God’s Wrath

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Why Were Ananias and Sapphira Judged?

Posted by on 28 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: A. W. Tozer, Apologetics, Ben Witherington, God's Wrath, John Stott

Judgment and Grace Simultaneously

Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Acts 5:9-11 (NIV)

Recently, I was asked an excellent question. In regard to Acts 5:1-11 and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira: “Why did God judge Ananias and Sapphira so completely when the New Testament period is supposed to be an age of grace?” “Is not judgment an Old Testament characteristic of God?”

First, we need to avoid dividing the various and seemingly contradictorily attributes of God between the Old and New Testaments. The Marcion heresy of the early church taught that the Old Testament God was a god of judgment and wrath, but in the New Testament, Jesus is a god of grace and love. Today, we often fall into the same post-modern trap in our thinking. Some teachers contrast the mean and angry god of the Old Testament with Jesus meek and mild–the friend of all–in the New Testament. Anglican pastor, John Stott notes:

God is not at odds with himself, however much it may appear to us that he is. He is ‘the God of peace’, of inner tranquility not turmoil. True, we find it difficult to hold in our minds simultaneously the images of God as the Judge who must punish evil-doers and of the Lover who must find a way to forgive them. Yet he is both, and at the same time.

John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 131.

The Holy Trinity is the same God in both testaments: a God of love, grace, mercy, judgment, and wrath. Read Jesus’ statements in Mark 13, Matt 23, and the Rev. 1. He is the God of justice, holiness, and righteousness in the New Testament as well as the Old. I am currently reading The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. Tozer comments that God’s attributes are the same in both the Old and New Testaments.

We should banish from our minds forever the common but erroneous notion that justice and judgment characterize the God of Israel, while mercy and grace belong to the Lord of the Church. Actually there is in principle no difference between the Old Testament and the New.

In the New Testament Scriptures there is a fuller development of redemptive truth, but one God speaks in both dispensations, and what He speaks agrees with what He is. Wherever and whenever God appears to men, He acts like Himself. Whether in the Garden of Eden or the Garden of Gethsemane, God is merciful as well as just. He has always dealt in mercy with mankind and will always deal in justice when His mercy is despised.

Thus He did in antediluvian times; thus when Christ walked among men; thus He is doing today and will continue always to do for no other reason than that He is God.

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961), 97.

New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles,  comments about Acts 5, “Luke’s [the author of Acts] view is that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is the same God Jesus and the disciples served, and so one should expect continuity of character and action.”

Second, we often misinterpret John 1:17, “For the law was through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” We commonly think that the verse is pitting grace against law,” The Law is judgment and it was in the Old Testament, it was bad, and needs to be discarded, because in Jesus we now have grace.”

However, the Apostle John was not contrasting grace against law. John believes that the law is good: the Law (Torah) is the promises of God, and Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises. Grace and truth are covenant terms which designate God’s loyalty and faithfulness. John declares that in Jesus, the Lord is fulfilling his promises and covenant commitment found in the Law (Torah).

Third, Ananias and Sapphira’s sin was very grave. Giving was voluntary in the early Church. However, Ananias and Sapphira lied about giving all the proceeds for the sale of their property.They “kept back” (v.2) which in the Greek implies the utmost dishonesty and secrecy. Not only were they lying with conspiratorial intent, but that lying was Satanically inspired (v.3). Satan was using their flesh to corrupt and divide an early church which was just beginning its witness to the world. God’s judgment of their sin had be swift or the early church would lose its witness and unity.

Again, New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, states, “In Luke’s view this couple is guilty of secrecy, collusion, and attempting to lie to the Holy Spirit. What is at stake here is the koinonia of the community which the Spirit indwelt. One act of secrecy and selfishness violates the character of openness and honesty which characterized the earliest community of Jesus’ followers.”

Lesson to today’s church: The God of the New Testament is still concerned about the holiness of his people.

“Do Not Despair Then, O Faithful Soul”

Posted by on 09 Jul 2010 | Tagged as: Exchanged Life, God's Wrath

Jesus Bore Our Just Judgment

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

As a pastor, I counsel with many believers we have experienced an unexpected and difficult hardship. In many cases, they somehow have decided in their minds that the bad event happened because God was judging them for a past sin (Rom. 8:31-32). They assumed that the Christian life is based on performance. Since, they did not perform according to expectations, God must be out to get them. However, Christ died taking upon himself our just judgment (Isa. 53:5). The Cross dealt with all our past, present, and future sins (Rom. 4:5, 7-8). We need not live under the shame and guilt of a past failure (Rom. 4:25). Christ bore our retribution on that awful and awesome tree (Gal. 3:13-14).

