“W” is for Wrath

“W” is for Wrath.  While there is no need to translate or parse any aspect of this word it doesn’t mean that it isn’t regularly misunderstood.  The wrath of God is not a subject much spoken of in our culture today.  Our world would rather talk about the love of God and leave that wrath business out altogether.  This is not a surprise given the fallenness of man and of our nation.  What is the surprising offense is how the culture and its influence has seeped into the church and shaped it in regards to any number of theological subjects, the wrath of God being one, instead of the church being a light to the nations.  But as Christians many of us are oftentimes maybe embarrassed about the wrath of God because we don’t understand it.  JI Packer points out, “Why, when the Bible is vocal about it [referring to the wrath of God], should we feel obliged to be silent?” (Knowing God, 150).  Of course your liberal churches and denominations have tossed it out long ago but even inside an otherwise solid evangelical (meaning, gospel preaching and Bible believing) church, the subject of the wrath of God is all but eliminated.  Why is that?

In this week’s blog we will explore this particular attribute of God.  We will take a look at a few of the Old and New Testament texts that either speak directly about the wrath of God or are a demonstration of His wrath.  May our study of the wrath of God awaken in the Christian a burning desire for proclaiming the whole counsel of God for His glory.

What is the Wrath of God?

The wrath of God is an expression of His holiness.  Or “the doctrine that God intensely hates all sin” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1257).  Since God is holy (Matt 5:48; 1 Jn. 1:5) and He hates sin He cannot remain neutral in regards to it.  As Dr. Steven Lawson said, “There is divine wrath that by necessity must react against all that does not conform to the purity of His holiness” (The Attributes of God Teaching Series).  We struggle to understand this because we are not perfect, despite what a new mother might say about her child, and Scripture makes that abundantly clear (see Gen. 3; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23).  Whereas humans misdirect and misapply our anger virtually daily, “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is…God is only angry where anger is called for” (Packer, Knowing God, 151).   God’s wrath is the justice of God in response to our sin.

Wrath of God in the OT

Some point to various accounts in Scripture like Noah and the flood (Gen. 6-7), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18-19), and the Ten Plagues in Egypt (Ex. 7-12) as examples of the wrath of God gone out of control.  Even some Christians look at these texts among others and conclude, “Thank God that the God of the NT is a God of love.”  This too is ridiculous and reveals a lack of understanding the Bible.

Yes, God judged mankind and a catastrophic flood covered all the earth.  Yes, God rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24).  Yes, God sent ten plagues against Egypt.  But let’s quickly recap why God did each of these things.  In reference to the worldwide flood we read, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).  Evil continually.  All the time.  God had been patient with man already since even just one sin deserves death and God withheld His wrath until the evil of mankind was “only evil continually.”  And thankfully God looked with favor upon Noah (6:8).  In the case of Sodom, Abraham interceded for the people there that if only ten righteous persons could be found would God destroy the city and God said He would not (Gen. 18:32).  God even had sent two angels to observe.  Certainly God knew, but He was showing them mercy by having not judged them already.  Everything was confirmed.  The men of Sodom sought to participate in homosexual acts, and while they were inhospitable among other sins (Ezek. 16:48-49) they were guilty because of an abomination (Ezek. 16:50, the same Hebrew word used in Lev. 18:22; 20:13 that links their sin to homosexuality).  Sodom knew of their sin and boasted about it (Is. 3:9).  And the people were rightly judged by God for their sin.  Lastly, in the ten plagues God was going to show the Egyptians, who worshiped many false gods, “that I am the LORD” (Ex. 7:5).  And by these plagues He was going to rescue the people of Israel from their slavery.  God gave Pharaoh plenty of opportunities to repent (Ex. 8:8, 19, 24-28; 9:11, 28; 10:5-6, 17, 24), there were ten plagues after all.  But Pharaoh continual hardened his heart and became monstrously evil, so God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and lured evil into the Red Sea where they were judged because of their sins (Ex. 14:27-28).  In the case of Pharaoh, the Sodomites, and the people living in Noah’s day each reaped what their words and actions had sown (Gal. 6:7-8).  And I pointed out how God was gracious even leading up to these just judgments.

