The Wrath Of God

C.J. Mahaney

The glory of the gospel is this: The one from whom we need to be saved is the one who has saved us. – R.C. Sproul

(Excerpt from chapter 4 of the book: This Great Salvation, by Robin Boisvert and C. J. Mahaney. 1992.)

A wildly popular topic in Christian literature today is “self-esteem.” By contrast, the subject of sin is often overlooked, or even challenged head-on. To call sin rebellion against God is “shallow and insulting to the human being,” writes one Christian author. As much as I appreciate this individual’s sincerity, I am deeply concerned aboutthe perspective he and many others are advocating. It’s unbiblical. It hinders us from understanding the seriousness of sin, the reality of wrath, and the necessity of the Cross.

Jesus did not go to the Cross to set us free from low self-esteem, but from something far more serious: the wrath of God and the presence, power, and penalty of sin (in which pride, or excess self-esteem, plays a huge role in all our lives).

To understand how amazing grace is we must understand the seriousness of sin. To appreciate God’s love necessitates understanding his wrath. Though anything but flattering, a realistic appraisal of our own sinfulness— and its horrifying consequences— is an essential step as we explore the doctrine of justification. […]

What was the primary purpose of the Cross? Just this: It was there that Jesus satisfied the fierce and holy wrath of Almighty God which we would otherwise have experienced. God’s accumulated and justified anger fell, in all its power and severity, not on us who deserved it, but on his Son. Jesus didn’t just save us from our sin— he saved us from God himself.

“We were by nature objects of wrath,” wrote Paul (Eph 2:3). God could and should have judged us for our rebellion against his rule. Instead he extended grace. At the Cross he found a way to reconcile his perfect justice and perfect mercy. The very One opposed to us while we were in our sin died in our place so that we, his enemies, might be adopted into his family.

Jonathan Edwards was an instrumental force behind America’s first Great Awakening in the mid-eighteenth century. He is perhaps best known for a message he delivered titled “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” According to eyewitness accounts, various members of Edwards’ congregation were so dramatically affected by the message that they clutched their seats, fell on their knees, and cried out in anguish at the prospect of their own damnation.

This was no stereotypical “fire and brimstone” tirade, however. From what I understand the listeners were not influenced by pulpit-banging or wild-eyed shouting, because there wasn’t any—Edwards read the message in a monotone. And while painting a clear picture of divine wrath, he placed primary emphasis on the gracious hands of God, for as Edwards was well aware, when we encounter the reality of wrath we gain fresh desire and
appreciation for grace.

God’s wrath is real, terrifying, inevitable. But his nailpierced hands are open and full of mercy. All who humble themselves in awe at the Cross will be spared the wrath to come.[…]

We don’t recall the past in order to remain in it— we look back so that God’s mighty action on our behalf through the justifying work of his Son can transform our lives in the dramatic way he intends. That was the case with Paul. He never lost touch with his past. In fact, look at the benefit he gained from a little retrospection:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1Ti 1:15-17)

Did looking back send Paul into a state of depression? No—it provoked a spontaneous outburst of worship for the wonder of God’s grace. “Once you were alienated from God,” Paul wrote, “and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Then he uses one of the smallest yet most beautiful words in the Bible: “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Co 1:21-22).

Rather than leaving us in our hopeless, helpless, desperate state, God reconciled us through Jesus so that we could stand in his presence without blemish and free from accusation— in a word, justified. We deserved eternal torment in hell. Instead he gave us eternal life through his Son.

Is that good news, or what?

    • Joshua Towns
    • August 21st, 2010

    What a glorious message of hope and redemption! To Jesus be the glory! You did a great job on this.

  1. It is glorious indeed, but I got this snippet of teaching from CJ Mahaney.

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