There are folks who believe there is a disjuncture between the nature of God in the Old Testament and the nature of God in the New Testament.
This is an old heresy dating back to the first centuries of the Christian Church. Unfortunately, it still survives today. According to this view, the Old Testament depicts God as full of wrath and revenge, while the New Testament sees God as purely kind, sweet, easygoing and always loving.
Much modern preaching tries to capitalize on the latter. Why? Because we do not wish to accept the idea that we are sinners, and if we do sin, we want there to be little or no consequences. In the minds of many, for a preacher to stand and tell the congregation that they must believe the Gospel, repent and even make restitution is just “too harsh.”
The third-century apologist and writer Tertullian (c.240 A.D.) wrote that this deity of the imagination “plainly judges evil by not willing it, and condemns it by prohibiting it; while on the other hand, he acquits it by not avenging it, and lets it go free by not punishing it. What a prevaricator of truth is such a god! What a dissembler to his own decision! Afraid to condemn what he really condemns, afraid to hate what he does not love, permitting that to be done which he does not allow, choosing to indicate what he dislikes rather than deeply examine it!” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, I.27)
Well, Tertullian was correct in his refutation of Marcion’s theology. For anyone who cares to read their Bibles, the graciousness and kindness of God will be found abundantly in the Old Testament — for starters, read Isaiah 53.
But where do we find the wrath of God in the New Testament? If there is no wrathful God in the New Testament, then we remain lost and without hope. But the good news is just that: God has poured his wrath out on his beloved son, Jesus Christ, for the propitiation of our sins on behalf of those who believe. Jesus Christ was our substitute on Calvary’s cross; what we deserved, he received in our place — the wrath of almighty God.
What God the Father has purposed to do, he does, in spite of man’s depravity and sinfulness. Why is the Lord able to save to the uttermost those who come to him? Because Christ fulfilled the purpose of the Father; and because the Father promised the Son absolute success. Truly, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Dear reader, thank God for his wrath as it was his determined plan (see Acts 2:14-28) for our salvation — and if we flee to the cross seeking his mercy, we will have an advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1).
Christianson serves as pastor at Grace Reformed Church in Clarkston.