“Like the rest, we were by nature objects [children] of wrath.” Ephesians 2:3
This may well be the most disturbing verse in the Bible, but its meaning is clear: The default position of every human life is that we are under the wrath of God. We are all born sinners. The impulse to sin runs in the bloodlines of people of every race.
If you believe what the Bible says about our sin nature, it should not surprise you to read that “we were by nature, children of wrath.” To help us grasp the importance of this truth, I want to tell you what I’ll call…
The Parable of the Biggest Problem
Imagine an old church in the center of the city of London. The building goes back to the 15th century, and visitors come from all over the world to look at its stained glass and its ancient walls. Below the church, where people gather, there is a crypt where great men and women from the past lie buried beneath the stones.
Pastor John walks through the ancient church, wearing his long gown. He has served there for 30 years, ably supported by his tireless assistant and the elderly caretaker. Pastor John is a wise, kind and godly man. The kind of man you can talk to. The kind of pastor you want to talk to when you know that you are in trouble.
One day a man came to the church looking for Pastor John. Ben was troubled and needed to talk. “How can I help you, Ben?” asked Pastor John, as they sat down in his office.
Ben looked at the floor for a long time and then he said, “Pastor John, how can I become a more generous person?”
Pastor John smiled, “That’s a great question, Ben. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know,” says Ben. “I’ve made some bad investments. I don’t have peace about what I’m doing with my money. Maybe I need to give more.”
Pastor John was a wise pastor and he sensed that Ben wasn’t getting to the point, “Is there something else you want to tell me Ben?” There was a long silence. “Ben, where did you get the money that you regret spending?”
“It came from the pension fund.”
“You’ve taken money out of your pension fund?” asked Pastor John.
“No, I’ve taken it from other people’s pension funds,” says Ben. “It’s my job to manage the pension fund for my company.”
Pastor John stroked his chin. Ben had been taking about becoming a more generous person. Now there was a bigger problem. Ben was guilty of a crime that could see him behind bars for the next 20 years.
Pastor John took in a deep breath as he prepared to tell Ben what he must do, and then to try and help this man find the courage to do it. He was about to speak when they both heard the most awful shouting.
Pastor John knew the voice—it was the old caretaker. The office door flew open, “Pastor John, Pastor John… There’s a bomb in the crypt, and it’s about to go off! We have to get out—now!”
Now what’s the biggest problem? Ben says he wants to be a more generous person, but there’s a bigger problem. He has stolen two million dollars from his company’s pension fund, and he is facing a long stretch in jail.
But even this takes second place to the biggest problem—which neither Ben nor Pastor John had been aware of, until the caretaker burst through the door. There’s a bomb in the building. If they don’t get out quickly, Pastor’s John’s wisdom about being a generous person and Ben’s fear about going to the police will become supremely irrelevant.
Think about this parable in relation to yourself today. You may want to become a better person. You may feel that there’s stuff in your life that you need to deal with, but towering over all this is a problem of altogether different proportions, a problem of which most people are not even aware: “Like the rest, we are children of wrath.” There are three things, friends, that all of us need to know about the wrath of God…
The World Needs It
The greatest problem with evolutionary theory is that, if it were true, the world should be a better place by now. If it were really true that we are getting better, surely by now, war should have ended. Surely by now, we should be beyond murder and hatred. Surely by now, we should live in a world where children should be safe and women should be treated with dignity and respect. Surely by now, we should have achieved world peace, and wise government with freedom and justice for all. Why can’t we get there… ever?
Every new generation says the same thing: “The world shouldn’t be like this!” and then they die with the world pretty much the same as it was. The history of the world shows that sin is a problem to which there is no human solution. Sin is a monster, and our only hope for the life that every human heart longs for is that this monster should be destroyed… completely!
Read the Psalms and you will find the agonizing cry of a suffering person who is longing that God will bring down the wicked… “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me… Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city. Day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it. Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets” (Psalm 55:1, 9-11).
That was written 3,000 years ago. It could have been written yesterday. Nothing has changed. Notice where the psalm ends… “But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption” (Psalm 55:23). In an evil world, he does not see any other hope, but that God destroys the wicked. A God who cannot destroy evil, or who does not have the moral will to do so is of absolutely no help to us in this world that we live in today.
