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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « A Quote from a Disciple (2nd Century AD) | Main | The Hidden Treasure (6 -- Admiring the Gold) »

    We Wouldn't Make This Up

    At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”

    The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. [Exodus 12:29-36]

    There are a lot of people in this world who want very badly to believe that God is a God of love. Indeed, the Scripture says quite literally that God is love. But that's interesting, because Exodus 12 makes it clear that God kills babies out of anger. This is not the kind of thing you make up if you're trying to sell the "God is love" idea to people! It's tremendously hard for us to understand God's wrath and love together, but the Scriptures demand that we try.

    The picture of God striking down the firstborn of every family in Egypt is probably horrific to most of us. We might be okay with Pharaoh's household being struck, since Pharaoh is an evil and oppressive dictator. But what about the captive in the dungeon, who might even be there for unjust cause, who never gets to see his firstborn alive again? Every household suffered loss because of God's wrath. And on top of it all, God told Israel to plunder the Egyptians, leaving with all their wealth. How does that God qualify as a God of love? How can it be true that God is love, if he's a God who kills babies? And why on earth would we want to believe in such a God, or submit to him?

    You Cannot Understand God's Wrath Apart From His Love

    If a fellow is cheating on his loving, faithful wife, who do you suppose will be most angry with him for his adultery? The coworker he barely knows? A long-time friend? Or his wife, the one who loves him most, who has given the most of herself to him? We would expect her to be the one most angered by his betrayal.

    So it is with us before God. From the beginning, love has been the theme of God's dealings with his creation. The Eternal Trinity created all of us out of overflowing love. God daily is gracious to us, sustaining our life and giving us all good things to enjoy. His love toward us all is perfect. Yet we have summarily rejected his love and sought substitutes everywhere else. Just like the betrayed spouse, God's love is utterly repudiated.

    If sin is a betrayal of God's perfect love, who do you suppose will be most angry with you because of your sin? Your spouse? Your minister? Or God who loves you patiently and gives you everything you have? We would expect God to be the one most angered by our spiritual adultery.

    This is how we should understand God's wrath—in light of his scorned love—when we come to a text like Exodus 12. God graciously created the Egyptians—just like everyone else who ever lived—and gave them unprecedented greatness as a nation. He very clearly preserved them, and many peoples through them, as he led them through seven years of severe famine by the dream interpretation of Joseph. And even though Israel dwelt among them as a constant reminder of God's goodness to them, they rejected God's grace, suppressed even the memory of it by enslaving Israel, and refused to obey God's command to release them (even after nine terrible plagues). So, in Exodus 12, God devastatingly withdraws his love and his gifts from the Egyptians as he strikes their firstborn and has Israel plunder them on their way to the wilderness.

    You Cannot Understand God's Love Apart From His Wrath

    Those who want a God of love without a God who is angry with sin in effect make the love of God less meaningful. The wrath of God must be present for the love of God to be most glorious. Why? Simply, because we appreciate love according to the cost.

    A fellow doesn't think twice about his wife loving him if he's good and deserving. But if he's been emotionally absent, abusive, or unfaithful—things that would earn rightful anger—and she continues to love him, that's something that makes him marvel.

    So it is with us before God. If we go on thinking we deserve kindness and love from God, or that he could never be angry with us because of sin, then his love has little meaning to us—it costs him nothing. But if we realize that with every thought and breath we reject his love, earning his just displeasure, then, when we are told that God continues to love us, we'll be amazed. We'll be truly astonished that, instead of instant death (like we deserve), we receive eternal life through Jesus Christ.

    Here is where it takes a knowledge of God's wrath to understand his love. What is the ultimate demonstration of God's love? The death of Jesus Christ for sinners. If you try to understand the cross of Christ apart from God's anger at sin, you won't even begin to understand the magnitude of God's love. The one who never deserved God's wrath bore the full brunt of it for those who only deserve it God's wrath. The eternal, loving, perfect communion between the Father and the Son was severed out of anger that we earn for spurning God's love. And Jesus Christ endured the hell of it all because of joyful, indomitable love for us.

    In Exodus 12, the Israelites were no different from the Egyptians. They were sinners, too, deserving their firstborn to be struck down just like their enemies. But they received salvation and wealth, because of the sovereign love of God for his people. Any Christian will tell you that this is hard to comprehend—we deserve nothing good from God, yet he gives us nothing but good, even giving the life of his Son for us. It cost God everything to love us when we didn't deserve it. That's a glorious love, when seen in light of God's righteous anger.

    What The Wrath And Love Of God Mean For Us Personally

    People know about these things instinctively to some degree. You hear this frequently: "I just want someone to love me for who I am." What they're saying is (if they're honest), there are reasons why people don't love them, and they wish those reasons could be overlooked, that they would be loved anyway. This is exactly what God does through Jesus Christ—he loves us anyway. The reasons why he shouldn't love us are plenty and right—and he loves us anyway.

