by Steven J. Lawson
The Genevan Reformer John Calvin said, “Preaching is the public exposition of Scripture by the man sent from God, in which God Himself is present in judgment and in grace.” Faithful pulpit ministry requires the declaration of both judgment and grace. The Word of God is a sharp, two-edged sword that softens and hardens, comforts and afflicts, saves and damns.
The preaching of divine wrath serves as a black velvet backdrop that causes the diamond of God’s mercy to shine brighter than ten thousand suns. It is upon the dark canvas of divine wrath that the splendor of His saving grace most fully radiates. Preaching the wrath of God most brilliantly showcases His gracious mercy toward sinners.
Like trumpeters on the castle wall warning of coming disaster, preachers must proclaim the full counsel of God. Those who stand in pulpits must preach the whole body of truth in the Scriptures, which includes both sovereign wrath and supreme love. They cannot pick and choose what they want to preach. Addressing the wrath of God is never optional for a faithful preacher—it is a divine mandate.
Tragically, preaching that deals with God’s impending judgment is absent from many contemporary pulpits. Preachers have become apologetic regarding the wrath of God, if not altogether silent. In order to magnify the love of God, many argue, the preacher must downplay His wrath. But to omit God’s wrath is to obscure His amazing love. Strangely enough, it is merciless to withhold the declaration of divine vengeance.
Why is preaching divine wrath so necessary? First, the holy character of God demands it. An essential part of God’s moral perfection is His hatred of sin. A.W. Pink asserts, “The wrath of God is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin.” God is “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) who “feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11) toward the wicked. God has “hated wickedness” (45:7) and is angered toward all that is contrary to His perfect character. He will, therefore, “destroy” (5:6) sinners in the Day of Judgment.
Every preacher must declare the wrath of God or marginalize His holiness, love, and righteousness. Because God is holy, He is separated from all sin and utterly opposed to every sinner. Because God is love, He delights in purity and must, of necessity, hate all that is unholy. Because God is righteous, He must punish the sin that violates His holiness.
Second, the ministry of the prophets demands it. The prophets of old frequently proclaimed that their hearers, because of their continual wickedness, were storing up for themselves the wrath of God (Jer. 4:4). In the Old Testament, more than twenty words are used to describe the wrath of God, and these words are used in their various forms a total of 580 times. Time and again, the prophets spoke with vivid imagery to describe God’s wrath unleashed upon wickedness. The last of the prophets, John the Baptist, spoke of “the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7). From Moses to the forerunner of Christ, there was a continual strain of warning to the impenitent of the divine fury that awaits.
Third, the preaching of Christ demands it. Ironically, Jesus had more to say about divine wrath than anyone else in the Bible. Our Lord spoke about God’s wrath more than He spoke of God’s love. Jesus warned about “fiery hell” (Matt. 5:22) and eternal “destruction” (7:13) where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12). Simply put, Jesus was a hellfire and damnation preacher. Men in pulpits would do well to follow the example of Christ in their preaching.
Fourth, the glory of the cross demands it. Christ suffered the wrath of God for all who would call upon Him. If there is no divine wrath, there is no need for the cross, much less for the salvation of lost souls. From what would sinners need to be saved? It is only when we recognize the reality of God’s wrath against those deserving of judgment that we find the cross to be such glorious news. Too many pulpiteers today boast in having a cross-centered ministry but rarely, if ever, preach divine wrath. This is a violation of the cross itself.
Fifth, the teaching of the Apostles demands it. Those directly commissioned by Christ were mandated to proclaim all that He commanded (Matt. 28:20). This necessitates proclaiming God’s righteous indignation toward sinners. The Apostle Paul warns unbelievers of the “God who inflicts wrath” (Rom. 3:5) and declares that only Jesus can “deliver us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). Peter writes about “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 3:7). Jude addresses the “punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). John describes “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16). Clearly, the New Testament writers recognized the necessity of preaching God’s wrath.
