On Divine Grace and Judgment

Barb Wire

Biblical truth is vitally important and needs to be restated, reaffirmed and re-defended on a regular basis. This is partly so because biblical truth is so very often twisted, perverted and abused. Thus we find the New Testament writers constantly insisting on the vital importance of sound doctrine and solid biblical teaching.

They were fully aware of how much false teaching and how many false teachers were wreaking havoc amongst the churches. So they were constantly engaged in teaching the flock, reteaching, and teaching again. One can never spend too much time on teaching biblical truth.

Yet today most churches actually play down or minimise sound teaching. They think doctrine is a secondary matter at best, and so they spend most of their time on offering “how-to” sermons: how to live your best life now, how to feel good about yourself, how to lose weight for Jesus – all the things the early church never focused on at all.

And if there is teaching, often it is woefully bad teaching – teaching which is substandard and sub-biblical. And I am speaking about pastors and Christian leaders here who should know better. They of all people should have the basics of biblical Christianity down pat, but too often they cannot even get that right.

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Examples of this are to be found everywhere. Let me offer just one. Sadly one well-known Christian leader posted something recently which I was staggered to read. I had to read it three times to finally be convinced that he really was saying something this theologically and biblically confused. He posted this:

For those prophets stating that God is about to pour out his judgement on the world, you are taking away from Jesus sacrifice on the cross….. All Gods wrath and anger was poured out on him. we live under the dispensation of Grace, not judgment and it is an affront to our Lord to state otherwise. Even under the Old Testament Abraham talked God down from his wrath on Sodom, if there were but 10 righteous in the land……today we only need one – Jesus is our righteousness, He is our Lord who paid the price and redeemed us from the curse.

Wow, there is so much silliness, confusion and muddled theological thinking here that I don’t even know where to begin. But I must begin somewhere, so let me state that he seems to have no or little clue as to what the biblical story line is all about.

He offers us the incredibly unbiblical notion that somehow we are now living in a time of grace (whatever that means) and before this it was all judgment. Um, how can he say this if he has read the Bible through cover to cover? How can any leader make such a patently false and mischievous statement?

The simple truth is this: God always has been and always will be a God of grace, and he has always dealt graciously with us. God was gracious when he created the world. God was gracious when he made Adam and Eve. God was gracious when he provided coverings for the pair after they sinned.

God was gracious when he spared Noah and his family. God was gracious when he chose a godly line to represent him and bring in the Messiah. God was gracious when he rescued Abraham and Lot. God was gracious when he preserved his people in Egypt during times of great famine.

God was gracious when he delivered his people at the Exodus. God was gracious when he led his people through the wilderness. God was gracious when he gave his people the law. God was gracious when he raised up the judges. We could go on and on like this for pages. Everything God did in the OT was an act of grace.

But there is another fully biblical truth which we must never lose sight of: God always has been and always will be a God of justice, righteousness and holiness. Because of that, he must always act against that which defies his character and who he is.

Thus God judges sin, unrighteousness and evil all the time. He did so in the Old Testament and he does so in the New Testament. That divine judgment has not stopped after Calvary is plain to see if we simply read the book of Acts and the epistles.

Think of Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead; of Herod being struck down; of Elymas being struck blind; of Hymenaeus and Alexander being handed over to Satan; and so on. Judgment happens throughout the NT, and we see this in full flight in the book of Revelation.

This book is given over to judgment – and Jesus Christ is the righteous judge who does all the judging. Unfortunately it seems our leader cited above is not clear on these basics of Christianity. Yes Jesus judged our sin at the cross, and all those who avail themselves of that substitutionary atonement through faith and repentance are spared final judgment.

But even the believer is still judged in terms of chastisement, in terms of discipline, and in terms of a future judgment of his works. But individuals and nations that continue to shake their fists at God are of course still under his wrath.

They face the just wrath and judgment of God continuously. If they do not turn in repentance, they will face the music fully when Christ returns. And reprobate and godless nations, which were routinely judged by Yahweh in the OT, are still in the same position today.

While we may not have the same sure word of the prophets as to how and when this is happening as we did in the OT, there is no reason to believe that God no longer cares about and deals with the nations today. Indeed, that message comes through loud and clear in Revelation.

