A God of Wrath versus A God of Love

You have probably heard the statement “God in the Old Testament is a God of wrath while God in the New Testament is a God of love.” People who say this somehow think that God has multiple personalities. At the very core is a fundamental misunderstanding of what both the Old Testament and the New Testament reveal about the nature of God.

The canon of Scripture is a progressive revelation of God to us that reveals His relationship with mankind throughout history. And if you don’t take whole books and passages and verses in context, if you don’t read the whole counsel of God, you might come to the conclusion that God changes; and that the Old Testament God is harsh and brutal while the New Testament God is like a loving and kind Father. World-renowned atheist Richard Dawkins said that “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.” But if you read the Old Testament and the New Testament, it becomes clear that God does not change from Old to New Testament. God’s wrath and God’s love are revealed in both testaments. 

First, there is the Old Testament. While it is true that there is a much bloodshed in those first thirty nine books; that God deals very harshly with sin and the consequences are very serious; that God floods the earth and only a handful of people live; that God commands the genocide of the Amalekites; one thing is declared over and over. And it is that God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth”. You see this in Joel 2:13. In Nehemiah 9:17. In Deuteronomy 4:31. David, who was disciplined very severely for his actions of murder and adultery, cries this three times in Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8 and Psalm 145:8.

In the New Testament, God’s lovingkindness is manifested fully in His Son. We know this from John 3:16. And 1 John 4:10 tells us that He loved us and sent His Son to atone for our sins. But the New Testament is also where you get the book of Revelation and the four gospels. In the book of Revelation, we see more of God’s wrath poured out on unbelievers than anywhere else in the Old Testament. And how do we know about the reality of hell? Because Jesus preached about it.

I think it’s quite interesting how some will say that the God of the New Testament is not wrathful. A brother recently pointed out to me that God’s wrath is even more evident in the New Testament. There is no mention of hell in the Old Testament. And you might hear a variety of different thoughts on what happens to the wicked when they die from orthodox Jews. According to the Talmud, which is their book of traditions, “The judgement of the wicked in purgatory is twelve months.” And according to one website I was looking at, Jews believe that the soul of a dead man who has unpaid debts or stolen something may be placed into the body of a child soon to be born. 

But in the New Testament Jesus preached about hell. He preached about it a lot. And when He preached about it, He laid out for us all the horrific details about a never ending, conscious torment. That’s probably one of the reasons the Pharisees hated Him so much. Because He preached about the reality of unbelievers burning for eternity. And what could be more wrathful than that?

So our conclusion must be this: God’s holiness demands that sin be punished. But He is also gracious and merciful to those who repent and believe. James 1:17 tells us that with God “there is no variation or shifting shadow.” And while the violence in the Old Testament may be difficult to read at times, our Father in heaven is omniscient and infinitely wise. Romans 11:22 reminds us that God is both kind and severe. And also, read your bible. All of it, both Old and New Testament.

Outreach and Evangelism

outreach

ˈoutˌrēCH/

noun

  1. the extent or length of reaching out.
    • an organization’s involvement with or activity in the community, especially in the context of social welfare.

evangelism

əˈvanjəˌlizəm/

noun

  1. the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.
    • zealous advocacy of a cause.

 

In the English language and in the church, these two words are often used interchangeably to describe the sharing of the good news. But as you can see, one of them describes something else entirely. Preaching a message of repentance is seen in the ministries of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2 NASB, Jesus Christ in Matthew 4:7 NASB, Paul in Acts 20:21 NASB and commanded of us in Matthew 28:19 NASB and in Luke 24:47 NASB. And as we see in Mark 1:15, our message of repentance is a large component of our gospel proclamation.

“…repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15 NASB

So we share the gospel with unbelievers, whether that’s family, friends, peers, or coworkers. We go into public areas to proclaim the good news. This is evangelism. Yet there are other times we may feel that we’ve been fulfilling God’s command to evangelize when in reality we’ve been engaging in outreach. And while both are good things, only one is a fulfillment of God’s command to us.

One very big difference is that outreach is not seen as offensive. Let me explain. When you outreach by inviting others to church or to church picnics or such; or when your church outreaches by volunteering at a soup kitchen or holding a Vacation Bible School or having a community-wide blood drive, you are displaying an act of love that hopefully results in the gospel being shared. Unbelievers are able to see, through church service or even just church events, Christians in action. And even to unbelievers it is regarded as a noble and an all around “nice thing” to do.

