Monday, June 15, 2015

The Wrath of God our Hope for Glory

In my last post, I emphasized the wrath of God as the root of the Gospel in the sense that our recognition of being under wrath is a precondition for our recognition of the Gospel as good news, and our state of being under wrath is a precondition for the necessity of the atonement.

There is another way in which the wrath of God is good news for us who have been saved. While when we were under wrath the wrath of God was a precondition for the Gospel, now that we are under grace the wrath of God is directed, not at us, but at our enemies.

In both cases, God's wrath is against sin, and that is what is so gloriously good about the news that God hates sin. In a way, in both this post and the last one the point is that God's wrath is Gospel because it is directed against evil. In the first, we saw this as good because it is because of God's wrath that God in Christ came in human form and waged war against sin and death on the cross. Now, the point is that God's wrath is also the reason we have hope that our sin will not forever cling to us.

When we were, ourselves, under God's wrath, it was because we were defiled by sin. Since our guilt has been removed from us, since, that is, our sin has been covered by Christ's righteousness, we are no longer under wrath. However, our sin is still under wrath. In the first place, our sin is under wrath in the sense that our sin was placed on Christ and the wrath of God was poured out on Christ on account of those sins. If our sin did not receive God's wrath, God would not be just, and he would not be good.

So the wrath of God is a result of God's justice. And because God is just we have hope that what is bad now will not be permitted to remain--no one will get away with evil. All evil will be dealt with, and so we cannot say that sometimes bad things happen, as if it were just how things go and we must deal with it. Rather, because evil will be judged and the world will be reconciled to God, we have hope to mourn evil and can rejoice at what is to come, when we will see what we now hope for: the vindication of the righteous and the condemnation of the evil one. In that day we will find ourselves, out of no righteousness of our own, vindicated by God's righteousness, because we will possess as our own the righteousness of God. We will be made more holy, but this will be only according to the power which raised Christ from the dead, by whom we now live. Our good works are not meritorious for us, but for God, since in ourselves we would do only evil, but by Christ we are shaped into Christ's likeness.

Our sin is also still under wrath in the sense that it is still rebellion against God. It is still bad and it is still contrary to God's will. This is no longer a cause of fear for us, since we have Christ's righteousness. It is, rather, a cause of hope for us: because God is against it, a truly efficacious power is at work cleansing us and redeeming us from our sins, making us able to do good rather than evil. We wage war against sin in ourselves. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but--and this is our hope--we work out our salvation because it is God who works in us (Philippians 2:12-13). Because God hates our sin, we have hope that he will empower us to overcome it. In part, this is often by causing us to hate the sin ourselves. Because God is against sin, so we are renewed to a new life, a life against death.

When we see the final victory of Christ over the powers of this age in Revelation, we are seeing both of these: Christ is defeating his enemy. That does not include those of us who are in Christ as his enemies, but rather, as in Christ, so victors in him. We are more than conquerors, as Paul writes, over all the fallenness we encounter. As Christ was raised and conquered sin and death, so we are raised with him to newness of life, to living as Christ lived, holy lives before God.

It is not only, then, that we are no longer under condemnation since we are in Christ Jesus, but also that we are on the other side of the conflict. God's wrath is not only not against us, but is also for us, directed on our behalf against sin. We ought to respond to God's wrath in a twofold way, then: in it we see how great our need, and in it we see how great is the power that is at work in us.

This is at once encouraging and humbling. We could not save ourselves, nor could we now sanctify ourselves, but, because God hates sin and yet loves his creation (as we see when he saves the animals from the flood), he has saved us from sin and continues to save us from sin. He saves us from sin by his Son, Jesus Christ, in whom we pass through judgment yet are unharmed. He also continues to save us from indwelling sin by Christ Jesus, seeing that we are in him, we are also alive in him and have his life enlivening us to righteousness. Just as various psalms cry out for deliverance from enemies, we now cry out for deliverance from our enemy, the devil, and God, who is rich in mercy, and who hates the work of the devil, fights for us, as he did for Israel. And we know that we will finally, in the last day, see victory completed both in the world and in ourselves as all things are put under submission to Christ and as we are glorified.

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