Is God Angry With Believers When They Sin?

This is a common question that plagues the consciences of many believers. Due to ongoing sin, many believers live with doubt and anxiety concerning their relationship with the Lord. There are scores of believers in the church who question God’s favor toward them because of their miserable performance in obedience to the law. This is one of the biggest pastoral problems in the church.

Evangelicals today float from church to church, read how-to book after how-to book, attend all the latest popular conferences and seminars and yet still have some sin or struggle that has them in what they think is a death grip. They wonder am I really a Christian because I keep doing this? I try to stop but I can’t. I take one step forward and three steps back. Is God angry with me? Am I out of fellowship and favor with the Lord?

The answer to this dilemma rests in understanding the distinction between the Lord’s vindictive wrath and His Fatherly chastisement.

To understand this distinction, the believer must first understand that he is now dead to the law as a covenant of works. In other words, the believer needs to understand the proper distinction between the law and Gospel. The believer is free from the law as a condition of life for obedience, “Do this and live.” He is also free from the law as a condition of death for disobedience, “Do, or else be damned,” (Gen. 2:17; Gal. 3:10). The ground of the believer’s freedom from the law as a covenant of works is Christ’s perfect obedience in his place (Rom. 5:19-20). John Owen wrote, “…the whole power and sanction of the first covenant was conferred upon Christ, and in him fulfilled and ended.”

In Matthew 19:17, Christ says to the rich young man, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” God’s commandments must be kept either by us or by Christ. The moment a believer is united to Christ, Christ’s law-keeping (thus fulfilling the condition of eternal life) is imputed to the believer. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). Thus, the Christian is no longer obligated to obey the law as a condition of life and he is free from the threatening of wrath and death for his disobedience.

Through union with Christ, believers are dead to the law in that they are not under it to be justified or condemned but are fully and totally free from the law as a covenant of life for obeying and death for disobeying. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). In the words of that great hymn, And Can It Be That I Should Gain, written by Charles Wesley,

No condemnation now I dread;

Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,

And claim the crown, through Christ my own!


The importance of the believer’s death to the law cannot be overstated. Under the law, man is in bondage. He is in bondage to the command of perfect obedience. He is in bondage to the curses and threatenings of the law for his disobedience. He is in fear of God’s vindictive wrath and judgment. But, “in Christ” the believer possesses a glorious liberty from the curses and threatenings of the law. “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36)!

Through faith in Christ, the believer’s status is changed from one of guilty to pardoned (Rom. 5:1). Believers are no longer under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). By grace believers are rescued “from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son… (Col. 1:13).

Thus, the law in the hand of Christ no longer condemns the believer. The law no longer threatens the believer with vindictive wrath. In Christ, there is no threatening of eternal, vindictive wrath and punishment. In Christ, believers have no fear of judgment. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love,” (1 Jn. 4:18). Believers no longer fear the threats and punitive punishments of the law because they are under grace. Ralph Erskine, quoting Samuel Rutherford, wrote, “The Gospel forbids nothing under pain of damnation to a justified believer, more than to Jesus Christ.”

“The Gospel forbids nothing under pain of damnation to a justified believer, more than to Jesus Christ.”

Does this then suggest that sin in believers is less serious than sin in unbelievers?

Absolutely not!

Sin, whether in believers or unbelievers, is always a serious offense to a holy God (Hab. 1:13). There are examples in Scripture of God being angry with His children and disciplining them (e.g., Ps. 79:5; 85:5; Heb. 12:5-11). But, this is far different than God’s vindictive anger.

Ralph Erskine explains, “Though the sins of believers deserve hell, and the intrinsic demerit of sin is still the same; [yea, I think the sins of believers being against so much love, and so many mercies, they deserve a thousand hells, where others deserve one;] yet, being dead to the law, he hath no vindictive wrath to fear, Rom. v. 9, “While we were sinners, Christ died for us; and much more now being justified by his blood, we are saved from wrath through Him;” and sure he is not to fear that which God calls him to believe he is saved from: his slavish fear, therefore, is from unbelief, and weakens his hands in duties” (Law-Death, Gospel-Life, p. 56).

