The Goal of Godly Living

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. – Titus 2:11-15 ESV

Older, younger, male, female, Jew, Gentile, free, slave. Paul has addressed them all because the corporate body of Christ included them all. And it was essential that each of them understood their role as citizens of the Kingdom of God, responsible for living out their faith and accurately reflecting their status as His children.

Paul reminds Titus that “the grace of God has appeared” – a direct reference to the incarnation of Jesus. According to the gospel of John, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18 BSB). And Paul told the Colossians, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). Jesus was the tangible, visible expression of God’s grace or unmerited favor, showered on humanity in spite of our sinful, rebellious state.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners… God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 6:6, 8 NLT

God’s grace entered space and time when the Son of God “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 NLT). And the appearance of Jesus made the gracious gift of salvation available to any and all who would accept it.

And now He has revealed this grace through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the gospel… – 2 Timothy 1:10 BSB

The grace of God is non-discriminatory and, as Paul puts it, brings salvation to all people, regardless of their age, race, gender, or cultural status. And when anyone places their faith in Jesus Christ, their relationship with God is changed forever, as they move from being God’s enemy to enjoying the privilege of being called His child. They become forgiven saints rather than condemned sinners. But Paul wants Titus to remember that the gift of salvation does far more than change one’s moral status before God. It provides a means for dramatically altering the believer’s behavior and character. And that has been the whole point of Paul’s letter up to this point.

The grace of God makes new life possible, not just in eternity, but right here and now. Paul emphasizes that the salvation provided by God through faith in Christ empowers the believer “to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures” (Titus 2:12 NLT). God not only declares us to be righteous, but He also provides us the means to live that way. And Paul wanted Titus to take his role as an instructor of God’s people seriously. He had a responsibility to teach those under his care what God expected of them. Their newfound status in Christ was not to be abused or misused. They were not free to live however they wanted to or to follow false teachings that contradicted the will of God.

Paul tasked Titus with the role of teaching the Cretans “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV). There’s that word, “self-controlled” again. Paul will not let it go. He will not allow the believers on Crete to bring shame to the gospel by living lives that contradict the transformative nature of its message. Paul was all about practicality and Monday-morning relevance. He told the believers in Ephesus:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to reckless indiscretion. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. – Ephesians 5:18 BSB

For Paul, belief and behavior were inseparable. And while behavior and actions play no role in salvation, they should be the non-negotiable byproduct of our sanctification. It was James who wrote, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds” (James 2:18 NLT). Our lives, declared righteous by God, should bear the fruit of righteousness.

But in order to live a godly life, one must “renounce ungodliness.” To put it plainly, a believer must deny himself anything that anti-godly. Paul told the believers in Philippi:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8 NLT

And he warned the believers in Ephesus:

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. – Ephesians 5:10-12 NLT

But along with teaching believers to renounce ungodliness, Titus was to instruct them to renounce worldly passions. It would seem that worldly passions are the fruit that grows from the root of ungodliness. When we embrace anything that stands opposed to God, our lives will produce fruit that is unrighteous and reflects our love of the world. Which is why the apostle John warned:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

The believer’s life is to be marked by godliness, not godlessness. His behavior is to reflect the fruit of righteousness, not the works of the flesh. And one of the things that keep us focused on living Christ-like lives is to live with our eyes fixed on His return. The promise of eternity should provide us with a daily reminder that, as John says, this world is fading away. Falling in love with this world makes no sense when we have our hearts and minds fixed on the hope of future glory.

Paul reminds Titus that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14 ESV). He didn’t sacrifice His life so that we might continue to live as we did before. His death was meant to provide us with abundant life right here, right now. And the day is coming when He will return and fulfill His promise of eternal life. So, we are to live with the end in mind.

Godliness is not some future state reserved for us in heaven. It is available to all who are in Christ even as we live in this fallen world. Godliness is not only attainable, it is non-negotiable. It is to be the life-long goal of each and every child of God. And Paul consistently challenged his young sons in the faith to make present godliness their highest priority as they waited for the return of Christ.

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you… – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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One With Christ.

But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:17-20 ESV

The Corinthians were not taking their union with Christ seriously. Because of the dualistic approach to life, they seemed to believe that what they did with their bodies really didn’t matter. This led them to look on any sins they committed with their bodies as somehow separated from their spiritual lives. You can see the logic behind their thinking in the phrase, “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV). This was a common expression used by the Corinthians to excuse their behavior. And it had led them to commit all kinds of sin with impunity, including sexual sin. The very fact that they had refused to deal with the man in their church who was having sexual relations with his stepmother shows how skewed their thinking had become. But Paul is out to confront and correct their improper views of the body and its relationship with sin.

