The Goodness and Severity of God

The Goodness and Severity of God
Robert Wurtz II

Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22 NKJV)

Paul turns our attention to the state of the unbelieving Jews of which He had elected to His purposes, but they refused to admit the need of confession of sin on their part and so set aside the baptism of John. They annulled God’s purposes of grace so far as they applied to them (A.T. Robertson on Luke 7:30). As a consequence of this, instead of continuing in God’s goodness they became objects of the severity of God. The severity of God is then defined as being “cut off” as one would cut a branch off of a tree. It ceases to enjoy the precious resources of its former source, immediately dies and begins the process of drying up. 

Our passage brings the two ways in which man experiences God into view: goodness and severity. Our Greek word for goodness could just as well be translated kindness. We have this rendering of Romans 2:4 from the ESV, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The kindly quality of God, manifested in the various graces that He provides, is intended to cause everyone to change their mind and turn to Him from sin. Nevertheless, the people presume upon God’s goodness and as an immutable consequence are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath when God will judge the human race. (see Romans 2:5)

If everyone on earth were moving in the goodness of God there would be no need for reminders such as Romans 2:4-5 and Romans 11:22. Nevertheless, the world and even many churches are loaded with people who are under the severity of God. That reality forces the hand of any loving Christian or minister to warn the people about their condition. The problem is that people want a God who is devoid of the severity quality and there is no such God. To present God without both His kindly and severity qualities is to misrepresent God and fashion an idol that fits our own desires. 

Moreover, this is why a growing number of theologies are designed to render God’s severity quality obsolete or impotent. People want to live without the threat of God’s severity looming over their heads. This is understandable. Right? I mean, who wants to live in fear all the time? In fact, this is why modern versions of Calvinism are becoming popular. They offer the promise of eternal security in spite of how sinful the person lives. In this way Calvinism is more like a soul-insurance policy that will cover me even if I backslide and renounce Christ. I don’t have to take seriously the religion of my fathers, but can scorn the standards of many generations under the soul’s shield of shelter. It becomes a modern rendition of Anne Hutchinson’s antinomian free grace theology that was condemned as heresy in the early 1600s. 

Paul tells us to consider the goodness and severity of God (emphasis on and). We do ourselves no favors by ignoring one or the other. Our Greek word for consider means to see and perceive. The KJV renders the word behold. God’s goodness (kindness) is a wonderful thing if we continue in it. If we do not then in time it will no longer apply to us — for we, as did the unbelieving Jews, will experience the severity of God. This is the simplicity of it. If we want to recreate God as a kindly God only, then we have put ourselves in danger of misunderstanding God and His expectations of us. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22 NKJV) 

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