If you are like me, you probably did not feel like you were at war with God prior to your conversion. You may have felt like you were disinterested in him or distant from him, but you most likely didn’t feel like you were opposed to him or he to you. That is an unpopular idea right there—that God opposes the faithless. It’s definitely not something frequently proclaimed from pulpits in America. Most preachers today appeal to the lost by persuading them to believe God is merely heartbroken over their sinful rebellion. They portray him as nothing more than an emotionally devastated dad who will only find happiness when his strayed children return to him.
This depiction of his disposition toward unrepentant sinners is not wholly inaccurate, though. God does long for the lost to cease from their unbelief and come to him (Luke 13:34). He is merciful to the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45) and pours out his kindness upon them that it might lead them to repentance (Romans 2:4). He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) but would rather they repent and live (Ezekiel 18:23). However, the Bible also tells us of other feelings God experiences toward those who have yet to repent of their unbelief and embrace his grace.
Though God is inconceivably patient and tender at heart, he simultaneously abhors those who rebel against him. He doesn’t just hate their sins, as if their sins are somehow detached from who they are. He hates the actual sinner—and he hates them right now. His wrath is not just coming for the wicked in the future; it is presently upon them (John 3:36). I will let the Scriptures speak for themselves on this matter:
“God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” – Psalm 7:11
“The Lord . . . hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” – Psalm 11:5
“The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” – Psalm 5:5
“God opposes the proud . . .” – James 4:6
“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” – Nahum 1:2
When you and I were “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), God was not merely disappointed by our sinful state. Though he loved us, he was also indignant toward us! We rebelled against his authority. We rejected his grace. We despised his glory. And in response to our treason, he was righteously wrathful toward us and justly opposed to us. We were not only his enemies—he was ours.
Then the Son of God did the unthinkable. Compelled by an extraordinary love that is able to mysteriously coexist with his wrath, the King of Kings temporarily exited his heavenly glory to hang shamefully upon a Cross. Why? He took on human flesh in order to crush, by means of his own death, the enmity that existed between God and his beloved elect. Though Jesus knew no sin, he became sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through faith in the substitutionary atonement he made for us, we who were once God’s enemies have now become his beloved sons and daughters.
I realize the theological reality of God’s holy hatred toward unrepentant sinners doesn’t make for cheery conversation (or a cheery article!). But I think it is important—for our own sakes and the sakes of those with whom we share the gospel—that we embrace it and regularly remind ourselves of it.
Remembering how perilous our former situation was with God will keep us in worshipful awe of his love and mercy demonstrated in the gospel. It was the eternal, steadfast love of the Godhead for us that rescued us from the wrath of the Godhead toward us. This is a mind-boggling, gratitude-inducing, praise-producing reality that should consume our thoughts and influence every millisecond of our lives.
And being wholly honest with unbelievers about God’s present disposition toward them is vital. Yes, we should always present to them a God who is merciful, gracious, and kind—a God who is love (1 John 4:8). But we are under obligation to present a full picture of God, as he is revealed in the Scriptures. He is love; however, he also hates those who do not cherish or return his love. Unbelievers must grasp the reality of their opposition to God and his opposition to them in order to rightly interpret what happened at Golgotha two thousand years ago.
Christ’s Cross was not a heartbroken God mumbling through streams of divine tears, “Please, I’m begging you, come back to me. I just can’t live without you!” It was God’s unfailing love and fierce wrath converging to punish the tremendous guilt of his enemies and transform them into his beloved children. The gospel is not a weepy plea from a distressed God. It is the proclamation of a loving, vengeful, merciful, just, holy and happy God’s unfathomable accomplishment:
“For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him . . .” -Colossians 1:19-22