The Goodness of Judgment

As Paul opens his second letter to the church in Thessalonica, he points to the faithfulness of the believers as well as the promise of the judgment of God on the lost. I have some thoughts here, but I want to include the section for you to read with its context.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 – 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

My thoughts here are about the judgment of God. Particularly, I am thinking about God’s judgment in contrast with the way that many followers of God speak of his wrath. I believe, as I read this passage, that many of us, if we are not careful, are in danger of speaking of the wrath of the Almighty in a way that is inconsistent with biblical language and biblical emotion.

In verse 5, note that Paul speaks of “the righteous judgment of God.” In verse 6, Paul says, “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” Then, after a discussion of the judgment of God in verses 8-9, Paul speaks of how this all should motivate us to obedience. But the motivation is not because we fear being judged in a similar way. Never biblically is the Christian called to fear the fiery judgment of Christ on the lost. No, we are called to obey because we see that God’s justice will be done and our afflictions will be repaid.

Go back to verses 8-9. There we see the fiery judgment of God that will accompany the return of the Lord Jesus. There is nothing in these words of Scripture to soften the picture of God’s wrath. We see a reference to flaming fire (v. 8), to the Lord Jesus inflicting vengeance (v. 8), and the punishment of eternal destruction (v. 9). In all this, we see that it points to the glory of Christ (v. 10) and he pours out the judgment of God on those who are guilty of not knowing God or obeying the gospel (v. 8).

Also, as we read this section, we should see that the Lord gave these words to a persecuted church for their comfort. God wanted the church to understand that his reward for their faith and faithfulness is real. God also wanted them to see that his proper justice for the evils of the world around them is equally real and equally good.

Now, here is the challenge for us all. How are we to feel about these words? Do you regret them? Do they embarrass you as a believer? Do you wish they were not there? Do you tolerate them like you have to tolerate having dental work done? Do you welcome them into the house the way you welcome in that one relative that you would always prefer not to see but whom you have to invite over for a cookout from time to time?

Here is where I think we need biblical help. Our emotions need to mirror the feel of the Scripture. And while we know that the Lord himself tells us he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), the Lord also makes it clear to us that his justice, even is wrath for those who refuse his gospel, is good; it is to his glory.

Christian, I would never call you to celebrate and laugh over another’s destruction. But, Christian, do not be ashamed of the judgment of God. Do not act as though god is a little lesser in your eyes for the existence of hell. Do not pretend that god is good in general, but if he really did things right, he would not judge.

Our god is holy. Our God sees evil with a clarity that you and I can never grasp before our ultimate and final sanctification leading to glorification. Until the Lord removes all your sin from you, you will never see just how ugly sin is nor how righteous and perfect is the Lord’s wrath.

But, even now, even before you can see with clarity the goodness of the Lord’s judgment, strive to embrace all that the Lord does as good, genuinely, beautifully, perfectly good. As heaven is good, so too is hell. Were this not so, God would not have made either. The Lord, his ways are perfect. Always, always remember this. And when you read of his love and mercy, rejoice. And when you read of his right wrath, ask the Lord to help you see this as his goodness too.

Have We Lost Wrath?

The word gospel means good news. The gospel is the good news of Jesus. It is the good news of his life, death, and resurrection. The gospel is the good news of the perfectly fulfilled plan of god to save for himself a people.

It is interesting that, as we talk about the gospel in today’s culture, there are words that are emphasized and words that are whispered. Take, as an example, the word brokenness. In many presentations today, there is tremendous emphasis placed on the fact that our sin leads us into a broken state. As we step away from the plan of God and the ways of God, we break our lives. We hurt ourselves emotionally. We harm our families, our friendships, and our very own souls. And this is surely a true thing.

What I wonder, however, is if some who emphasize the soul-damaging effects of sin are failing to emphasize the biblical result of sin.

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 – 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul emphasized the turning of the people to the gospel. But notice, in verse 10, that Paul has a word that is seldom used in popular circles these days. The people who were transformed in Christ were awaiting the arrival of Jesus, the one who delivers us from the wrath to come.

I am wondering if, in popular Christianity today, we have lost the concept of wrath. The wrath of God is his perfect, righteous, furious judgment for sin. Wrath is not God getting mad or getting his feelings hurt. God’s wrath is a set position of the Lord to always hate sin in all its forms with all that he is. And his wrath, poured out, leads to the judgment of and destruction of the wicked. A person who experiences the full wrath of God experiences hell forever.

Paul was not shy in his letter to remind the Thessalonians that Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come. The gospel is a salvation from the wrath of God. And the wrath of God is coming. The result of sin is that wrath. And I believe that, if we fail to talk about this fact, we fail to paint a true picture of the gospel.

Please do not hear me attempting to knock those who use terms like brokenness when they discuss the effects of sin. The present experience of those who have walked away from God is quite often a strongly felt, strongly experienced brokenness. People in our modern culture may well be able to identify with the fact that, no matter how hard they have tried, they have not been able to escape their experience of being less than what they were created to be. And I do understand that this can be a significant entry gate to a gospel conversation.

What I am suggesting, however, is that brokenness is a symptom on the disease track, not its final dark end. Yes, sin results in brokenness. But, even worse, that brokenness, without a true gospel cure, leads to spiritual death and the wrath of God. The Bible tells us that Jesus is our only rescue from the wrath to come. So, whether a person feels broken or not, the final judgment is on its way. Christ will return. God will judge. All who refuse the grace of God in Jesus will face, unprotected, the wrath to come. And none of us can survive that.

Christians, if you wish to talk about the soul-harming effects of sin, do so. If you can show a person that sinful choices lead us to personally experienced destruction in the here and now, that is a great conversation starter. But do not lose the wrath of God. Sin is an affront to the Living God. We are all guilty of it. Sin leads to wrath. And we need Jesus to rescue us from that wrath, or we will suffer the right consequences of rebellion against the Creator and Lord over all.