Paul commands them to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18a ESV). He uses the Greek word, φεύγω (pheugō), which means “seek safety by flight or to escape safely out of danger” (“G5343 – pheugō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is the same word he used when writing to Timothy. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV). Paul had been warning Timothy about those who have an “unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:4-5 ESV). Paul warned Timothy to flee from these things. Instead, he was to διώκω (diōkō) righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. The word Paul used means “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after” (“G1377 – diōkō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is not enough to simply run from something. We must also run to something else. But if the Corinthians would not see sexual sin as wrong and dangerous to their spiritual well-being, they were going to continue in it. That was unacceptable to Paul.

So he attempts to paint a vivid picture of the dangers of sexual sin, by emphasizing that every other sin a person commits is “outside the body,” while sexual immorality is a sin “against” the body. The word he uses is a Greek preposition that is most often translated “into.” There is a physical union that takes place in sexual sin unlike any other sin. There is no doubt that all sin requires the use of my body. In order to lie or slander, the tongue is necessary. In order to steal, the hands and feet must be used. To murder another human being requires the mind to plan it and the body to carry out that plan. And while these sins are no less serious than sexual immorality, Paul’s point is that there is a difference. Sexual immorality is a blatant sin against the body, and that body, Paul stresses “is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God” (1 Corinthians 6:19b NLT).

As followers of Christ, we enjoy a mystical, but real union with Him. His Spirit lives within us. We take Him with us wherever we go. Paul told the Colossians, “Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory” (Colossians 1:27 NLT). And so, there is a sense that when someone commits sexual sin with his or her body, they are dragging Christ into that experience. Paul asks the Corinthians, “don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her?” (1 Corinthians 6:16a NLT). There is an intimacy and interconnection established. Which is what led Paul to ask, “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute?” (1 Corinthians 6:15 NLT). And just to clear up any possible confusion, Paul’s provides the correct answer: “Never!”

For Paul, union with Christ was an essential doctrine that needed to be understood and made a part of the believer’s daily life. John Murray wrote that “union with Christ is . . . the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. . . . It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption” (Redemption – Accomplished and Applied, Eerdmans, 1955, pp. 201, 205). We are one with Christ. We share His identity. We are progressively being transformed into His likeness. We not only share in His death and resurrection, and all that those things imply, we share in His righteousness. We have the capacity to live like Christ in this lifetime. The very same power that raised Him from the dead lives within us and is available to us. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV). He went on to emphasize their oneness with Christ:

 In him we have redemption through his blood – vs 7

In him we have obtained an inheritance – vs 11

In him you also … were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit – vs 13

We are in Christ. We are one with Christ. Sexual sin uses the body that belongs to Christ and re-purposes it for immorality. It takes what God has bought with the precious blood of His Son, our body, and uses it for ungodly purposes. And in so doing, we degrade and desecrate the very temple of God. Which is why Paul ends this section with a call to “honor God with you body.” Why? Because “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT). We belong to God – body and soul. Your body is no longer yours to do with as you want. It is the temple of God’s Spirit and is to be used to bring God glory and honor. As Paul reminds us, “give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable” (Romans 12:1 NLT).

God-lessness Leads To Ungodliness.

A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast. I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field.– Hosea 12:7-11 ESV

The people of Israel lived a lie. They seriously thought they were able to pull the wool over the eyes of God, that He was somehow ignorant of their sinfulness. They even believed that their many blessings, in the form of wealth, power, abundant crops, and growing families, were a sign of God’s approval of them. Yet, like a dishonest grain merchant who cheats his customers by using rigged scales, the Israelites were guilty of deceit and dishonesty. They simply saw themselves as clever and resourceful, and they believed their success was a sign of God’s approval. They prided themselves on their wealth and arrogantly believed their sins were somehow hidden and undetectable by others.

Like so many Christians today, the Israelites saw their material abundance and wealth as a sign of God’s approval. They believed their affluence could be directly attributed to God and His pleasure with them. But they were in for a rude awakening. God was about to radically re-align their perspective. They were going to go from living lives of abundance and wealth to abject poverty. They would find themselves living in tents just like their ancestors had done while slaves in the land of Egypt. No more plush, comfortable homes. Gone would be the days of sumptuous clothes and delicious meals. Once a year, at the Feast of Booths, the Israelites would build temporary shelters made from branches in order to commemorate the years their ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness. Now they were going to experience what it was like to live in these shanties 365 days out of the year. Their sudden fall from grace would be a rude awakening, shattering their ill-conceived notion that affluence was somehow a sign of God’s approval.

