The Wrath of God and the Offer of Grace
Read John 3:16-36
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Charles Dickens, in his classic, The Tale of Two Cities, opens with a classic line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” In this line, Dickens sets the tone for the book as he wrestles with the contrasts of extremes that exemplified the time of the French Revolution.
But these words also serve to echo the contrasting choice we find in John 3. Eternal life comes down to a simple choice between two opposing options. To accept by faith the redemptive work of Christ and to submit to him brings eternal life, to reject the offer is to experience the wrath of God. What is important to realize is that the basis for the two choices and outcomes is not grounded in our efforts or any inherent goodness within us, rather it is grounded in the simple act of faith. Christ makes it clear that all religious roads do not lead to the same location. Instead, Christ reduces paths of faith to two simple roads.
The first road is those who believe in Christ and accept his redemptive work on Christ. For those who chose to follow this path, their eternal destiny is assured for they obtain eternal life (vs 16, 18a). Those who walk this road recognize their spiritual need, understanding that sin separates them from God and they need someone to restore our relationship with Christ. That mediator is Christ himself, for he became our substitute by taking upon himself the penalty for sins that a just and holy God requires.
The other road, one that would encompass all other religions and paths, is a road grounded in rejection and unbelief. Those who walk on this path are not just facing the prospect of judgment, but they are already judged for they have already been condemned as lawbreakers. Those who walk this path are revealed by how they live, for they live in disobedience to Christ. Instead of surrendering to Christ, they chose to live their life completely independent of Christ. Rather than submitting, they defiantly reject God’s word and his commands. Rather than coming to Christ, they fear that their sin will be exposed, so they flee from him (vs 19-20). They may be religious, even claiming to be Christian, but in the end, their religion is powerless and void of any genuine and lasting life change. They are the individuals Christ warns in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” In other words, obedience and actions reveal the authenticity of our faith (Mt 7:16).
But this is what brings us back to our understanding of God’s wrath and his utter hatred of sin. Only when we see the reality of God’s wrath upon sin can we see the wonder of his grace and the beauty of the offer of Christ’s salvation. Salvation does not come at the denial of his wrath, but the understanding that his wrath was fully satisfied by the work of Christ on the cross. It is only when we understand God’s wrath that we can truly understand our need for salvation. Thus, we are left with a decision regarding which road we are going to travel. The road of surrender and acceptance of Christ leads to life. The road of self-determination and rejection of Christ leads to death. Which road have you chosen?