September 24, 2017
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul addressed the reality of what it means to know, love, and follow Christ. Teaching from Ephesians 5:5–6, Alistair Begg reminds us that those God has justified He will also purify through the continuing process of sanctification. The ground of our salvation is established in the work Jesus Christ has done, but the evidence of that salvation is in our response toward ungodliness and is an ongoing result of the work being done in us.
Sermon Transcript: Print
A Song of Ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
Lord, we need you as we think to turn now to the Bible. We need the work of the Spirit of God to quicken our understanding, to come so that beyond the voice of a mere man we might hear the very word of Christ, so that in responding to him our lives might be brought into the reality of what it means to know and love and follow you. Accomplish your purposes, we pray now, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, I invite you to turn to Ephesians chapter 5 as we continue our studies in Ephesians. And we’ll read the first six verses, and our focus this morning will be primarily on verse 5 and into verse 6. Ephesians 5:1:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and [a] sacrifice to God.
“But sexual immortality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Well, we’ve been following the apostle’s argument, some of us for a while now, from the opening part of the letter back in chapter 1. Some picked up and joined us around chapter 4, when we said that here in chapter 4, Paul moves from the more doctrinal section of the book in the first three chapters to the moral and ethical impact of it all—although, having said that, we’ve noted almost immediately and consistently that all of his moral imperatives are grounded in what we’ve become accustomed to referring to as the doctrinal indicatives. In other words, he is not calling for his readers to become something they are not by means of their own attempts at religious practice, but he is calling his readers to become what they are in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And as we came to chapter 5, we saw immediately that it is an amazing thought—the only place in the New Testament that we find this exhortation that we would “be imitators of God” and that we would imitate God as his “beloved children.” And how would that become apparent? Well, we would “walk in love.” What would it be like to walk in love? Well, it would mean, first of all, self-sacrifice. You remember that he defined the love in which we’re supposed to be walking in terms of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus. And that was in verses 1 and 2. And then in verses 3 and 4, he went on to say that if you’re going to be walking in love, it is imperative that your lives are not marked by self-indulgence. So, the self-sacrifice that is to be present and the self-indulgence that is to be banished.
And we said two weeks ago that it was important for us to understand—and since it was important two weeks ago, it’s important this week as well, because I’m confident in each of us, in our ability to forget. But we said that it is important to realize that in these verses, particularly when you come to verses 3 and 4, he is not admonishing the culture, but he is addressing the church. Hands up, those of you who remember that point. Three of you. Terrific. All right. He is not admonishing the culture; he’s addressing the church.
Secondly, he is absolutely clear that God’s standards are high and they are absolute. He doesn’t equivocate in any way at all. These things that he describes in verses 3 and 4 are completely “out of place,” he says. It is improper for those who are the sons and daughters of God to cultivate this kind of ethos amongst themselves, to allow themselves to think down these tracks, to include this kind of nonsense and immorality in our conversation.
And then thirdly, we said that it is only through the gospel, through the story of all that God has done for us in Jesus, that any of us are ever enabled to live as God requires. We also said on that morning that if we start at the wrong end with these things, we will immediately go wrong. If we’re tempted to think that the message of Christianity is ultimately about us or ultimately about our happiness, then, of course, we won’t know how to deal with life as difficulty and disappointment comes along.
And therefore, it’s wonderfully reassuring and helpfully challenging to realize what we said then and reinforce now: that God’s interest in us is not our happiness, which may be a byproduct, but it is in our holiness. In our holiness. And this is not an emphasis unique to Ephesians. For example, when he writes to Titus in chapter 2, encouraging Titus in Crete to be a minister of the gospel, he reminds Titus to remind his people that he—that is, Jesus—“gave himself for us” that he might—notice the verb—“purify for himself a people for his own possession.” So, he is in the business of purifying a people for his own possession.