Preachers must not shrink away from proclaiming the righteous anger of God toward hell-deserving sinners. God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). That day is looming on the horizon. Like the prophets and Apostles, and even Christ Himself, we too must warn unbelievers of this coming dreadful day and compel them to flee to Christ, who alone is mighty to save.
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.
The messages from T4G are already posted on the T4G website. All the plenary sessions and the panels posted in order below. Lig Duncan’s is one you’ll want to listen to, so I featured it above.
The Wall Street Journal wrote last week that “Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, a friend and frequent interviewer of the pope, reported that the pontiff had denied the existence of hell.”
Sinners who die without achieving eternal salvation “are not punished,” the pope said, according to an article by Mr. Scalfari in the Itlaian newspaper La Repubblica. “There is no hell; there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”
Predictably the Vatican would later release a statement that partially denied the report, but also “stopped short of a specific denial.” This clever dialectic maneuver is a perfect example of two steps forward, one step back. Now the issue of hell is on the table and up for debate, once again illustrating how the Pope Francis has “shaken up perceptions of Catholic doctrine.”
The Pope is merely following in the steps of other theologians and leaders who have professed orthodoxy out of one side of their mouth while teaching new doctrine.Their strategies appear to be the same. The Wall Street Journal’s Vatican correspondent, Francis X. Rocca, describes it:
For more conservative critics, the pope’s approach amounts to promotion of a “low-intensity Catholicism that can be easily welcomed by those far from the faith and even hostile to it,” said Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert who writes for Italy’s L’Espresso magazine.
The nun turned her back on the class. (We were still not safe from scrutiny… we all knew she also had eyes in the back of her head.) Jimmy Cummings could make these strange voices and sounds and get us giggling… and then when the good sister turned around to find the culprit, Jimmy could instantly take on the countenance of a cherub and someone else would be blamed. His unique ability served him well. He is now Voice Actor Jim Cummings… the voice of Winnie the Pooh!
I digress… Back to what the nun had written on the green blackboard. She took the pointer, a weapons grade staff with a rubber tip that looked like a ballistic missile, and pronounced the phrase she had written:
She then went on to explain that whenever the Pope was seated in the chair (also called the throne of St. Peter) whatever he said was infallible. He was not to be questioned for he was speaking in the place of God. The Latin phrase ex cathedra means “from or out of the chair”
There was another Latin term we would learn:
Imprimatur was the term used to describe the authority of the Church when it came to anyone publishing anything that had to do with the teachings of the Church. It was an official endorsement or sanction… a seal of approval. Yet another Latin phrase would be the official Imprimatur:
It means “Nothing is in the way or is unacceptable or offensive.”
Two days ago, I was listening to a national talk show. I actually got on the air and was able to engage the host on a topic that is important to me… how the media is intentionally trying to undermine our values and beliefs. After the conversation and just before the commercial break, the host teased the topic for the next segment:
“Stick around folks, did you hear the Pope said there is no Hell?”
The current Pope has made numerous remarks that seem to confute not only Catholic Dogma, but the Bible itself. He took a lot of heat when he opined about the whole issue of homosexuality. “Who am I to judge?” I mean no disrespect, but I said out loud when I heard it, “I know who you are… You are Vicar of Christ on earth, the unquestionable representative of God to over a billion people. You sit on a throne, and utter remarks that are deemed to be infallible. You and those who rule with you can excommunicate people, hence cut them off from the means of grace… ergo consigning them to the Hell you said is not what the Bible describes, and Jesus believed to be real. In the New Testament, Jesus mentioned the word Hell more than He did Heaven.”
The implications of all this are far reaching. What else in the Bible will be deemed to be inaccurate or false? Does the word infallible mean… sometimes or ‘sort of’? And what of all the tormented souls who died believing that they were damned to Hell? The Pope is reported to have said that the unrepentant ones don’t go to Hell. They just disappear. The Bible describes torment that never ends… a Dante’s inferno.
