Every couple of weeks I receive an envelope inside is a pay stub. A worthless piece of paper. I can’t take it to the bank and cash it. But it is proof of a deposit that has happened behind the scenes; money magically moving from one bank account to another account in another bank. It’s not a gift. Those dollars have been earned. Having fulfilled my commitment to my employer they are morally, ethically, and contractually obligated, to pay me the agreed upon amount. I received something because I deserved it.
The habit of thinking that we deserve something worms its way into our relationship with God. Well, there is a kind of truth in that, we do deserve something from God. It’s just not what we think. There is an attribute of God’s revealed character that is often ignored. We tuck it away in a dark closet like the wedding gift from Aunt Jennie. While God is love, grants mercy, and gives graciously, He is also just and will execute His wrath. Isaiah paints this picture, “I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment. “For the day of vengeance was in My heart, And My year of redemption has come.” (Isaiah 63:3–4, NASB95) Isaiah’s vision is later amplified in Revelation 19:11-16 where we are given a picture of Jesus that is quite different from that of the Gospels. You see, we do deserve something from God, we all deserve to fall under His wrath. Paul reminds us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We don’t like to think about that, but what if we did?
There is a commonly recounted scene about evangelist D.L. Moody. He was an effective ambassador for Christ that touched many lives. One website recounts it this way. “When he was in London during one of his famous evangelistic tours, several British clergymen visited him. They wanted to know how and why this poorly educated American was so effective in winning throngs of people to Christ. Moody took the three men to the window of his hotel room and asked each in turn what he saw. One by one, the men described the people in the park below. Then Moody looked out the window with tears rolling down his cheeks. ‘What do you see, Mr. Moody?’ asked one of the men. ‘I see countless thousands of souls that will one day spend eternity in hell if they do not find the Savior.’” (https://bible.org/node/13088)
We may think that we deserve all kinds of things from God. That, in some way God owes us a good life, health, family, wealth, purpose, and happiness. The only thing we deserve from God is His judgment and wrath because of our sin. It is His mercy and grace, through the death of Jesus, that opens the door to God’s love, forgiveness, and life. The wrath we deserved was laid on Jesus, the love Jesus enjoyed is offered to us as a gift.
A word to the Church: God’s grace and mercy become meaningless when we ignore God’s just wrath as if it were an embarrassment. But neither are we agents of God’s wrath, ready to mercilessly pounce on any misdemeanor. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation, speaking God’s truth in love.