For years upon years, the natural thinking about God and His wrath have been made into something of an attention grabber. Someone is found shouting, speaking or even whispering about eternal judgment and damnation in just about every Christian arena. You really can not go to any religious setting without the preaching of a ‘coming wrath’ coming upon the world at some point in the future. Where are we getting these messages though? Who is the one bringing up the idea of a future time of anger and wrath from God? Today we would like to challenge the very basis upon which these common assumptions are promoted. Just because they might seem scriptural, such assumptions have served to divert our attention away from the single most important reality regarding judgment.
As Adam said, if you’re up to it, we are going to stir your minds with a different perspective concerning the judgment to come. And it’s not just for the sake of controversy, for in the end, that’s rather meaningless. Now, I know it might seem that we are taking on too much — for there are numerous Bible verses and passages dealing with a coming judgment — for our purpose does not revolve around making every little detail fit within some kind of a timeline, but of the one overriding event around which all of God’s judgment turns.
Look, I know what it is for a particular verse or passage or doctrinal persuasion to hold me in its grips — especially regarding Judgment Day — and I’m not here to tell you that I have all those things sorted out. To tell you the truth, in having simply put that former confusion on hold so that the truth of Christ and him crucified might put all things in his living perspective, I discovered that many of the former things that made so much sense within the old, dead framework no longer fit. Once again, I’m not saying that I learned how to answer all my former questions, rather I realized that much of it was bogus.
If you want something more to read, you can find it on the website the.shovel.net. From the home page, you’ll see a sidebar menu on the left that says Search by Topic (mobile devices will probably have to scroll down a bit to find it). Choose The Judgment Seat of Christ link, and it will provide numerous articles to check out … most notably, those in the Shoveletter series.
Jim in the letter to the Romans Paul is found speaking to a group of believers living in Rome. He starts out his greeting by saying:
“to all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.
Not a bad greeting at all now is it? But in the next paragraph of his letter he is right into speaking about Gods wrath. He says :” For Gods wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth..” I think allot of us Christians hear Paul moving right into this wrath talk and start to lose sight of the absolute beauty of what God has done for us in Christ, don’t you Jim?
Yeah, it seems that the grace we’ve received in Jesus Christ takes back seat to many Christian issues and practices and doctrines … wrath and the coming judgment, perhaps, topping the list. Look, I understand how easy it is to have, as you called it, “the absolute beauty of what God has done for us in Christ” get totally lost in the midst of other seemingly important spiritual concerns. I mean, we’ve got a Bible filled with spiritual stuff that just doesn’t seem to connect with or even accentuate what God has done for us in Christ. Losing sight of the love, the grace, or the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ having died and risen seems to be a rather common theme in many, or most, Christian circles.
I remember back in my Bible College days when a group of my musical friends from the college came to the house to practice with me on a few of my songs. This particular evening, one of them thought it’d be cool to write a song together. You know, that happened a lot, and I suspect that those who got to know me figured that if some chump like me could write a song, there was no reason they couldn’t. LOL! Now having learned to write songs on my own, I wasn’t much help in collaborating with my buddies, so I pretty much sat back and let them do it. And they did a pretty good job. It was a good tune with some great harmony. The song pondered the same question that many Christian struggle with: How does it get so easy to forget the things you’ve done for me … and all the love you showed at Calvary?
Now, there’s an obvious reason that some Christians might forget those things, and it’s simply that their preachers don’t speak much about it … other than some lipservice in that direction. But how could those from an evangelical Bible College who are consistently confronted by sermons and classes and Bible studies that revolve around God’s love through the work of Jesus Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection … how could they possibly forget it? I’m talking about those who engaged in personal evangelism. You know, the people who made a habit of confronting friends and strangers on a daily basis with the message that God loves them and wants to forgive them so that they might live forever heaven.
Oh, we had our theories — especially when one of own lost his fire or dedication to God — and the explanations all sounded so spiritual. We were constantly warned as to how the world, the flesh, and the devil were making daily attacks against us to keep us from serving God and to destroy our testimonies … but we just didn’t suspect that our spiritual or Biblical issues might be causing us to lose focus! We thought (and I say this from my own viewpoint) that delving into Biblical subject matter — like the coming wrath and judgment of God — could only guard us against faltering because it forced us to constantly reevaluate our personal relationship with God.