For some churches, outreach is the majority of their reaching out towards unbelievers. But look to the Great Commission again.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NASB

Jesus’ words imply not outreach but evangelism. We are commanded to go to all the nations and share this message with whomever we interact with, regardless of race, language and skin color. And unlike outreach, which the world sees as a “good thing”, when we share the gospel we share a message that is offensive. No man likes to be told he has offended a holy God and stands before Him condemned in his sin. In his natural state, no man will humble himself before God and seek repentance. Even what some would call the “light side” of the gospel, which is that Jesus Christ’s righteous life, undeserved death and victorious resurrection atone for the sins of those who believe, is offensive to unbelievers because it shows them there is something they can’t achieve themselves.

We mustn’t confuse outreach with evangelism. Jesus gave the church a mission to evangelize, not a mission to engage in outreach. So that means that every believer is responsible before God to do this – to share the gospel in it’s entirety. Let us then go with boldness, sharing this offensive message, knowing that it carries the power of God to bring unbelievers to Himself.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17 NASB

To Die is Gain

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Philippians 1:21 NASB

This single statement from Paul while in prison is one of the heaviest Paul ever said. It’s so heavy in fact that this single blog post is devoted entirely to just half of it: “…to die is gain”.

Like everything else Paul ever said, the strength of his preaching and his letters of instruction were backed by his life. Many can claim to believe a multitude of ideals, doctrines, etc. But it is only through their life that they reveal what they truly believe. Trials and difficult situations make or break you. And we clearly see that in Paul’s life.

We can turn to places like Acts 21 where Paul says that he is “ready to not only be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Or just one chapter before when Paul declares, “I did not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God”.

Very briefly, the most immediate points of application that come to my mind have to do with missions and persecuted Christians. The reason is obvious as Paul was a missionary and was heavily persecuted.

  1. The first point is that God is sovereign. God is sovereign and we must maintain a high view of His sovereignty. And in so doing we may respond to the call to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Because a high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to missions. God’s attribute of sovereignty speaks of His control, His kingship. It is our safety net as we go out and do great things for His name, even attempting to preach the gospel in countries where doing so can get you killed. Especially those countries actually. And now that we have our safety net, that segues into the second point.
  2. And the second is that we must be ready to die for Christ and we can do so because we have the ultimate weapon. What is this ultimate weapon? It is the knowledge that dying is gain. If the worst they can do to you is to kill you and from your point of view the best thing that can happen to you is to die, then you have ultimately thwarted them. Paul armed himself with this idea and so should we. Think back to Paul’s last letter in 2 Timothy when he said “I am ready to be offered”. Read again throughout Acts where Paul shows little regard for his own life in the face of gospel proclamation. And it wasn’t only Paul. Martyrs throughout church history knew that there was great triumph in death. And I don’t mean the worldly idea of leaving a lasting legacy and your name being remembered forever even if you yourself are gone. Look at 1 Peter 4:1: “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…”  What does this mean? It means that in dying, we have ceased from sin. Do you get it? If we are armed with the goal of being delivered from sin and that goal is only achieved through our death and the worst anyone can do to me is to kill me, then the worst they can do is to bring about that which is most precious to me. All the threatening has gone out of persecution.

So the question is, do you believe that? And more importantly than just saying you do, have you backed it up with your life?

Thoughts from Utah – Alisa

Before going on this missions trip to Utah, my understanding of the Mormon culture was very limited. The basic facts I knew came from mostly a couple sentences within a chapter of my social studies curriculum in middle school. Joseph Smith populated Utah and to this day the majority of the population remains Mormon. I soon later learned that they also used to practice polygamy, and really these were the only things I knew. To me, Mormonism was somewhat of a fable or a myth. Throughout my week of serving in Stansbury Park, Utah, it gradually became clear to me how real Mormonism is. It is a very real, tragic falsehood. Mormons, as well as all nonbelievers, need to be taught the saving truth of the Gospel.

