Today’s Daily Light:
Over the course of this week, we will read an article by Owen Strachan: You Can Anger God But Not Lose Him
Owen Strachan is the author of Awakening the Evangelical Mind and The Pastor as Public Theologian (with Kevin Vanhoozer). A systematic theology professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he is the director of the Center for Public Theology and hosts the City of God podcast. He is writing a Jonathan Edwards devotional (Tyndale House) and a theological anthropology (B&H Academic).
There is something about fatherly anger that unsettles. My own father was a good man and gentle in the right ways. Decades later, though, I can recall a flash of very early memory crystallized after disobedience on my part. The edges of my recollections are blurry, but there is anger there, just and raw. My childhood was not full of such moments. When needed, however, my father’s anger rose up. My fear rose with it.
This experience leads to a question that bears on our evangelical spirituality: Is it appropriate to suggest that God, our father, grows upset, even angry, over the sins of his justified children?
The Beauty of Gospel-Centered Spirituality
Some today have suggested that because of our regeneration, adoption, and justification, God looks on his children with unbroken favor. Nothing we do, goes the line, can change God’s affection for us. This view is grounded in what theologians call a positional understanding of our salvation. As Martin Luther put it, our savior, Jesus Christ, has transacted by his death and life the “sweet exchange.” He took our sin and gave us his righteousness. We stand justified in him.
I love Luther’s metaphor for justification, and it is my contention that the contemporary view is largely correct. Jesus used positional language in a typically visceral style when he said of those given him by God that “no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29). Because God’s grace overwhelms our sin, we are held fast by our Savior. We are “in him,” as the apostle Paul said (Eph. 1:11), possessing union with Christ and all his merit.
The Best Father You Know
Is God, though, indifferent to our sin following our conversion? Is he something like a smiling, benevolent grandfather who executed all the hard work a generation ago?
I would suggest that the Lord is more like the best father you know, active, engaged, eminently fair, righteously opposing sin, and relentlessly gracious. Consider the example of David following his consummation of adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11-12). David’s horrible sin resulted in the most cathartic act of repentance in the Scriptures, a catharsis left bare for all to see in Psalm 51. Because in God’s grace David responded to God’s anger toward his sin with repentance, David stands as the anti-Judas. Like the entrepreneur-traitor, David sinned in a catastrophic way. Unlike the profiteer, David repented.
In the midst of all this, God registered divine dissatisfaction with David: “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27). The text’s terse description of the suffering of David’s sin chills the blood of any parent: “the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick” (2 Sam. 11:15). God acts justly in the face of our sin. This “just justice,” as we might call it, includes displeasure and tangible distress.
David, we note, was justified in God’s sight just like we are (see Gen. 15:6). Yet we see here that continual repentance for sin is called for (and seems nonsensical if God takes no notice of post-conversion transgressions). This is why, as Wayne Grudem has pointed out in For the Fame of God’s Name, when praying the Lord’s prayer we ask for forgiveness of our sins (Matt. 6:12; Luke 11:4). Our post-conversion sins displease God. We pray for power over them so that we will “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” whom Paul notes sealed the Ephesian Christians “for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).
At this point we might mention that God does not look upon his sinning children with wrath. The Davidic episode shows, though, that our on-the-ground decisions and actions matter to God and draw a response from him. God’s punitive response to sin is aimed at restoration and renewal. The Lord disciplined David, the man after his own heart, as one he loved, and so David could cry out, “blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Psalm 32:2, quoted by Paul in Rom. 4:8 to demonstrate the beauty of justification). God does the same for all his children (see Prov. 3:12; Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19).
Father…this week, help us to more seriously regard our sin ‘so that’ we don’t waste so much time and spin our wheels ‘so that’ we live more mindful of what you desire and less about what we think we desire. Amen
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