Wrath of God in the NT

A quick look at a passage in Revelation (though more could be selected, John 3:36; Col. 3:5-6) shows how God’s wrath is very much present in the NT.  Rev. 6:15-17 says, “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”  Did you catch that?  The wrath of the Lamb, Jesus the Christ.

Romans 1:16-17 beautifully shares the gospel message and the truth that “the righteous shall live by faith.”  Rom. 1:18-3:20 speaks of the utter depravity and sinfulness of man (a message consistent throughout Scripture after the Fall, Gen. 3) and mankind being without hope apart from God’s direct intervention.  Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  We are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).  We suppress the truth in our unrighteousness, our sin.  And while the day when God’s wrath will be fully realized is yet to come there are demonstrations of that wrath right now when Paul says “God gave them up…” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).

As with all the other attributes of God, the wrath of God is one we as Christians should not downsize or be embarrassed by but rather praise and glorify our awesome and holy God for.  The Father sent His Son out of a great love for His elect even when we were wretched sinners who deserved His wrath.  But thanks be to God for Jesus Christ His Son through whom we’ve received grace and mercy.  May we be motivated to share with others of the wrath to come upon sinners and that only by repenting of your sins and believing in Jesus Christ can the wrath of God be removed from us for it was paid in full by Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:25-26; 1 Thess. 1:9-10).

“T” is for Total Depravity

“T” is for total depravity.  For some people immediate thoughts come to mind, oftentimes negative, when they hear these words.  However, this usually stems from a misunderstanding.  Because of the possible misunderstandings some prefer to change the phrase altogether.  While that is one way of doing it another way is to keep the word (or phrase) and help people properly understand its meaning.  We will begin by looking at what it is not to clear some initial and incorrect understandings.  Then we will see what the proper and correct understanding of total depravity.

What It Is Not

We won’t spend much time here but in order to help us better understand what total depravity is we should nevertheless clear one common misunderstanding about it.  Total depravity does not mean that we as humans are as bad as we could possibly be.  This is not hard to understand since even some of the most grotesque leaders, say in the 20th century alone, could have been even worse.  So total depravity does not mean we are as bad as we could be, but what does it mean?

What It Is

The church father St. Augustine wrote out a prayer that one British monk did not like.  Augustine said something along the lines of, “Oh God, command what thou wouldst, and grant what thou dost command.”  The British monk who did not like this was Pelagius and it was not the first part of Augustine’s prayer that he objected to so much as the second part, “grant what thou dost command.”  Pelagius did not like this because it assumes a creature is not morally able to do the will of God.  Pelagius believed that man was capable of pleasing God, obeying His commands, and choosing good and not evil without any divine intervention.

Original Sin

Pelagius, and those who adhere to Pelagianism have a false view of original sin.  Original sin is not the first sin ever committed by Adam and Eve but rather involves the consequences of that first sin.  The New England Primer was a text used to help colonial children learn their letters among other things.  For the alphabet beginning with the letter “A” it states, “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.”  In other words the entire human race is fallen, born into sin.  King David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).  David isn’t talking about when his parents came together in a sexual union that this was sinful but rather that he from the moment of conception was born sinful.  The reason looking at original sin is important is because of the meaning of total depravity.  Total depravity points out the seriousness of the fall and points to the fact that the totality of man’s being is depraved.  All of our being whether physical (death and disease), mental (darkened minds), emotional, or spiritual has been negatively impacted.  And many Christians would agree that we are fallen, and that this is a serious thing, and it impacts every part of our being.  But there is still disagreement on the level of its impact.  When people say that, “We are basically good” is this true?  Or are we at the core of our being evil?

