The Church is very good at teaching us about that first part of God's character: His righteousness, which is very often portrayed as His Mercy. That is the picture that most Christians have of Jesus and the Father. In the words of Bible teacher Derek Prince, "God's mercy offers His righteousness, which He imparts to those who receive by faith the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf." True, because of His mercy towards us, He offers His righteousness, but it must be received and accepted by having faith in Jesus. And God has been showing me there is so much more to this concept, and His character.
In an effort to win new converts, we often say to unbelievers, "Jesus died for my sins. Through my faith in Him, I am forgiven of all my transgressions -- past, present, and future -- and God has poured out His love on me. That's what He wants to do for you, too." We are pretty good at expressing that beautiful Truth. But we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves and ask the question, "Are we suppressing the whole truth of God's character?"
It is good [and right] to express to new believers that in the Gospel of Christ, "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith [springing from faith and leading to more faith], for it is written 'The just shall live by faith' ". We often cherry pick this beautiful verse to uplift our spirits when we're feeling down, but do you know the verses that precede and follow Romans 1:17? In verse 16, the Apostle Paul tells us, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation [from His wrath and punishment] to everyone who believes [in Christ as Savior], to the Jew first and also to the Greek". I've included the Amplified version of this verse because it actually tells us what God is saving us from! He isn't just giving us some free gift because He loves us. He wants us to know why we need to be saved and what it cost Him!
So, in verse 18, we get our answer: " For [God does not overlook sin and] the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who in their wickedness suppress and stifle the truth". If we are not revealing the significance of the verses that surround the gospel and the power of God for salvation, then we are doing a great disservice to those we are trying to reach, and we are not honoring the full character of God.
I want to return to Derek Prince's quote and give you the continuation of his thoughts on God's righteousness: "Christians who question the reality of God's judgment on sin should ponder afresh the significance of the crucifixion. Even Jesus could not make sin acceptable to God, but had to endure the full outpouring of His wrath." So, yes, Christ's substitutionary death at Calvary is the ultimate sign of God's mercy on a sinful world. But often, the Church fails to point out that it is, at the same time, the ultimate revelation of God's wrath, poured out on Jesus when He became identified with man's sin. How many times have you heard Christians refer to the attributes of God's lovingkindness, mercy and grace; and how many pictures of Jesus are hanging in Church sanctuaries and classrooms of the gentle Christ with the lamb around his neck? Do you ever see pictures of an angry God, or of Jesus at the head of His heavenly army, coming to slay the wicked of the earth?
Instead, we are used to seeing Christ nailed on the Cross, head bowed, but with no marks upon his body. Many Christians will point to the Cross as the true manifestation of God's character, and only see Love. But have you ever seen the depictions of what historians and medical experts say Jesus's body really looked like after He was whipped and scourged before going to the Cross? They speak of horrendous damage to His human body; blood oozing from the capillaries and veins; the skin of His back hanging in ribbons, and the entire area as an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue.
Yes, the fact that Jesus went to the Cross for us is an expression of God's Love; a love so extraordinary that we cannot even imagine it. But we should also be reminded that what is shown to us at the Cross is more than God's love and mercy for us. The Bible, itself, tells us that God does not overlook sin, and the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The Cross is the revelation of God's wrath ... not even His precious Son escaped it. The Cross is a picture of Jesus enduring the outpouring of God's wrath that is due every man for his sins against the Lord; all the wrath that has been storing up since Adam, and will continue to be stored up until Christ returns. Yes, His love has given us a way to be saved from that wrath through faith in His Son, but that wrath is still in play and will be poured out upon the wicked (those who reject Christ) when Yeshua returns in triumph at the end of this Age.
The Apostle Paul is careful to make sure that we understand the dual aspect of God's character which includes both Righteousness and Wrath. He says in Romans 11:22, "Therefore consider the goodness [or kindness] and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off." Now, I'm here to tell you that Christians don't want to hear that! This is getting into really uncomfortable territory and forces us to consider that God's wrath has not been taken off the table, so to speak. Once we've seen and felt and experienced the goodness of God through our salvation, we don't want to hear that there's any more possibility of punishment -- or discipline, or wrath, or whatever you want to call it. You will hear some say, "Well, they were never saved in the first place." But -- and I don't mean to offend you -- but that seems like a pretty convenient caveat, doesn't it?
In the Greek translation of the New Testament, Paul actually cautions new Gentile converts who think that their profession of faith and salvation renders them immune from God's wrath forever: "Stop having such a superiority complex; but be fearing...". He then goes on to remind them of both God's kindness and severity, in the cutting off of the natural branches, the Jews... "for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either". But we know the way to eternal life, and should not fear God's wrath if we continue in His goodness. That's why I'm always cautioning the faithful to not compromise with the world and its sins. Remain faithful to God, and He will remain faithful to deliver you!
The Church has been living in a self-declared "Age of Grace". But it is time the Church and all Christians who fear Him to present the full character of God. It is quite evident that the world is spiraling out of control and the depths of sin have become abominable. We must declare that there can be no doubt of the wrath of God against all the wickedness of men—against sin. It was seen at the Flood; in the destruction of Sodom; and on the Holy One who was made sin for us. It is also revealed that He is coming in judgment, taking vengeance. The wicked will be cast into the lake of fire. The love of God alone, will not rescue us on His Day of Wrath. It will be God's own righteousness that He sees in us [through our faith in Jesus] that will save us and deliver us from the wrath that the world has brought upon itself. "The just[ified] will live by faith"!
I know this is not a subject that is easy to hear or receive. We would rather live in the message of God's Grace, Mercy, and Love. But we must live our faith in Truth. God has shown us both His Righteousness and His Wrath. We should be able to accept that a Righteous God cannot tolerate sin, because that would demean His moral, good, and guiltless nature. And therefore, He is entitled to His wrath against those who would walk in sin against His creation. To look upon one part of His nature, while denying the other, is to both misinform and deceive. Instead, praise Him for the fullness of His character and His heart to draw all men -- both the justified and the wicked -- to Him. He never gives up on us!
Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and decisions and how unfathomable and untraceable are His ways!