[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Wrath is the Thing with Feathers

from HK FLynn's archives

At the point of regeneration each believer is given all the divine resources needed to successfully live the Christian life. The miracle of new birth and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are two of the most fundamental of those supremely needed divine resources.

But as human beings we make lazy and stupid choices; we frequently don't love the brethren; we frequently don't love the Lord. How do these two realities connect? Many Christians either would say (a) that people lose their salvation, or, (b) that success in Christian living seperates the wheat from the chaff, in other words that true believers will persevere in holiness.

These distortions are what make wrath so important. For me, wrath equals hope for Christian doctrine. And doctrine is as important as life itself, because our doctrine is how we frame every practical issue in our lives.

God's angry discipline on his people is (ironically) the great reassurance that believers need. It is the hard teaching that smooths away the anxiety from centuries old theological error and confusion teaching that God's ultimate accountablity over us is our lack of complete certainty of final salvation and belonging in His family. Instead, it is God's temporal wrath against His true children that is one of the crucial motivators of righteous behaviour.

Wrath reveals God as the supreme Parent, who gives his children complete and utter security of his Fatherfhood, but also shepherds his children with perfect wisdom. As Hodges says, God doesn't let his children run wild. He holds us securely; and his discipline and wrath hold us accountable.

I suspect there is both legitimate distinction and legitimate overlap between the words 'wrath' and 'discipline'. Wrath conveys an anger that discipline doesn't seem to. But certainly to fully distinguish them, so that discipline is neatly expressed to believers and wrath only to unbelievers, is faulty. And that false seperation has caused true libertinism both in Purist circles and in Dispensational circles. Both camps seem to see the warnings of wrath to be too intense to be visited on His covenant people!

For me, the tiny grain of truth in Arminianism, and Catholicism for that manner, is that God has a fearful, threatening message for his bona fide, regenerate people. The writer of Hebrews clearly teaches that true believers are both chastened & scourged by the Lord:

'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He
scourges every son whom he receives.' It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
(Heb 12:5-8 )

The writer assumes a terrible range to God's angry action, since scourging during Roman times implied, at least, severe intensity. Enter the research of Rene Lopez.

Saved out of crime, gangs and terrible addictions, Lopez is writing scholarly articles and Christian books that challenge our thinking about how God holds us accountable. He recalls a familiar pattern about our questionable Christian group-think concerning what wrath means:

"An informal experiment conducted by this writer while teaching at Trinity International University found that nine out of ten Christians automatically consented to a definition of 'God’s wrath' to usually mean 'eternal-judgment'."

While Free Grace thought has always stressed accountability because of the fearfulness of the Judgment Seat of Christ and the potential of divine temporal chastisement that may lead to death, Lopez has focused on the importance of our understanding what the Bible means when it speaks specifically of wrath. Lopez argues convincingly in his journal article Do Believers Experience the Wrath of God? (pdf) that (1) wrath is not always eternal Hell, as is oddly assumed by many, but in fact the contexts tends to support temporality; (2) God's wrath is expressed to those whom he loves; and (3) toward those whom are in a covenant relationship with him. Lopez writes that wrath is God's action against sin:

"Since His wrath always manifests because of sin, whether or not covenant
relationship is involved, it carries with it a temporal element."

Here are several of his supporting texts:

Psalm 60:3
You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger.

Hosea 14:4
I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.

Hab 3:2
LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.



Taking what Lopez shows is explicit about wrath in the OT, that it is not always but is usually on God's covenant people, including on Moses, he then shows how that OT wrath-pattern holds up in the NT. This of course helps to shine much light on Romans, light that affirms justification by faith alone.

Romans 1:18
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

Lopez writes: 'This verse clearly teaches that God's wrath is presently being revealed. Almost universally, all admit the present reality of God's wrath in 1:18'. It also states the object of wrath: "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth". The object of wrath, ungodliness, is a suppression of truth. Question: Isn't sin always a suppression of the truth, whether Christians or non-Christians are doing the sinning?

