Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. (Galatians 3:13)
Great hymns have the ability to unite the family of God around the truths that matter most. But when people from within the church begin to question or deny what the church holds most dear, great hymns become controversial.
Such is the case with “In Christ Alone.” Some say they find it offensive enough to change one controversial line, or abandon the song altogether. But I want you to see that the original line is deeply biblical and profoundly good news. The second verse says,
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
Some find this line so troubling they have changed it to “the love of God was magnified.”
It’s certainly true that the love of God was magnified at the cross. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his love toward us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And in Galatians 2:21, the apostle Paul refers to the magnifying of love at the cross when he refers to Jesus as the one “who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The cross is the pinnacle of God’s expression of his love for his people. It is the most magnificent single act of love in all of history. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) — and it’s even greater love when it’s the Son of God himself giving himself for sinners who have rebelled and rejected him.
So, yes, it is true that “the love of God was magnified” at the cross. But why would anyone want to change the original lyrics? Because they take them to be untrue, even offensive. Unless your mind has been shaped by the Bible, you will find it offensive when the Bible tells us that we all, every one of us, are sinners. And that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
All humans sin — and all humans are sinners — this is high treason against the God who made us and to whom we owe our allegiance. Our sin is an affront to him. And it is such a serious thing for us finite creatures to rebel against our infinite creator that the just punishment for our sin, even just one, is eternal death. God is an infinitely valuable person, and any sin against him, whether we think of it as big or small, is infinitely egregious and the just punishment for it is an eternal punishment in hell. Unless the grace of God intervenes.
Where does the wrath of God come in? The wrath of God is his righteous response to the outrage that sin is. It would not be good news if God were unrighteous, and if he were not angry with genocidal dictators and the pimps of child prostitution. The love of God wouldn’t be very comforting if God didn’t get angry when people assault the weak and vulnerable, especially his loved ones. If he were to stand idly by, and not be angry when his loved ones are abused and hurt and mistreated, then we wouldn’t be very impressed by his love.
Because God is justly angry with human sin, the death of Christ at the cross is not only the magnifying of God’s love; it’s also the satisfying of God’s wrath for those who believe in him. Because the Father loved us, even while we were sinners, and because Jesus also loved us, they partnered together to bring about our salvation through the sinless Son of God dying the death we sinners deserve — the love of God rescuing us from the wrath of God, without compromising the justice of God, to the glory of God.
That God has wrath against human sin that needs to be satisfied may be terribly offensive, if there’s no Savior. But if the love of God has made a way, then we only diminish his love when we mute his wrath. The way to let the love of God shine is not to let his righteous wrath go dark, but to acknowledge it, and stand in awe of what we’ve been saved from by the amazing self-giving of God’s Son, and to invite others into the rescue.