The Severity of God
Romans 11:22a, "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God..."
Our last article was well received because of its theme - "the GOODNESS of GOD." However, the text we used in the previous article contains a second truth that is usually either overlooked and omitted by most believers or denied and vilified by others -- that truth being the SEVERITY of GOD."
The word "severity" has the root meaning of "cutting right off". Paul is therefore speaking of an extremely serious spiritual condition in which the majority of Israelites fell from spiritual opportunity into severe judgment.
Dr. J. I. Packer observed accurately that, "the subject of divine wrath has become taboo in modern society, and Christians by and large have accepted the taboo and conditioned themselves never to raise the matter.”
The idea of the wrath of God and its being poured out upon Jesus on the cross for our sins is called "cosmic child abuse" by Steve Chalke. Colin Greene claims that the combination of an exclusive him-for-us swap with the notion of punishment makes "Christ the whipping-boy who appeases the wrath of God." Joel Green and Mark Baker argue that ‘the popular model of penal substitution (Christ bearing the penalty of the wrath of God for our sins on the cross) represented in songs and sermons suggests a startling drama in which God takes on the role of the sadist inflicting punishment, while Jesus, in his role as masochist, readily embraces suffering."
In spite of all those who caricature God and His substitutionary redemptive purposes, the Bible is filled with statements about the wrath of God. The reason the Bible is filled with references to the severity and wrath of God is because wrath is one of God’s perfect attributes. However, we must properly define the term because when we use the word wrath we tend to think of uncontrolled anger or rage. While that may be human wrath, it is far from the truth about God’s wrath. God’s wrath is His love in action against sin. It is His settled hostility toward sin in all its various manifestations. To say it is “settled” hostility means that God’s holiness cannot and will not coexist with sin in any form whatsoever. God’s wrath is his holy hatred of all that is unholy. It is his righteous indignation at everything that is unrighteous.
J.I. Packer summarizes: “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.”
Romans 11:22a in the King James version reads: "Beholdtherefore the goodness and severity of God:"
We tend to skip over behold, but it occurs over 1,000 times in the Bible as a flashing warning light to say, “Slow down! Open your eyes! Gaze intently on this truth! Think about this.” We’re all prone to behold God’s kindness/goodness and never look intently into His severity and wrath.
"Behold" is in the imperative mood, thus a command meaning literally, “Look into long enough to get the big idea." And then Paul tells us there are two things to get the idea concerning: the goodness/kindness of God and the severity of God. We could rephrase this command several different ways: behold the mercy of God and the wrath of God. Behold the tenderness of God and the toughness of God. Behold the salvation of God and the judgment of God. Look at the help of God and the hostility of God. Look at the friendship of God and the fierceness of God.
John Piper adds, "Your faith is shaped by what you look at. If you look at the kindness and severity of God the way they are woven together in the Bible, your faith will grow stronger and stronger. If you neglect the Bible, you will not see the severity of God and the kindness of God the way God means for them to be seen. You will not understand them. You will misinterpret them. And probably you will fault God and criticize God for his severity and take his kindness for granted and even feel deserving of them. If our faith is to last and be strong, we must look at the kindness and severity of God in the Bible."
And as you look intently into the Bible, make sure you see the severity and seriousness of not paying attention to truths such as:
- The plight of God's goodness aggrieved -- Roms. 2:4, "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?"
When God's goodness does not lead to repentance, His severity/wrath will ultimately lead to judgment.
God is slow to anger and very longsuffering. Judgment is described as his strange work. His feet of judgment seem to grind along with lead in them. But once they set upon an object of his wrath, they grind exceedingly fine and are everlastingly fatal.
His Old Covenant people, Israel, were blessed with privileges that no other nation then or now has ever experienced. Yet Israel spurned his goodness and rebelled against his commandments. He destroyed their temple and deported them into a 70 year Babylonian captivity. The remnant that returned still abused and refused the goodness of God. God sent his Son as their redeemer and Messiah, but they rejected him and had him crucified by the Roman government. As a result in 70 AD the "severity" of God fell on the nation at the hand of Titus, the Roman leader, and over 1.2 million Jews died in the siege of Jerusalem. Behold the severity of God!
- The plight of punishment accumulating - Roms 2:5:"But 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."
The words "storing up" translates the Greek word "theaurizo"and carries the meaning of storing up a treasure. In this text it specifically refers to treasuring up wrath or future punishment as if they were building up a fortune of gold and silver. It is in the present tense which indicates that treasuring up wrath is the unrepentant sinner's continual lifelong activity (whether they realize it or not)!
The unbeliever is called upon to remember that if the goodnessof Godtoward them is not leading them to repentance, then every day, every hour they live, drops another drop into the terrible "treasure" of indignation which will burst the great dam of God’s long-suffering in the great Day of His Wrath, when God shall reveal His righteous judgment! Flee to take refuge in the Cross of Calvary.
- The plight of wrath abiding - John 3:36b: "...and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John says, clearly and distinctly, that anyone who believes inGod's Son has everlasting life beginning now. In contrast, those who do nottrust in the Sonof God shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides onthem now. From this verse we learn that our eternal destiny depends on what we do with the Sonof God. If we receive Him, God gives us eternal lifeas a free gift beginning right now. If we reject Him, we will never enjoy everlasting life, and not only so, but God's wrathalready hangs over us, ready to fall at any moment, restrained only by his hand of mercy - and mercy is optional with God! Unbelievers may have many successful days, but never a safe one!
- The plight of opportunity abating - 2 Cor. 6:2, "For He says: "IN AN ACCEPTABLE TIME I HAVE HEARD YOU, AND IN THE DAY OF SALVATION I HAVE HELPED YOU." "Behold, now isthe accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."Heb 2:3, "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation..." Prov 29:1, "One who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy."
- The plight of Hell awaiting - 2 Thess 1:7-9, "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;"
No doctrine is more vehemently denied than this one concerning eternal punishment.
Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, the agnostic, said: "Ladies and gentlemen, the idea of hell was born of revenge and brutality on the one side and cowardice on the other. I have no respect for any human being who believes in it. I have no respect for any man who preaches it. I dislike this doctrine. I hate it. I despise it. I defy this doctrine. The doctrine of hell is infamous beyond all power to express."
One liberal theologian said, "All this hell-fire and brimstone talk isn't my idea of God. I think God is a God of love, and he wouldn't hurt a fly!"
Either Jesus Christ was a liar or a lunatic, or else, according to His own testimony many times over, as well as the entire testimony of the Bible, Hell is the future abode of lost sinners.
The incredibly "good news" from God is that on the Cross, “God Himself - Gave Himself - to save us from Himself - and to bring us unto Himself in a never ending love relationship!
How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure!
Behold the goodness and severity of God!