Wrath is the Thing with Feathers
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:
You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger.
I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.
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.
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.
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--