Here is the good news in a nutshell: Christ died for us, faith in Christ gives us eternal life, and eternal life means we get to experience life with God for eternity rather than be subjects of His wrath for eternity.
We all sin and deserve to be recipients of God’s wrath, but there is one who took on the wrath of God so we wouldn’t have to. Jesus Christ is the one who received God’s wrath that we may receive eternal life. Those who surrender their life to Christ are forgiven their sins and justified. When we put our faith in the one who took on God’s wrath for us, we no longer become targets of His wrath, but recipients of His love.