There is an angst that is palpable in our world… Constitutions mean nothing. Vows mean even less than nothing and we, lemming-like, rush to fall into the abyss as the institutions of power in our country disassemble all that was based on God’s word.
Listen to this noble school mission statement:
For Christ and the Church! This is the founding mission statement of Harvard! Princeton had this lofty goal for its students, “To know God in Jesus Christ… to live a godly sober life.”
God said, “For I am the Lord. I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”(Malachi 3:6) The writer to the Hebrews said under the unction of The Holy Spirit, “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God!” (Hewbrews 10:31) We have for a long time meekly submitted to the abandonment of the very notion there is such a thing as Truth. One writer quipped “God created man in his own image and likeness… and now man has returned the favor.”
I remember preaching a message years ago in which I talked about the Bible’s use of the word authority. Now for Catholics, authority rests in a man who speaks ex cathedra… from the chair. For those who rule us politically their authority can be described as ex officio… out of the office they hold. But for the believer in Jesus, the authority that He grants us is based on our relationship with Him. The word translated authority in the Greek is exousia. It is a derivative of the verb “to be” It can be rendered ‘Out of who I AM’.
Is there a Hell? Is it how the Bible describes it? I read in the Bible that there is a hell and that Jesus affirmed it and warned that some will go there. I have staked my life on its veracity.
I hold that the answer does not rest with a man, or an organization, or a tradition. The Bible says, “All Scripture is God breathed.” (1 Timothy 3:16) “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” said Jesus, “but My Words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33) That is proof enough for me.
For the truth about hell, see Pastor Larry DeBruyn’s excellent article, “An Imaginary Cosmic Reality,” where he refutes the denial of hell. Here is a brief excerpt:
Many, even Christians, reject the teaching of the Lord Jesus and His Apostles regarding the eternal punishment of the wicked. They point out that no biblical word expresses the concept of “eternity,” but only “a long period”or “remotest time” (Hebrew ‘olam) or “age” (Greek aion). They argue that because of these words’ multifaceted meanings there is no word in Scripture expressing a forever category of time. Therefore it is presumptuous for anyone to think hell will never end. But the Apostle John describes the state of being consigned to the Lake of Fire as one of being “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). The time frame expressed is in multiples of forever-s, one of ages of ages. These multiples of ages is the longest concept of time the Greek language, or perhaps any language, can express (Greek plurals, eis tous aionas ton aionon, Revelation 20:10). Combined with “day and night” (Greek, hemeras kai nyktos), “for ever and ever” nuances a timeless existence in which 24/7, for ages of ages, the unholy trinity—the beast, the false prophet, the devil—and others will be confined. Together, the clauses express the “the unbroken continuity of their torment” in perpetuity.
Be not afraid of them that kill the body,
and after that have no more that they can do.
But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear:
Fear Him, which after He hath killed
hath power to cast into hell;
yea, I say unto you, Fear Him.”
(Jesus, Luke 12:4-5)
I am the way, the truth, and the life:
no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”
1. Francis X. Rocca, “Shifting lines: Pope’s Uncertainty Principle,” The Wall Street Journal, March 31-April 1, 2018, p. A9.
4. See Pastor Larry DeBruyn’s “Love Loses,” a review of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: http://herescope.blogspot.com/2011/05/love-loses.html and his article “An Imaginary Cosmic Reality” reviewing Wm. Paul Young’s book, Lies We Believe About God: http://herescope.blogspot.com/2017/06/an-imaginary-cosmic-reality.html
5. Rocca, Ibid.
6. Everett Piper, The Wrong Side of the Door, p. 23.
How is the resurrection of Christ linked to the idea of justification in the New Testament? To answer this question, we must first explore the use and meaning of the term justification in the New Testament. Confusion about this has provoked some of the fiercest controversies in the history of the church. The Protestant Reformation itself was fought over the issue of justification. In all its complications, the unreconciled and unreconcilable difference in the debate came down to the question of whether our justification before God is grounded in the infusion of Christ’s righteousness into us, by which we become inherently righteous, or in the imputation, or reckoning, of Christ’s righteousness to us while we are still sinners. The difference between these views makes all the difference in our understanding of the Gospel and of how we are saved.
