Do you remember the way many gospel presentations used to begin? So often, people would start a presentation of the plan of salvation with the statement, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Of course, when that statement was made in the 1950s, people in the U.S. had a general understanding of who God is and that we all have failed to live up to his standard. Thus, the statement of God’s love came as a relief and a light of hope for those who might have thought themselves beyond the reach of the grace of God.
When we discuss issues of salvation with people who are outside of the faith, often our path will be to focus on the love of God. Of course, this is good, as God is gloriously loving. But, if we are not careful, that presentation of love today can paint a false picture of the actual situation between humanity and God.
What do I mean? When all we let people know is that God loves them and really wishes they would be a part of his family, we do not paint a true and biblical picture. Instead, we paint a picture of desperation. We make God look like a guy who really wishes the sweet girl would go with him to the dance. And such has never been the biblical portrayal of our Lord.
You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
I think we gain something beautiful to remember about the gospel and about our own experience with the Lord from Isaiah 12:1. This in no way takes the loving nature from the picture of God, but it does clearly portray our position before the Lord.
The Lord tells the people how they will sing of him. He was angry with them. But he turned his own anger away that he might comfort them. Anger turned to favor is the glorious gospel picture.
The theological word for this is propitiation. The concept is that of God having righteous anger against us for our sin. But God, by means of a sacrifice, satisfies his anger so that he can now look upon us with favor.
Now consider the difference. IF I start the gospel presentation with a soft and sappy love of God, I miss some very important truths. God is holy. God is rightly, perfectly, terrifyingly angry over my sin. He should be. And I have earned his wrath. But God, by his choice first, decided to satisfy his anger by means of presenting God the Son as the perfect sacrifice for my sins so that two things can be true. On the one hand, God can look upon me with love and kindness because of what Jesus has done. At the same time, God can be clearly seen as perfectly just, as my sin is perfectly punished.
That is a bigger gospel than is a gospel of a lonely, longing, deity who just deeply wishes you would consent to have him as yours. Yes, God loves, but his love is far deeper than all that. God’s love is based on God’s perfectly turning from his righteous anger and providing the only sacrifice that could ever work so that he might look at us with favor.
Now, is that the picture painted in the Scripture? Yes, Isaiah 12:1 looks that way. But is that the gospel picture?
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Jesus is our propitiation, put forth by God himself. Jesus is the sacrifice who turns the anger of God into his favor on us. And God did this to prove his justice. This is the gospel, and it is better news than God loving me and having a wonderful plan for my life. IN fact, God does love me and have a wonderful plan for my life, but that comes toward the end of the gospel, not at the beginning. The gospel begins with the holiness of the infinitely perfect God, his choice to turn his own anger away, and my eternal benefit at his gracious hand.