Author: Ron Graham
The Severity of God
—Grace and wrath
In the visions which John was given, Christ is portrayed as a powerful warrior king. Upon his white steed, he "treads the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty" (Revelation 19:11-21).
It is not a popular picture, this vision of our Lord as a God of fury, wrath, and fire. We hear much (as well we should) of the grace and kindness of our LORD. But we hear too little of the other side. The Scriptures treat both sides of divine nature —grace AND wrath.
We are encouraged to "Behold the goodness and severity of God" (Romans 11:22).
1 Living in the Fear of God
Our thoughts, and our ways, should reflect both the mercy and the vengeance of God.
- We should reflect God’s mercy by clothing ourselves with "a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another, tender hearted, and forgiving one another" (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:8, Colossians 3:12-14).
- We should reflect God’s wrath by obeying him " with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). The realisation that " it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:27,31) ought to make us tremble. To remember God’s kindness, but forget his severity, is to live in a fool’s paradise of false religion.
2 Living by the Lessons of Ages Past
David, in his relationship with Bathsheba, experienced both the kindness and severity of God. The story is told in Second Samuel chapters eleven and twelve.
When David slowly became convicted, "I have sinned against the Lord", he was told of God’s kindness: "The Lord has caused your sin to pass away; you shall not die".
But then David received the terrible blow: "However... the child that is born to you shall surely die". The Lord struck the precious child, and regardless of all David’s pleading with God, in spite of all his fasting and weeping, he was told, alas, "The child is dead" (2Samuel 12:13-14).
There, do you see? The severity of God!
3 Living with Greater Fear in This Age
There is a view that the period of the old covenant was characterised by the severity of God, whilst the period of the new covenant is characterised by the grace of God. Not so.
It is true that God’s merciful grace is greater in these latter days than even the great grace he showed in times past. But the corollary is not that his severity is lessened. Quite the opposite: his severity also is greater now.
The more the sun rises, the more severe its heat becomes. With greater grace there comes greater severity. "Anyone who set aside the law of Moses, died without mercy ... how much more severe a punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God?" (Hebrews 10:29).
Clearly, the severity of God is more to be feared under Christ than it was under "the times of ignorance" (Acts 17:30-31).
4 Living in Fear to Ensure Our Salvation
What effect should beholding the severity of God have upon us? What is the point of the "fear and trembling" ? This is answered in Hebrews 2:1-3. "For this reason, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it". The more we fear God, the more notice we will take of him.
How much attention are you paying to the word of Christ? Are you just drifting in the comfort of his grace, unmindful of his severity, and therefore not listening intently to every word that proceeds out of his mouth? We know that his word is his sharp sword by which he will smite all who have not given to him "the more earnest heed". (Hebrews 2:1, Hebrews 4:11-16, Revelation 1:16, Revelation 19:15-16).
It is in fear and trembling that you "work out your own salvation" (Philippians 2:12).
Peter beautifully summarises how the severity and the goodness of God work together in our hearts. "If you address as Father the One who impartially passes judgment according to each man’s work, then conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your journey through this life, knowing that you were redeemed... with the precious blood as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ" (1Peter 1:17-19).