Balancing the Wrath and Grace of God

The book of Romans contains this riveting verse: “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you also will be cut off” (Romans 11:22).

There are two sides to the nature of God—kindness and sternness. The God of the Bible is a God of love but he’s also capable of wrath. He extends grace to the humble but he also opposes the proud. The NIV Study Bible includes this footnote to Romans 11:22: “Any adequate doctrine of God must include these two elements. When we ignore His kindness, God seems a ruthless tyrant; when we ignore his sternness, he seems a doting Father.”

“Consider the kindness and sternness of God.” That’s not too hard a concept to grasp because we easily see two sides of a parent who can embrace or discipline or a policeman who can help fix a flat tire or issue a speeding ticket.

It seems to me that today’s common perception of God is out of balance. In the church we seldom hear anything about the judgment of God, the horror of Hell, or the earthly consequences of transgressions. We’ve emphasized God’s grace so much that he’s envisioned as a doting grandfather who would never hold anyone accountable for sin.

A popular television preacher was asked in an interview if his church took a stand on hot button moral issues. He responded, “Oh, no. We’re not about condemning anyone. We’re just about loving and accepting people.” Another nationally known pastor stated he’s not going to preach from the Old Testament anymore because it’s too much about the wrath of God and that turns off the seeker.

It’s not just our preaching. Most praise songs emphasize God’s love and imply there’s nothing you could ever do that would get you out of God’s favor. We sing, “You’re a good, good Father and I’m loved by you.” While that’s true, we’re shouting grace and only whispering repentance to the extent it’s not surprising that people are becoming increasingly cavalier about sin. It’s all about God’s kindness . . . almost nothing about his sternness.

Since there’s little respect for the sternness of God, many are nonchalant about sin. And it’s not surprising there’s almost no fear of God in the world. Romans 3 documents the downward spiral of a society without God: “their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways and the way of peace they do not know.” The primary source of the problem? “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (vv. 14-18).

Jeremiah the prophet asked, “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all, they do not even know how to blush. So they will be among the fallen. They will be brought down when they are punished says the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:12).

The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). We are witnessing what happens in a culture when there is no respect for God or his delegated authority. Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky stated, “When there is no God—anything goes.”

Ezekiel 33:7-9 scares me. And it should get your attention also. “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die fortheir sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.”

As a preacher of the gospel I bring good news: God loves you, Christ died for you so you can have the hope of Heaven. But I also have a responsibility to warn people about God’s wrath and judgment if they rebel against his love. Jesus commanded us, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15, 16).

Some time ago I saw two contrasting signs trying to get people to slow down while driving through a construction area on the interstate. One sign looked like a child had written it. It said, “Slow down, my daddy works here!” The next sign, less than a tenth of a mile up the road, was written in bold threatening letters: “HIT A CONSTRUCTION WORKER—TEN YEAR PRISON SENTENCE!” Both signs were trying to accomplish the same goal—safety. But some are motivated by love; some are motivated by fear. Both are needed.

Bob Russell

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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