“In the last analysis sin is always against God, and the essence of sin is to be against God. The person who is against God cannot be right with God. For if we are against God, then God is against us. It could not be otherwise. God cannot be indifferent to or complacent toward that which is the contradiction of himself. His very perfection requires the recoil of righteous indignation. And that is God’s wrath.”
I find this quote profoundly helpful for a few reasons.
The writing is excellent. I am amazed that Murray relates several different concepts together in such a way that the central truth seems so obvious: of course that’s the way things are, how could it be otherwise? Every sentence appears self-evident, and each truth builds clearly to the final conclusion. And yet, when I try to explain the same concept, I always use many more words, and it never sounds quite as obvious. Regardless of where we are in our theological development, we should strive to articulate biblical truth more clearly. This will help refine the truth in our own minds and whoever happens to be listening to us.
Sin is only properly understood in relation to God. Sin, in the full sense that the Bible describes, cannot be understood simply as a wrong action. It is not defined as sin because it hurts others, because it is out of step with the culture, or even because it is contrary to the created order. It is sin because of what it says to God and what it does to God. I think adultery provides a good analogy. When a man has a sexual relationship with a woman to whom he is not married, it’s sin. When a married man does it, it’s adultery. The act is adultery because of the unique relationship he has with his wife—because of who she is to him and who he ought to be to her. Likewise, we only see sin rightly when we understand it in relation to God.
Sin is against God. A man’s adulterous actions are not only defined in relation to his wife. They are against his wife. When married man acts inappropriately toward other women, he is committed an act against her. So also, our sin is always against God. God is Holy. He has called us to relationship with him in holiness. When we choose not to be holy, are committing an action against him. All sin is relational. It is a personal offence. And that’s why it deserves a personal response.
God is against us in our sin. My favorite aspect of this quote is that it shows God’s anger toward us in our sin is not simply a technicality, but it arise out of his nature. I’ve often heard preachers almost apologize on God’s behalf for his wrath against sin. They give the impression that God would love nothing more than to welcome all into heaven with open arms, but, as it turns out, there’s this clause in the fine print about God not being able to let sin into heaven, and that’s why God is bound to send sinners to hell. It’s sort of like king Darius after he realizes he was tricked into signing the orders for Daniel to be thrown into the lions’ den. He doesn’t want to do it, but he has no other option. Murray, however, explains so well that because sin is against God, God must be against sin. It is part of God’s essential nature. If he is not against sin, he is not God.
This quote is at the beginning of Murray’s excellent chapter on Justification. He argues that because sin is such a terrible offence against God and deserves God’s wrath, the actions on God’s part restore us to a right relationship with him would have be extraordinary. And that’s exactly what they are.