Slavish fear and doubts concerning God’s favor arise from failing to keep the Gospel central in one’s mind and affections.

Vindictive wrath is applied to those who are dead in sin and under the law. Fatherly chastisement is applied to those who are alive in Christ and dead to the law. To be sure, as Erskine points out, the sins of believers deserve vindictive wrath and eternal hell. The intrinsic demerit of sin in a believer is still the same as in unbelievers. God will always find in believers just reason for disciplining them. Yet, because Christians are in union with Christ and thus dead to the law, there is no more vindictive wrath to fear (cf., Rom. 8:1; 1 John 4:18). Why? The blood of Christ shed on the Cross quenched the fire of God’s vindictive wrath (cf., Rom. 5:9). Christ exhausted God the Father’s wrath against sin on the Cross (Rom. 3:25). Because we are in union with Christ, we have been delivered from God’s wrath (via Christ’s propitiation). We are not to fear that which God calls us to believe we are saved from (Rom. 5:1, 10-11).

To be continued…

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15 Responses to Is God Angry With Believers When They Sin?

  1. Mike Sears says:

    Awesome John!! Oh the power of GRACE is so much greater than the power of the law. If we could just stop bowing to the law and stand in HIS magnificent grace that gives us power in our weakness!! Very encouraging!

  2. This is a problem that I have dealt with time and time again in my past, and still struggle with today. Thank you for the reminder: it was most definitely a blessing! I posted a link to this on my blog so that my friends may be blessed as well.

    I also posted a similar item this morning, a excerpt from Piper’s The Passion of Jesus Christ:

    “The death of Christ secures our freedom from condemnation. It is as sure that we cannot be condemned as it is sure that Christ died. There is no double jeopardy in God’s court. We will not be condemned twice for the same offenses. Christ has died once for our sins. We will not be condemned for them. Condemnation is gone not because there isn’t any, but because it has already happened.”

    We should never take for granted what our Savior has done for us, but should relish daily in the ever-abundant grace of imputed righteousness that is ours as heirs to the Kingdom!

  3. Shaun Marksbury says:

    And so we must always return to Christ for salvation and power and freedom and the Father’s love. There is nothing we can find in ourselves to curry the Lord’s favor; our righteousness apart from Christ is filthy as are our fleshly attempts to please God after coming to Christ!

    But here is a question: in the realms of both salvation and sanctification, legalism/neonomianism and antinomianism are errors and distortions of the truth and grace of the Gospel, neither of which glorifies God and may challenge a person’s eternal condition. However, my study of the issue makes it seem that antinomianism is an error in far closer proximity to the true Gospel (a la Romans 6:1-2). Piper said that presenting the Gospel in its full splendor would always bring this charge. So, (my question now) how do we avoid imprecision in our message to avoid this error, as well?

  4. Shaun, Good question. Yesterday I was having this exact same discussion with my Pastor’s wife. It seems experientially that once one has glimpsed the glories of Christ – the charge of antinomianism disappears. As imprecise as this answer seems – I think the answer is, it’s not grace, it’s not holiness, it’s not forgiveness that we declare – it’s Christ.
    God is the Gospel (Piper) has been helpful. The problem is I can’t seem to get the message across in small soundbites. My pastor’s wife was challenging me on how I avoid portraying, “Let go, and let God” or an antinomian message.
    I hope to read more at this blog on how to avoid the message of antinomianism.

    Chris

  5. Eric Verby says:

    I understand this truth, at least theoretically. But my weakest point is in actually responding in obedience to God’s fatherly chastisement. I can be very poor in being trained by God’s discipline (Hebrews 12). Again, I understand that I am free from God’s vindictive wrath, but that doesn’t make God’s discipline easy to take.

