We have seen in our previous article that the world is not enviable to us because of the corruption that is manifest in their life. In the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, casting up mire and dirt.”
We have to add to this the fact that this horrible filth makes the wicked worthy of God’s terrible judgments. Sin is a transgression of the law of God and makes one guilty before God. The thought of God’s punishing sin fills one with terror. It should drive us all the more to the cross of Jesus.
God is a God of law.
This law is not simply a code for human conduct which God enforces throughout history. Human law is this way. The states have a code for criminal behavior. That code spells out what is to be considered wrong conduct. Very carefully, usually through court decisions dealing with precedent cases, the law distinguishes between degrees of crime. The code spells out the difference between misdemeanors and felonies. Along with such a distinction, the code also specifies what kind of penalty fits each crime. Lesser crimes have parole and fines; more severe crimes have imprisonment and even death. The system of justice must determine whether a person committed a crime, which crime, and apply the proper penalty to him for it. This is justice under our penal system.
With God, however, this is somewhat different. God’s law is not simply a code for determining wrong; it is positively a way of life. There are two sides to God’s law. The positive side is the one in which God comes to us and dwells with us as God in loving kindness and tender mercy. The negative side is the one in which God deals with those who step out of bounds and reject Him and therefore become the objects of His terrible wrath.
Let’s illustrate this a moment. God has placed within the realm of nature His laws. There is a law for the bird in that it must fly through the air, it breathes air, it is free to fly and to sit among the branches. There is also a law for the fish. That law is very different. The fish must draw its life from the water, it has freedom to swim to great depths, to eat vegetation or animal life within the water. Both animals have a law that binds them. There is a positive side and a negative side. The positive side is that the success of the bird is to fly and enjoy the freedom of the air and to sing among the branches. The freedom of the fish is to swim in the sea. The negative side is that each must stay within the proper boundaries. If the fish should say (as we imagine) I don’t like it here anymore, I want to be with the birds, and it decides to jump out of the water; or if a fisherman should catch one and throw it on the shore, it flaps about a bit and soon it gasps its last and dies. The same is true for the bird. It can’t decide to live in the water—that is out, of bounds. If a naughty boy catches a bird and thrusts it under the water, it soon dies. There is a positive and negative side to God’s law for every creature.
This is also true spiritually for us, as we think on God’s law. The positive side of God’s law is that we are to love Him with all our soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. This is what God says to us in the moral law of the ten commandments (Exodus 20), and what Christ also summarized for us inMatt. 27:37-39. That is not simply a code for conduct, it is a sphere of life. Within the law of God we enjoy blessed covenant favor with God and with one another. This is what God intended with the creation. He made man able to function within the sphere of His law. As long as man lives according to God’s law, there is perfect harmony and peace. The joys of the covenant are expressed in loving kindness.
There is also the negative side of that law. God warned Adam and Eve, and everyone after them, that if they step out of bounds and transgress that law, they will forfeit the benefits of His loving kindness and will become subject to His terrible curse and judgment. That is the negative side.
The Bible speaks often of such transgression. “Fools because of their iniquities are afflicted,” Psalm 107:17. “The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again,” Isaiah 24:20. To speak more personally, the child of God recognizes sin as transgression and therefore prays, “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgression: and my sin is ever before me,” Psalm 51:2, 3.
When we look at sin, we must realize that all sin bears a terrible consequence. It is not so that God looks up in His code book to see what penalty he has affixed to certain evil deeds. Far worse, all transgressions, even the very first one which was “only eating fruit that was forbidden” bears the terrible penalty of death, everlasting death!
One trembles to think of the meaning of this.
God’s righteousness demands that His law be maintained. The sentence of death hangs over the whole universe ever since the first transgression. Who can begin to understand the implications of death. It is brought forth by the wrath of the Righteous God against man’s disobedience. That wrath is not an emotional outburst of power; it is His hot displeasure to deal justly with those who oppose Him.
This punishment of death ultimately leads to hell. Little wonder that the truth of hell is rejected today in increasing measure. Somehow the wrong emphasis on God’s love is incompatible with hell. Yet, that truth is important, for sin committed: against the eternal God bears everlasting punishment. The penalty is commensurate with the crime and the crime is determined also by the one against whom it is committed. The justice of God demands that one who steps out of bounds from God will receive everlasting death.
The Bible describes hell in such terms. It speaks of the tire burning but never consuming (Luke 3:17), of worms eating but never devouring, (Mark 9:47, 48), of falling into a pit and never reaching the bottom, (Rev. 20:3). The idea is that hell is conscious, unending torment of body and soul before the God of wrath.
We find a picture of hell within the chronicles of history when we turn to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The holocaust of fire and brimstone must etch upon the mind of all men the sure fact that Jehovah is righteous in judgment.
This visitation of God upon the wickedness of men is not reserved entirely for death and the end of the world. God already now visits the wicked with such judgment. Do not the plagues upon Pharaoh and Egypt demonstrate this? We read in Rom. 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The Psalmist expresses it this way: “The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids, try, the children of men. The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright,” Psalm 11:4-7. Solomon adds, “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked; but he blesseth the habitation of the just,” Prov. 3:33.
Sometimes this isn’t so evident. As we noted in our last article, even Asaph envied the wicked, for it seemed as if their prosperity was greater, until he realized in God’s house that even that prosperity was a curse to them. Then again it is very evident. According :to the book of Revelation, Christ sends for the red horse of war, the black horse of famine, the pale horse of death as judgments upon the wicked in order that through these disturbances the white horse of the gospel may ride victoriously. Surely, such judgments in history indicate that even though the ungodly strive to build up Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots (and they will apparently succeed with the kingdom of Anti-Christ for a time), all this shall ultimately fail, for, according to Revelation 18, the merchants throw dirt upon their heads and mourn, crying out, Babylon is fallen, is fallen! As God disturbs them now, so He will ultimately destroy by fire all the wicked and their so-called achievements.
Considering this truth, how can we possibly envy the world? Oh yes, they seem to have so much fun and. are so carefree, but they pine away under the wrath of God. They are fools in their folly, sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.
Well may we tremble.
Rather than envy them, we do well to evaluate our position in relation to them.
Consider Lot of whom we read, “For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds,” II Peter 2:8. It is further explained that he did this because, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished,” verse 9.
Do you vex your soul from day to day?
That’s quite different from envying them.
Furthermore, the inspired apostle adds later, “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Wherefore beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless,” II Peter 3:11, 12.
If we really stop to think of who the wicked are and that they are the objects of God’s judgment for time and eternity, we must conclude that they are not our friends. We do not find pleasure in their company, we cannot be imitators of their lifestyle, we cannot laugh at their jokes, we cannot be entertained by their iniquity. Rather, we separate ourselves from them and testify against them.
God’s judgment upon them causes us to be humble.
By nature we are no different.
By grace we are transformed into a new and holy life.
To this we will direct our attention next time, the Lord willing.