The Bible Tells Me So

Psalm 14:1-2 says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Proverbs 20:9 says, “Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?  [Note – This is a rhetorical question and the answer is, no one].

Eccles. 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”

Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Titus 1:15, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

Many more verses we could look at but each of these shows how sinful we are and that we are not basically good people who need a few government reforms to be made right with God.  When people speak about being basically good they base that claim on a purely human understanding, on a horizontal plane.  This lessens the understanding of sin to something accidental and outside ourselves, rather than what it really is, rebellion and disobedience against a holy God that is found within our very hearts.  When fleshing out these verses to help us understand man’s condition and our word total depravity we see that we are enslaved to sin, we are spiritually dead, and we are living in rebellion against God.

We are not in need of a few tweaks here and a few adjustments there but a radical heart transplant is needed, and something only God can do.  For, “…no one can come to me [Jesus] unless it is granted him by my Father” (John 6:65).   Our condition is dead in our trespasses and sins and only by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating our hearts do we place our faith, a gift from God (see Eph. 2:8-9), in Jesus Christ.

“P” is for Pneumatology

“P” is for Pneumatology.  Even though the “p” is silent it still begins with the correct letter.  What is pneumatology?  πνεῦμα (pneuma) means Spirit, wind, or breath in Greek depending on the context.  In the case of pneumatology it is the study of the Holy Spirit.  The third person of the triune God tends to get the least amount of press and Christians tend to know the least about Him.  This blog will be a little different from the others in this series but hopefully still beneficial as we think about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.  The two sections below are statements taken from my own doctrinal statement.  The first part “Blessed Trinity” is the beginning of my confession on God (Theology Proper).  The second part is my confession on the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology).  This second statement was written not in seminary but while I was preparing for my ordination and finalizing my full doctrinal statement.  We will finish by looking at a few areas mentioned in the confession a bit further.

Blessed Trinity

I believe the one true God is eternally self-existent (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2, 4, 93:2; Jer. 10:10; John 1:1; Gal. 4:4-5; 1 Tim. 1:17, 6:16) as one essence in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; each person is fully God, and there is only one God.  In the unity of the Godhead there is neither a mixing of the persons nor a division of the one essence.  In regard to their persons the Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father (John 1:14, 18; 3:16), and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:7; 1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 4:6).  The Godhead is a community of self-giving lovers (Gen. 1:26, 3:22; 11:7; Is. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 3:16; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6).

RC Sproul (Everyone’s a Theologian, 179) says in regards to the work of the Trinity in our redemption that “…God the Father initiated the plan of redemption; Christ performed all that was necessary to effect our redemption; and the Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work to us and makes it ours by imparting new life to dead souls, which theologians call ‘regeneration’” (see “B” is for Born Again).  As the final part of the last verse of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” says, “Holy, Holy, Holy merciful and mighty; God in three persons blessed Trinity.”

Confession on Pneumatology

I believe in the Holy Spirit who is one in essence with the Father and the Son and also co-eternal with them (Matt. 3:16-17; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14).  He is very God and eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:7; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 4:6).

I believe the ministry of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s ascension is to testify about the Son (John 15:26; Acts 5:30-32).  The Holy Spirit convicts of sin (John 16:8-11), regenerates (John 3:3-5; Tit. 3:5-6), sanctifies (Rom. 15:16), and assures the believer of their salvation (Rom. 8:16; 2 Cor. 1:22).  Upon repentance and belief in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer and remains with them forever (John 14:16; Rom. 8:9-11).  He counsels (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7), seals (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30), and teaches (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:11-13; 1 John 2:20, 27) the believer while guiding them to put behind the sinful desires of the flesh and clothe themselves with the fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 5:16-23).

