In his seminal book “The Cross of Christ”, John R. W. Stott points out that scripture gives us four images of the accomplishment achieved by the cross – propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation. Scripture clearly teaches that the blood of Jesus, which signifies a violent and untimely death, as a substitute for us, is at the root of each of these images:
propitiation by blood
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Romans 3:22-25 ESV
redemption by blood
knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
I Peter 1:18-19 NKJV
justification by blood
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:3-4 NKJV
reconciliation by blood
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV
Love and its wrath
In other words, these are not alternative ideas to the penal substitutionary death of Jesus on our behalf, they are images of the results of Jesus’ penal substitutionary death.
I’ve noticed that the drive to obviate the need for the wrath of God lies at the root of the resistance to penal substitutionary atonement. The wrath of God is seen as evil because it is seen as mutually exclusive to the love of God. However, the wrath of God is not antithetical to His love, because the love of God is the genesis and source of His wrath. Wrath is not synonymous with hatred. Love and hatred actually are mutually exclusive. If someone I love is threatened or harmed, I have serious feelings to not only protect them, but to see justice executed on the perpetrator. If my loved one is actually the source of their own threat and harm, I have a deeper problem, because I have love and I have wrath towards them. However, I do not have hatred, I have enduring transformative love for them. If I truly hated them, I would have apathy about their self-destructive nature; I would be happy to let them go on their own and destroy themselves. Wrath says that we matter, that there is a very fierce and passionate care towards us. If your child is a meth addict, you don’t love them by celebrating their destructive addiction! You at least express your displeasure at the thing that is destroying them. This is far different than hating them!
In the end, we will see that the most devastating thing about the wrath of God towards our sin will not be how angry it is, or how powerful He is to execute it, or how certain it is. It will be how resoundingly right and true it is. The frightening thing will be how much our heart and mind and conscience genuinely agree with and even celebrate His wrath. We will see how greatly it is born of love. We will see that our sin is not just a violation of arbitrary moral rules, but is a violation of love and dignity and beauty and freedom. No one will gnash their teeth because they are being punished. They will gnash their teeth because in their heart they will know they should be punished. They will agree that it is just.
So even if you affirm the truth of God’s wrath as a point of doctrine, you must come to the place where you celebrate it. You must see that He loves dearly and so He stands passionately and completely against anything that would harm us. You must come to see that His wrath is beautiful and right and lovely. Even when it stands directly against you personally, you must worship Him in His beautiful and loving and holy rightness. He only wants the best, and that is no euphemism. In that you have fallen short of glory, in His love for you He is raging and hot under the collar.
So, where we have cut ourselves off from the very source of life – yes, He is displeased. Where we have become slaves of judgment through sin – yes, He is displeased. Where we have offended the universal good of justice and rightness – yes, He is displeased. Where we have been cut off and isolated and made alone through our assertion of our godhood and selfishness – yes, He is displeased. Where we have remained steadfast and faithful to these destructive beliefs – yes, He is angry! How could He be otherwise than wrathful if He loves us? It is nonsense.
So stop distancing yourself from the wrath of God. Stop downplaying it. Stop pretending to believe that God should have this vapid love that your very conscience knows is wrong. Then you will see how true and right and perfect it is that you are cut off from God’s favor, a slave to guilt and secret shame, on the wrong side of justice, and exiled from the company of the righteous. Admit the truth — you are prayerless, helpless, guilty, and lonely. These are the very things the cross of Christ restores to you! Your favor and prayer with God, your release from your helplessness, your justification, and your fellowship are restored to you through Christ’s blood when His wrath is acknowledged by you to be satisfied by His death.
If we say that God is love in a way that is antithetical to wrath, it means that God’s love is ineffectual and out of touch with the real world. The cross says that God not only has an answer for the evil in the world, but that He has an answer for my evil. He loves me even while I am yet a sinner. Evil has been denounced as worthy of great wrath at the cross, and so we have entered into a world where our sin is already judged and we have become the free recipients of the favor of God.
“Hyper-grace” is the Simple Gospel
People accuse believers in “radical” grace or “hyper” grace of being light on sin. On the contrary, I maintain that we fully and deeply embrace the outstanding and passionate wrath of God against sin. It is actually the “Lordship Salvation” or “mixed-grace” believers who water down or downplay the wrath of God. We simply see it more truly — it is beyond our ability to repair. Without a miracle, our cause is hopeless. You can’t “repent” your way out of your sins because you already sinned. When you think your “repentance” has some place in your salvation you make the blood of Jesus useless. It is while we were yet sinners (we were unrepentant) that Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8). Your redemption is of inestimable worth. You think you can pay for or deserve Jesus’ blood with your little promise to stop sinning? You won’t even be able to keep your promise! It is a FREE GIFT (Romans 3:24-25). As “radical” grace believers, we are simply those who actually believe the blood of Jesus is the one and only thing that saves us. We really believe in the gospel. We don’t believe in the gospel with caveats. We don’t downplay the power or scope or scandal of our forgiveness. We only trust Jesus to save us and we despair of our own righteousness. This gives us a platform to love, to walk in community with other redeemed sinners. We believe that our righteousness is all forged by God, and is not the invention or work of ourselves. If that is radical or hyper then call me radical and hyper. I seriously don’t flipping care, because I am my beloved’s. I believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord of my salvation. He is my propitiation, my redeemer, just and the justifier, and my reconciliation to God and to others. I have nothing of my own to offer — nothing but my sin. This isn’t some weird sentimental 18th century flowery hymn, this is fundamental truth. You either believe the radical hyper grace of the gospel and come to your ideas about “sanctification” through that door, or you live under wrath and hell (John 3:18).
Don’t tell me any more that “hyper” grace preachers are soft on sin (2 Corinthians 10:5). Anything but. It is the “mixed-grace” “Lordship” believer who is soft on sin. Your “commitment” and “repentance” and “integrity” are a sham and they won’t work. Because fake-grace believers don’t fully believe in mercy, they can’t go to the true scary places in themselves to confess and be cleansed (1 John 1:8,9). The solution, according to the Bible, is belief in Christ (1 John 1:7). You either believe Christ saves you or you believe you save you. There is no “mix” or “balance” or “middle ground.” Do you believe the blood of Jesus plus nothing saves you? Or do you trust in your works and your flawed holiness? Choose Christ!