God Will Never Be Angry With Us Again? – By Dr Roland Chia (Dated 11 July 2021)
Rev George Ong’s Comments:
I am very grateful to Dr Roland Chia, an accomplished theologian from Trinity Theological College, Singapore, who contributes the most articles to my website. And there is one thing I appreciate most about him – he has the guts to call a spade a spade – that Joseph Prince is a heretic who preaches a different gospel. In this article, he again exposes the false teachings of Joseph Prince and other hyper-grace teachers.
God Will Never Be Angry With Us Again? – By Dr Roland Chia
Among the many doctrines about God that contemporary evangelicalism has neglected or given only a superficial nod to is the doctrine of the wrath of God. This is because the idea of a wrathful God bent on punishing human beings for the sins they have committed has fallen out of favour in our times. To the modern mind, the doctrine of the love of God has trumped the ‘politically incorrect’ doctrine of the wrath of God.
This move to pit divine love against divine wrath is misguided in at least two ways. Firstly, it assumes that divine love and divine wrath are incompatible with each other. Secondly, this assumption (that love and anger are incompatible) betrays a serious misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches about them.
Influenced by this current sensibility, the new antinomians have also abandoned the idea of the wrathful God. These preachers teach that because of what Christ has done on the cross, God can never ever be angry with Christians. When God looks at believers, they insist, what he sees is not their sins and shortcomings but Christ’s righteousness in them.
As Ryan Rufus has so provocatively put it: ‘There will be some mistakes and failures but God isn’t looking at them. He sees us perfect and righteous in Christ all the time … He is proud of us.’
Steve McVey – another ardent evangelist for this new (but erroneous) theology of grace – draws out the implications of this well. ‘We may talk about disappointing God,’ he writes confidently, ‘but the truth of the Scripture is this: It is impossible for you to disappoint God. Not only is the idea we can disappoint God a lie – it’s impossible.’
Perhaps the clearest explanation of this doctrine comes from the pen of Joseph Prince:
Do you know why God will never be angry with us again? It is because of what God has accomplished for us! On the cross, God poured out all his anger on the body of his Son. Jesus exhausted all the fiery indignation of a holy God against all our sins, and when all of God’s judgment of our sins had been exhausted, he shouted ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). And because our sins have already been punished, God, who is a holy and just God, will not punish us today when we believe in what Christ has done. God’s holiness is now on your side. His righteousness is now for you, not against you. You are his beloved, in whom he is well pleased because of Jesus’ finished work!
THE BIBLE AND DIVINE WRATH
Let us very briefly survey what the Bible teaches about the wrath of God.
At the outset, we must point out that the wrath of God cannot be properly understood apart from his character. Put differently, divine wrath must always be seen in relation to the attributes of God if we are to properly understand its nature and significance.
The God that is revealed in the pages of Scripture is holy, righteous and just. God’s wrath is directed against that which either refuses to acknowledge or that which violates his holiness, righteousness or justice. In other words, God’s wrath is always directed against sin and rebellion.
Looking at this from a slightly different angle, we may say that God’s wrath is always a holy wrath. His is always a righteous and just anger.
But what about the relationship between God’s wrath and his love? Surely divine love and divine wrath are incompatible, if not antithetical, to each other?
This is not the case at all! In fact, just as we are unable to fully understand the nature of God’s wrath apart from his holiness, righteousness and justice, we will also fail to fully appreciate what the Bible says about God’s anger apart from his love.
In other words, we can only make sense of the wrath of God if we full appreciate his love. For it is impossible to think about divine love without also allowing the possibility of divine anger or wrath. As David Watson explains:
Absolute love implies absolute purity and absolute holiness: an intense burning light … Unless God detests sin and evil with great loathing, he cannot be a God of Love.
The Bible therefore portrays God as both merciful and just (Exodus 34:6-7), kind and severe (Romans 11:22), loving and wrathful (Romans 5:8-10). Our conception of God is distorted if we privilege some of these attributes (e.g., mercy, kindness and love) over others.
It is also extremely important that we bear in mind – and constantly remind ourselves – that God’s anger is profoundly different from human anger. Part of the reason why the idea of divine wrath has fallen from favour is that we have unconsciously superimpose our experience of human anger on God.
When we do this, we again introduce serious distortions into the biblical portrayal of divine wrath, making it as fickle, erratic and intemperate as human anger. But as J. I. Packer has rightly pointed out:
God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.
Another reason why some Christians have rejected divine wrath is because they see it as having only a punitive function. Here, evangelical Christians can learn much from the writings of the early Fathers of the Church, which present God’s wrath (almost counter-intuitively) as an aspect of divine providence.
