Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ephesians 2:3,4a

All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us . . . . (Ephesians 2:3, 4)

Many Christians I meet don’t like the idea of a wrathful God. Wrath sounds too much like the Old Testament deity – the one who went around smiting nations with judgment for their sins.

The New Testament deity, they say, is much nicer.

The idea that the Old and New Testament gods are different is not a new concept. As early as the 2nd century, an apostate Catholic bishop, Marcion, taught the same thing. He went so far as to reject the entire Old Testament, and portions of the New in which God seemed more angry than Marcion thought necessary. After all, the New Testament God is a god of love. There is no room for an angry, wrathful God in the new era.

Eventually, Church leaders declared Marcion a heretic and excommunicated him for persisting in teaching his false doctrine. But, his ideas live on – if not openly, then in principle.

The idea that the Old Testament God is different from the New Testament God confuses me. It is very difficult to read the New Testament and not recognize God’s absolute and unequivocal wrath against sin and those who practice it. Golgotha’s hill comes immediately to mind. It was there that the Father sent His only Son to hang brutalized, bleeding, with his skin flayed open by the Roman whip – all because He bore the Father’s wrath against our sin. And so, St. Paul tells us, “[God] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

And what was it Isaiah prophesied 700 years earlier? But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed . . . But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief . . . (Isaiah 53. Bold type is my emphasis).

And then there are these warnings from the Lord Jesus Himself, for example, here, here and here. The Holy Spirit added yet more warnings, here, here, here and here. And can we forget about the Book of Revelation? Nearly the entire book is devoted to illustrating the certainty of God’s wrath against those who remain unrepentant and who reject Messiah’s sacrifice for them. For example, see here, here, and here. That is why the Church also warns the unrepentant, for example, here, here, here and here.

The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New. “For I, the Lord, do not change” (Malachi 3:6). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Yes, God is a God of love and mercy and compassion. That is what Golgotha is all about. But God is also a God of wrath against sin and those who commit sin. That is what Golgotha is all about.

And it is our recognition of God’s wrath that makes St. Paul’s next words so weighty with promise: But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us . . . .

We’ll look next time at that important clause which begins with, “But God . . . ."

Questions for Reflection:

1. Does the idea of God's wrath make you feel uncomfortable? Why, or why not?

2. Does the idea of God's mercy toward those who live for Christ bring you comfort? Why, or why not?

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