Now, that is an ongoing process, as we’re going to see this morning. And it brings us through all kinds of changes and experiences in life, some of which are not immediately accessible to us or amenable to us, and we have to realize what God is doing. That’s why we need our Bibles. That’s why, for example, when you think along these lines, it’s important to realize what the writer to the Hebrews is doing when he encourages the people in chapter 12. And he encourages them to realize that every good earthly father disciplines his children. It’s a nonsense to think that ill-disciplined or undisciplined children are a testimony to anybody at all. And so the writer argues from the lesser to the greater. And he quotes the Old Testament, and he says, “Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’” He then goes down to verse 9. He says, “We’ve earthly fathers who disciplined us for a while, and we respected them. How much more, then, shall we be subject to the Father of spirits and live? They disciplined us for a short time; it seemed best. But he disciplines us”—that is, the Father disciplines us—“for our good, that we may share his holiness.” “That we may share his holiness.”
So, the disciplinary action of God in our lives, the fashioning of us. We could say quite honestly that just in the same way that there are times when we have had occasion to go up to our bedrooms greatly discouraged and unhappy because of the intervention of our earthly fathers, thinking that our earthly fathers know nothing at all of who we are or what we need or what we’re like or what is best for us, only to discover further down the line that they knew all that is best for us and they were protecting us as well as providing for us… In other words, it was through unhappiness that we were to discover real happiness. And oftentimes in our Christian lives, there will be that which comes in that we can make no obvious explanation of. And it is helpful, at least to me and I hope to you too, to realize what God is doing. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” That’s because his plan is to make us increasingly like Jesus.
Now, Paul, then, continues to speak with great clarity. And he does so because this matter is absolutely crucial. When he goes from verse 4 into verse 5, you will realize that there’s a conjunction there: “For…” The little word “For…” We could translate it “Because…” “No crude joking, thanksgiving, because you can be sure of this.” Sure of what? Sure of the fact that the actions to which the kind of conversation that he has just negated in verses 3 and 4 leads is the kind of activity that disqualifies a man or a woman from any “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God,” as he puts it uniquely here. That kind of activity is a disqualifying factor.
Now, let’s just leave that sit for a moment and notice how he begins: “You may be sure of this.” Or, if you like, colloquially: “You can take this one to the bank.” “You could stake your life on this” is what he’s saying. “You may be absolutely sure of this: that everyone who, then, is acting in this way is disqualified.”
Now, you will notice, I hope, if your Bible is open, that in verse 3, the three elements that he mentions he comes back to in verse 5. “Sexual immortality,” “impurity,” “covetousness” was not even supposed to be talked about, he says. So if it’s not even supposed to be talked about, then it’s no surprise that in verse 5 he says, “Everyone who is actually not just talking about it but living in this has no inheritance in the kingdom of God.”
Let me give it to you in a sentence stolen from my good friend Sinclair. This is how he puts it, and I think this summarizes it. If we get this, we get it: “We cannot be heirs of a [heavenly] kingdom while … living as citizens of a sinful one.” “We cannot be heirs of a [heavenly] kingdom while … living as citizens of a sinful one.”
Now, one of the things that inevitably must come to mind is “Well, is this a peculiar emphasis, or is this something that we find routinely in the Bible?” Well, I think you know your Bibles well enough to know the answer to that is it’s everywhere. So, for example, when Paul writes to the church at Corinth (again, writing to the church at Corinth, not writing to the culture of Corinth; no, to the church), he says to them, “[Don’t you] know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Says to them, “Don’t you know?” Well, of course the answer is “Yes, we do know.” And then his point is “So why are you living the way you’re living?” He says to them, “There’s things going on in your place that don’t even happen among the pagans.” And he’s not talking about the bath houses of Corinth; he’s talking about the Communion services in Corinth.