Lopez's premise sheds light on the two different verb tenses found in Romans 5:9.

Romans 5:9
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall
we be saved by him from the wrath of God


Lopez argues 5:9 is misunderstood as teaching having allready been justified, much more shall we be saved from Hell, but instead, having been justified, much more shall we be saved from temporal wrath due to sin.

His premise is provacative, that our typical knee-jerk response to the word 'wrath' is getting in the way of our seeing the intensity with which God wants us as believers to honor Him and His holiness. Lopez's commentary on Romans is exactly what its title indicates, Romans Unlocked. This bracing view of Romans is badly needed.

Lopez (though a bit too Calvinistic for Antonio's tastes!) is doing important work in Free Grace scholarship and has an excellent new website called, Scripture Unlocked, that is being loaded with excellent material that supports his research and scholarly arguments. (In his list of articles I noticed “Is Faith a Necessary Gift to Receive Salvation?” which sounded like interesting reading.)

Note: The title of my post comes from the wonderful Emily Dickenson poem, #254, that famously compares 'hope' to a song bird. Her first stanza reads:


'Hope' is the thing with feathers--


That perches in the soul-- And sings


the tune without the words--


And never stops --at all--

23 Comments:

  • That is such an excellent post, Jodie.

    It is so important to be clear on this issue.

    Every Blessing in Christ

    Matthew

    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at Monday, April 10, 2006 5:22:00 AM  

  • This is a powerful writ Jodie and you've got me rethinking some things. I'm struggling with finding wrath in discipline. At least you've got me studying and praying about it. ;-)

    By Blogger Kc, at Monday, April 10, 2006 7:48:00 AM  

  • Jodie -

    You said:

    "I suspect there is both legitimate distinction and legitimate overlap between the words 'wrath' and 'discipline'. Wrath conveys an anger that discipline doesn't seem to. But certainly to fully distinguish them, so that discipline is neatly expressed to believers and wrath only to unbelievers, is faulty."

    Does that mean that you believe God's discipline to include God's anger? IOW, does He discipline in anger?

    And then are there two kinds of wrath? One He pours out on unbelievers and one that is included in His discipline of His children (believers)? Or is it all the same wrath?

    I think it's interesting how Paul says God reveals this wrath.

    Romans 1:24-31
    "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;"

    Interesting thoughts you have. I must say, I'm not convinced that God's wrath is directed at His children. Anger being involved in discipline seems incompatible. It's one of those things with which, as a parent, I know I struggle. Using discipline as means to correct and teach, rather than to vent my anger.

    But it's something to think about.

    In Christ,
    Ten Cent

    By Anonymous Ten Cent, at Monday, April 10, 2006 10:30:00 AM  

  • Thanks Matthew!

    I appreciate your visit and your affirmation of this issue :)

    So Matthew, you don't really have any issues about this.

    God bless :)



    Thanks Kc :)

    I'm sympathetic about the issue you're pointing to.

    I think the word discipline being juxtaposed with scourging in Hebrews 12 is why I tend to meld them Scripturally. That's not to say we are wrong to separate anger and discipline for our own purposes. Since we're not God, we may want different categories to help us interpersonally.

    I suspect though that you're not thinking interpersonally but in terms of God to man...

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Monday, April 10, 2006 3:16:00 PM  

  • You're suspicion is valid and for the record I'm certainly not disagreeing. You’ve actually succeeded in challenging me to examine a long held assumption. ;-)

    By Blogger Kc, at Monday, April 10, 2006 3:20:00 PM  

  • Hi 10 cent :)

    I appreciate your considering this stuff.

    Like you, I'm not sure discipline always includes anger. I'm not sure, but I assume that it does not!

    I almost hate to say this but part of the question may be how personal is God? And is He sometimes somewhat detached? I hope so, but I'm not sure where I would go for Scriptural support.

    I think it is very, very wrong to assume discipline to quickly. Job makes that so clear...

    And I tend to think there is discipline that is about concern and not anger. But I think sometimes it is both. And obviously his anger produces the righteousness of God while human anger doesn't!