  6. John Fonville says:

    HI Eric. You are exactly right. God’s discipline is not easy to take. That is why the author of Hebrews writes, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it,” (v. 11). We are all poor in our sanctification (see Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 62, 114). Thus, the reason why need the continual reminder of Christ and His Gospel. It is only by sola gratia, through sola fide in solus Christus that we are right with God (see HC, Q. 60). Gospel blessings!

  7. Denise Brown says:

    Thank you, so much, for providing this information online.

    You have no comprehension how deeply this has helped me on this particularly dark day of repentance [as a true believer for 45 years] for me.

    Incredibly, I fell into an area of sin for about two months—it was a nightmare. Unbelievable.

    However, earlier this weekend, I *truly* repented and was finally able to ask The LORD for help.

    He has been very gracious and patient with me, and I know without a doubt, He led me to your site to read this article, “Is God Angry With Believers When They Sin?”.

    Again, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

    • BROWN says:

      praise the lord and thank you proving this information Denise BROWN THANK YOU TOO as a true believer for 38 years I NEEDED TO READ THIS I HAVE FAILED MANY TESTES IN MY CHRISTAIN LIFE I’M STILL HOPING THE FATHER FORGAVE METHANK AGAIN

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  9. Peter K. Kashiba says:

    Am so much blessed by your message! I would like to be part your ministry. I have been going thru the same problems of asking myself if God still loves me, especially in my present situation, i lost my job so unfairly, have been doing some work on self employed, but all seem to be not yielding anything tangible or helpful. Its like God is upset and whatever you do is like you are doing nothing. I believe that God loves me and he cares for me. I really need your help in understanding more about God and his love for me. Thank you so much.

  10. Peter K. Kashiba says:

    Am so much blessed by your message! I would like to be part of your ministry. I have been going thru the same problems of asking myself if God still loves me, especially in my present situation, i lost my job so unfairly, have been doing some work on self employed, but all seem to be not yielding anything tangible or helpful. Its like God is upset and whatever you do is like you are doing nothing. I believe that God loves me and he cares for me. I really need your help in understanding more about God and his love for me. Thank you so much.

  11. I have been browsing on-line greater than 3 hours today, but I never discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is beautiful value sufficient for me. In my opinion, if all webmasters and bloggers made excellent content material as you probably did, the internet can be a lot more helpful than ever before.

  12. Nathan Ham says:

    You said —

    “There are examples in Scripture of God being angry with His children and disciplining them (e.g., Ps. 79:5; 85:5; Heb. 12:5-11). But, this is far different than God’s vindictive anger.”

    And then you said —

    “Vindictive wrath is applied to those who are dead in sin and under the law. Fatherly chastisement is applied to those who are alive in Christ and dead to the law.”

    It seems to me you are contradicting yourself because the OT examples you gave were people under the law. All through the OT I see God’s wrath against Israel when they sin BECAUSE THEY ARE UNDER THE CURSE OF THE LAW. If, as you said, “Vindictive wrath is applied to those who are dead in sin and under the law” then that vindictive wrath applies to OT Israel because they did not have the new birth in Christ and were most definitely under the law.

    I’m trying to understand if God is ever angry at NT believers, so this is an honest question. But in studying the OT it seems to me there is a huge difference because Israel was still under the law and were still under that condemnation. In fact, Jer. 30:14 says God chastised them as though he were an enemy, which greatly contrasts Heb. 12:6 for us today.

    So it seems to me: God’s wrath was poured out on Israel all the time in the OT when they disobeyed because they were under the curse and condemnation of the law (a simple search on wrath in the OT will find those), while the church is never appointed to God’s wrath (1 Thess. 5:9) because Christ suffered God’s wrath for us on the cross. But this, of course, does not exclude God’s chastising in love when we sin, but that is a lot different than His wrath.

    Am I misunderstanding something?

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  14. Ken says:

    This seems like real nice writing for some thesis paper, but seems to waffle without a definitive answer. As a child this answer doesnt help much. Imagine trying to tell the difference. As an adult, I certainly cant tell whether his punishment is vindictive or fatherly discipline, therefore no answers were gained here.

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