Same emphasis in 1 John. And 1 John, you remember, says that he who has this hope within him “purifie[s] himself, even as he is pure.” In other words, he says, “If you say that you have the hope of the gospel in you, that you are looking forward to entering into the inheritance of a heavenly kingdom, let me tell you how you’ll know: the purity of your life. That’s the indication that you have the hope.” You know, when you’re getting ready for your girlfriend coming, all of a sudden you take a big interest in, you know, how you’re looking. If she’s not coming, if you don’t see her for four or five days, you don’t have to preen yourself and do all those things. But when you know that she’s about to appear, you’d better be on your best behavior. You’d better be looking as good as you can. There’s no legalism in that, is there? You know, nobody gives you a big rule book. No, you just do it! Why? Because you want that to be the case! So, he says, “The one who looks forward to the embrace of God purifies himself, even as God himself is pure.” Therefore, impurity in my life either says I don’t know God or actually I’m not really interested in going to meet God.
Now, I wasn’t going to mention that. You got that for extra. I was going to quote this verse in 1 John 2:4. Same emphasis. One John 2:4: “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” “Whoever says ‘I know him’ and doesn’t keep his commandments is a barefaced liar.” That’s what John says. That’s striking, isn’t it?
You say, “Well, I don’t like these apostles. I much prefer Jesus. I think we should spend far more time with Jesus.” Well, I couldn’t agree more. But do you think for a moment the apostles were saying anything other than Jesus had taught them? You don’t know your Bible if you say that.
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He’s just given a little piece on “You’d better make sure that your tree is bearing fruit, because it is the fruitfulness of the tree that allows people to understand what kind of tree it is. Good fruit, good tree. Bad fruit, bad tree.” Then he follows it up with the punchline. Here it goes:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [One] day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do … mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Or, in Ephesians 5, “[you] sons [and daughters] of disobedience.” See that? “Many will say,” but the indication is in what we do.
So, what does this mean? Are we to deduce that Ephesians 5:5 and these other passages to which I have now referred—are we to assume that the Bible is teaching that if ever a person falls into one of these sins, that they are then eternally excluded from the kingdom of heaven? Well, I think you know your Bible well enough to know the answer to that question as well, don’t you? The answer to that is no. And that’s why we read from Psalm 130—not arbitrarily, but I wanted to read verse 4: “But with you there is forgiveness.” This is the message of the gospel, that “if we confess our sins, he[’s] faithful and just,” and he forgives us our sins, and he “cleanse[s] us from all unrighteousness.” That’s the amazing story. And that is at the heart of it all. Hence the incongruity that Paul now addresses. And hence the danger that attaches to it.
What he’s referencing here are the lives of men and women that are, if you like, settled in this way. It’s the life of an idolator. It’s the life of the person who, in these terms, has become sexually greedy. He does not respond or she does not respond with thanksgiving to the precious gifts of God in the realm of human sexuality but instead has made a lifestyle out of engaging in all kinds of things that take that individual and those in contact with him or her beyond the bounds of that which God has established for the well-being of his people.
With that said, it is not uncommon to hear people say, “Well, as far as I understand it all, once you are declared righteous in Jesus, because of what Jesus has done, then in actual fact, your lifestyle is pretty much your own deal. Because, after all, if I understand ‘justification,’ then you are forgiven past, present, and future, and so,” the person says, as in Romans 6, “why don’t I just go out and sin so ‘that grace may abound’ and prove that I really understand the doctrine of justification?”
The answer is “You clearly don’t understand the doctrine of justification.” Because, to put it in a nutshell, God does not justify those whom he does not sanctify. “Those who were predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified”—Romans 8:30, around—“and those whom he justified he also glorified.” So you can’t take one piece of the puzzle and separate it from the unfolding drama of God in salvation. So the justified person is the being-sanctified person, and the person who is not being sanctified or is not giving any evidence of it either has never been justified or doesn’t understand what it means to live within the framework of God’s great salvific purpose.