God had sent His prophets, and they had warned the people to repent or face His coming judgment. They had had visions, spoken in parables, and repeatedly pleaded with the people to hear what they were saying and return to the Lord. But the people had rejected their messages and, in some cases, killed the messengers. Even Jesus declared of the city of David, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 ESV). The people of Israel were unwilling to return to God. They had stubbornly refused His prophets, rejected their message, and remained committed to living life on their own terms. But God warned, “they shall surely come to nothing” (Hosea 12:11 ESV). Their altars to false gods would become like heaps of stones lying at the side of a plowed field. Their entire way of life was going to come to an end. Everything they put their faith and hope in – their wealth, material assets, false gods, fruitful fields, prolific families, and foreign alliances – would prove unreliable and no longer be available.

Ungodliness is essentially God-lessness. It is attempting to live your life with God removed from the center of it. It is the result of refusing to include Him in every area of life, of not giving Him access to and influence over the everyday affairs of life. When we convince ourselves that God doesn’t care about what we watch on TV, what we purchase with our money, how we spend our time, or where we place our hopes, we become ungodly. That doesn’t mean that everything we do is immoral or sinful. It simply means that God becomes less and less an influence over the everyday decisions of life. Our lives become essentially God-less. And it doesn’t take long for a God-less life to manifest itself in godless decisions and ungodly behavior. The Israelites had long ago left God out of the everyday mix of life. He had become an afterthought. He was their god in name only. They gave Him lip-service but not heart-allegiance. They wanted His blessings, but not His influence over their lives. As God declared through the prophet Isaiah:

These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

God went on to declare:

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their evil deeds in the dark! “The Lord can’t see us,” they say. “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

God-lessness can take the form of us deliberately leaving God out of our lives or simply assuming He is oblivious to what is going on. But any thought on our part that God does not care or that we can keep Him in the dark is misguided and, ultimately, dangerous. God wants to be engaged and involved in every area of our lives. But when we deliberately decide to leave Him out, our decision making will become God-less and our lives will gravitate toward ungodliness. And while we may experience what appears to be success and enjoy what feels like happiness, we will soon discover that abundance, without God, is actually poverty. Happiness, apart from God, will only result in misery. The call of Jesus to the church in Laodicea applies to many of us today:

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” – Revelation 3:17-19 NLT

God judges. God justifies.

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. – Romans 2:12-16 ESV

For Paul, sin is ultimately unrighteousness. It is man’s inability to live up to God’s righteous standard. Earlier, in chapter one, Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed form heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). The unrighteous behavior of men, their refusal to live according to God’s divine requirements, suppresses the truth regarding who God is and what His expectations are for mankind. God created man to live in a right relationship with Him, in fellowship, enjoying unbroken companionship and walking in step with God’s revealed will. But man chose to do what was un-right. He chose to sin against God’s commands and take the direction of his life into his own hands. Eve believed the lie of the enemy and did what God had commanded her not to do, and her husband willingly followed her lead. And since that fateful day, men and women have continued to live unrighteously and ungodly, apart from God’s will. And as far as God in concerned, that includes all men, whether they had been given the Mosaic law or not. Paul makes it clear that both Jews and Gentiles stand before God as unrighteous. The Gentiles, or those “who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law” (Romans 2:12 ESV). They are without excuse, because they “show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it” (Romans 2:14 NLT). All men instinctively know right from wrong. All cultures have laws or accepted moral standards against murder, cheating, stealing and a host of other “sins.” Paul says, “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Romans 2:15 NLT).

But the Jews are just as, if not more so, culpable. They have been given the law of God. God wrote it down on tablets of stone. He clearly articulated His righteous standards and requirements for morally acceptable behavior. He showed them exactly what was necessary to live righteous and godly lives. And Paul says, “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12 ESV). They will be judged by what they know but, ultimately, by what they do. “For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight” (Romans 2:13 NLT). The Jews had the law, but couldn’t keep it. They knew what was expected of them, but were incapable of living up to God’s righteous standards. So their lives were marked by unrighteousness, in spite of the fact that they had the law. The Gentiles were also condemned as unrighteous, because they couldn’t live up to the law of God written on their hearts – “their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Romans 2:15 NLT).

