The theme of the wrath (or anger) of God toward sin and toward sinners is clearly and widely taught in the Bible. And this truth is so interwoven with the hope of our peace with one another and with God that, if we lose our grasp on the one, we lose our hope of the other.
The anger of God is not like human anger.
When we speak about the wrath of God, remember that it is the wrath of God. Everything that we know about Him—that He is just, that He is love, and that He is good—needs to be poured into our understanding of His wrath.
The words ‘anger’ and ‘wrath’ make us think about our own experience of these things. You may have suffered because of someone who is habitually angry. Human anger can often be unpredictable, petty, and disproportionate. These things are not true of the anger of God. God’s wrath is the just and measured response of His holiness towards evil.
Here are five ways God’s anger is different from ours.
1. God’s wrath is provoked.
Do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness (Deut. 9:7).
This kind of language is used repeatedly in the Bible. The anger of God is not something that resides in Him by nature. It is a response to evil. It is provoked.
There is a very important difference between God’s anger and his love. The Bible says, “God is love.” That is His nature. God’s love is not provoked. God does not love us because He sees some wisdom, beauty, or goodness in us. The reason that God loves us lies in His nature, not in ours.
But God’s wrath is different. It is His holy response to the intrusion of evil into His world. If there was no sin in the world, there would be no wrath in God.
It has often been pointed out that the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference. What hope would we have in a world stalked by terror if God merely looked on with a weak smile or even a disapproving frown? Hope for a world whose history is strewn with violence lies in a God who is relentlessly opposed to all evil, and who has the power, the capacity, and the will to destroy it.
2. God is slow to anger.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps. 103:8).
These qualities are repeated over and over in the Old Testament, as if they were the most important things you needed to know about God.
Why does God allow evil to continue in the world? Why does He not come back now and wipe it out? 2 Peter 3:9 reminds us that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
God offers grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. People are coming to Him in faith and repentance every day, and God patiently holds the door of grace open. The day of God’s wrath will come, but He is not in a hurry to bring it—because then the door of grace will be closed.
3. God’s wrath is revealed now.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18).
When you read on in Romans 1, you find that sinners go in one of three directions. They suppress the truth about God, they exchange the truth for a lie, and they worship created things rather than the Creator. How does God reveal His wrath when sinners do these things? God gives them up.
Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (Rom. 1:24).
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions (Rom. 1:26).
When we see the moral fabric of our culture being torn, Christian believers should cry to God for mercy on the basis of Romans 1: “Lord, what we see around us is a sign of your wrath and judgment. Be merciful, O Lord, and please do not give us up completely.”
4. God’s wrath is stored up.
Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom. 2:5).
The whole Bible story leads up to a day when God will deal with all evil finally and forever. On that day, God’s judgment will be fully revealed. This will be the day of wrath when God will recompense every evil.
God will do this in perfect justice. No one will be indicted on a single sin that they did not commit, and the punishment for every sin will match the crime. Every mouth will be stopped, because everyone will know that He judged in righteousness. Then God will usher in a new heaven and earth which will be the home of righteousness.
5. God’s wrath is on sinners.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (Jn. 3:36).
John does not say, “The wrath of God will come on the disobedient.” He says, “The wrath of God remains on him.” It is already there. Why? By nature we are children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). It is the state in which we were born.
Here we stand face to face with the human problem at its core. What is it? It is not that we are lost and need to find our way on a spiritual journey. It is not that we are wounded and need to be healed. The core of the human problem is that we are sinners under the judgment of God, and His divine wrath hangs over us, unless it is taken away.
God’s wrath was poured out.
This takes us to the heart of what happened at the cross. The divine wrath toward sin was poured out, or spent, on Jesus. He became the ‘propitiation’ for our sins (Rom. 3:25) as He became the sacrifice for us. This big word ‘propitiation’ means that the recompense or the payment for our sins was poured out on Jesus at Calvary.
The outpouring of God’s wrath on Jesus Christ was the greatest act of love this world has ever seen. And Jesus stands before us today, a living Savior. He offers to us the priceless gift of peace with God. He is ready to forgive your sins and to fill you with His Spirit. He is able to save you from the wrath and to reconcile you to the Father. He has opened the door of heaven, and He is able to bring you in. Are you ready to find peace with God through Him?
This article is an adaptation of Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Overcoming Evil with Peace”, from his series, Overcoming Evil.