Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Gospel: Bolts First

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 1:18-20

When I was in high school I owned an old 1965 GMC pickup. One day, I was driving this truck down a hill in my neighborhood when something cracked in the steering wheel. I quickly realized that my steering wheel no longer controlled which direction my truck went. I was literally spinning the steering wheel to the left while my truck headed steadily toward the curb on the right side of the street. I found out later that there had been two bolts connecting my steering wheel to the steering column. These bolts had slowly eroded over time, and that morning the last remaining thread broke. Now when we think about what a car needs to operate we tend to think of an engine, tires, gasoline, even spark plugs, but not bolts. I never even knew those bolts were there before, yet without those two little, ignored bolts my truck was no good. It couldn't be driven.

In the same way Paul begins his explanation of the gospel with two little known and often ignored truths: 1) Man has rebelled against God and in so doing has suppressed the truth about Him and 2) God feels a righteous wrath towards this rebellion. We don't tend to think about these truths very often. In fact, we may not even be comfortable with the idea that God feels wrath or that we have participated in some sort of mass rebellion against Him. But like those bolts in my steering wheel, without these two truths the gospel simply doesn't work.

That man has rebelled against God is almost undeniable. When we compare what the Bible tells us about what the world was created to be to what the world actually is, it becomes pretty clear that mankind as a whole has turned its back on the Lord. What we tend to deny is our personal role in this rebellion. We may have never been table pounding atheists who organized anti-God events, but each one of us is guilty of rebelling against our Maker. We have each refused to live in accordance with His will and in so doing have suppressed the truth about Him. The Bible often speaks poetically of creation declaring God's glory (e.g. Psalm 19:1). Creation does this merely by being what God created it to be, beautiful and awe-inspiring. We were created to do the same but to a much higher degree. But when we sin, when we refuse to submit to God's authority, we refuse to be what we were created to be. We live as though God does not exist or at the very least that His dominion does not extend into our lives. In this case the old saying, "actions speak louder than words" is true. When we choose sin, it is a declaration to the world of our rebellion against His wishes and His authority.

But is it really acceptable for God to respond with wrath? The surprising answer is yes. When you consider the devastation and pain that sin has caused God's perfect creation, you begin to realize how ungodly a "ho-hum" response from God would be. Consider the Holocaust and all the other atrocities of war throughout human history. Consider the thousands of children who have been sold as sex slaves and all the others who have been raped, molested and abused. Consider all the terrible ways man has invented to kill and torture one another and all those who have suffered greatly by those means. And now, consider your sin and my sin added to these and all the other sins that have been committed since creation. It begins to become clear that for God to have any response other than wrath would be deficient. It would make Him a lesser God.

But why would Paul begin his presentation of the gospel with God's wrath? Why not begin with God's grace or forgiveness? We must understand that God's wrath forms the backdrop for His grace. Without His righteous wrath God's grace means nothing. There can be no forgiveness where no wrong has been committed. It was the righteous anger of God that led to the gracious crucifixion of His Son.

Let us rejoice that even in His wrath our God is full of grace!

For further reading:
   - Psalm 19, 24, 29, & 96
   - Genesis 1-3
   - Isaiah 40:21-31

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