    Would you say you're convinced that God's OT children experienced His wrath?

    Check out the contexts of
    Psalm 60:3, Hosea 14:4 and Hab 3:2

    I do agree that it is a severe issue.

    God bless,

    Jodie

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Monday, April 10, 2006 3:30:00 PM  

  • HK,

    Actually I believe wrath can occur for a child as David experienced it at the numbering of the people, but we really must be careful to put it on God as God being a God of wrath toward his children.

    Jesus told John and James, that you know not what spirit *Ye* are of, when they were quick to call on fire. Of course he disciplines, but the Bible says that he is slow to anger and the part you left out was that unlike human fathers who discipline out of their interest, he does so for our benefit. We are quick to anger.Remember the parable of the minas...Lord I knew you are a harsh lord. He replies, "By your own words I judge you." We force his hand. Much of Free Grace theology growing up taught me to live in constant fear of him zapping me. I can see that Hodges continues this thought. This too causes one to live performance based in sanctification and never get to know how to be gently led by a Shephard who is meek and lowly of heart. This is why you find yourself agreeing with the Catholics here. It is no mistake. I do believe that Bobby Grow is correct in seeing this dysfunction here.

    Again, I agree that he disciplines and chastens, but his desire is to lead in love and without fear. Perfect love casts out all fear.

    It is a hard thing for man to learn how to be led by the law of the Spirit instead of the Mosaic law. We have a hard time trusting the Holy Spirit. I find it all so tragic.

    "If they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him my steadfast love." Psalms 89:31-33

    Also lest you think the punishment a picture of a harsh God when dealing with Davids seemingly little sin of numbering the people, consider that the sin was a reversal...a total 180% turn from the faith he had when facing Goliath. It was like stabbing God in the back and becoming like all of those doubters back then who trusted in their weapons instead of the living God.

    By Blogger Bhedr, at Monday, April 10, 2006 4:28:00 PM  

  • Brian,

    I concur with your cautioning me on this, and I appreciate your being soft spoken about it.

    I think you're right. If I am a little too gleefull, in comparing wrath to hope, it is that I am eager for the security that the Father wills for us when He wills for us to be kept by the Son. Not just for me to prove my theological point ...

    But the beauty of the Trinity caring for us, not needing us because God is complete in His own relationships, but still reaching out and caring for us and abiding with us. Isn't that Cool ! ??

    So that's really why I see hope in this because it shows how the warning passages don't threaten the promises.

    And yes to all you said.

    These kind of warnings, like in Hebrews, don't arrise from normal Christianity. The warnings are there as a backstop because our hearts are deceptive.

    But the miracle of new birth in us is true, and as we walk in the Spirit we are trained inwalking in the Spirit. So I agree. Perfect love casts out all fear.

    But not all Christians fear the Judgment Seat of Christ or even the remote possibility of wrath, and they say I know God doesn't want me leaving my family but I've got to go with my heart. This kind of wrath back stop is there for that type of mindset.

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Monday, April 10, 2006 5:05:00 PM  

  • Jodie,
    I remember reading this before. Thanks. You got me thinkin.

    By Blogger Rose~, at Monday, April 10, 2006 7:19:00 PM  

  • Thanks Jodie,

    I am glad you are thinking.This is a good topic to meditate on. My only point is that a constant barrage of warnings can actually inhibit a person from coming close, and this was my experience.

    My wife grew up free grace and the warnings were often. Her sister always feels condemned now and really doesn't want to come around, but the preacher from that church always reminds them that God is chastening them. I feel like they need some kind of pick up of love somehow, yet do not trust it to come from the people of God anymore. I think their mindset now is to feel so condemned to not even bother anymore and so I think God sees these things and is a work in so many complex ways other than just zappings. Of course I have experience some good swats myself, but I really pray for my inlaws. This is something to really look into.

    By Blogger Bhedr, at Monday, April 10, 2006 8:20:00 PM  

  • Jodie,
    very thought provoking!

