This is the third article in my series on the wrath of God. To see how well you have been paying attention, I want to ask you a question: In the new covenant, what is the connection between sin and wrath?
Answer: There is none.
Yes, I know the Bible has many scriptures showing how God is angry with sin and judges sinners, but all those scriptures come before the cross.
Jesus changed the game. His sacrifice was the once and final solution for sin.
So when I see cranky Christians protesting at gay rights parades and trumpeting on about the judgment of God, I want to tell them, “Didn’t you get the memo? God already judged all sin on the cross.”
And when I hear TV preachers denouncing America for her many sins and warning of divine retribution, I respond, “See the cross!” A just God cannot punish America for her sins because America’s sins were fully condemned in Christ.
Four scriptures on wrath
Recently, I went through every scripture in the New Testament to see if I could find any that suggest God gets angry on account of your sin. I found none. But I did find four verses that seem to say he does. Seem to, but don’t. Here is the first one:
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified… (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, NIV)
This is a poor translation of Paul’s words. The NIV gives the impression that God is in the punishment business when he is in the justice business. God is in the business of making things right.
A legalist might read this passage and conclude, “God punishes those who disobey. So we better do everything he commands. We need to obey God’s holy law.” But that’s not what Paul is saying. If it were, he would be contradicting what he writes in Romans 7 when he says running back to your old husband the law is committing spiritual adultery with Jesus.
Take another look at the passage above. It says God’s wrath comes on those who don’t obey the gospel, not those who don’t obey the law.
What does it mean to obey the gospel?
The Greek word for “obey” means “to listen attentively; by implication, to heed or conform”. How do you obey the gospel? You heed it. You open the door of your heart and receive it. If you are a Christian, then you have already obeyed the gospel. If you are an unbeliever, you need to. It’ll set you free.
Okay, next verse:
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 5:5-6)
There is no question that sin is a serious problem and God should know – our sin cost him his life. And it could cost you yours in the sense that those who sow bad seed reap bad fruit.
But God’s wrath is not coming on the children of disobedience because they are doing bad things. It’s coming on account of their unbelief. Look up the word for disobedience in a lexicon and you will see it means disbelief. It comes from a word which means unpersuadable.
The children of disobedience are those who refuse to be persuaded that God is good and that he loves them. I’m not talking about children and those ignorant of the gospel. I am referring to those like Judas and the Pharisees who tasted the heavenly gift and rejected it. They have embraced a lie instead of the truth. They have stepped off the precipice shouting, “I don’t believe in gravity.”
What does it mean to disobey in the new covenant?
The issue is not whether you are naughty or nice but who you trust. Distrust Jesus and you may end up trusting the law. “I’d better keep the commands and stop sinning.” But there’s only one thing that can stop you sinning and it’s not law – it’s grace. The children of disobedience are not sinning because they are lawless but graceless. They sin because they don’t know Jesus and the power of his resurrection life.
The modern church is obsessed with “not sinning.” But if we preached Jesus the way we preached against sin, we wouldn’t have to preach against sin.
Here’s the third verse on wrath.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. (Col 3:5-6, NIV)
The NIV has chopped off some important words at the end. Let’s read that again another translation…
…because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience. (Colossians 3:6, NKJV)
Remember, disobedience in the new covenant is not “breaking the rules.” Disobedience means disbelief. It’s being unpersuaded about the goodness of God. So Paul is saying the same thing here as in Ephesians 5:5-6.
Are you getting this? The issue is not your sin; the issue is your faith. It’s not what you are doing, it’s whether you are resting in Christ. Do you trust Jesus? Do you believe that his work is the cure for your sin? Do you believe God’s grace can turn a sinner into a saint?
Sinning is the fruit that grows on a tree of unbelief and the axe is applied to the root not the fruit. No one is going to be condemned for their sin or Adam’s sin. But just as Adam suffered loss on account of his distrust, so may we. Trust in self leads to unhealthy and destructive living.
Here’s the fourth and final verse on wrath:
In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (1 Thessalonians 2:16)
This is such an important wrath-verse that I will devote an entire article to it. For now, you’re going to have to take my word for it when I say this passage is not about God smiting the Jews because of their sins. How can I be sure? Because of what Paul says here:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Is there any evidence in the New Testament that God’s pours his wrath on us on account of our sin? There is none, at least none since the cross.
Hebrews 9:26 is right. Jesus is the once and final cure for all sin. We’ll talk more about Jesus and wrath in the next article in this series. Stay tuned.
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