[M]odern evangelism begins with, “God loves you and wants to make you happy.” Read the literature of the user-friendly movement and you’ll notice a preoccupation with conveying every message in a positive tone…

[But] there is no way to synthesize the truth about God’s wrath with a positive-only presentation of the gospel. There is no way to declare the truth about God’s wrath to an unbelieving sinner in an “optimistic” tone.

As a result, the gospel preached in these [seeker-sensitive] churches is often truncated—and the point that is most deliberately censored is the very place Paul began his gospel presentation—the reality of divine wrath!

Those who feel they must be forever optimistic are forced to ignore crucial sections of Scripture, including most of Romans 1, Luke 16, all the Hebrews warning passages, much of the core of Old Testament truth, and about half of Jesus’ teaching. And so the philosophy shapes the message.

Don’t get the impression I am in favor of preaching that is dour, always negative, oppressive, and grim. Of course I am not. But as we have noted repeatedly, there must be a biblical balance of negative and positive, or we’re not ministering to the will of God. And the strategy currently in fashion is to try and style the gospel so that it is entirely positive. That can’t be the biblical message. It certainly is not the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation.

For Paul, the threat of God’s eternal wrath was the first point to be taken up. He  was determined that people understand the awful reality of God’s holy wrath and the desperate heinousness of human depravity. It was not an upbeat way to introduce the subject. But that is how Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, dealt with it.

God’s wrath is crucial to who He is. All His attributes are balanced in divine perfection. If He had no righteous anger, He would not be God. Apart from His wrath, the concept of His love is rendered meaningless: “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness” (Ps. 45:7). Furthermore, God hates sin just as perfectly and thoroughly as He loves fallen sinners. One side without the other is utterly hollow.

Often the twin emphases of wrath and mercy are side by side. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). That verse appears in the same chapter as the more familiar words of John 3:16.

Without an understanding of the severity of God’s wrath against sin, even the phrase “shall not perish” in John 3:16 loses its significance.[1]

John MacArthur


[1] John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993], 132, 133.