Posted by: T. Boyd | June 19, 2011

Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.

The above title phrase is found in the book of Romans. My reaction to that phrase has always been to wonder about God’s anger and reconciling it with His love for mankind. It dawned on me this time in reading Romans, chapter 12, that Paul is warning us not to take out vengeance ourselves. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ ” (Romans 12:19 ESV).

Why not let us do the repaying? Because, our Father is merciful. There is a good chance, given time, that His Spirit can work on that person and bring him to repentance, and let the payment that has already been evoked to repay that debt – namely, the debt paid for all sin by His Son, Jesus Christ.

I don’t understand how this recompense works out, but somehow the new birth that happens when a person accepts God’s salvation enables his guilt and debt to be transferred to the work of redemption of Jesus at Calvary. Does that mean that if a person does not become a child of God through this miraculous gift that he has to pay the debt himself? I don’t know. Maybe someday this will become clear to me also. [Edited on 13Nov.2011: Actually scripture is clear that all will be judged. And the penalty of rejecting God’s gift of His Son is severe!  My confusion was along the line of “double payment” that Doug introduces in the comments.]

Until then, I will stick to one of my fundamental assumptions about God: He is just, He is fair, and when all is said and done, and “I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12), then I will continue to say, “He did it perfectly – well done, Father!”


[Edited on 20Nov.2014: I don’t think the phrase above,

“but somehow the new birth that happens when a person accepts God’s salvation enables his guilt and debt to be transferred to the work of redemption of Jesus at Calvary”

uses the correct verb phrases. Maybe a better phrasing would be:

“but somehow the transformation of the new birth through God’s provision of salvation embraces the transfer of the payment of his guilt and debt to Jesus upon the  cross.”]


  1. Jeff Farris on Facebook says: I agree with Doug’s answers in that discussion. I’ve been taking part in a discussion with a universalist, a woman who I believe is involved in the B’Hai faith (on another site). She takes the extreme view of that verse out of 1st John to mean that since Jesus paid the price for the sins of not only ourselves, but the whole world, that the whole world will ultimately be saved. I hold to the sufficiency of Christ IF the whole world would receive Him. He died for the sins of the world. If the world received Him, case closed. But the obvious fact is that the whole world does not receive Him, in which case all the verses that apply to those who reject Christ come into play.

  2. Doug,

    I really like your closing paragraph about the double effect of Christ’s blood sacrifice. I will have to study/meditate on that more.

    I have not read the history of this debate – I didn’t know that “double payment” was a long-time discussion, but found that very interesting. I should know that any question that comes to my own heart about theology is certainly not “new under the sun” and has been historically hashed out.

    One problem as a layman is not knowing the name of the category of the history of a particular question. So I would not even know with what terms to “google” to find out. 🙂

    I guess when I decided to go to graduate school in science instead of seminary (decided around 1964), I delayed my gain of knowledge in the history of theology. Oh well, in a few years I can talk with the original authors of those debates. Won’t that be wonderful? Or “then shall I know as I am known” will negate even the desire to discuss it – probably we will be so eternally enthralled and rejoicing in really seeing the glory of God with our own eyes that our “wonders” of the present age will seem dull and uninteresting.

    One thought I will (maybe naively) add is that, as in the predestination discussions, our limitation in not being able to understand time – I believe, as C. S. Lewis, my great teacher, that God is outside of time and all parts of the timeline are “present” with Him at the same “time” – that our future events are equally present as the ones of the past.

    So we cannot grasp the thought that He avoids “double payment” because He already knows for whom Christ’s ransom is needed – so we have to invent labels such as “particular/limited” atonement to find a way out of this paradox.

    On another follow-up to Sunday, I recalled the John Piper quote of Jonathan Edwards: “God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.” (See the message at ).

    It brings much joy to my heart that you are conversing with me about these things – I have not had that kind of conversation in a long time – people in general are too busy and/or not interested in such matters these days. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me. I can tell you have a real love for things eternal.

    May the Lord bless you and keep you and Jessica this day in your walk before Him.

  3. The issue of “double payment” has a long history, as I’m sure you are aware. On the one side are those who suggest that general/unlimited atonement necessarily implies EITHER double payment or universalism (i.e. that all persons are/will be eventually redeemed).

    On the other side are those who suggest that particular/limited atonement means that the redeeming sacrifice of Christ was only made on behalf of those whom God chose and/or foreknew would turn to him.

    There are alternative answers, however, so this traditional distinction comes close to being a false dichotomy. It is really only a “dilemma” for those who hold view the atonement as substitutionary (as I do).

    For example, Anselm (and most conservative Catholics) believe that Christ’s sacrifice “satisfied” all that was required by the Father, thus freeing God to “have mercy on whomever he chooses.” (Some Catholics in the Augustinian tradition would ground God’s mercy-showing in election, while other Catholics suggest that God shows mercy to those whose conduct is worthy of receiving mercy.)

    As far as evangelical alternatives, Andrew Fuller (a 19th Century Baptist) first coined the phrase “sufficient for all but efficient for the elect” in regard to the nature of the atonement. Others have rightly pointed out that this means the sacrifice of Christ was QUALITATIVELY infinite, that is, it was a sacrifice of such kind that it is capable of being applied to a limitless number of people. On the other hand, there are not a limitless number of people in existence. (Though the number is larger than we can know, it is fixed in the mind of God.) Therefore, we regard the payment of Christ to be “sufficient” for an infinite number while on being “efficient” on the elect (however your tradition defines that term).