    We wouldn't make this up, all this about a God who destroys people out of anger over sin. And we couldn't make this up, a God who loves sinners through Jesus Christ in spite of the fact that he should destroy them. This requires us all to know that we deserve what the Egyptians got—the full withdrawal of God's love and the replacement of it with his wrath. And even though God can do absolutely whatever he wants regarding his creation, he is patient with us, he gives us good things every day, he loves his enemies perfectly, and he gives us what the Israelites got—deliverance and wealth—through the cross of his precious Son.

    So we should not continue to reject God's love, but embrace the forgiveness offered to us in Jesus Christ. We should be humbly thankful that, though we deserve hell, God assures us that we will receive heaven by faith. We should honor the love of Christ by obeying God, because there is no greater love that can claim our loyalty. We should not gloat over those less fortunate, thinking "they're just getting what they deserve, while we get what we deserve"—when we enjoy so great an undeserved grace. We should not be condemning, thinking that our enemies are really any different from us, but we should remember that Jesus died to love his enemies—us. We should pray for everyone we encounter, because we know that apart from God's love we'd all be lost. And we should believe Jesus when he says he'll come back, and that when he does we'll receive the full love—or the full wrath—of God, forever.

    Posted by Eric Costa on March 9, 2008 05:51 PM

    Comments

    Excellent thoughts, brother! Thanks so much for sharing this.

    Ouch. OUCH!

    Thanks for sharing this Brother, good thoughts and well put.

    A Lion Has Roared!

    Dear Pastor Costa,

    Thank you so much. So profoundly true. God is magnificent.

    Thanks for the reminder. I had a conversation just the other day about this topic.

    My problem is that I rarely express this particular truth with love and compassion. Instead I usually act like the other person is an idiot for even thinking the way they do.

    Thanks again for the reminder!

    Eric,

    This is one of the best articles I've seen on Reformation Theology. In this day and age of cloudy and murky theology it is nice to see someone with a full and well thought out affirmation of penal substitutionary atonement. I frequently tell people: "If you want to see how much God hates sin, think about the cross, if you want to see how much God loves sinners, think about the cross."

    Like you said, we will never fully appreciate God's love unless we see it in light of His righteous hatred of sin.

    In Him,

    Alan

    How about Elisha calling out the bears to kill the young children who made fun of him?

    I believe the story is in 2 Kings. I don't have my Bible with me. Now that is a story that nobody on the "God is only Love" side would make up. But it's there.

    Thank you so much and praise to God for your ministry through this site. This article was very helpful to me and through it God confirmed many things I have been recognizing for a long time.

    I have a question that I hope you can help me with. Do you know someone who could share some insight concerning my query?

    Background to my question: As Christians we believe in God and in all of His wonderful promises. We believe that God is all knowing, all powerful, all holy, always in existence, without beginning or end. We believe the story of creation as it appears in Genesis, as well as the rest of the whole Bible. We believe in the love and goodness and mercy of God, and the embodiment of that love, goodness and mercy are in His Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

    Perhaps only God can answer my question, and only in Heaven. Maybe no human on earth can know the answer in this life, because maybe it is basically unfathomable, but I keep having the question come to me in my mind and wish to find someone who can converse with me about it.

    Here it is: How can it be that the greatest force in the universe is the best thing for us – the love of God? I guess to understand this revolves around the person of God and the meaning of eternity, but all of that is part of what I am driving at. All of a sudden a few weeks ago I began to feel that I have all my life taken God and all that He is for granted. Those of us who grew up believing in God and in Jesus may never have given thought to this. In the human earthly realm, we have the human nature characteristic of free will, and the consequences of our choices may be either good or bad. But God’s choices are never bad. For this we are entirely thankful, but the question is: how can this be?

    There was no council who decided between two or more parties as to who should be God, first checking out the credentials, experience, qualifications, character, etc. etc. God is who He is, and who He is IS too wonderful for words.

    Before God created the world and the rest of the universe, and even before Lucifer's fall from grace, God was all that He is - light, love, goodness, mercy, truth, righteousness, holiness, and more. How can this be? It does no good to wonder what things would be like if God was not who He is, but that is part of my point, poorly put, probably.

    For the everlasting good of those who love the Lord, there are blessings and joyful treasures eternal. How can this be?

    I realize that our finite minds are not able to fathom many things - I guess this question of mine is included in the list?

    Does my question make sense at all? I would welcome any comments.

    Your sister in Christ Jesus,
    Mrs. Ann Cantrell

    Ann

    Your question sounds more like doxology than a query requiring an answer.

    Basically you are "wonder"-ing at the Aseity (being) of God. Why is God who he is? Because he is. Ultimately you are right: questions of this magnitude are a mystery to anyone but God.

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