Romans 5:9. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
When I was in middle school my friends and I would go roller skating once a month with some church youth groups. We would be picked up in the mall parking lot. One time while we were waiting for my sisters to arrive (my dad had already gotten there to pick us all up) a car full of thugs (or at least that’s how I remember them) started driving toward me and my friend. They were swerving and pretending like they were going to run us over. It was quite terrifying.
I will never forget how my dad chased down that other car with his car through the empty mall parking lot. He cornered them. Confronted them. And then drove back to us. It all happened very fast and very far away so I don’t know what my dad said to the thugs. I remember thinking my dad was cool.
I think two things were at work in my dad that night: wrath and love. He loved me and my friend and therefore he was wrathfully opposed to anything that would hurt us. Including parking lot thugs.
God’s wrath is his settled opposition to sin. God’s wrath is non-fluctuating; it does not grow or shrink based on how he feels today. But it is also, at the same time, personal. God is a jealous God who has been personally offended. The Trinity will avenge each other. The Son won’t let the Father and Spirit be opposed and disrespected. Nor will the Father the Son or Spirit, or the Spirit the Father or Son.
Nobody loves to talk about God’s wrath. And some Christians have just dismissed it altogether. But the problem is we can’t. God’s wrath is a theme that is found all over the Bible including Romans 5:9 (the Greek word orge is used 12 times in Romans alone).
Maybe the problem occurs when we see God’s wrath as separate from his love and justice. I love that my dad chased down those guys in the parking lot that night. It showed me that he loved me. We need God’s wrath to prove his love. We need his wrath to prove his justice. There’s a poison in the air called Sin*, and we need God to destroy it before it destroys all of us. We need God to bring righteousness, but he cannot without wrath toward Sin. Just like he cannot without love and grace.
Romans 1:18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Salvation cannot ignore Sin. Forgiveness cannot ignore justice. There has to be a moral right and wrong attached to God’s mercy, otherwise what are we actually saved from, and what are we saved unto? Sin has to be judged and destroyed. Those that worship God must be righteous, not just forgiven. Only God’s wrath can destroy the unrighteousness that exists inside us and in the world outside of us.
When we consider God’s wrath and the cross, simply put, if there is no wrath of God, then the cross makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The cross is the most humiliating, shaming, cruel, violent, and dehumanizing way to die that mankind has ever devised. Why would this kind of death be required of Christ? As an example? God help us if we believe this.
Death on a cross must be required to demonstrate the nature, cruelty, violence, oppression, and inhumanity of Sin. Sin simply could no longer be overlooked (Rom. 3:25), it had to be dealt with. It’s full effect had to be felt. Shame and death had to steal Christ’s humanity from him. The wrath of God had to judge sin through the death of Christ. He had to become Sin so that Sin might be judged.
What happened at the cross that allows it to save us from God’s wrath?
Well here’s what DIDN’T happen:
The Son of love DIDN’T appease the God of wrath. No. Both the Father and the Son were full of love and wrath. The Father was never against us. He was against Sin. His wrath is part of a cosmic battle, an apocalyptic endeavor, to destroy the powers of evil in this universe. The death of Jesus did not change God’s mind about humanity. God was never against humanity. He has always been for us. In the words of Fleming Rutledge, “It is not his opposition to us, but our opposition to him that needed to be overcome” (The Crucifixion).
Romans 5:8. but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
What did happen is that the wrath of God and the love of God met at the cross. And together they conquered Sin and Death. The cross satisfied the wrath of God. It didn’t overcome it or defeat it as if it was evil. The cross paid the debt. The wage of sin was paid in full in the death of Christ. And at the same time the power of Sin (death) was defeated.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57.
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“To live is Christ” means never, ever, ever having to feel the wrath of God. It has been felt in your place by your Savior Jesus. God is no longer settled in his opposition toward you because you are in Christ. You are justified by his blood. God has done what only God could do – turn away God’s wrath. Only God can save us from God. And he did. Without sacrificing love or justice in the process. Now both love and justice can be alive in us and through us by the indwelling life of Christ.
Does the idea of God’s wrath bother you? How is your union with Christ the result of both the love of god and the wrath of God? How does your union with Christ allow you to live free from God’s wrath and yet live in respectful fear of God?
* I capitalize Sin to demonstrate that we are talking about a powerful force, not the individual sins that we commit.