Word Study: The Wrath of God

3:1       Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

          2       Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

          3       For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

          4       When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

          5       Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

          6       For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience,

          7       and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.

          8       But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.

          9       Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,

          10       and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.

Wrath (defined by BDAG Lexicon): 2b: “strong indignation directed at wrongdoing, w. focus on retribution - of God’s future judgment specifically qualified as punitive” (Colossians 3:6 is referenced here).

Numerous times in the last couple of weeks congregants and others have approached me regarding the use of the phrase “the wrath of God.” Specifically, does God show wrath on those who are true followers of Jesus?

It’s an important question to ask since in other places in the Bible, wrath points to final judgment and eternal separation from God.

The latest conversation happened with a friend who brought up Colossians 3:1-10 to provide context to the phrase, “the wrath of God.” Her concern was only partly that certain repetitive sin (similar to those listed in the above passage) could lead to permanent judgment from God. Perhaps her greater concern was that anyone could displease God with a pattern of sin.

That frames two questions worth asking in this verse study:

1) Can a Christian incur God’s wrath?

2) Can a Christian displease God in any way with repetitive sin?

The first is simpler to answer as long as one is willing to use the definition of wrath as defined above. It’s important to remember that while we do believe and profess that God the Father is a person, He is in no way a person like you and me. God having wrath is not about bluster and vindictiveness. It is not selfishly motivated. We use the term “wrath” to describe God’s right response to our disobedience of Him. It is a punitive response to a breach in relationship. God desires us to be in right relationship with Him, but as the One who created us and designed us for specific purpose, He requires obedience to Him. In this sense, He is not our buddy or our peer. He is our Lord and King.

That leads us to wrath. This is God’s right response to a breach in relationship. God provides the means for His creation to re-establish a right relationship with Him. The death of His Son, Jesus Christ satisfied His wrath for those who put their faith and trust in the Son. Most uses of this wrath phrase point to a final judgment at the end of all things levied against any who would see fit to not profess love and devotion to Christ.

So, back to Colossians. Paul tells the Colossian church that the reason for wrath are those things that God has defined as disobedience. As is the case with most of Paul’s lists, one should not understand this particular list as exhaustive or complete. Paul’s main point is that sin similar to those listed are the reasons that God’s wrath exists. For a Christian who has traded their old self (sinful humanity) for their new self (children of God), such behaviour is not consistent with their new identity.

When Paul says that Christians should put off those behaviours, he is saying that a Christian CAN do away with that and a Christian SHOULD do away with that.

What he is not saying is that a Christian can incur God’s wrath for continuing to do that. Their heart will always desire to be who Christ claimed them to be. They might sin repetitively, but it is not consistent with what they want for themselves. They want to be living sacrifices however much of a struggle such sacrifice can be.

Wrath (as the text implies) is for the sons of disobedience. This is language of identity. People who have not given themselves to Christ and live in a manner consistent with their identity. They disobey because that is who they are.

The second question (Can a Christian displease God in any way with repetitive sin?) is a little more nuanced than the first. Let us reiterate; God is not a person like you and me. To talk about God’s displeasure should not be understood in a way like our own displeasure with something. When we are displeased, that is an emotional response (usually involuntary) to some set of circumstances we did not desire.

But God is omniscient. That means that before the world was created, He knew every bad decision we would ever make, and He went forward with making us anyway, allowing all those things to occur. There is no way God has an involuntary emotional reaction to some choice we have made.

Let’s start simpler; God hates sin (Proverbs 6:16-19). It insults Him, and it hurts us. This might be understood as displeasure, but it’s not displeasure with us. It is hatred of sin.

We can grieve God (Ephesians 4:30). Again, this is said to motivate believers to behave in a manner consistent with their identity. There is no indication that grieving the Holy Spirit leads to eternal condemnation, but who truly desires to grieve the Spirit of God?

Having said all that, perhaps the unasked question behind these inquiries about the wrath of God is more challenging: how do I stop habitually living in a manner inconsistent with my new identity on Christ? The answer is simpler to state than to live out. Habitual sin is a lot like a whirlpool. The pattern of behaviour has been ingrained into someone’s mind and heart. It is forceful and pervasive. Imagine that after years of alcohol abuse, you read a Bible verse that says, “If that same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you, it will quicken your mortal body.” One reading of one verse does not likely have the power to stop a whirlpool. To kill the force of such a phenomenon, you need to apply an equal and opposite amount of force. Filling your heart and mind constantly with Scriptures describing who you are in Christ matters. Speaking the truth of those Scriptures out loud matter. Surrounding yourself with people who are willing to suffer long with you in recovery matter. In short, to kill a whirlpool of sin, you need a whirlpool of truth.

In summary, God’s wrath is for unrepentant unbelievers, and even then, only on the final day of judgment. It is possible for Christians to grieve God which should be enough of a motivating factor for a believer to not want to keep committing sin. But the notion that God is sitting in a constant state of anger with us because we miss the mark is a lie of Satan. There is NO condemnation for followers of Jesus, and He delights in you, even when you struggle with sin.

Pastor Scott