It is common to hear people talk about the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament as if He changed at some point. Usually, they say that the God of the Old Testament is a God full of wrath and anger, but the New Testament God is a God of pure love that has no anger.
When we look at God’s judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:23-29), the flood in Noah’s day (Genesis 6:11-22) and the strict laws recorded in the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), God’s judgement seems to be on full display. In the New Testament, we see Jesus’ sacrifice as the ultimate sign of love (John 3:16). When we pull these out by themselves, it can appear that God did change at some point. But to say God is not the same from the Old Testament to the new denies His immutability – the fact that he does not change (James 1:17).
In the Old Testament, we see God’s love and mercy right from the beginning with Adam and Eve giving them everything they needed in the Garden of Eden. Even after they sinned, God was merciful and loving allowing them to live and giving them clothes (Genesis 3:21). Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, He promised to relent from destroying the cities if there were as few as ten righteous people found (Genesis 18:32). Even though there were not even ten righteous people found, God still rescued Lot and his family from destruction (Genesis 19:15). Even the laws in the Pentateuch were laws of mercy. God intended to bless Israel for obedience to His law, and the laws were meant to purge evil from among the people so that they would not be led astray.
Psalm 106 retells Israel’s disobedience of the Israelites in Moses’ day in how they “forgot His works” (Psalm 106:13). Even through their disobedience God was patient and loving. The Psalm recalls their level of sin, immorality, and idolatry:
They did not destroy the peoples,
as the LORD commanded them,
but they mixed with the nations
and learned to do as they did.
They served their idols,
which became a snare to them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons;
they poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was polluted with blood.
Thus, they became unclean by their acts,
and played the whore in their deeds.
But despite their unfaithfulness, God showed them great love and mercy and turned the heart of the king to release them:
Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,
when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
He caused them to be pitied
by all those who held them captive. (Psalm 106:44-46)
When we see God’s love for His covenant people along with His judgment, we can clearly see that His judgment reflects His great holiness and that in love He shows great patience with His people.
In the New Testament, John 3:16 illustrates God’s love, but it also displays His holiness and justice. The love shown by God in this verse is conditional, applying only to “whoever believes in [Jesus].” Since that is true, it stands to reason that the opposite is true as well – that whosoever does not believe will perish and not have eternal life. Jesus says the same in John 14:6 when He says, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” God shows great love to those who have faith in Jesus, but for those who do not, He will show His justice and wrath to them (Romans 1:18).
In the book of Revelation, God promises eternal joy in His presence where every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4) and the glory of God gives light and Jesus will be the lamp (Revelation 21:23) for all who have put their faith in Jesus. But divine wrath will come for those who do not believe including seven bowls of wrath, and widespread death so severe that blood will flow about five feet high for miles and miles (Revelation 14:20).
It is hard for us as humans to understand that God can have these two seemingly opposite attributes exist perfectly within Him at the same time. God is perfectly loving and perfectly holy and just at the same time. His love is not more important and does not overrule His justice. These attributes, as well as all His others, make Him God. If it were any other way, He would cease to be God.
We must be careful to not think that when we have faith in Jesus that God simply ignores our sin or sweeps it under the rug. The truth is that when we put our faith in Jesus, we are putting our faith that Jesus became the propitiation for our sin, that is, Jesus willingly satisfied God’s wrath for our sin (1 John 4:10). God did this out of love and is still perfectly just because the price has been paid for our sin through Jesus’ blood (Hebrews 9:22). This is the heart of the gospel as Paul says, God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
This should be a great comfort to us to know that God has not and never will change.