So what’s the point? What is Paul trying to tell us? Remember, he is addressing the gospel of God in this letter. Paul is attempting to explain the divine nature of God’s redemptive plan for mankind – “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). The kind of righteousness God demands, Paul tells us, is only available through faith. It is not achievable through our own efforts, because as the Jews and Gentiles have clearly proven, no one can live up to the righteous demands of a holy God. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). Man inherently knows what is right. It is wired into his system. He knows instinctively what it is he should do and how he should live, but he lacks the ability to pull it off. It isn’t that he unaware of God’s expectations, it is that he is unable to live up to them. Later on in this same letter, Paul writes, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature” (Romans 8:3a NLT). Even when God gave the Jews His perfect, holy law, eliminating all doubt about what His expectations might be, they could not pull it off, because of their sinful natures. But here’s the good news: “So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3b NLT). That is Paul’s point. That is the thesis of his entire letter. God did for man what man could not do for himself. He provided a means by which man could be justified, made right, with Him. And without faith in the saving work of the Son of God, no man, either Jew or Gentile, will be able to stand before God on the day of judgment. Their sins will condemn them. Even their most righteous acts will fail to measure up. The prophet Isaiah puts it bluntly. “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). But again, Paul always balances the bad news with the good news. “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 5:21 ESV). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25 ESV). We are made right with God, we are justified before a holy God, not based on our own human effort, but because of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. And it is our faith in Him, not in our works, that leads to our salvation.

The Wrath of God.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. – Romans 1:18-20 ESV

In verse 17, Paul states that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God from faith for faith. That word, “reveals” in the Greek is apokalyptō and it means to make known what was once hidden. So Paul is saying that the way to achieve righteousness, which was at one time hidden or unknown to men, is through faith. Faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. That is why he says, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). This new or formerly hidden means to getting right with God was revealed through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, through the gospel. Now, in verse 18, Paul unveils another once-hidden mystery. The gospel also revealed the wrath of God. He states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” In the gospel, the good news regarding salvation through Jesus Christ, we also see the wrath of God poured out. Jesus’ excruciating death on the cross is both a picture of God’s love and wrath – at the same time. Isaiah, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, wrote of the coming Messiah:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Peter referred to this passage when he wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). The full extend of God’s hatred of sin was revealed on the cross. The innocent died for the guilty. The sinless One had to pay the price for the sinful. God died for the godless. In order for men to be made right with God, He had to pay the ultimate price and sacrifice His own Son. Jesus came to die. His death was the only means by which the wrath of God could be satisfied, the sins of man could be forgiven and righteousness could be achieved. Later on in this same letter, Paul asks a somewhat rhetorical question: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:22-24 ESV). God would have been completely just and right if He had chosen to destroy all mankind, because all men are guilty of having rebelled against Him. They were all vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. But instead, God chose to pour out His wrath on His own Son, in order that men might be saved from destruction. Some have described that idea as divine child abuse. They struggle with the idea that God would kill His own Son, even though it was for a good cause – to redeem millions upon millions of people. But God knew what man couldn’t know – that a restored relationship with Him was impossible without His help. Man could never live up to God’s righteous standard. Man was totally incapable of producing the kind of righteousness God required. That’s why Jesus told His followers, “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). That statement from the lips of Jesus did not come across as good news to His audience. It sounded like mission: impossible. But that was His point. Their righteousness was going to have to come from a source other than themselves. It was going to have to be the righteousness of God that had been revealed from heaven in the form of Jesus Christ.

But while the gospel is good news, you can’t have good news without bad news. And the bad news is that God hates sin and has to punish it. He cannot tolerate or overlook sin. Mankind is inherently ungodly and unrighteous, and in their state of unrighteousness, they suppress or hold back the truth. This doesn’t mean they in some way restrain or the truth of God, but their actions deny the reality of the holiness of God and His expectation that His creation reflect that holiness. Paul goes on to say that they are without excuse. God has revealed Himself to them through His creation – “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20 ESV). The very existence of idols throughout the history of mankind lends credence to Paul’s statement. The human race has always recognized the existence of a greater power outside of our everyday experience. Men reveal the reality of God in their built-in need to worship someone or something. Martin Luther writes, “This demonstrates that there was in their hearts a knowledge of a divine sovereign being. How else could they have ascribed to a stone, or to the deity represented by stone, divine attributes, had they not been convinced that such qualities really belong to God!” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans).

So man is without excuse. But man is not without hope. While the full extent of God’s wrath was revealed on the cross and poured out on His Son, His love was also made known. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). God’s wrath was satisfied by Jesus. But men must accept God’s gift of His Son. They must rely on the payment made by Jesus to provide for them the righteousness they could never earn on their own. But John goes on to tell us the sad, but true reality. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). Men can choose to accept the love of God or remain under the wrath of God. He has provided a way of escape. But all men must choose to accept or reject it.