We assumed that our focus on the distinction between salvation and service, along with our own service of dedication to God, would keep us grounded — when the truth is that we were all over the page! We lost sight in the midst of having surrounded ourselves with Biblical teaching and the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We were dying of thirst, even though we were swimming in an ocean of fresh water!
Anyhow Adam, you brought up that verse in Romans 1 where Paul seems to have turned the corner in his presentation when he wrote: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven….” But did he actually turn a corner … or was he simply bringing all things — especially judgment — in view of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Jim, what you just said reminds me of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Of course, I think it’s worth noting that Paul didn’t refer to our obedience to Christ but to Christ’s obedience.
Good point. I wonder how many Christians assume that being faithful to preach and teach the written word of God equates to taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ ? You know, there’s an awful lot of Christian, Biblical preaching and teaching out there that seems to divert every thought away from the living Christ. Remember, it is the religious, legal mind that causes people to imagine that they are honoring to God with their fleshly motivations.
Here, we as Christians, think God inspired Paul to write about his wrath so that we would be better able to clean up our own acts so that in turn we could be his agents of righteousness in preaching God’s displeasure to all the offenders around us.
However, if we were to take all thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, we might discover something very different about the truth about the wrath of God that has been revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. For one, it would not stir us toward a Christian attempt to judge those around us, especially as we consider Paul’s comments near the end of the letter about not judging one another anymore, but rather leaving judgment up to God’s vengeance. It’s amazing when you see things for what they truly are, for that’s when you can see how the same fleshly legal mind Paul wrote to has done the very same thing today … only now it’s done using Paul’s own words to justify it.
As Paul directs his preaching to the fleshly legal mind in Ch.2, he begins speaking of a “day of wrath”. Lets read that here:
Therefore you are without excuse, O man, whoever you are who judge. For in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself. For you who judge practice the same things. We know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. Do you think this, O man who judges those who practice such things, and do the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance, and patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath, revelation, and of the righteous judgment of God; who “will pay back to everyone according to their works:” to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and incorruptibility, eternal life; but to those who are self-seeking, and don’t obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath and indignation, oppression and anguish, on every soul of man who works evil, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Romans 2:1-9
Jim, how many of us have been influenced to look at this statement about wrath and judgment in a way that makes it seem as though it was some future event having nothing to do with us now? What are some of the ramifications of this line of thinking?
I can tell you that at one time, I could see no other possible meaning than for it to refer to the afterlife. In that frame of mind, everything revolved around the destiny question. So for obvious reasons, a passage like this one created much fear and doubt. You ask about the ramifications of this line of thinking, and to tell you the truth, those ramifications have clearly shown themselves throughout the course of religious history. As long as we force a clear-cut distinction between God’s coming judgment and the judgment dished out through Jesus Christ on the cross — and the legal mind is easily able to justify such a distinction — we will let the end justify the means … even though we might condemn the practice in others.
We’ve misunderstood Paul’s message to the Romans believers because we’ve learned it according to the fleshly legal mind. We waver back and forth between the good news and the bad news … and then hope to end up on our feet when all is said and done. Paul had one message, and it was Christ — the one who died for us and was raised to new life, the one in whom we have true freedom. My friends, you don’t need more information in order to understand what Paul wrote, you simply need to see all things according to the mind of Christ that is in you. It’s way past time to recognize that we have allowed the fleshly religious mind of man to govern how we read the Bible, and how we view Christ and the cross, and how we view the coming judgment. Basically, in too many ways we’ve let the religious fleshly mind tell us how to define the things of God.
Is it any wonder then that the Christian world is so hung up on judgment and wrath?
If God is in the ‘repayment’ business still, then what was Christ for? Does it not dilute the power of the cross every time we minimize His sacrifice to some meaningless fulfillment of prophesy as if He was a temporary pardon from God until God gets REALLY mad some time in the future?
The fleshly, religious mind has found many Biblical ways to explain how Christ’s sacrifice does not apply to just about anything. This is the same reasoning that enables us to limit Jesus’ payment for sin according to human standards. Because our perceptions make sense to us, we assume they would make sense to God.
Points to cover:
Temporary stay of execution. Forgiven up to the present … but future is yet to be determined. WE do that, and so assume God does.
The need to keep fear as a motivation for doing good