“Now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). At first Paul might seem to be saying that Jesus, who is merciful, has saved us from God, who is wrathful. But a contrast between an angry Father and a compassionate Son is far from Paul’s thinking.
Paul speaks of God, the Father of Jesus Christ, as “the Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3). And Jesus, far from being a contrast to the Father, is “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus makes the Father’s love for us visible. It was in fulfillment of the Father’s merciful plan for us that Jesus lowered himself to our human condition and laid down his life for us on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).
But if the Father is compassionate, what does Paul mean by “the wrath of God”? How can God be infinitely merciful and frighteningly angry at the same time? The apparent contradiction begins to clear up when we see that speaking of God’s “wrath” is a way of expressing his unalterable opposition to sin. God uncompromisingly rejects everything that warps and perverts his good creation, especially his human creation—everything that drains away the love, peace, and joy that he intends for humanity. The “wrath of God” is his commitment to completely destroy sin. It is with this sense of the wrath of God that Paul says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). God’s wrath is revealed in his bringing judgment on sin.
The New Testament writers teach that God is incomprehensibly loving toward sinners and uncompromisingly wrathful toward sin. If we cling to our sins, we cling to that which is under God’s judgment, that which is the object of his wrath. It is our disastrous connection with sin that God has set out to change by sending his Son into the world. Jesus has come to deliver us from our sins. This moves us from a condition of experiencing God’s wrath to one of experiencing his love (see Colossians 1:13-14). The depth of God’s love for us is measured by the cost he has paid to deliver us: the life of his own Son. God wanted so badly to free us from being under the wrath that falls on sin “that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Excerpted from The Gift of Repentance (Keys to the Bible Series) by Kevin Perrotta (The Word Among Us, 2014). Available at wau.org/books