June 18, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
You don’t hear much about the wrath of God these days, unless you rent or stream the 1984 hit movie Ghostbusters. In that film, the Ghostbusters are trying to convince the mayor of the coming threat to the city. Bill Murray’s character says “This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.” Dan Aykroyd’s character adds, “What he means is Old Testament . . . real wrath of God type stuff . . . fire and brimstone coming down from the skies . . . rivers and seas boiling.”
Ephesians 5:6 delivers bad news in similar language. God’s wrath is coming “on those who are disobedient.” What should we think of this? Do we even have to think about God’s wrath at all? And if we do, should we call Ghostbusters?
Historically, Christians have been less tentative than we are today about the wrath of God. Perhaps in your high school English class you read Jonathan Edwards’s classic sermon from 1741, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In this sermon, Edwards spoke of “the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God” and the fact that we are on our way to this pit apart from God’s grace. (Little known cultural irony: Jonathan Edwards was the grandfather of Aaron Burr, the nemesis of Alexander Hamilton.)
In reaction to preaching like that of Edwards, and in a culture where tolerance and acceptance are highly esteemed, many Christians have backed away from mentioning the wrath of God. We have emphasized God’s love and grace without mentioning that God is saving us, not just from our own hurts and messes, but also from what Scripture often calls God’s wrath.
But what does this really mean? When we hear the word “wrath,” we might envision petty fits of rage. But in the biblical understanding God’s wrath is not like this at all. It is much closer to what we would call “righteous indignation.” Yes, it involves emotion. But it is emotion that stems from a deep sense of the wrongness of injustice, from hatred of the hurt that sin does to God’s creation and his beloved people. God’s wrath is really an expression of God’s holy justice and his love for his creation. It’s not a divine temper tantrum.
Paul mentions God’s wrath in Ephesians 5:6 to remind us that God doesn’t benignly overlook immorality, impurity, or greed. God does not minimize the evil of sin. Rather, God detests it and judges it. But this is not the end of the story, thanks be to God. Back in Ephesians 2, we learned that we, like the rest of humankind, are “deserving of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). God has every right to find us guilty and sentence us accordingly. But, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy” saved us by his grace (Ephesians 2:4-5).
Facing the wrath of God, we don’t call Ghostbusters. We call upon the God who has lavished grace upon us through Jesus Christ. We accept the gift of salvation and the new life we have through Christ. We live without fear, leaving behind a life worthy of wrath and living in the freedom and holiness of God’s amazing grace.
Something to Think About:
When you hear the phrase “the wrath of God,” what comes to mind?
Does this phrase make you uncomfortable? Why or why not?
Do you know you’ve been delivered from God’s wrath? How?
What difference does this make in your life?
Something to Do:
Talk with a wise friend or with your small group about the wrath of God. Share your thoughts and feelings about it. Be sure to talk about how it feels to know that you are delivered from God’s judgment through God’s grace in Christ.
Gracious God, thank you for delivering me from your wrath through your grace in Christ. Thank you for taking the judgment that I deserved upon yourself through your Son. Thank you for declaring me “not guilty” and giving me a new life in Christ.
Help me, Lord, not to use my freedom as an occasion for sin. May I learn to feel toward my sin as you do, and as I realize the justice of your judgment, may I revel in the salvation I have by grace through Jesus Christ. May I live out this salvation each day, avoiding actions that characterize a life apart from you.
For your grace and mercy, for your great love, for the chance to live in an altogether new way, I give you thanks, O God. Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
The Cup of Wrath
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.