The good news is—David’s prayer will be answered. God will bring the wicked down to the pit of corruption. God will create a new heavens and a new earth where sin will be no more and this will be the home of righteousness. This is our hope, and without it, there would never come a time when our world could deliver peace, freedom, prosperity, justice and joy for all—never.
I Deserve It
“Like the rest, we were by nature objects [children] of wrath.” Ephesians 2:3
I put this personally because it is true and because it is easier to speak about this in relation to myself than anyone else. It is not, “If I do some bad things, the wrath of God will come on me.” I am a child of wrath by nature. By nature, I am absorbed with self and drawn to sin. By nature, I want to be my own god. By nature, I was under the wrath of God.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” John 3:36
Some people say, “I can’t believe that if you don’t believe the right things about Jesus, you’ll go to hell.” But the apostle John does not say, “If you reject Jesus, God’s wrath will come on you.” He says, “If you reject Jesus, God’s wrath will remain on you.” It is there already. It’s like a cloud hanging over you. By nature we are children of wrath.
Your reaction to this teaching about the wrath of God will tell you whether you’ve really embraced the truth about our sinful nature. The reason that all people are liable to the wrath of God is that God must destroy sin and sin is in us by nature. The future hope of the new heavens and the new earth depends on it, and sin is in us. That’s the problem. There’s an old song that we used to sing when I was a boy…
There is a city bright, closed are its gates to sin
Nothing that defiles; Nothing that defiles can ever enter in. 
That means by nature I cannot enter in. If I were to enter, which I cannot, I would defile the place that God is making.
Christ Bore It
“The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.” Isaiah 53:5
Why did Jesus Christ come into the world? This is the most important question a person could ever ask. Why did He have to die? What was this cross all about? What happened there? And why did it have to happen?
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. On the cross, He became the sin-bearer. He bore sins, and He died for sinners. He took the wrath that should have been ours, so that we could enter the joy that was rightly His.
Bearing sins meant Jesus coming under all that sin brings. On the cross, He absorbed the Divine wrath. He entered into all that hell is, so that those who are His should never know what hell is like. Christ absorbed the wrath of God for us, so that we could know the love of God through Him.
You say you are a Christian, perhaps, but have you taken this truth seriously? This is a truth that should make us tremble. Christian, have you considered what you have been saved from? Have you thought about what it would have meant for you, if you had remained under the wrath of God?
Here’s my personal reflection on that: If it were not for the grace and mercy of God to me in Jesus Christ, I would endure a future in which I am against God and God is against me forever, a future in which I have no place for God and God has no place for me. And in that everlasting separation from God, I would endure…
1.) The continued gnawing of an activated conscience, in which I see the full extent of my own sin, and the destruction I have brought on myself,
2.) The clear knowledge that there is a God of love, and that I could have known Him, but now He’s beyond my reach because, in my own folly, I chose to live without Him,
3.) An unending regret and loathing of myself because of my own wretched choices, and their miserable consequences, and
4.) The continuing impulse of an ongoing rebellion against God that just keeps foaming up from within, and from which there is no deliverance.
Think about an addict who keeps going back to what he knows is destroying him. Why does he do this? Because the power of his addiction is stronger than his desire to be free.
That’s what it would be like for me—an eternity addicted to sin, in the company of all those who share the same addiction, caught in an ongoing destruction for which I would have only myself to blame. As I reflect on this, I say, “Oh, God, thank You for what You have saved me from!” Have you considered what Christ has saved you from?
Do you ever think about what it would mean for your neighbor or colleague at work to endure the wrath of God? If you do, you will have compassion. You will begin to pray for them. You will look to God for their salvation.
Have you ever really thought about what it meant for the Holy Son of God to endure this wrath on the cross? There is an old spiritual that says,
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
…sometimes it causes it to tremble, tremble….
Have you ever trembled at what Christ endured on the cross, bearing the wrath of God in His own body, in His own soul? The Son of God, rejected by earth, rejected by heaven, and plunged into the depths of hell on the cross. He bore the divine wrath for you!
This, the power of the cross: Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath – we stand forgiven at the cross. 
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with His blood,
Hallelujah what a Savior! 
How to Use the Truth of God’s Wrath
Use this truth to deepen your grasp of Christ’s love
This remains an enigma to me—no generation has been so often told that God loves us, and no generation has struggled more with the experience of God’s love. One reason is that our ideas about God’s love have become sentimental.