God’s wrath, these patristic writers teach, is not always punitive. It can also be corrective, and therefore redemptive. Motivated by love, God’s anger can be understood as providential because it can lead to repentance and reconciliation, and therefore also to greater righteousness and spiritual maturity.
CAN GOD GET ANGRY WITH CHRISTIANS?
This brings us to the assertions made by the new antinomians that God can never be angry with the believer. Does the Bible teach that God is always pleased with Christians? Is it true that Christians can never disappoint God, no matter how often they sin against him?
The short answer to these questions is: No.
The Bible makes it very clear that God is always responsive to the actions of his children, which can either bring him delight or sorrow. For example, Ephesians 4:30 tells us that Christians can grieve the Spirit of God by their actions. Our behaviour, in other words, can bring anguish to God.
Not only can our actions cause God to grieve, they can also quench his Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). To quench the Holy Spirit is to put out the flame of his presence and influence in our lives. We quench the Spirit by our doubt, our indifference and our disobedience and rebellion. To quench God’s Spirit is to alienate ourselves from him by the way we conduct our lives.
The 18th century Bible expositor Matthew Henry puts it this way:
As fire is put out by taking fuel away, and as it is quenched by pouring water, or putting a great deal of earth upon it; so we must be careful not to quench the Holy Spirit, by indulging carnal lusts and affections, minding only earthly things.
It is therefore quite clear from these passages of Scripture that how Christians conduct their lives before God matters – it matters to God! And it affects our relationship with God. God is pleased with some of our actions and attitudes, and displeased with others.
That is why the apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians with these words: ‘Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more’ (1 Thessalonians 4:1).
Christians are exhorted to live their lives in such a way that pleases God. They must be careful not to grieve God or quench his Spirit by their behaviour.
Steve McVey’s assertion quoted above (‘It is impossible for you to disappoint God. Not only is the idea we can disappoint God a lie – it’s impossible’), therefore, simply does not square with the teachings of Scripture. Not only is it biblically and theologically erroneous, it is also pastorally irresponsible and ultimately harmful to the spiritual life.
It suggests that God can never ever be displeased or angry with the Christian — even if he sins against God with impunity!
But some readers may ask: Is the Christian not justified by his faith in Christ? Didn’t Paul write in Romans 8:1 that ‘There is … now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’?
The Bible does indeed teach that Christians are justified by faith (Romans 5:1), and that thus justified, they are no longer condemned by God. This, however, does not mean that God cannot be displeased or angry with Christians when they sin against him. As we have seen, Christians can grieve and even quench the Spirit of God by their actions.
In the previous section, I mentioned that the wrath of God is not always punitive in nature. God’s anger can also be directed toward correction.
This means that God can be angry with Christians because of their disobedience without condemning them. In displaying his anger, God wishes to discipline his children and correct their ways so that they may once again be set on the path of obedience and spiritual maturity.
Hebrews makes it very clear that God disciplines believers just as an earthly father would discipline his children:
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (Hebrews 12:7-8).
Please read Hebrews 12:1-11 to get a better appreciation of this important scriptural teaching about divine discipline. Take note also of Hebrews 12:6, which makes the important connection between discipline and love: ‘For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’
But the Bible warns us not to take the love and patience of God for granted. For our loving God is also a consuming fire.
For example, if a person insists that he is a Christian but continues in disobedience, if what he confesses with his lips is consistently at odds with the way he lives his life, God will exclude him from his kingdom. Matthew 7:21-23 records these harrowing words of our Lord:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’
To the Church in Laodicea, whose faith in the Lord had become ‘lukewarm’, the angel gave this warning: ‘I know your works: you are neither cold or hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth’ (Revelation 3:15-16).
In his letter to the Jewish Christians, the writer of Hebrews warns about the dire consequences of spiritual complacency and the sin of apostasy with these words:
Therefore we must pay attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-2).
The Bible does not teach that ‘God will never be angry with [Christians] again’ (Joseph Prince). Neither does it teach that ‘it is impossible for [Christians] to disappoint God’ (McVey) nor that God ‘is always proud of [Christians]’ (Rufus).
This false doctrine is not only contrary to biblical truth. It is also pastorally dangerous and spiritually harmful.
Let us reject this spurious teaching. Let us instead take heed of the exhortation of the writer of Hebrews:
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29).
Dr Roland Chia
Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine
Trinity Theological College
Theological and Research Advisor
Ethos Institute for Public Christianity