I believe the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to all believers for the glory of God and the edification of the church (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-31; 13:1-13; Eph. 4:11-12, 16; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pt. 4:10-11).  Believers are given different kinds of gifts so that they work together in unity and properly function as the body of Christ.  The “sign gifts” such as healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues were essential for the authentication of the apostolic generation to both confirm the message spoken and the authority of those speaking (Matt. 11:2-6; John 10:24-26, 37-38; 14:11; Acts 8:4-8; 14:3; Heb. 2:1-4).  These gifts were particularly necessary when a completed canon (the Bible) was not yet finalized, and therefore are not normative for today (Num. 11:10-25; 1 Cor. 3:10-11; 2 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 3:1-6; Heb. 2:1-4).  No individual gift serves as a sign of the Spirit’s indwelling, because the Spirit’s indwelling is itself the gift (Acts 10:45; 11:15-17; 1 John 4:13).

Taking a Closer Look

One can see that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is far reaching.  In fact it reaches back to the beginning when the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep (Gen. 1:2).  The Spirit was active in creation and, as the statement above declares, is active in the re-creation (or regeneration) of individuals who were dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3).  And the Spirit is active in the process of sanctification, where believers are transformed to become more like Jesus Christ, and will be active in the believer’s glorification.  The Holy Spirit is the One whom God sends to make the believer holy.  Without the work of the Spirit we would neither come to faith in Christ, in fact could not, nor would we desire the things of God.  It is rather ironic that the Holy Spirit is often overlooked and yet He is very active at every point in the believer’s life.

It was stated briefly above in my confession on pneumatology but is worth highlighting again and that is the Holy Spirit’s work in regards to the Scriptures.  Namely, the Holy Spirit inspired the writers and now illumines the text for us.  2 Peter. 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  And 1 Cor. 2:11 says, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”  The Holy Spirit helps us understand the truths of Scripture by shedding light onto our dark minds.  He is the teacher of truth which is fitting since He is called the “Spirit of Truth” three times in John’s gospel (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

Have you ever been stuck when praying?  What I mean is, have you ever not known the right thing to say?  Maybe you found yourself in a new situation and were unsure of how to proceed forward.  Or maybe a friendship or other relationship is on rocky ground and you don’t know whether to pray for healing or for God to cut the ties with the least amount of hurt possible.  Or maybe you agreed to pray for someone who then shares with you that they are seeking prayer for something you know is not biblical.  Have you ever had a hard time praying the “right words” afraid that if you don’t ask for something just right you won’t receive it, as if God is like one of those school lockers that won’t budge unless you get the right combination.  While we may not verbalize this, but based on how we pray we reveal a lot about what we actually believe.  The author of Hebrews tells us that we can approach God’s throne with confidence and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).  Why can we approach God’s throne with confidence?  Because Jesus, the Son of God, our great high priest was tempted like we are but unlike you and me, Jesus never once sinned (vv. 14-15).  And because of Jesus’ substitutionary death (see “A” for Atonement) on the cross for sinners we who have been brought into God’s kingdom by the work of the Holy Spirit can be confident God is able to help us.  We can also pray confidently, even boldly, because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us on our behalf.  Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) and the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses.  The blessed Trinity is active when you and I pray.  May that realization spur us to approach God’s throne today!

“K” is for Kenosis Theory

“K” is for Kenosis Theory.  Never heard of it?  Well it is a teaching that came about in the late 19th, early 20th centuries.  It is also a teaching that has numerous holes in it and was flawed from its start.  The main thrust of the kenosis theory is based on the interpretation of a phrase found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  “Kenosis” is taken from the Greek verb “κενόω” which means “empty” and is translated in Phil. 2:7 where Paul, speaking of Christ, says “He emptied Himself” (ESV, NASB) or “He made Himself of no reputation” (KJV).