The simple truth is, God does not change, he has not changed, and he will not change. He is forever a God of wonderful grace. But he is also forever a just, pure and holy God who cannot countenance sin in any way. Yes, Calvary was the provision for this for individuals if they accept it and submit to it.

But that does not for a moment mean that he ceases to be holy or angry with sin. His just wrath will always burn against sin, because he always will be utterly holy and righteous. God today offers the same thing he has always offered to fallen man: grace and judgment.

Indeed, it can rightly be argued that even in his acts of judgment he is being merciful. They actually belong together. It is not a case of choosing which one we might prefer. They are both part of who God is, and we must embrace him fully with all his attributes working as one.

That we can all escape the final act of wrath and judgment if we come to Christ on the basis of what he did for us 2000 years ago is a glorious truth and one we must always proclaim and celebrate. But we must also proclaim and celebrate the fact that God is holy and just, and he will always judge sin. He has to, or he would not be God.

Hundreds of passages can be appealed to here, and in other articles I discuss many of them. Here let me remind you that what we find in Romans 1:18-32 is one of the most important and most powerful passages on these matters – and it was written after Calvary I might add.

Whole libraries are filled with commentary on this significant section of Paul’s epistle. Let me appeal to just one which so well explains what this is all about. R. C. Sproul in his discussion of this portion of Romans says this:

Three times in this section we read about human beings being given up by God. They are given up to their vile passions, the lust of the flesh, and their reprobate minds. When God judges people according to the standard of his righteousness, he is declaring that he will not strive with mankind forever. We hear all the time about God’s infinite grace and mercy. I cringe when I hear it.

God’s mercy is infinite insofar as it is mercy bestowed upon us by a Being who is infinite, but when the term infinite is used to describe his mercy rather than his person, I have problems with it because the Bible makes very clear that there is a limit to God’s mercy. There is a limit to his grace, and he is determined not to pour out his mercy on impenitent people forever. There is a time, as the Old Testament repeatedly reports, particularly in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, that God stops being gracious with people, and he gives them over to their sin.

The worst thing that can happen to sinners is to be allowed to go on sinning without any divine restraints. At the end of the New Testament, in the book of Revelation when the description of the last judgment is set forth, God says, ‘He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still’ (Rev. 22:11). God gives people over to what they want. He abandons them to their sinful impulses and removes his restraints, saying in essence, ‘If you want to sin, go ahead and sin.’ This is what theologians call ‘judicial abandonment.’ God, in dispensing his just judgment, abandons the impenitent sinner forever.

Given that the sin homosexuality is singled out by Paul in this section of Scripture as the predominant example of why sinful man deserves the wrath of God, it seems we can say with full assurance that the West is long overdue for God’s righteous judgment. Despite what the leader I quoted may think, we are exactly at the place that Paul speaks about here.

If God judges Washington or San Francisco or Los Angeles or Canberra or Sydney today for this and other grievous sins, he would be entirely justified in doing so. The fact that individuals can now find the forgiveness of God based on what Jesus did at the cross does not in the least take away from the truths enunciated here in Romans, or in Revelation, or in the entire NT.

Because I think Sproul is so utterly spot on here, let me quote him again in closing, this time from his book The Holiness of God:

God’s grace is not infinite. God is infinite, and God is gracious. We experience the grace of an infinite God, but grace is not infinite. God sets limits to his patience and forbearance. He warns us over and over again that someday the ax will fall and His judgment will be poured out.

Since it is our tendency to take grace for granted, my guess is that God found it necessary from time to time to remind Israel that grace must never be assumed. On rare but dramatic occasions He showed the dreadful power of His justice. He killed Nadab and Abihu. He killed Uzzah. He commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites. It is as if He were saying, “Be careful. While you enjoy the benefits of my grace, don’t forget my justice. Don’t forget the gravity of sin. Remember that I am holy.”

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Bill Muehlenberg
Bill Muehlenberg, who was born in America, lives in Melbourne, Australia. He runs a web-based ministry of pro-faith, pro-family activism called CultureWatch: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com. Bill is widely sought out by the media for comments on social issues, faith issues, and family issues, and has appeared on all the major television and radio news shows, current affairs shows, and debate programs. He is the author of In Defence of the Family; Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality, and several other books.

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