    But what of “double payment”? The answer, as recent scholars have pointed out, is simpler than we once thought. If Christ “paid” for sins objectively with a qualitatively infinite sacrifice, but a person subjectively rejects Christ’s work on their behalf, then they are choosing to face the just judgment of God on their on merits. The reason it isn’t “double” payment is because the blood of Christ functions in two ways, just as Romans 3 suggests. It not only makes God the justifier of those who have faith (as almost all agree), but it also demonstrates the real justice of God as well. In this way, every person who rejects the sacrifice made on their behalf essentially proves the justice of God by their very rejection. No blood is “wasted,” as it were, for Christ’s sacrifice has the double effect of saving those who trust in him and upholding the righteousness of God against all who reject his grace. Therefore, we are able to genuinely proclaim Christ as savior of all even if all will not be saved.

    Great thoughts. Keep ’em coming!

  4. Well said, Doug. My question, “Does that mean that if a person does not become a child of God through this miraculous gift that he has to pay the debt himself? “, goes back to something I have wondered about often.

    Scripture says, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” ““I John 2:2

    An unbeliever might ask, “Then, if this is true, why should I have to pay for my sins as well?” Or he might say, “Since my sins have been paid for, then I will go to heaven when I die, and so will everyone else.”

    I answer this in my own heart in a way that is hinted at in “The Great Divorce” by C. S. Lewis: Unless I am born again, there is nothing that survives death with which to enter heaven. And more pertinently, Jesus himself told Nicodemas, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John 3:5.

    I guess the question, “Then if I die in my sins and have to pay for them, then isn’t that double payment – once by Christ, and then by me?” is easily answered by replying: but God foreknew who was to be saved and who was not, so, no, there is no double payment.

    I’m mostly writing this out for my own clarification to settle these questions in my own heart, and maybe thereby I will be better equipped to help someone else who might be puzzled by these issues.

    Blessings, everyone.

  5. Boyd,

    I think your line of thinking is right on track.

    I also think that Romans 3 bears on our reading of Romans 12 (since it is fair to assume that Paul expected his audience to have read the book in a normative manner). In Romans 3, Paul’s line of argument is essentially that the cross makes God both “just and the justifier” of whoever has faith in Christ. As such, no one can say “God is not just” unless they are overlooking the cross or, as is more often the case, downplaying the significance of the sacrifice made there by Jesus. Ironically, I think that taking revenge into our own hands has a similar effect.

    Consider the following: When you have been genuinely wronged by someone you face one of two realities: (1) the person who has wronged you has been/will be redeemed by Christ, or (2) the person who has wronged you never will be redeemed (Logically, this exhausts all possibilities.)

    If the person who wrongs you has been/will be redeemed, then all of their sins will be atoned for–including their sins against you. If you take vengeance into your own hands you are basically telling God, “Thanks for the cross. I believe it’s powerful enough to get people to heaven, it’s just not good enough to deal with all of their sins. So I’ll handle this one myself.” That sentiment, whether we are conscious of it or not, is exactly what our heart is assenting to whenever we take revenge into our own hands.

    But what of the wrongs committed against you by someone who will never be redeemed? In this case you would still be trampling the justice of God. You’d be saying, in effect, “God your justice is not sufficient to deal with this sin, so I’ll handle it myself.”

    So, either the person who wronged you has been completely forgiven by Jesus or the person who wronged you has chosen to pay for their sins themselves (e.g., God’s just judgment). In no case could you take revenge without trampling the grace/forgiveness of God on the one hand, or the justice/judgment of God on the other. And since God is both gracious and just, we should rejoice that the same grace that saved a wretched sinner like us is good enough to cover the sins of the persons who wrong us.

    Hope this helped,

  6. Thanks, Michael for your comment. I agree with what you said.

    As I wrote before, though, I wonder about parts of the whole plan of God about the justice. But as it says in Deut. elsewhere, “The things…revealed…belong to man.” We are not able to know everything about it. And that is an understatement, of course.

  7. Boyd,

    I definitely agree that the thrust of the passage is that we need not seek revenge, or even fret about another receiving justice for wrongs done to us. (Or anyone else for that matter.)

    That said, I do think the citation of Deuteronomy 32:35 indicates that God will indeed punish his enemies in due time.

    We can truly rest in agreement with Abraham, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?”

  8. I asked my wife to critique this essay, really meaning to check it over for grammar, etc. But she wrote the following which, I think, is very helpful.

    She writes:
    I agree with what you have said, and I especially like what you said about God’s being merciful and the possibility that with God as the agent of vengeance, there is a possibility of full repentance.

    What I tend to see in this verse is that it is a warning and a protection for us. God can execute vengeance because he is perfect and just. If I try to take revenge, or if I even contemplate it, it becomes a poison in my system that will damage my relationship with God and destroy my relationships with others. Given my fallen nature, there is no way that I can contemplate vengeance without becoming tainted and contaminated. God is perfect and therefore will never become contaminated. For a human being, vengeance will, I think, always be obsessive until it is laid at the feet of Jesus. I know how hard it has been for me to release my feelings of past perceived injustices. As long as I held on to those feelings and used them to justify continued hurt, I had no peace with God or man. But once I was able to give those feelings to Him, there was real peace that passes all understanding. The Enemy, or perhaps just my own flesh, will try to revive those feelings from time to time, and I must determinedly bring them again to the altar. The longer I allow myself to chew on them, the harder it is to bring them, so I have asked the Lord to help me keep shorter accounts. And when I have truly offered them, I usually find that it is not vengeance that I want for the other person. Chambers’ reading for tomorrow is from Job 42, I think. “And when Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored prosperity to him.” The Bible gives examples of physical prosperity, but I think of it more as spiritual prosperity – because nothing is worth anything, not even good human relationships, if you don’t have peace with God.

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