One of the problems that led to confusion was the meaning of the word justification. Our English word justification is derived from the Latin justificare. The literal meaning of the Latin is “to make righteous.” The Latin fathers of church history worked with the Latin text instead of the Greek text and were clearly influenced by it. By contrast, the Greek word for justification, dikaiosune, carries the meaning of “to count, reckon, or declare righteous.”
But this variance between the Latin and the Greek is not enough to explain the debates over justification. Within the Greek text itself, there seem to be some problems. For example, Paul declares in Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Then James, in his epistle, writes, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar” (2:21) and “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (2:24).
On the surface, it appears that we have a clear contradiction between Paul and James. The problem is exacerbated when we realize that both use the same Greek word for justification and both use Abraham to prove their arguments.
This problem can be resolved when we see that the verb “to justify” and its noun form, “justification,” have shades of meaning in Greek. One of the meanings of the verb is “to vindicate” or “to demonstrate.”
Jesus once said, ” ‘Wisdom is justified by all her children’ ” (Luke 7:35). He did not mean that wisdom has its sins remitted or is counted righteous by God by having children, but that a wise decision may be vindicated by its consequences.
James and Paul were addressing different questions. James was answering the question: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (2:14). He understood that anyone can profess to have faith, but true faith is demonstrated as authentic by its consequent works. The claim of faith is vindicated (justified) by works. Paul has Abraham justified in the theological sense in Genesis 15 before he does any works. James points to the vindication or demonstration of Abraham’s faith in obedience in Genesis 22.
The Resurrection involves justification in both senses of the Greek term. First, the Resurrection justifies Christ Himself. Of course, He is not justified in the sense of having His sins remitted, because He had no sins, or in the sense of being declared righteous while still a sinner, or in the Latin sense of being “made righteous.” Rather, the Resurrection serves as the vindication or demonstration of the truth of His claims about Himself.
In his encounter with the philosophers at Athens, Paul declared: ” ‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead’ ” (Acts 17:30-31).
Here Paul points to the Resurrection as an act by which the Father universally vindicates the authenticity of His Son. In this sense, Christ is justified before the whole world by His resurrection.
However, the New Testament also links Christ’s resurrection to our justification. Paul writes, “It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25).
It is clear that in His atoning death Christ suffered on our behalf, or for us. Likewise, His resurrection is seen not only as a vindication of or surety of Himself, but as a surety of our justification. Here justification does not refer to our vindication, but to the evidence that the atonement He made was accepted by the Father. By vindicating Christ in His resurrection, the Father declared His acceptance of Jesus’ work on our behalf. Our justification in this theological sense rests on the imputed righteousness of Christ, so the reality of that transaction is linked to Christ’s resurrection. Had Christ not been raised, we would have a mediator whose redeeming work in our behalf was not acceptable to God.
However, Christ is risen indeed!
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.
- The wicked shall be turned into hell, And all the nations that forget God. (Ps. 9:17)
- Let death seize them; Let them go down alive into hell, For wickedness is in their dwellings and among them. (Ps. 55:15)
- Her house is the way to hell, Descending to the chambers of death. (Prov. 7:27)
- “Hell from beneath is excited about you, To meet you at your coming; It stirs up the dead for you, All the chief ones of the earth; It has raised up from their thrones All the kings of the nations. (Isa. 14:9)
- “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother,`Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says,`You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matt. 5:22)
- “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:28)
- But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! (Lk. 12:5)
- For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)– then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord. (2 Pet. 2:4-11)