We have not taken the doctrine of God’s wrath seriously, and losing touch with the truth of God’s wrath, we have also lost touch with the knowledge of God’s love. Tim Keller has a helpful illustration of how this happens…
“Neglecting unpleasant doctrines of the historic faith will often bring about counterintuitive consequences. There is an ecological balance about scriptural truth that we cannot risk disturbing.
If an area is cleared of its predatory or undesirable animals, the balance of that environment may be so upset that desirable plants and animals are also lost… In the same way, if we avoid difficult of ‘harsh’ doctrines within the historic Christian faith, we may find to our surprise that we have gutted pleasant and cherished beliefs too.
The loss of the doctrines of hell, judgment and the holiness of God does irreparable damage to our deepest comforts – particularly our understanding of God’s grace and love…” 
If you reject the doctrine of God’s wrath, don’t ever expect to grasp the love of God. You’re living at the level of sentimentality. But when you grasp this truth of the Divine wrath, you will begin to see the extent of the Divine love.
Your eyes will open to what was happening at the Cross, and how this was an outpouring of God’s love for you. This truth of the Divine wrath tells you what you are saved from, and it tells you just what it took to be saved.
When you view the Divine wrath poured out on the Divine Person at the cross – God absorbing the wrath of God – you will know that God loves you. You will begin to say with awe and with trembling, “The Son of God endured this to redeem me! I am truly loved.” Grasp this and your soul will begin to sing, “Love so amazing so divine, shall have my soul, my life, my all.”
Maybe you thought that God’s wrath shows how much God hates you. Can you begin to look at it through the cross, that it might show how much He loves you? Maybe this is the truth that has caused you to hate God and fight against Him. Could it be that today, through the cross, this truth might bring you to love God, because for the first time, you see the love of God for you?
Use this truth to focus our mission on the Gospel
If there was no hell, the best thing we could do would be to make this world a better place. But if you believe what the Bible says here, there is no comfort in this world that can soften the awful reality of Divine wrath in the next. Ajith Fernando put it so powerfully in his message to us last week…
“Lostness is the greatest tragedy in the world today. All other tragedies are temporal.
Lostness is an eternal tragedy.” 
That’s why it’s unlike anything else. It’s in a different category. It’s the biggest problem. John Piper says it another way…
“As Christians we are concerned to alleviate all suffering, and especially eternal suffering.” 
There are many needs in the world, but no human being has a greater need than to find deliverance from the Divine wrath through the divine love poured out in Jesus Christ at the cross. That’s the Gospel, and our mission is to bring that Gospel to the world.
Use this truth to overcome the barriers that keep you from Jesus
There are so many barriers, so many reasons that keep us from God, so many reasons to put off a decision. It is only by God’s grace that any of us come. I urge you to begin a journey of faith and repentance with Jesus Christ today—for two reasons…
- Because of your need
Sin puts all of us in a desperate position before God. You are in that position, if you have not yet closed with Jesus Christ. Like the rest, you are by nature a child of wrath. How will you endure the wrath of God? I urge you to come to Christ.
- Because of the extent of His love
In the preaching of the Gospel, God reaches out to you, inviting you to receive all that could be yours in Jesus Christ. God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, demonstrating His love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.
How can you resist a love like this?
Come and weep, come and mourn for your sin that pierced Him there
So much deeper than the wounds of thorn and nail
All our pride, all our greed all our fallenness and shame
And the Lord has laid the punishment on Him
We worship at Your feet where wrath and mercy meet
And a guilty world is washed by love’s pure stream
For us He was made sin, Oh, help me take it in
Deep wounds of love cry out ‘Father, forgive.’
I worship, I worship The Lamb who was slain 
 Mary A. S. Deck hymn, “There is a City Bright,” 1898
 Keith Getty & Stuart Townend, “The Power of the Cross,” ThankYou, 2005
 Philip Bliss from the hymn, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” 1875
 Tim Keller, “Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Go to Heaven,” p.74, Zondervan, 2011
 Ajith Fernando sermon on Jonah 4, “Coming to Grips with God’s Missionary Heart ,“ Sep. 25, 2011
 From John Piper’s address: “Making Known The Manifold Wisdom of God Through Prison and Prayer,” October 19, 2010, at The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization
 Graham Kendrick hymn, “Come and See,” Make Way music, 1989
© Colin S. Smith
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