There’s regeneration, the imparting of the Spirit of God in our lives, without which we cannot even understand one jot or tittle of the Bible. Without the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, the Bible—it could have been written in Chinese for most of us, because we’ve got no grasp of it at all. What is it that one day suddenly allows us to see the truth of the Bible? Suddenly to read it and care? Suddenly to open it up and find that it speaks to me? This is the power of God’s Spirit. He is the one who regenerates. He is the one who illumines. He is the one who justifies. He is the one who sanctifies. He is the one who will bring you to completion.
But when a person comes alongside and says, “Oh, I don’t think so. I don’t think it matters. Christ bore the penalty of my sin. He met the demands of the law, and therefore, I’m free from all obligation to the law.” I hear it all the time: “I don’t have to deal anything with the law. That’s the Old Testament,” they tell me. “The kingdom of God was different. The kingdom of Christ is new.” Notice the translation: no one has an “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” I think what Paul is saying is this: “Don’t play that stunt. Don’t play the idea that the Old Testament was really concerned about this and the New Testament isn’t concerned about it at all.” And if you have any doubt about that, then just keep reading your Bible. Romans chapter 8, and as Paul makes it clear: that the law could never put a person right with God, because nobody could ever keep the jolly thing! We’ve all broken the law! All of us “have sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God.”
So, if our view of Christianity is “What you’re supposed to do is you get involved with a group of people, and then you just try your best for the rest of your life, and hopefully you’ll be able to overcome some of the bad stuff you’ve been doing. If you have a bad week, then try and have a good week, offset the bad week, and so on. Two steps up the ladder, three steps down. Get a new ladder. Keep going back and forth”—nothing could be further from the truth!
Here we have it, Romans 8:3: “God…” “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” “Could[n’t] do.” How has he done it? “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” It’s not a period there. It’s not a full stop; it’s a comma! “He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For … those who live according to the Spirit set their [mind] on the things of the Spirit. For [the things of] the flesh is death,” and so on he goes with his argument.
Now, remember where he has started. He started gloriously: “There is now therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus”—those who have been “justified by faith,” Romans 5:1. And he has gone through 6 and the challenge there, and he’s rebutted that: “Why don’t we just do what we want?” He said, “God forbid. You’ve never even understood justification.” Into chapter 7: “The good that I want to do I don’t do. The bad I don’t want to do, I end up doing it. I’m involved in a continual and irreconcilable war. Well, then, who am I? What am I?” The struggle of 7 is more than matched by the reality of 8. “I do wrestle against all these things, because Christ lives in me, but sin lives in me. Therefore, I know the reality of that.”
Sometimes I wonder if I’m making any progress at all in my Christian life. And that’s why, if you like, chapter 7 is like the north side of the house, or it’s like January in Cleveland. Right? It’s cold, and it’s threatening. But Romans 8 is the south side of the house. It’s like yesterday afternoon: it’s eighty-eight degrees and gorgeous. Who would live anywhere else? But we live in both sides of the house. The reality in Romans 7 is a reality. The reality in Romans 8 is a reality. You don’t get out of Romans 7 to get into Romans 8. You live your entire Christian life in 7 and in 8. And it is the reality of 7 that is met by the glory of chapter 8. But in case they were going to go wrong, he says to them, “By the way, what the law could not do God has done in the person of his Son in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Not so that we can be lawless.
Now, I can see you looking at me, and you’re wondering a little bit about this. In actual fact, what this has to do with is an understanding of the doctrine of justification and the doctrine of sanctification. And we’ll really make a mess of these two verses if we don’t get a hold of this. So let me quote the catechism, because that saves time, and it’s really good. Question 33 of the Shorter Catechism asks the question “What is justification?” Here’s the answer: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” All right? So, in the same way that a judge is able to declare the person in the dock free from condemnation—the judge does not declare the person sinless and does not make the person free from condemnation—in the same way, justification is forensic, it is legal.
