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In the letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul begins an indictment of the entire human race with the fearful declaration that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). Paul’s conclusion to the argument comes in the third chapter of the letter when he says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23). In between, the Apostle warns that those who sin are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (2:5). It is this very prospect of judgment that causes David to cry out, “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath” (Ps. 6:1). Instead, David asks for grace: “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled” (Ps. 6:2).

But where is there room for grace in a God who reveals His wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men? Wonderfully and graciously, Paul’s words of condemnation are contained within a proclamation of good news to all nations that God has provided a full and complete remission of sins for all who trust in Christ. This good news is not grounded in a claim that God will overlook our sins and forget them, simply passing over them forever. No, there can be no salvation for sinners in that way from a just and holy God. Where there is ungodliness and unrighteousness, the wrath of God must and will be revealed against it. He may pass over sins for a time, but He will not pass over them forever.

But that day of judgment comes in two distinct ways. It comes at the end of this world’s history,

when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thess. 1:7–9)

There is also another way that the day of judgment comes. It occurred on the hill of Calvary just outside Jerusalem, circa AD 30. There the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified.

Jesus died unjustly at the hands of the Romans, as both Pilate and Herod declared that He had done nothing deserving of death (Luke 23:14, 15, 22). Yet He also died justly in that moment by the hand of God (Acts 4:27–30), bearing the wrath of God that was due to those who put their faith in Christ. Paul declares this concisely in 2 Corinthians 5:31: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is explained more fully in Romans 3:21–26.

Because the day of judgment has been delayed, the righteousness of God is called into question. The divine forbearance of sin is misunderstood by the world. It is intended to lead sinners to repentance (Rom. 2:4). But it is only a temporary forbearance; it will not last forever. So God sent His Son to be the propitiation for sin by His death on the cross. God the Father put forth His Son to bear the punishment of sin for all those who believed in Him (past, present, and future). “Propitiation” translates the Greek word hilastrion, which is used only one other time in the New Testament, in Hebrews 9:5, where it is translated “mercy seat.” That is the place in the Old Testament tabernacle above the ark of the covenant where the blood of the sacrificial bull and goat was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). As death is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), so by His death and shed blood Jesus Christ paid the penalty of death for all those who believe in Him. It is God’s gift to be received by faith. In this way, God is revealed to be both just, in punishing the sins of those forgiven in Christ, and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus, even though they have sinned (3:26).

One way or the other, God does punish all sin. But only in Jesus Christ is God’s righteous anger satisfied while He also extends forgiving grace to those who believe. Let all who read these words flee the wrath that is to come and find shelter in the death of Jesus Christ.

Do You Play with Fire?

Vengeance Belongs to the Lord

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From the June 2022 Issue
Jun 2022 Issue