For in it [the gospel of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
I want to examine these two very important aspects of God: His righteousness and His wrath. The Church is very good at teaching us about that first part of God's character: His righteousness, or His mercy. That is the picture that most Christians have of Yeshua 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."
We all get that. 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 the Truth of the first part of our selected Scripture. But we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves and ask the question, "Are we suppressing the whole truth of this passage?" Because if we are not revealing the significance of the second half of these verses, then we are doing a great disservice to those we are trying to reach, and are not honoring the full character of God.
I want to give you the continuation of Derek Prince's thoughts on the subject: "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; and how many pictures of Yeshua 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 Yeshua at the head of His heavenly army, coming to slay the wicked of the earth?
Many Christians who point to the Cross as the true manifestation of God's character, only see Love. But they should also be reminded that what is shown to us at the Cross is more than God's love and mercy for us; we should also see that not even His precious Son escaped His wrath. The Cross is a picture of Yeshua enduring the outpouring of God's wrath that is due every man for his sins against the Lord. Yes, His love has given us a way to avoid 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 this dual aspect of God's character. 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.
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, as Pastor Charles Stanley has done, "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 surely be cast into the lake of fire. The love of God alone, will not rescue me on His Day of Wrath. It must be evident that a righteous God must Justify those who believe, and then we will finish [our] process of salvation."
God has shown us both His Righteousness and His Wrath. To look upon one, while denying the other is to both misinform and deceive.