As you can imagine, we get a lot of questions about what it means to live as a child of God. We go from being a rebel against the King to becoming a child of the King. So how does God’s disposition toward us change? And specifically, is God angry at his children when they sin? It’s a question from a listener named Kathleen.
“Pastor John, hello! As a born-again believer, is God still angry at me when I sin? I believe God’s wrath is real, and I have embraced Christ’s propitiation for my sins. But I struggle to understand the difference between God’s wrath and anger over my sin before and after my justification. I personally hate my own sin and want to be done with it all. But for now, does Christ’s death for my sins and subsequent propitiation mean that God is never angry at me when I sin? Or just that his final wrath on me was satisfied? What is God’s affectional disposition toward me, in Christ, when I stumble and sin in my life right now?”
It might be possible to put in a sentence or two the complex affectional disposition of God toward his children in this age. But it seems to me that such an effort does less than what the Scriptures actually do when we read them regarding God’s disposition toward us.
It gives some help to try to synthesize those words; I do this all the time. That’s what preaching and theology is: the effort to make sense out of all the passages of the Bible. But when it comes down to it early in the morning, late at night, when we need some word of truth and firmness and helpfulness and encouragement, it isn’t so much the syntheses that have power in our lives, but the very words of God himself in Scripture. So let me do both, but really put the emphasis on the Scriptures.
Disciplined, Not Condemned
Let me say just a short word of synthesis and then refer Kathleen to the very specific passages of Scripture. Here’s my synthesis:
God’s punitive anger — that is, his punishing or condemning anger — is completely absorbed by Christ when he died. He became a curse for us. He bore our sin. But God may still be angry and displeased and grieved toward his beloved children in a disciplinary sense rather than a condemning sense.
Let’s put it positively:
Before we were believers, we could not please God. “Without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6). Before, we could not please God. We were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Now that we are believers, we do please God, and he feels great delight in us as his children.
Our Happy God
That’s my synthesis of what I see. Let me turn now to specific Scriptures so that these can just sink in. Let’s start with the fundamental truth that God is a very happy God in providing gospel hope to sinners.
In 1 Timothy 1:11, Paul refers to the “gospel of the glory of the blessed [or happy] God.” We just have to be sure that we rid our minds of a gloomy picture of God, whose Son somehow finagled a way for us to sneak into heaven, and now we must stay out of his way lest he slap us around like maybe our father did. We need to be done with thoughts that God is disinclined to save sinners.
Luke 15, over and over, like four times, talks about gladness. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). We know it’s talking not just about angels throwing a party, but God himself, because in the parable of the prodigal son, that’s in fact what he does. He runs out. He grabs his son, hugs him, throws a party, and says, “Come on, come on, older son. He’s home, he’s alive!” I mean, this father is just oozing gladness, not begrudging, as if he is saying, “I guess I have to save my son who wrecked all my property.” It’s just not like that.
Grieved Over Sin
He does hate sin. I mean, we’re not going to gloss over that. God hates sin, including mine — my regenerate, John Piper sinning. God hates sin, not only because it dishonors him, but because it damages me. Sin damages us, Christians.
“God is a very happy God in providing gospel hope to sinners.”
Ephesians 4:30 says that we can grieve God with our sin. And 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says we can quench his Spirit with our sin. It’s plain from 1 Thessalonians 4:1 that some behaviors please God and some behaviors displease God.
Probably the most important text on feeling the tension and getting it right is Hebrews 12:5: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:5–6). This is what is hard for us to feel when we’re being disciplined, because the discipline here is physical suffering at least (it may be other things as well). We know it is physical suffering because he said, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4). We know what kinds of things he’s talking about. He then concludes, “[God] chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).
Then he goes to quote a proverb, starting in verse 10: “[God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10–11).
Loved with Great Love
Here’s what we have to affirm and see in these texts. In and through and under all of this grieving and quenching and displeasing and the resulting discipline, we must not lose sight of the following texts. So let me just read them, They’re glorious. Bathe in these.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). That is gone; it’s over. No guilt, no condemnation, no punishment. Christ took it all.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us [which he is one hundred percent], who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32). God is bent on giving us everything that is good for us.
Here is Ephesians 2:4–5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love [that’s the only place in the apostle Paul where that phrase, great love, is used] with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” If you’re alive in Jesus — which means, if your heart is alive to Jesus, loving Jesus, trusting Jesus — he has great love for you, and that’s the evidence of it.
Here is my favorite gospel Psalm: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Here it gets really tender and sweet: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:10–13).
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Can you hear God singing? No, you cannot because you don’t have glorified ears yet, and you wouldn’t be able to take it. You think thunder is loud.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Oh, I love that verse. Your Father, little flock, he’s a Father, he’s a Shepherd, he’s a King. He’s not merely giving us the kingdom. He’s loving to give us the kingdom. He’s finding good pleasure in giving us the kingdom.
“God will restore us and bring us unfailingly to an eternity with no grieving him anymore.”
Here’s Psalm 147:10: “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:10–11). The reason I think that’s precious is because you might say, “Well, I’ve got strong legs; I can run. Why isn’t God delighting in my strength?
This text is written for the last hour of your life, man. I mean, you’re going to have no legs. You’re going to be lying in a bed. You’re going to weigh 85 pounds. You’re going to be in a diaper. You’re going to be breathing through your mouth and you’re going to be wishing you were dead. In that moment, nothing is required of you but hope for him to delight in you at that moment. That’s good news. That is really, really good news for helpless people. All of us are going to be helpless sooner or later.
The last text is one of my favorite new-covenant promises, Jeremiah 32:40–41: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”
Contempt Versus Disapproval
Maybe I can offer one last summary word that might help put God’s displeasure with our sinning together with his delight in us as his children. Even though God is displeased when we sin, he never looks on us with contempt.
I remember talking to a woman some time ago who was struggling with feeling the affections of God because of a sense of continual disapproval. When I introduced the distinction between the disapproval of the behavior of one you love and contempt for one you find disgusting, something clicked in her mind. Maybe this would help you as well.
He never looks upon us with contempt because he’s always for us, never against us. He will always restore us and bring us unfailingly to an eternity where there will be no grieving him, no quenching him, no displeasing him anymore.