    Thanks,
    brother John

    By Blogger J. Wendell, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 3:45:00 AM  

  • Is it better to live in a constant state of fear of being 'zapped' by God (I do have a similar fear) or to live in a constant state of doubt as to one's salvation? Or is it better to live with the feeling that God is easy with His children and would never punish them?

    When I was a teenager I attended a Charismatic church. I had a constant fear that somebody would have a prophecy about my sins. It never actually happened, but probably the fear of judgment was good, even if it was not within a sound theological context.

    Every Blessing in Christ

    Matthew

    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 4:11:00 AM  

  • Jodie -

    You asked:

    "Would you say you're convinced that God's OT children experienced His wrath?"

    I would say yes and no. Is that vague enough for you? I believe God's chosen people experienced His wrath, but I don't believe those who were His true children were the objects of His wrath.

    Of course this may be where we take different paths. Or maybe you think the same as I, that yes, God chose a race/nation, Israel, but that didn't mean they were all His spiritual children. True circumcision is of the heart, not physical.

    For me, I see God's wrath as being reserved for the unbeliever. I don't believe God punishes His children. He disciplines. And there's a difference. And I'm sure you've heard this explaination before. Punishment involves payment for the offence. Because you did "X", you receive "Y". And if we are truely receipents of God's grace through Christ, then there is no more punishment. No more payment for what Christ has already paid. If God poured out His wrath on His son to pay for my sins, why would He save some back? The beauty of grace is that it's inseparable from mercy. Not only does God give us the riches of Christ, what do not deserve, He witholds from us what we do deserve, His wrath. I believe one of things wrong with Christianity today is that many are motivated, not out of an awe of God, but of a true fear of God. As if we need to walk on eggshells, one wrong step and He'll slap us up side of our head. That's not how I see God displayed in scripture. He's the gentle shepherd, using the rod to correct, not to punish.

    You also said:
    "I almost hate to say this but part of the question may be how personal is God? And is He sometimes somewhat detached? I hope so, but I'm not sure where I would go for Scriptural support. "

    I would have to firmly say that God is never detached. He is a very personal God. He knows us by name. He knows the number of hairs on my head. His plans for me are good and not evil. Here's my support verse for saying He's personal:

    Ephesians 5:31,32
    FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.

    Christ and the church are joined and become one flesh? This is a great mystery.

    I'm sure there's many points that you'll disagree with here. But I'm convinced that He's a deeply personal God who loves us and desires us to reflect His glory. And that is why He displines us.

    Sorry for the long post. Hopefully I didn't ramble so much that it's not coherent.

    In Christ,
    Ten Cent

    By Anonymous Ten Cent, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 6:02:00 AM  

  • Thanks Rose,

    I'm going to post it every couple of weeks to keep you on your toes.

    :)

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 9:44:00 AM  

  • Brian,

    I agree with your cautions I think we have tobe careful to keep ourselves balanced on the Word of God. I can see how this could become disfunctional if God's generous mercy is not preached or even just was too downplayed.

    Thanks for your thoughts :)

    And I love your new blog !!

    Jodie

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 9:47:00 AM  

  • Hi John :)

    Glad you find this topic thought provoking, me too!

    Hi Matthew,

    I think it is interesting how even though you had a negative sort of anxiety that you can see how it was better than other alternatives...

    I agree.

    I also like this:

    Is it better to live in a constant state of fear of being 'zapped' by God... or to live in a constant state of doubt as to one's salvation?

    Exactly.

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 9:51:00 AM  

  • 10 cent,

    Take as much spaceas you need to make your point(s), brother.

    Although we disagree on some of this its helpful to hear how you flesh things out. So for instance a prophet like Daniel who was taken into captivity wouldn't have been the object of God's wrath...

    I see what your saying.

    You might want to check these out...

    Psalm 60:3, Hosea 14:4 and Hab 3:2

    Do you see what I'm getting at in terms of his personall-ness? When we betray him with our sin, does he have a hurt and angry response that is part of an emotional backdrop before which he disciplines us?