Every so often, I hear people praying, and they say, “Thank you that you have made us righteous through our justification.” No, he hasn’t. He doesn’t make us righteous through our justification. He declares us righteous. He doesn’t make us righteous. “Well, how in the world is he going to make us righteous?” That is the process of sanctification. Justification is instantaneous. Justification precedes sanctification. But justification, as I said before, does not exist on its own. Placed in a right relationship with God by what Christ has done for us so that not only are our sins forgiven but we are accepted in his sight.
Question 35: “What is sanctification?” Answer: “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace,” same, “whereby we are [so] renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and to live unto righteousness.” So, the one is, if you like, legal and forensic; the other is moral and ongoing. The one is a crisis, if we can use that word, that eventually will be met by another crisis. It’s not a great word, but I’ve used it now, so I’ll stick with it. But if you think of justification as like a crisis, instantaneous event, if you think of glorification as a crisis, instantaneous event—“When I see him, I will be made like him”—that will not be a process. That will be “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” changed into his image. But in the meanwhile, tomorrow morning—when I have to go back to the things I do tomorrow morning, and you do too—what is it that God is doing? He is working in the realm of sanctification to conform us “to the image of his Son.” “Therefore,” he says, “you’d better get this clear in your mind: that if your life is marked by sexual immortality, by adultery”—by the things that our world, our culture this morning, says are just absolutely fine—“you have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” It’s dramatic, isn’t it? And the reason it’s dramatic is because it is absolutely crucial. God, I say to you again, does not justify those he does not sanctify.
So what you have in this verse is first of all a warning, and then, actually, you have a test. You have a warning about how important it is to be in a right standing before God and how that is revealed in a progressively sanctified life. You have a test—not the only test—but you have a test against which you can gauge yourself. And actually, the verse provides a means to the very end. You see, how does God sanctify me? By not only his promises but by his warnings. That’s why if you read, for example, in Hebrews, in Hebrews chapter 6, in one of the “apostasy passages”… If you read the apostasy passage, and you just scan right through it, and you go, “Well, I’m sure that’s very important for somebody and not me,” you ought to be more worried than you realize. We ought to read the apostasy passage and say, “Dear Lord Jesus, help this not to be me.” You get it? Because justification is not a synonym for presumption. It’s not a synonym for presumption. It does not allow us then to presume on things. It actually fashions us according to these things.
And so, unless my life testifies to being in the process and of being perfected by the process, I’m forced to conclude that I’m gonna to have to start at the very beginning again. I’m not gonna be able to pass go, and I’m not gonna be able to collect two hundred pounds, dollars. No, I’m gonna have to start at the beginning. Where’s the beginning? At the cross of Jesus Christ, acknowledging that “what I’ve been doing is calling you ‘Lord, Lord,’ but you’re not my Lord. I’ve been actually trying my best to put myself in a good standing with you, and I’m completely messed up, because it doesn’t work.” That’s, you see, what it does. It’s not supposed to make us go, “Oh, well, I’m sure that’s not me.”
Do you remember when Jesus has his disciples in the room and he says to them, he says, “One of you is a betrayer”? Do you remember what the response was? To a man, they said, “Lord, it’s not me, is it?” They didn’t all go, “Oh yeah, that’s old Judas here. Yeah, we know him.” No. In fact, Judas was adept at saying, “Lord, Lord.” He had it buttoned down.
Well, we’d better just say a word about verse 6.
It’s no surprise, then, that he says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words.” “Let no one deceive you with empty words.” Because he realizes that there’s going to be a whole ton of people that come around and say, “Oh, you don’t have to believe that stuff.” The Gnostic heresy in that period of time was very, very attractive, because the Gnostics taught that anything that you do with the physicality of your body cannot affect your spiritual standing before God. So, a heck of a deal, right? So, you’re secure “somewhere in the inner place,” and you can go out and do what you want—sleep with anyone you want, do anything you want. Doesn’t matter if you deal with this issue or that issue. It’s not an issue.
