If you’ve been a Christian for a few months, and during that time you’ve attended worship services at a church, my guess is that you’ve heard songs that mention God’s wrath.
The song, “In Christ Alone,” says “the wrath of God was satisfied” when Jesus died on the cross. And “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” refers to God’s terrible swift sword.
Do songs about a wrathful God seem odd to you? They do to me. I prefer to think about God as loving, kind, gracious, merciful and forgiven. He is all those, and yet there are times the biblical writers mention his wrath. In this, our last post on John 3:22-36, John mentions the wrath of God.
In John 3:35, we read that the Father loves the Son and has placed all things in the Son’s hands, which is another way to say that the Father has given Jesus all authority. Therefore whoever believes in him has eternal life, John goes on to say in verse 36, while those who reject him, the wrath of God remains on them. There it is, the wrath of God. More specifically John says God’s wrath remains on people, meaning that it was already on them. What is John talking about? Is he suggesting that God’s default posture toward humanity is wrath?
To try to understand the tricky concept of God’s wrath, I believe it will help us to back up a bit. Remember last week when we studied the first part of this chapter, and I suggested that John 3:16 is not enough? Then I was referring to the possibility that when John talks about belief that leads to salvation, being born again, and experiencing eternal life, I said that John is talking about faith that shows itself to be true faith is a life of faithfulness to Jesus. When John talks about belief, he is not just saying that all we need to do is believe ideas in our minds.
We see a taste of that here in verse 36 when John writes that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” We can have eternal life now. We are not waiting for it, as if we cannot experience eternal life until someday in the future after we die. We can have it now. Not just a promise of eternal life now, we can the experience of it now.
Jesus will call it the abundant life in John 10:10. Abundant life is the full life, the life of flourishing, and this is where it ties into having the Spirit without limit, which we read about in the previous post. The Spirit enables us in our human lives now to experience a transformation now. The Spirit enables us to be born again, not just in a symbolic way, but also in a very literal way. We can be transformed into new people, so that the Fruit of the Spirit is flowing out of our lives, when we walk in step with the Spirit.
We won’t experience the Fruit of the Spirit simply because we say a prayer and say we believe. Instead the Holy Spirit is here with us, available for us to walk in step with Him. To put it another way, when we choose to have a relationship with Jesus, we are choosing to life the lifestyle of Jesus, and by doing that we experience eternal life now. It is available now. Eternal life now, abundant life, does not mean that our lives will be perfect, but it does mean the accessibility of supernatural peace in the middle of life’s storms, comfort and strength in struggles, wisdom in confusion.
With that in mind, let’s return John’s mention of God’s wrath? Go back to verse 36? God has wrath? Isn’t wrath sinful? God’s wrath, theologically understood, must be seen in connection with God’s love. It is normal to think of wrath as a destructive, awful force; anger unleashed, unrestrained, that can do irreparable damage. We see wrath as evil. God is not that.
Instead God’s wrath must be seen in light of God’s love manifest in human free will. If we choose using our free will to believe in Jesus, we are not under wrath because we have abundant life now and eternal life in heaven. If, however, we choose of our own free will to reject Jesus, we remain under wrath, disconnected from eternal life. Of course God wants all to choose life because he loves all and has made a way for all to experience eternal life now, through his astounding gift of love in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
No matter how you look at John 3:22-36, the focus is Jesus. He must increase. What steps will you take to make Jesus increase in your life? I would encourage you to spend time with him. Serve him. Who will you talk with today or this week about increasing Jesus in your lives? We are made for community. Jesus lived with his disciples. He spent time with them. They shared questions, and doubts, and conversation? Who will you talk to about Jesus? About how you want him to increase in your life?