Kenosis Theorist – Argument & Reasoning

A simple understanding of the kenosis theory says that Christ gave up some of His divine attributes while He was on earth.  The reasoning behind this was to say the Son of God had to renounce some of His divine qualities otherwise He was not fully human.  Louis Berkhof, Reformed pastor and teacher, points out that this theory found favor amongst Lutherans particularly “to denote the self-limitation, not of the Logos (or Word, see John 1:1-18), but of the God-man, whereby He, in the interest of His humiliation, laid aside the actual use of His divine attributes” (Systematic Theology, 327).  The most common attributes it is thought the Son of God laid aside are His omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), and omnipresence (all-present or present everywhere).  One passage often cited is Mark 13:32 which says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  The reason for this, the kenosis theory advocates would say, is because the Son of God gave up His omniscience, His ability to know.

The theory of one, Bishop Gore of England, tried to give Christ a free pass and explain why our Lord was ignorant of what nineteenth-century higher critics deemed as errors in the OT.  Jesus did not know certain errors found in the OT like we do now.  This connects with what Wayne Grudem says the reasoning for this new theory was not a better understanding of the text of Phil. 2:7, or any passage for that matter, but increasing discomfort among the modern rational and scientific people to believe that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully God at the same time (Systematic Theology, 551).  It’s just absurd they thought.

The main problem is that the text with which these theorist derive their understanding does not support them in any way.  In fact, the context (and immediate context at that) points to the meaning Paul had here.  It also lacks support from any of the churches teachers for the first 1,800 years which is usually dangerous territory to step into.  How can we say that the man Jesus Christ was fully God if He lacked some qualities of deity?  The kenosis theory ultimately denies the full deity of Jesus Christ making Him less than fully God and thus denying that He is 100% God and 100% man.  Two natures in one person (see Athanasian Creed).

A Look at Philippians 2:7

Phil. 2:1-6, “1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

At the beginning of this chapter Paul is seeking to persuade the Philippian believers to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (v. 3).  What does humility look like?  The prime example of humility is found in Jesus. Though Jesus was God He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6).  Jesus could have told others to bow before Him for He is the God of the universe.  However, Jesus resolved to do nothing but the Father’s will while on earth (see John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28-29).  Jesus was not going to go about receiving the glory due Him, as God the Son, outside of the Father’s set purposes and plan.  This is where we begin to grasp our understanding of “emptied Himself” (v. 7).  For the rest of the verse does not say, “but emptied Himself, by giving up certain divine attributes” but rather says, “but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  Thus the real kenosis was not so much a “giving up” as a “taking on.”  God incarnate.  The Son of God became man not for His best interest but for the best interest of others.  We are to do likewise (v. 4).

By way of summary, Paul is stating that Jesus did not command His divine privilege, what was rightfully His as God, namely receiving glory, but rather took the form of a servant and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (v. 8).  Jesus followed His Father’s will perfectly and thus He was raised on the third day and given a name that is above every name (v. 9).  This finds agreement elsewhere in Scripture.  Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5, emphasis added).  Also 2 Cor. 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”  This verse also points out the privilege and honor Jesus deserved to receive yet temporarily gave up for us.

Looking back at an earlier reference, how do we understand verses like Mark 13:32?  One commentator writes, “…for Jesus does not claim the prerogatives of divine Sonship apart from complete obedience to the Father’s will but rather forsakes claims and calculations in favor of humble confidence in the Father’s will” (James Edwards, Mark, 407).  The Father had not revealed the exact time to the Son while He was on earth and Jesus was confident to trust in His Father’s will, and we know Jesus followed the Father’s will even to the point of death by crucifixion.

Concluding Remark

An important lesson for us is whenever points of Christian doctrine are being interpreted more from an empirical standpoint or based on my experiences rather than from the direct teachings of Scripture, errors like this are certain to follow, all dangerous (just some more dangerous than others).

Tuesday Tunes

Time for Tuesday Tunes! For those who have been waiting on “A to Z Theology” I’ll have “K” put up by weeks end. Until then take a listen to this weeks song (a favorite of mine) How Deep the Father’s Love for Us by a group I don’t know a lot about but stumbled upon on a friend’s blog. Enjoy!