Paul says, “Do not be deceived by vain and empty words.” You say, “Well, we don’t have that today, do we?” Are you kidding me? Think of all the empty words that are part and parcel of our everyday life. “God,” they say—people say—“if he exists, is far too kind to punish anyone. We don’t believe the wrath of God anymore. Clearly, it’s not something. It’s an old-fashioned idea, and really, we must distance ourselves from it.” People who say the same thing, they’ll say, “It’s all about living in the moment.” Sounds so good, doesn’t it? It’s on the golf course today; when they play the PGA, the final at Eastlake, you’ll hear it again and again and again. And there’s absolute validity to it, isn’t there? You don’t want to be thinking about if you’re going to win it. You’d better just make sure you hit this five iron. So stay in the moment. That’s true! Jesus said, “Sufficient [to] the day is the evil thereof.” But Jesus was saying the now matters because of the then. Contemporary philosophy says the now matters because there is no then.
You see, this is Dead Poets Society. This is Robin Williams. What a tragedy, when I think of Robin Williams! He probably believed that. “Look,” he says in the corridor. “Look at all the people who are at this school before you. Where are they now? They’re nowhere, and you’ll be nowhere! Therefore, carpe diem. Seize the moment, because this is all you have.” That is one of the great lies of the Evil One. This is not all you have. There is a reality beyond this transient life. It is called eternity, and it is the destiny of every created being under God.
But it’s vain jangling words. They’ll tell you, “No, it’s not there.” The autonomous self says, “It doesn’t matter how I conduct my being. I’m entirely in charge of my own destiny.” Where does this come from? Goodness gracious! You know, people argue the toss about Darwin and his evolutionary hypothesis, but it’s all there, actually. I’m not laying it at the root of old Darwin. But, you know, do you really believe we are animals evolving upward? “We’re all evolving upward. We’ve had a good go at it since about the 1840s, since he explained to us that there is no God who created us, there is no God that stands outside of time. He’s created the philosophical construct or the scientific methodology to allow us just to say, ‘Forget all that nonsense.’” But deep inside our hearts, we know it isn’t true, because every sunset says it isn’t true, every birth of a little child says it isn’t true, the whole of creation cries out it isn’t true. But we suppress the truth of God to embrace a lie.
And those vain words come at us again and again and again. And so Paul says, “If you’re going to live a life that is marked by godliness, you’re going to be up against it left, right, and center.” And we are today. Everything! The psychologists have psychologized away sin. The educationalists tell us that we’re only just a few courses away from getting everything perfect. And so we go down the line. And where in the world are we? There were more murders this weekend in Chicago than in some countries of Western Europe—in one city. There is indiscipline in the home. There is chaos in the school. There is loss of structure in the courts. There is fearfulness in the realm of medicine. You just go right down the line, and you hear the vain words coming back: “Don’t listen to that stuff. We know that isn’t true. We’re all evolving upwards. It’s all going to be fine in the end. And don’t let anyone tell you about the wrath of God. No, God would not be that way.”
I visited a lady Friday afternoon in one of the oncology wards at the Cleveland Clinic, G70. And I’ll tell you right now that whoever her oncologist is hates that cancer in her with a passion, is justifiably committed to eradicating every last element out of her body if she or he can. And nobody would stand back and say, “Well, that’s not the right thing to do.” In fact, it makes perfect sense.
You see, the wrath of God is not the fiery outburst of a dad who’s lost his temper and kicked the cat and driven his car into the wall. No, it’s not like that at all. It is the settled response of the entire holiness and character of God to everything that he knows is marring and spoiling and disappointing and just destroying life. Don’t be led away by these vain words.
