The depth of our sin and the wrath of God against sin is not popular teaching. Some say God is only love, and that love does not get angry at sin or that Jesus died so we could be forgiven and just get on with loving God and serving others. His death had nothing to do with appeasing God’s wrath or with being a substitute for sinners who should die because of sin.
However, if the wrath of God against sin is taken out of the Gospel, then there is no need for reconciliation. God can just ignore our sin as if it does not matter, leaving us with no model to show us how to deal with our disputes against each other.
Without God’s wrath against sin, we do not need to be made new creatures. We can stay as we are and even cut out these verses from the Bible: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
Our sin remains in our ledger, and we have no message to give others that will clear their sin and change their lives. Instead of being ambassadors for Christ through which God makes His appeal, we are left with watered-down statements of what Christ has done. We cannot implore anyone on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. Nor can we say, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16–21)
Besides the wrath of God, justification by faith is also being excluded from the gospel message. This too is an important part of it, even the core of God’s good news. He says, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
If I cannot be justified by faith, then I default to a constant striving to ignore God or please Him. This fills me with pride and self-righteousness, or with hopeless despair. Striving and despair are not in the Gospel. Justification by faith is the good news, the good news rediscovered in the Reformation, and the good news that produces rejoicing and hope.
Not only that, this reality enables me to “rejoice in (my) sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put (me) to shame, because God’s love has been poured into (my) heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to me.” Outrageous, but good news – life changes because God changes me.
Further, Christ died in my place. The idea of substitutionary death cannot be removed from the gospel either. Without it, there is no salvation: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:1–10, some personalized)
Without reconciliation by His death, He cannot present me “holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” (Colossians 1:22) nor give me “the ministry of reconciliation.” That means, just as in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, He entrusts me with the same message. I and all who are justified are “ambassadors for Christ” and He is “making his appeal through us.” We are God’s workmanship and His workers. Life is eternally meaningful!
Without the depth of sin, the wrath of God, the substitutionary death of Christ and the reality of justification by faith, I cannot implore anyone on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18–20) or invite them into abundant and eternal life.
Without the full truth of the Gospel, Christians cannot settle their differences by being willing to follow the same pattern of loving sacrifice. This is extremely important. Jesus said we are to love one another because it marks us as His people, as those who are a new creation: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)