Therefore I was extremely encouraged by the faithfulness of Stansbury Park Baptist Church’s members, their resistance of the common Mormon culture, and their dedication in serving their community to proclaim Christ. It was a stark contrast to how the rest of their environment lived in sin. I met a girl at the church, Jenna, who shared my age of nineteen, and she told me how she had never met a Christian the same age as her. I was humbled that God has blessed me with friends back home who are my age and believers, which I have always taken for granted. Yet, I was also blessed to hear how, despite living in such Mormon-immersed surroundings, Jenna continues to find her identity and joy in the Lord even without having like-minded peers.

Additionally, Vacation Bible School was definitely some of the most enjoyable moments of the week. I was given the role of watching the group of the youngest kids, ages 4-6. Being the age group that is least likely to retain the things we teach them, I found joy in the very small things that they did, such as remembering part of the memory verse or simply jumping around during worship session. However, I became increasingly anxious knowing that these young kids are growing up in schools and environments where false teaching is so prevalent. This further motivated me to keep them in prayer, as well as trust in God’s sovereignty and authority.

At the end of the week, Pastor Andy Lynch took us to Salt Lake City to visit the Mormon temple and the Church History Museum. Seeing the deceased principal, key figures in their Mormon history gave me a wake up call in the realization that those people were now in hell. It scared me when I saw how their teaching could appear enticing and comforting to others. It made me angry at the fact that they were twisting Scripture and not acknowledging Jesus Christ for who He is. But it especially broke my heart to see the fervor and passion that the Mormons have in something that does not exist. It was overwhelming to the point that I had to sit down. God showed me how crucial and necessary evangelism truly is. 

Simply put, this trip has harshly reminded me of the depths of man’s sin and what I have been saved from. Returning home, I praise God for saving me from my flesh. It could have easily been me that was born into a Mormon family, growing up in the Mormon faith. Yet it is only by God’s grace and mercy that I am here today knowing the truth and knowing that He alone is worthy of all praise. We did not get many chances to evangelize during the trip, but it has been such an undeserved privilege to serve alongside the eight others who were on this team to serve God’s purposes. I am confident that all nine of us have returned home knowing that the Gospel needs to be shared without delay. Praise the Lord for the work He has done on the cross and the work He is continuing to do to bring more glory to Himself.

The Holiness of God

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”

Revelation 4:8 ESV

There is only one attribute of God that is declared around the throne day and night. The angels are not declaring “Love, Love, Love” or “Truth, Truth, Truth”. In the throne room scene in Revelation 4:8, it is His absolute holiness that the four creatures are proclaiming. In Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6:3 the angels are praising Him for His holiness. Yes God is love (1 John 4:8) and God is righteous and true (Revelation 15:8). But is is because of His holiness that He is perfectly loving, perfectly righteous, and the perfect truth.

His holiness is elevated to the superlative degree. God is not just holy but holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy means that God would be holier but holy, holy, holy means that God is holy, holier, holiest. He is the single most holy being in the entire universe. And there is no attribute with which God is more identified. His Son is the Holy One of Israel. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the Holy Word of God. The temple is the Holy temple. The land is the Holy land.

What does it mean for God to be holy? In his book The Attributes of God, A.W. Pink says that God is absolute purity, the sum of all moral excellence. God’s holiness is tje veru excellency of the Divine nature; His holiness is the antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement.

Primarily it means that God is separate. He is vastly separate from us because of His moral perfection. God is absolutely holy and we are radically corrupt. The idea is God’s transcendence and His supreme greatness compared to His creation. There is a sense which all of His attributes come together to comprise His holiness. We could even say that His holiness is in His wholeness.

Here are two practical applications from this post. The first is that this understanding of God’s holiness magnifies the grace of God. God has spanned the vast chasm separating us and Him through the cross of Jesus Christ. And the higher we understand God to be and the lower we see ourselves, the more we magnify grace. But the more we elevate ourselves and if we bring down God we trivialize the cross. And it is grace that is the very backbone of everything we do as Christians. It is God’s grace that we are saved. It is God’s grace to His chosen that gives us confidence in evangelism. It is God’s grace that we may approach the throne with confidence. To say that our understanding of grace is very important is a huge understatement.

The second application is a key verse that is Leviticus 20:26: “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

Holiness is what we call an incommunicable attribute. This means that we are called to emulate it. As Christians we strive to be holy just as we strive to be righteous, truthful, and loving. So the second application is that we should be striving for holiness. Holiness is what we should be longing for. But at the same time this requires a discipline in our lives. So strive for holiness. Strive to be holy as your Heavenly Father is holy.

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