Reading the words of the title without their context, we may find our hearts and minds trying to deny or deflect their weighty reality. Some may find themselves trying to dismiss the truth that God is, in fact, a God of wrath, believing that He is a loving God only Who would not or could not harm anyone. Some may find themselves rationalizing that the phrase refers to the lost or to some particularly horrible subset of that class, such as the Stalins, Hitlers, and Maos of this world or conscienceless mass murderers and terrorists. But the reality is quite otherwise. Writing to the Ephesian church (and by application, to church saints everywhere and at all times), Paul reminds them: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (2:1-3). These truths lead to several inevitable conclusions.
1. Wrath is no less a part of God’s nature than is love. A god who is wrathless toward sin and does not punish rebellious sinners is only the hideous caricature of the degenerate mind of man. No such being inhabits heaven. The God Who strides across the pages of Scripture is One Who hates sin, wages war against it, and does not compromise with sin or sinners in any way. Whether involving Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, or Paul—the God of the Bible does not wink at sin. Because of our fallen nature, we harbor the thought that it is not only incorrect but highly ignoble, even shameful, to attribute wrath, vengeance, or judgment against sin to God. But God is never more exalted than when He displays Himself in the glory of His holy and righteous nature, and from Genesis to Revelation, whether at the universal destruction of the Flood or the earthshaking judgments of the Tribulation, Scripture trumpets this foundational aspect of God’s character.
2. Believers are not saved because they are less sinful or have better character than others who are lost. Our text is unequivocal in its revelation of the state of the best of us. We were “dead” in trespasses and sin. (Note the use of the personal possessive pronoun: your.) We are all guilty of capital offenses against God. No different from anyone else on earth, we have followed the rebellious “course of this world” in its antagonism toward and rebellion against God. And we were under the dominion of Satan, who is even now “working in the sons of disobedience,” just as he once did in us. As a consequence, we “lived in the lusts of our flesh [all of us], indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” And though these various outward manifestations of sin made us worthy of judgment, we faced an even worse predicament, for we “were by nature children of wrath.” If by some means we might hope to clean up our act and stop committing sins, we are still faced with the reality that our corrupt fallen nature, about which we can do nothing, places us under the judicial wrath of God—a hopeless situation because every page of Scripture presents a holy God Whose one and only response to sin is judgment.
3. The mercy of God is vast. But we are not quite finished. For though it is beyond our immediate text, the next verse begins: “But God, being rich in mercy . . .” Points #1 and 2 suggested that God has one response toward sin: judgment. We know that sin is so horrendous that the punishment it merits is both eternal and indescribable. But God sent His Son to pay the full penalty for sin, and His chosen, who believe, receive mercy and grace—not because they are somehow better or more deserving than others, but because God is “rich in mercy.” Until we see the magnificent holiness of God and His unswerving exercise of justice, until we plumb the depths of sin’s heinousness, we can have no real appreciation for the price paid by Christ at Calvary or for the vastness of God’s mercy. But by grace and nothing else, children of wrath may become children of God. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
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