There I was – sitting by myself on my back patio with my head in my hands after having blown it again. I wondered, “What does God think of me? Is He angry with me? What punishment could now be in store for me?” As a Christian, a right understanding of how God views us, especially after moments of failure, deeply affects how we view everything else in life. Knowing how God views us in Christ is crucial for overcoming sin, experiencing peace, and living in hope. So, is God angry with us believers when we sin? The answer is yes. But, it’s not in the way we usually understand anger. Let me explain.
Accepted in the Beloved
One of the keys to Jesus’ joy and peace in the midst of all the trials He faced was His profound sense of His Father’s love and approval. He had, on more than one occasion, heard the voice that we all must hear, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt.3:17,17:5). But why is it that many Christians, rather than God’s love and approval, live with a continual sense of God’s disapproval. How do we hear that voice of love and acceptance?
In the very beginning of Ephesians, Paul says something absolutely shocking. God has blessed us “in the Beloved” (Eph.1:6). Did you catch that? He didn’t just say, “in Christ.” Paul specifically points out that by faith we have received all the blessings of the Beloved Son. This means that even in the midst of moral failure, the same voice of approval and acceptance that Christ heard is shouting over us today. When God looks at a Christian, He is completely pleased with him or her. How is this possible? Because the Father’s acceptance of us is not due to anything in us, but rather it is due to us being "in Christ.”
At the cross, the Father looked upon His perfectly obedient Son and saw us and all our sin (past, present, and future) and in His righteous anger poured out all the just punishment that we deserved. Now, God looks upon us and even in the midst of our sin sees His perfect obedient Son. That’s why Paul could say such shocking things like, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom.8:1). Or “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). But, what about the passage that, like a Father, God disciplines those He loves?
Our Father’s Discipline
This truth laid out for us in Hebrews 12:5-12 was given to a people who were ready to throw in the towel and so the writer is encouraging them. The letter is one big counseling session to not turn back and give up on Jesus. And one of the ways we’re supposed to be encouraged is to know that because God is now our Father in Christ, everything that happens is His perfect and loving discipline. Yet, the writer is quick to point out the difference between the way imperfect fathers correct and instruct their children and the way our perfect heavenly Father works with us.
As a father, I know that my anger and displeasure towards my daughter’s actions is far from perfect. Sadly, unlike God’s anger, I’m often motivated out of selfish interests and can be touchy and temperamental. However, when I see my daughter willfully doing something that will immediately or inevitably hurt her, I respond in anger and displeasure, not because I don’t love her, but precisely because I do love her. I actually never feel more like her Father than when I have to bring correction and consequences into her life for her good. Most other times, I just feel like her grown up friend. But how do we know when God is disciplining us?
The Way Forward
One of the greatest comforts and implications of the gospel is that God’s pure and righteous anger is no longer against us as a judge, but is 100 % for us as a perfect Father. This means in Christ, God is the best Father we could ever imagine. In His wisdom, God brings the exterior brokenness of the world together with the interior brokenness of our heart at the right time, in the right place and in exactly the right measure, not to break us, but to make us. So, in a sense, everything in life we experience is God’s loving discipline aimed to correct us and instruct us. God is not up in heaven with a scorecard keeping tally of every wrong just waiting to “take us to the woodshed.” No. God is looking over our lives as a gracious and patient Father who sees us in Christ and is working all things together for good. What He asks of us is to get up and move forward in response to that truth.
That’s why Paul wrote, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph.5:1). “Beloved children” is our permanent position. Imitating the character of our Father is the practice that we’re called to strive for in the power of Christ. In other words, The Christian life is not trying to become someone we’re not; it’s learning to become who God says we already are. So, how does God view us when we fail and we come with our heads in our hands, seeking His forgiveness and wanting to please Him better? Exactly the way Jesus described it in His parable (see Luke 15:11-32). The Father is running to us with welcoming arms and joy in His heart.