Does God Get Upset When We Disobey?

"Yes." And...

Nobody likes to hear they’ve disappointed God. But what if God’s displeasure is a sign of His love? Dr. David Powlison, counselor and faculty member at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), compares God’s love and discipline to that of a father and explains why God is not indifferent toward human sin.  

David Powlison has been doing biblical counseling for over 30 years and has written numerous articles on counseling and on the relationship between faith and psychology. His books include Speaking Truth in Love, Seeing with New Eyes, Power Encounters, and The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context. 

Hebrews 12:5-10 (ESV)

5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

“Does God get upset with us when we disobey?” David offered both a short and long answer to the question. The short answer was “Yes.” What was your immediate reaction to that?
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Why do you think David decided to give a long answer too?
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Why do you think some people want the answer to be a simple "No"?
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David’s long answer expanded on why God is disappointed with human sin. He said that God would be less than a father if He wasn’t concerned with or grieved by our sin. Give an example of either an earthly father’s displeasure with bad behavior or God’s displeasure with sin that would be based in love for the child or beloved.
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A lot of non-believers criticize Christianity because they associate it with an angry God who punishes sinners. In what ways does David’s teaching challenge this understanding of our faith?
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Ephesians 4:29-32 (ESV)

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Ephesians 4:29–32 provides some guidelines for Christians to live by and says it’s possible to grieve the Holy Spirit of God if they don’t live by them. Why do you think human sin grieves God?
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David made an important distinction between being under the grace of God in Jesus versus being under the wrath of God in sin. What do you think the consequences of human sin would look like if we were still under the wrath of God?
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 God's grace is what allows His people to live in freedom and joy. As Lamentations 3:22 says, "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail." 

Grace, Not Wrath

Several months after David filmed the video we just watched, he filmed a follow-up interview. Several people reacted online to his initial answers regarding God’s disappointment with sin. They had questions and concerns about God’s discipline, so David decided to clarify his thoughts for a broader audience. Take a look.  

Right away, David noted something he talked about in his first video: We are not under the wrath of God—we are under the grace of God. He said it’s important to keep that first in our minds when thinking about how God views our sin.  

Romans 5:8 (ESV)

8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Romans 5:8 shows us that God’s favor is towards His people, not away from them. He didn’t wait for us to get our acts together before sending Christ to die on the cross. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. So even at our very worst, God comes to us. That’s what it means to be under grace, not wrath. 

Why do you think it’s important to understand grace before considering how God feels about human sin?
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After understanding grace, David said we have to remember the father-child relationship we have with God. Even under grace—or maybe especially because of grace—our sin grieves God because He loves us and wants the best for us. All of God’s action toward us is ultimately for our good, which is why He disciplines us in sin and works to transform us. 

David said that our conscience is evidence that God cares about our sin. Either our conscience is troubled, and it should be, or it’s troubled and can’t be soothed when it should be. In other words, God cares that we’re both free from sin and free from guilt over sin. As David said, our conscience “brings us to conviction, and it brings us to peace.”  

Share a time when your conscience was troubled over your sin, and you confessed and changed your behavior based on your conscience.
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Describe a time you couldn’t soothe your conscience. What kept you from relying on God’s grace in that time?
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David shared four primary questions he received after his last interview:
  1. How is God different than earthly fathers?
  2. How can God be disappointed in us if He has foreknowledge?
  3. How does our union with Christ affect this question? Can God be disappointed in Jesus? 
  4. Some people are particularly traumatized, guilt-laden, and fearful because of sin. How does a confirmation of God’s disappointment help them at all? 

David said that God is like a father in all the ways that fathers are good and loving, but He is unlike a father in all the ways that fathers are hurtful or harmful. Earthly fathers discipline their children according to their own instincts, which may or may not be good. God, on the other hand, disciplines as a wise, loving, all-knowing Father, and His instincts are always right.  

There are all kind of different fathers. What’s your father like? Is comparing God to him helpful at all? Why or why not?
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In your mind, how is God like a father? What good characteristics of fathers do you see in Him? In what ways does comparing God to a father fall short?
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David said the second and third questions don’t take into account the full extent to which God is involved in our lives. While God does have foreknowledge, He still wants to engage with us personally and work out the details of our lives—good and bad—for His purposes. 

Describe a time when God dealt with you and your sin very personally. What good did He work out in you? What purposes do you believe He fulfilled over time?
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While we are united with Jesus, it’s possible for God to be displeased by our sin, but not with Jesus. We are, after all, fallen human beings, and Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. At the same time, because of Christ, there’s no reason for shame or fear over sin because God has fully accomplished our salvation and freedom from sin in and through Him.  

Do you walk in freedom from sin? If so, praise God! If not, take some time to pray for the Lord to relieve you from guilt and receive His unconditional mercy and grace in Christ.
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Psalm 103:1-5 (ESV)

Bless the Lord, O My Soul

Of David.

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits,

3who forgives all your iniquity,

who heals all your diseases,

4who redeems your life from the pit,

who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5who satisfies you with good

so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The last question David read came from someone concerned about people who are, or have been, traumatized, guilt-laden, or fearful because of sin. The person writing is afraid that these people will hear David’s one-word response of “yes—God is upset by human sin” and find it threatening or disturbing. David understands this concern but wants to reassure all who struggle with sin that God’s grace comes first. God forgives all sin, heals diseases, crowns us with steadfast love and mercy.  

You likely know people like the ones the person who wrote in was describing. Who comes to your mind as someone who is traumatized by sin and fearful of God? Write their names down. What are some ways you can demonstrate God’s steadfast love, mercy, and forgiveness to them so that they might be more receptive to a message of grace?
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Hearing that God is upset by our sin can be difficult until you realize it’s the depth of God’s love that is the source of His displeasure. The Lord desires the very best for His children, so it’s no wonder He hurts when we miss the mark. As you contemplate your own disobedience, consider the “better way” God intends for you. Spend some time praying over how God might be calling you out of one way of life and into another.  

This video is a publication of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). All content is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in any manner without written permission from CCEF. For more information on classes, materials, speaking events, distance education and other services, please visit