A friend of mine recently shared with me that her mom, who claims to be a Christian, admitted that she only believes the “good parts” of the Bible. I wonder if she would consider Romans 1 a good part? Consider these choice phrases from that chapter:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
— Romans 1:18
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…
— Romans 1:24
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind, to do what ought not be done.
— Romans 1:28
And in chapter 2:
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
— Romans 2:5
These kind of verses may lead some to close the book and say, “I can’t believe in a God like that.” Or, like my friend’s mom, to ignore statements like this and focus instead on more feel-good themes, like God’s love and grace.
But it’s passages like Romans 1 that give us the context for the good news of the gospel. In fact, there is no good news at all if there is no bad news first. The gospel is only good news if it is needed news. If we have no need for salvation or forgiveness, Jesus is simply reduced to a nice guy worth emulating.
But emulation is far from our greatest need.
Do you believe that the crucifixion took place? If you do, then you have to wonder why it happened. What would cause a holy, righteous God to send his only Son to the cross to die a shameful, gruesome death? He would only do it if it were the only way to save you and me.
To say that there is no pending judgment for sinners (that is, all of us) is to say that there was no need for Christ’s sacrifice. But if God saw fit to nail him to a cross and allow him to suffer and die, he must be trying to save us from a fate so tremendously horrible that he would do anything to spare us from it — even at the cost of his own Son.
I’ll admit that I too have been tempted at times to believe in a God who doesn’t exactly measure up with scripture — a God who loves everyone (which is true) and would never send someone to hell (which is not true). My preferred version of God doesn’t include vengeance, justice or the final judgment that the Bible talks about. The only problem with my version is that isn’t real. And logically, it can’t be real.
So, as hard as it may be to believe in a Vindicator God, I am comforted by the fact that this Vindicator came first as a Savior to rescue us from a pending disaster that would one day overtake us all apart from him. And at the end of the day, maybe believing in the God of the Bible — in all of its revelation about him — is better than believing in a God of my own construction. For only in embracing the darkness of our depravity can we truly appreciate the goodness of our salvation.
And in that light (as the song goes), the gospel is not good news… It’s the best news ever.