Why all the bitterness, the unhappiness, the brokenness, the wretchedness? Well, it’s the wrath of God. Read Romans 1. God says, “You want to do it on your own? This is how it goes.” Read Romans 1. How does it go? Suppress the truth: idolatry, immorality, homosexuality—the destruction of a culture. “You want it on your own? Let me show you how it works.” No culture in history has survived the kind of stuff that our culture is going through right now, and the one thing that you mustn’t do is stand up and say, “Do you know what God actually says about this? And do you know why? And do you know that he sent his Son to die on the cross so that all this brokenness and wretchedness and disintegrated life could be found in all of its fullness? That we could understand who we are, what we are, why we are in him?” That’s the message! And Paul—you can just almost hear his heart, can’t you? What are you going to do about this in light of the fact that “it is appointed unto [man] once to die, [and] after this [comes] the judgment?”
If you go to funeral services much—and some of you do. It’s almost an occupational hazard the older we get. It’s quite remarkable to me, ’cause I do go to services every so often that I don’t have a part in, and they often do Psalm 90, but they always excerpt it. Not always, but often. So it goes like this:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
[And] before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you … formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So teach us to number our days
that we may [gain] a heart of wisdom.
Hey, wait a minute! You just missed a big chunk!
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
You sweep them away [like] a flood …
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
We are brought to an end by your anger;
[And] by your wrath we are dismayed.
Where is the answer to the wrath of God? Where has God’s wrath been poured out? It has been poured out on the cross of his dearly beloved Son in order that we might be able to heed the word of Hebrews. “Flee from the wrath to come.”
You have the same thing when they do 2 Corinthians 5. Two Corinthians 5: “We know this earthly tent we live in is destroyed. We have a building from God that’s not made with hands.” Its lovely—the picture of a tent going away, and so it goes on. And then they finish at verse 9! But verse 10 is the kicker: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive what each one has done in their body, whether good or bad.”
“Well, are you saying, Alistair, that then we’re justified by our good deeds?” No. How could I? That wouldn’t be true. The ground of our salvation is in the work of Jesus Christ for us, not as a result of something done in us—definitely not done by us. But the evidence of the fact that we have been brought into the realm of the justified is in the ongoing of his work in us, which is “teach[ing] us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness,” to stand away from these things, to nip it in the bud—because of who we are.
I can still hear my father’s voice: “Now, that’s not the boy. That’s not my boy. You’re not going to do that, are you?” They appeal to my identity. Well, that’s right. The Father looks down, says, “You’re my girl. You’re not going to do that, are you? And if you’ve done that, you’d better come down. Bow your knee. Let’s get it back on. Let’s go.” Onward and upward.
Father, thank you. We commend one another into your loving care. May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to him. May the joy of the Lord Jesus fill our hearts as we seek to serve and follow him. May the peace of the Lord Jesus keep us when all the vain and prevailing voices sound in our ears so that we might on that day stand before you, clothed in Christ’s righteousness and unashamed. To this end we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Titus 2:14 (ESV).
 Hebrews 12:5–6 (ESV). Quoting Proverbs 3:11–12.
 Hebrews 12:9–10 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 12:10 (ESV).
 Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005), 130.
 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 (ESV).
 See 1 Corinthians 5:1.
 1 John 3:3 (KJV).
 Matthew 7:16–20 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 7:21–23 (ESV).
 1 John 1:9 (ESV).
 Romans 6:1 (ESV).
 Romans 8:30 (paraphrased).
 See Romans 8:1–8.
 Romans 3:23 (ESV).
 Romans 8:1 (paraphrased).
 Romans 8:3–4 (paraphrased).
 Language modernized.
 Language modernized.
 1 John 3:2 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 15:52 (ESV).
 Romans 8:29 (ESV).
 See Hebrews 6:1–8.
 Matthew 26:21; John 13:21 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 26:22 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 6:34 (KJV).
 Hebrews 9:27 (KJV).
 Psalm 90:1–2, 12 (ESV).
 Psalm 90:3, 5, 7 (ESV).
 Matthew 3:7 (KJV).
 2 Corinthians 5:1–2 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 5:10 (paraphrased).
 Titus 2:12 (NIV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.