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Proverbial Hump Day: Proverbs 11:31
How much more does the sinner get what they deserve
Today’s proverb, Proverbs 11:31, is a punch in the gut—if you’re a sinner. And, boy, does it hurt.
If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!
Why So Rhetorical?
The first thing to notice about this verse is its rhetorical composition. Most biblical translations begin this verse with the little word of “if” as if to say, “Were it possible, the righteous would receive their due on earth.” It is possible, for we know that all things are possible with God.
But why be rhetorical? Who is the righteous, exactly?
No one in the Old Testament sought after God, and New Testament believers don’t have a great track record either. But there is One who was, and is, righteous—Jesus Christ our Lord. When we believe on Him, all His righteousness is imputed into us. In other words, we are not righteous of our own accord, but put on His righteousness as an act of faith. It is by grace that we are saved, through that faith. Even that is a gift from God, says Ephesians 2:8.
But if we were righteous by our own strength and power, then we would surely get our due. As is, we do not get our due. Instead, we receive the rewards of righteousness without having to meet all of its requirements. God treats us as if we were righteous because we are in Christ.
God’s greater point is this: The righteous get their just reward. Believers get the same reward, but it isn’t due to our righteousness, since we have none. It is because of Christ’s righteousness in us. Christ Himself, the true righteousness of God, did not get his just due since he was crucified on our behalf. We should let that sink in.
While this proverb relies on a rhetorical clause to set up its stark conclusion, we should keep in mind that it represents a reality from the viewpoint of God that no man, no woman, no human has ever lived up to.
The Ungodly and Sinner Get Their Due
While the righteous, if there were any righteous (apart from Christ), would get their just reward, and we know that Christ didn’t, even more so, the ungodly and sinner should get theirs. Why is that?
It’s because of one thing: God’s wrath is embedded into the makeup of His creation. Those who disobey Him deserve death.
In both Colossians and Ephesians, the Apostle Paul makes reference to our previous nature saying we were dead in our trespasses. Now, however, we are alive with Christ. That is not by our doing, but by His. In Ephesians 2:3 he says, like all of the ungodly, before our appointment in Christ, we were by nature “children of wrath.”
Our natural state is to suffer the wrath of God. Our unnatural state, the state in which we now find ourselves by virtue of our faith in Christ, is a state of eternal and perpetual righteousness. If we naturally are due the wrath of God but escape that fate by virtue of Christ’s righteousness, then what is this “wrath of God” that we have escaped?
The wrath of God has very often been portrayed as some immutable rage that God has against the world, but that is an imperfect view. The wrath of God is the tails side of the Almighty’s divine coin. Heads is His unmerited favor upon those who believe in His Son. Tails the merited separation from God as expressed by the law of reaping and sowing.
He created the heavens, the universe, and everything that there is. And He created them with built in physical and spiritual laws that cannot be overridden. Those laws are immutable. And one of those laws is His wrath. Those who desecrate God’s holiness, who thwart His divine righteousness, who sin and fall short of His eternal glory deserve His wrath. That is, His eternal judgment.
God’s ultimate purpose is to save His elect and make them corporately a fitting bride for His Son, and then to display His power through them as His corporate Bride.
We should thank God that we have not been appointed to suffer His wrath as the ungodly have, but to receive His grace and His mercy despite our basic nature.