Does the Gospel Mean that Christians No Longer Feel God's Displeasure?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Does the Gospel Mean that Christians No Longer Feel God's Displeasure?

This can become a tough question for a group of people who truly love the gospel. A tough subject for consideration especially as a Sovereign Grace Ministries local church member (where the gospel is our very life!), this post is a recap of some thoughts I've been meandering through for the last several months. I mean let's face it...the best news on earth is that the God who made me, the God to whom I am accountable for my sin has mercifully decided to punish His Son for my sin instead of punishing me and let me go free! Incredibly. Simply astounding! Amazing grace! We ought to rejoice in this as David did in Psalm 32, for it is the strength and power for living a life that is pleasing to God.

That said, with such astounding news, it seems hard to submit to a "yes" answer when this question is asked, doesn't it? The gospel teaches that God is no longer displeased with us because He has imputed the righteousness of Christ to us. This means we are associated with Him, treated as He is treated, given an inheritance with Him, favored as we stand beside Him.

Yet the Bible does clearly speak of the truth that although the gospel declares us not guilty, and although the gospel preaches that God is pleased with us because of His Son Jesus Christ, the gospel does not take away the Fatherly displeasure God still has toward His children who walk in sin. I'd like to consider a few biblical texts and then make the point.

First, Lamentations 3:19-33 is a great place to start, for there we find the beloved servant of the Lord, Jeremiah, lamenting over the destruction of the city of God and the people of God. No other text in this books speaks so clearly of the displeasure of God shown toward His own people because of their persistent sin. Yet He does not forsake them but promises to forgive and restore them.

Second, consider Micah 7:7-9. He writes, "I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against Him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon His vindication." The strange thing is that this a prophet talking here! A holy prophet of God....but one who identifies himself with his own sinful people....God's chosen nation and cherished children. Yet the displeasure of God exists, again because of persistence in sin.

Third, there's the fateful story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. They were church members for goodness' sake! And do you think they felt God's displeasure? (I think they were truly converted by the way, but stand to us a the most severe case of church discipline in the New Testament. I'm not thinking the first century church was a 'seeker-friendly' church when I read this text. Are you?)

Fourth, the same conclusion must be reached when we read 1 Corinthians 11:30. When believers gathered to observe the Lord's Supper, but did so without any recognition as to the sacred and solemn nature of this occasion, I think there is clearly God's divine displeasure revealed against His own children when some of they turned up weak and sick, and some even died! The Lord is serious about His table. And even should His own children dishonor it, He will take vengeance. But again, this does not negate the relationship between Father and children.

Case in point for this fact is found in Hebrews 12:3-13. God disciplines those who are His children. And those He does not discipline are not His children. Plain and simple. The text says two things. They are His children. And He disciplines them. Discipline implies displeasure. The kind of discipline spoken of in this text is not the teaching and instruction and education kind of disicpline. It is the kind that involves pain. And it is the kind that pains God's heart as well as our lives. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant..." (v. 11).

Finally, Revelation 2-3 provides a plethora of examples regarding God's divine displeasure. These were His churches! The ones His Son had died to plant! Yet six of the seven receive rebukes from the Son of God who uses words of hatred and threats. One can't read these two chapters and come away from thinking that the gospel means that there is no more divine displeasure from the heavenly Father. One thing is for sure as we read these texts: persistent sin in any form on the part of a believer will always invite a stern rebuke from the One who died for that believer.

Now for the point. There are dangers inherent in good theology. The most famous one is found in Romans 6:1. If the kind of grace that the gospel preaches is really true, then I guess we should just go on sinning. After all, the greater the sin, the greater the grace! Right? Wrong. And that's precisely where the rub comes in for Paul on this point. The fact that it is grace means that sin is dead and we no longer serve it but we serve holiness instead. The point I'm making here is that it is possible to think logically to a wrong conclusion.

And I think well-meaning, gospel-saturated Christians do the same thing today with regard to God's divine displeasure. One would think that if God has poured out His anger on Jesus for my sin then He'll never be angry with me again. Right? Wrong. The texts are clear that God expresses anger and delivers rebuke, retribution, and even death on those of His followers who follow the way of sin with persistence. The difference is all in how He does it. God no longer expresses anger or retribution of the wrathful kind for believers. God has not destined believers for wrath (1 Thess. 5:9). We've escaped that through our great salvation. But God does express His anger in corrective discipline for believers. Again, that is what part of Hebrews 12 seeks to communicate. In summary then, God's divine displeasure is not punitive but corrective for believers.

The point then is that we must be clear about how we represent God. If we represent Him as a God without any anger or displeasure toward His children, then we misrepresent Him. That's idolatry. How horrible it would be to desire to walk in the gospel while actually following an idol! He is who He has represented Himself to be in the Scriptures. And we must be ultra-careful about representing Him to others in spirit and truth else we are guilty of worshiping a God we have fashioned with our own hands and hearts.

His divine displeasure does not send us to hell. In the worst cases it takes believers home actual punishment for the height of their disobedience while on earth. God is still our Father, we are still His children....but a Father spanks His children and disciplines them when needed. And almost without exception, this includes pain. It is pain felt by our guilty consciences, and by our hearts which bear the consequences. True, the cross heals the one and helps in the other. Nevertheless, they are a reality and they are usually painful.

This is our loving heavenly Father then....One whose divine displeasure is actually an incentive to repent and return to Jesus. His divine displeasure is about repentance and not retribution, and that's the important point to remember.

I invite comments on this post as it may stir some controversy and ill-will, and some bad feelings in the least. I'm open to correction here. But let's keep the discussion on the texts. Thanks!

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