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 9:58:00 AM  

  • Jodie-

    I looked quickly at these passages. Let me emphasis quickly. But I'll give you my first thoughts, just don't hold me to them :)

    Psalm 60:3 - I'm not saying that God doesn't use hardship to discipline. But that hardship is given to us out of love to change us more into His image.

    Hosea 14:4 - Depends on how you look at scripture as to what this would mean. I have to ask, what would it it take for God to turn His anger away from me? Is it my obediance to Him? My works? Or is it Christ in me? Am I something special on my own? Or am I something special because I'm in Christ?

    Hab 3:2 - And again, why should God remember mercy? Because I'm such a good person? Or because I'm in Christ?

    Viewing God as this angry father who slaps me around when I step out line is dangerous. It can lead to a life of duty-driven obediance. Instead of driving us closer to Christ, it makes us scared to approach Him.

    Viewing God as a loving Father who corrects His children so that they might reflect His glory, instills within me trust and love. Sure the discipline will hurt. For a little while, but then it bears the fruit of righteousness.

    I see what you're saying about God's personalness. And I don't deny that it hurts Him. Deeply. But to have Him then respond in anger towards His child, to me, skews His character. It's reactionary. I don't see Him being reactionary. Out of control.

    Like I said before. He knows us. He loves us. He seeks our good. Not because we are great and obediant, but because His son is great and obediant. That's part of the riches we have in Christ. That's part of our inheiritance - Christ's righteousness.

    In Christ,
    Ten Cent

    By Anonymous Ten Cent, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 10:36:00 AM  

  • >Is it better to live in a constant state of fear of being 'zapped' by God (I do have a similar fear) or to live in a constant state of doubt as to one's salvation?<

    I think both inhibits a closer drawing to the Lord. Perhaps the Lord uses this to bring the soul to trust, but neither one of these is of much trust. I really believe God desires to be trusted. And that a life of service be born out of this bond of trust. Luke 5

    By Blogger Bhedr, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 4:47:00 PM  

  • Hey Jodie!

    Thanks! You guys are an encouragement.

    BTW,

    When God was judging Israel and disciplining David? Look at his heart...

    "When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord was grieved at the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." 2 Samuel 24:16

    BTW Matthew, I do believe there we should fear the Lord, but his desire is to cultivate trust and perfect love. This is the whole point of the bondslave in the OT who was released and chose to stay out of love. This is where he wants us. I did not mean to sound as though I was attacking Free Grace, just some of the methodology that I grew up under.

    By Blogger Bhedr, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 4:57:00 PM  

  • Hi 10 cent,

    Sorry for the long delay.

    I agree with much of your sentiment.

    Viewing God as a loving Father who corrects His children so that they might reflect His glory, instills within me trust and love.

    And I agree with this statement.

    Do you alsothink He is so loving that He gives us a once saved always saved commitment in His promises to us, so that we can be sure of his paternity of us?

    24Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

    Do you see what I'm aasking?

    Jodie

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Friday, April 14, 2006 3:12:00 PM  

  • Hi Jodie,

    I'm not sure what you're asking. If you're asking if I believe that we are eternally secure once we believe in Christ, then the answer is a resounding, YES! There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ.

    He loves His children and we are His children if we believe in Him. He doesn't "unbirth" us. Nor could He. I love this verse from Galatians 4 verse 6 "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!""

    I know you have children, so do I. And when one of them calls out to me, "Daddy," my heart melts. I'm overwhelmed with love and I would do anything for them. That's the kind of relationship that we have with Christ. We can call out to Him, "Abba! Father!" And He will never say to those who believe in Him, "You are not my child. Get away from me." He listens intently and does what is best for us. He is a gracious, merciful, loving God.

    I hope you have a blessed Easter. I'm sure you will.

    In Christ,
    Ten Cent

    By Anonymous Ten Cent, at Friday, April 14, 2006 5:54:00 PM  

  • Hi 10 cent,

    I'm glad those are your views!

    Happy Easter you and your family :)

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Friday, April 14, 2006 8:15:00 PM  

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