… and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. Eph 2:3
We could probably not think of two more incompatible words than children and wrath. When we think of children, words like innocence come to mind, not wrath. Yet the first three verses of Ephesians chapter 2 teach us that every human being ever born of man and woman is, by nature, characterized or marked by the wrath of God. David confirms that our condition is one of nature rather than nurture: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. (Ps 51:5). We come from the womb into the world as sinners. This is very different from how psychological ideas have understood “tabula rasa,” that is the concept that men are born with a “blank slate” upon which they write their experiences which then frame their personalities. On the contrary, Scripture teaches clearly that sin is the universal opponent of mankind, by nature – that is the origin of our condition from birth.
Yet there is an even greater catastrophe than this. Because of sin, there is the more serious problem of being under the wrath of God himself. Sinclair Ferguson writes: “Wrath is the settled hostility of God’s holy will towards everything that rebels against Him.” God’s wrath is not like that of man. It is not the result of a bad temper, spite, malice or revenge. Unlike the wrath of man, God’s wrath is neither arbitrary nor dependent upon mood. Some have argued that wrath is not personal, that is, it is not directed toward any specific human being, but is in general against sin. In truth, just as grace is personal, wrath too is God’s personal, righteous resolve to condemn evil in every form – it is already a present reality revealed from heaven (Rom 1:18, Jn 3:36). Further, God’s wrath is completely compatible with His love and mercy (if there is any doubt of this, read on in verses 4-6). In fact, God cannot truly love unless He is able to purely hate that which rebels against His love. And if you reject God’s love as received in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, then only wrath remains. But for those who are in Christ, the wrath of God is satisfied for every sin was laid upon Christ, who bore the wrath that we, by right, deserve. On the cross, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (Gal 3:13). This is what “propitiation” means, the removal of wrath by spending it upon a substitute. God’s wrath was not disregarded, but was diverted to Christ, and willingly absorbed by Him.
Today many Christians find wrath to be offensive, and some have sought to eliminate the idea of a propitiatory sacrifice from their understanding of atonement. But as much as we might like it to be otherwise, wrath is a dominant theme of Scripture. It’s difficult to read a single page without coming up against the subject of God’s wrath, and unless wrath is personally dealt with by Christ, you remain an enemy of God, forever guilty and shamed. But, brothers and sisters, if there be any joy, it flows from Christ’s personal wrath-absorbing work on your behalf. Full atonement can it be?!?
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