In chapter 15 of Knowing God, J.I. Packer indicts the church for ignoring the wrath of God.
“To an age which has unashamedly sold itself to the gods of greed, pride, sex and self-will, the Church mumbles on about God’s kindness, but says virtually nothing about His judgment. How often during the past year did you hear, or if you are a preacher, did you preach, a sermon on the wrath of God? The fact is that the subject of divine wrath has become taboo in modern society, and Christians by and large have accepted and conditioned themselves never to raise the matter.”
This assessment is sad yet true. My own experience confirms it. During the past year I’ve heard nothing about God’s wrath from the pulpit. In fact, over the past eleven years I can only remember one sermon devoted to the topic. How about you?
We love to talk about heaven, but whatever happened to hell? It is conspicuously absent from the pastoral ministries of many evangelical churches.
So I’ve been thinking about the unfortunate effects of this trend. When the church ignores God’s wrath, we do so at our own peril. Here are five tragic consequences.
- We condone a distorted view of God’s character.
Packer blew me away with this quote from A.W. Pink’s The Attributes of God: “A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.”
Oh how we love to say “God is love.” But to focus on God’s love to the exclusion of His wrath is to worship a false God, a God that we’ve created. Yes, the Bible says “God is love.” And it also says, “God is a consuming fire.”
In John 3:16, how many times is heaven mentioned? How about hell? (These are not trick questions. The answer to both is one.) How would the preaching in our churches change if pastors followed this pattern?
- We stand in judgment over Scripture.
If Pink’s statement is true, then to ignore God’s wrath is to place ourselves above God’s Word. We decide what parts of the Bible to teach and which parts to discard. Oh may such an attitude never be ours!
Paul told the Ephesian elders that “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). When we minimize God’s wrath, does not our shrinking become a shirking of the God-given responsibility to teach everything found in Scripture?
- We devalue God’s love.
Many evangelicals focus on God’s love to the virtual exclusion of His wrath. The end result is a sentimentalizing and cheapening of His love. This approach backfires and causes the very thing we emphasize to lose its preciousness.
Do you want to increase your gratitude for God’s love? Then study His wrath. Doing so will heighten your appreciation for the magnitude of His grace and mercy toward you.
May we never forget that to be saved is to be delivered from sin and all its devastating consequences both in this life and the next.
When you reflect on the miracle of salvation, what comes to mind? Shouldn’t rescue from hell be near or at the top of your list of salvation’s blessings? If not, we’re missing out on one of God’s most precious promises.
- We allow the false teachings of universalism and annihilationism to prevail.
When we fail to teach the wrath of God, our silence on the subject allow false doctrine to prevail. There are two teachings in particular that continue to spread like wildfire throughout Christendom. The first is universalism, the belief that ultimately all will be saved. Without realizing it, ignoring God’s wrath provides greater opportunity for the proponents of this heinous doctrine to succeed.
The second is annihilationism, the belief that non-Christians do not actually spend eternity in hell, they just cease to exist. In other words, eternal life lasts forever, but eternal death is only temporary. In effect, after Judgment Day, God “snuffs out” the non-believer. I am saddened by the fact that an increasing number of evangelicals subscribe to this viewpoint. (For an excellent discussion of this issue, please read J.I. Packer’s article, “Evangelical Annihilationism in Review.”)
When we minimize God’s wrath, are we not walking on the slippery slope of doctrinal compromise?
- We preach a truncated gospel.
Paul warned the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).
Paul was battling the heresy of the Judaizers, who taught that the gospel needed to include adherence to the Law of Moses. Such teaching was “a different gospel,” and those who propagate such a gospel should be “eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:8). Strong words indeed!
When we leave God’s wrath out of the gospel, are we guilty of preaching “a different gospel”? Certainly it is an incomplete gospel. And to the extent that our gospel is incomplete, it is false. To offer the promise of heaven without the warning of hell is to proclaim a severely diminished gospel.
May we return to the gospel of Christ and the apostles, the gospel of the New Testament. Jesus preached on the wrath of God repeatedly, and so did the early church. May we do the same.
I’m sure my list of consequences is not exhaustive. If you can think of any others, please add them in the comment box below.
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