Bad things that happen to the Christian believers are not God’s judgment, but the painful result of continuing to live this life in a fallen world (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Gratefully, the pain and sorrows that we experience can be redeemed by God’s grace and used by the Holy Spirit for our greater good (Rom. 8:28). As we thank God for our trials and tribulations, Christlike transformation can be our experience (Rom. 8:17).

Christ has been judged in order to free us from the judgment of God. He has been prosecuted as a criminal so that we criminals may be pardoned. He has been scourged by godless hands to take away from us the scourge of the devil. He called out in pain in order to save us from eternal wailing. He poured out tears so that he could wipe away our tears.

He has died for us to live. He felt the pains of hell through and through, so that we might never feel them. He was humiliated in order to bring forth the medicine for our pride; was crowned with thorns, in order to obtain for us the heavenly crown.

He has suffered at the hands of all so that he might furnish salvation for all. He was darkened in death so that we would live in the light of heavenly glory. He heard disgust and contempt so that we might hear the angelic jubilation in heaven.

Do not despair then, O faithful soul.

Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations VII

An Easy Going God?

Posted by on 18 May 2010 | Tagged as: Faith, God's Wrath, John Stott, The Cross

More on the Wrath of God

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

Rom. 5:9 (NKJV)

In my previous post, I discussed the most misunderstood attribute of God, his wrath. The wrath of God should not be confused with the anger of man. We get angry, easily offended, and overwrought in our emotions. We project our emotional outbursts onto God assuming that he responds to disappointment and frustration in the same way we do. But, God’s anger is not capricious. He is not easily ticked off like we are. God’s concern is sin and its destruction not whether his personal rights are being violated.

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . . .

Exodus 34:5-7

The kind of God that appeals to most people today would be easy-going in his tolerance of our offenses. He would be gentle, kind, accommodating. He would have no violent reactions. Unhappily, even in the church we seemed to have lost the vision of the majesty of God. There is much shallowness and levity among us.

Prophets and psalmists would probably say of us, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” In public worship our habit is to slouch or squat; we do not kneel nowadays, let alone prostrate ourselves in humility before God. It is more characteristic of us to clap our hands with joy than to blush with shame or tears. We saunter up to God to claim his patronage and friendship; it does not occur to us that he might send us away. We need to hear again the Apostle Peter’s sobering words, “Since you call on a father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives. . in reverent fear.” (I Peter 1:17) In other words, if we dare to call our judge our Father, we must beware of presuming on him.

It must even be said that our evangelical emphasis on the atonement is dangerous if we come to it too quickly. We learn to appreciate the access to God which Christ has won only after we have first cried, “Woe is me for I am lost.” In R.W. Dale’s words, “It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.”

John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986).

What of the Wrath of God? (Updated)

Posted by on 16 May 2010 | Tagged as: God's Wrath, John Stott, The Cross

Does Sin Provoke God’s Wrath?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

Romans 1:18-19 (NKJV)

God’s anger is not vengeful, but is best understood as a firm and loving opposition to sin in all its forms and degrees. God’s wrath is a holy antagonism toward those attitudes and actions which oppose his Kingdom and destroy life and relationship.

God’s wrath is not arbitrary or capricious.  It bears no resemblance to the unpredictable passions and personal vengefulness of the pagan deities.  Instead, it is his settled, controlled, holy antagonism to all evil.

John Stott, The Letters of John, Revised Edition, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 88.

God’s wrath was absorbed by the Son who died in our place and bore our just judgment on the Cross. The death of the innocent and sinless Christ satisfies (i.e., propitiates) God’s wrath for penalty of sin has now been paid willingly by the Son.

A Substitute has appeared in space and time, appointed by God Himself, to bear the weight and burden of our transgressions, to make expiation for our guilt, and to propitiate the wrath of God on our behalf. This is the gospel.

R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Orlando, FL; Reformation Trust Pub., 2007), 81.

HT: Of First Importance