“It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” (Deut 32:35)
. . .”I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge with equity.” (Ps. 75:2)
. . . the Most High . . . is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6: 35-36)
The Lord is a jealous and avenging God . . . slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. . . . Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? . . . The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood . . . he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness. (Nahum 1:2-3; 6-8)
Next to the subject of sin, I suspect the topic of divine judgment may be the second most unpopular sermon choice in the Western world.
There have been times, at least in recent centuries, when fire and brimstone regularly emanated from not a few pulpits. As church attendance has shrunk over the last several decades, churches appear increasingly loathe to mention anything that might put people off. Instead, some have even attempted to draw people by offering entertainment, prizes and goodies.
Personally, I don’t think we need marketing strategies for bringing people to Jesus. He’s already told us how to do it: make it your lifelong goal to be like Him, depending on His Holy Spirit to make that possible. People in our culture get more than enough entertainment and treats without going to church. What they don’t have enough of is genuine examples of Jesus in action in otherwise ordinary people. When they see that, there’s no need to sell them on Him. Jesus is all the drawing power we need.
Being a reflection of Jesus is a simple strategy to state, but without question the most challenging to live out. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be committed to trying, always knowing where the real strength comes from. Along the way, I need to be real with myself and others, acknowledging that I want to be more like Jesus, but I mess up a lot. That will put me on level ground with every other believer. It will also enable me to offer real hope to those longing for a richer, fuller life than they can ever make for themselves by themselves.
Along the way, it’s important for me not to present a one-dimensional God, but God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. This is not a God who can or will sugar-coat sin, making it acceptable even if He would prefer us not to indulge in it. This is not a sentimental being who will take everyone to heaven, whether or not they’ve made Jesus their Savior. Satan actively promotes this kind of thinking because it makes it easy to ignore our need for Jesus. If everyone gets to heaven, why worry about things like abuse, lying, cheating, gossiping, irresponsibility, committing violence? If God doesn’t judge, you’re good to go.
A god who wouldn’t judge sin could never claim to be good. We can rejoice that God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is good in the ultimate, and that includes His judgment. That judgment has the goal of redemption, not condemnation. But Scripture makes it clear that without repentance and a commitment to Jesus, condemnation is inevitable.
We can and should rejoice that God is slow to anger; extremely so, in our terms. He continues to show kindness — not just patience, but kindness — to the ungrateful and wicked. He gives individuals and nations every opportunity to repent, until and unless their hearts are so calcified there is no possibility of redemption.
Whether or not I want to think about it, a day of judgment is coming for every one of us. I thank God that because of what Jesus has done, we each have the chance to choose justification over judgment, life over death, heaven over hell. And I pray that as He gives me opportunity, I’ll witness truthfully to our need of a Savior, and Who that Savior is.