For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
1 John 4:8
He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
If we had to use one verse to describe how God is portrayed in our day it would be 1 John 4:8, which proclaims, “God is love.” God is portrayed as patient, merciful, forgiving and gracious in the majority of contemporary Christian sermons, songs and movies. A lot of time is spent trying to help people shake off the old fashioned notion that God is angry with sinners and threatens them with eternal hell if they refuse to turn from sin and rebellion. Instead they are urged to realize that God actually wants to help them in every area of their life, but since He is a divine Gentleman He is waiting for them to open their hearts and let Him help them.
We hear much about the need to love God and not respond to Him on the basis of fear. Since God is so loving and would never harm us we don’t need to fear Him. In fact, since God is so accepting He is saddened when people fear Him. Fearing Him shows that we don’t know His gracious and generous heart towards all people.
Nowadays we imagine that Christians in previous generations took their understanding of God from the Old Testament and came out with a strict, violent and angry view of God. But in our day we imagine that we see God from a New Testament lens, and therefore must renew our understanding of God’s loving demeanor by stripping off the religious mindsets that have been handed down to us by the old fire and brimstone preachers.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.
1 Peter 1:15-17
As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear
These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, And set them in order before your eyes. Now consider this, you who forget God, Lest I tear you in pieces, And there be none to deliver: Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God.
God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; The Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies; The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked.
The thing that is so deceptive about the contemporary view of God is that much of it is correct. God is merciful, gracious, loving, forgiving, etc. But the problem is that these attributes of God are used to explain away the other attributes of God. Historic Christian teaching has always presented a full picture of who God is accordance with to the whole Bible. The greatness of God’s forgiveness and mercy only becomes apparent when seen in the light of His perfect justice and wrath. If we don’t know how deeply God abhors sin we will not have any clue how amazing His grace really is. If we don’t see the depths of God’s furious frustration with sinners we will not even understand why God needs to restrain Himself with patience.
Let’s take God’s love as an example. 1 John 4:8 plainly declares that God is love. If that means that He has no negative feelings or thoughts about anyone, then the contemporary view of God is correct. But we must not pick out one verse and put our humanistic modern spin on it. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching (2 Timothy 3:16). This means that Psalm 5:5 is also true about God, which declares about Him, “You hate all workers of iniquity.” And Psalm 11:5 declares of God, “The wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.” And we must also remember verses like Psalm 7:11, “God is angry with the wicked every day.”
The modern response to such “dark” and “negative” verses is to ignore them altogether, or to say, “Well, those are Old Testament verses,” as though God has repented of His former attitudes towards sin and sinful men. How often do we hear sermons like Jonathan Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” which sparked the Great Awakening in America? When do we hear Christian songs on the radio warning of the holy hatred of God? We don’t because in our day we have abandoned the biblical view of God for a tame god that can do us no harm.
By throwing out the “full counsel of God” for a lopsided view of God we have not only lost a clear view of the holiness of God, but we also lose a full appreciation for the grace, mercy and love of God. Without understanding how deeply opposed to sin and sinners God is in the core of His Being, we fail to realize the shocking display of love He demonstrated by offering His Son up as a sacrifice for those whom “His Soul hates.” In Romans 5:7-10 Paul tries to clarify this exact point when He wrote that God demonstrated His great love by sending His Son to die for us while we were still sinners; that is while we were still His enemies! But if we imagine that God only has sweet tender feelings towards sinful men, the Cross of Christ just becomes an obvious response of such a god to the plight of mankind. However, when we see the Cross in light of the holy wrath of God it becomes the most controversial and astounding good news that has ever been uttered!
If we say that God is only love we are not speaking the truth. The New Testament declares that God is love, but it also declares that He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). The contemporary view of God pits certain attributes of God against His other attributes and ends up with an idol instead of the living God which is revealed in the Scriptures.
The Christian’s Response:
We have never been shy about preaching the full counsel of God. We believe in the whole Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. We are a fellowship that has always warned people to flee the wrath of God that will surely come upon unrepentant sinners. And we have always pointed the way to the grace of God that is found at the foot of the Cross. We do not preach a harmless god, but we preach the holy, loving and living God of the Bible.
We are trophies of grace; people who were once enemies of God by wicked works who have now been cleansed and transformed by the surprising mercy of God. Our lives were transformed when they were convicted of our sin, humbled ourselves before the Holy One of Israel and received grace instead of the eternal wrath we deserved. The contemporary Christian culture might be tempted to domesticate God, but we will never commit such blasphemy. We accept God as He is, and we will boldly proclaim all of His attributes without apology. We believe in speaking the truth in love, even when the truth is counter-cultural, even when it is counter to contemporary Christian culture! We do this because we know only the truth can set people free!
To look into the ancient form of this skewed teaching about God you can do a study on Marcionism. The portrayal of God presented in that ancient heresy, taught by a man named Marcion, has much in common with the harmless god taught by many contemporary teachers.
For further biblical teaching on the attributes of God you can get a copy of A.W. Tozer’s book, “The Knowledge of the Holy.”