Does God Really Love?


Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels

Atheists accuse God of being hateful. “Progressive Christians” claim the Bible simply isn’t an authority or true because it has all those stories about God bringing judgment down on people . . . and they died. Others say God’s not the problem: His followers are the hateful ones because they preach hell and sin; in contrast Jesus “hung out with sinners.”

The last position implies that Christians who believe all the Bible aren’t actually following Christ. They’d say, I suppose, that God is loving, but somehow He failed to communicate to His followers what love was supposed to look like.

The whole idea is another way of rejecting Jesus.

God could not have been more clear: [I] love the world so much [I] sent my Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Nothing tricky there. Just God telling us straight out that He loves all of us. That His love caused Him to make a monumental sacrifice, one that Jesus (being God) voluntarily carried out by stepping into time and space, living on earth away from His heavenly home, and dying unjustly in order that we who believe might live.

There’s more.

From the beginning God loved. He loved Adam so much He didn’t leave him alone. He created Eve. He loved the two of them so much He warned them away from the one tree that would bring them death.

When Adam willfully ate from the tree anyway, God didn’t stop loving them. He set in motion the way of escape by giving a promise or a prophecy, whichever way you prefer to look at it: Death was now a fact of life, but one day, the Son of Man would crush death.

History unfolded with God giving pictures of this rescue that He planned, for all who believed: Isaac, rescued by a substitute lamb; Israel freed from slavery; Daniel, delivered from the lions; Jonah, given a second chance to obey God. So many more.

God also sent prophets who warned of sin, even as God Himself had done for Adam. Besides the warnings, these prophets told of the coming redemption. For all who believed.

At the right time, God sent His Son as that One to rescue those who believe from the dominion of darkness.

God’s work in the world has always been about love.

That’s one reason He refers to the Church—those of us from every tongue and nation and ethnicity who believe in Jesus—as the bride of Christ. Because clearly, bridegrooms love their brides.

If God didn’t love, He more than likely would have let us wallow in the mess of our own making. Those who turn their backs on Him often do. So do those who pretend to know Him but actually don’t. They say they’re his, but they act from their own evil desires. These could be people in the church or outside the church. Jesus made it clear that one day they will come to Him and He will tell them He never knew them. He said that some would come to the wedding feast too late or not properly dressed. They simply won’t be ready.

But doesn’t love make accommodation for those who aren’t ready? Sure. By warning them to get ready. That’s what God has asked His followers to do. We’re the ones He put in charge of getting the word out that anyone who wants to attend the wedding feast has to get ready.

“Getting ready,” He also makes clear, is something He has provided for as a free gift we simply accept by faith.

Pretty easy, right? We who follow Jesus just have to tell people they have a free gift waiting at the will-call window. They just need to pick it up.

“Yeah, but that’s out of my way,” some may say. Or, “I don’t think I need the gift.” Some might say, “I need to go to this other party first,” or “I can’t show up looking like this; they’d never give me the gift if I didn’t first dress up a little.”

Of course there’s the crowd that says, “Faith! Faith? You’re talking about wishful thinking because we all know, if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true. A free gift of love? No. Accepted on faith? Hahahah!! You’re not going to find me falling for that one. Show me this banquet and this bridegroom first and them I might consider showing up at the will-call window. But probably not. Because anything can be fake news or photo-shopped.”

All the while, God is patiently waiting with arms outstretched, holes in the palm of His hands, to bring us to the feast He has prepared for us, out of His love.

Published in: on May 8, 2019 at 5:32 pm  Comments Off on Does God Really Love?  
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Who’s Fault Was It?


Easter has become a somewhat divisive time of year. Some people simply ignore it as a “religious holiday” and they don’t do religion. Others enjoy it as a commemoration of New Beginnings—the start of spring and a time when children can do Easter egg hunts and receive Easter baskets filled with Easter candy. Sort of a light-side Trick or Treat.

Of course others will be in church rejoicing and celebrating and worshiping the risen King of Kings—Jesus.

But even for those of us who believe Jesus died to bring life, there’s some division. Some Christians, apparently, blame the Jews for crucifying Jesus, and they hold a grudge even to this day. Some blame the Father—He killed His Son to satisfy His wrath.

While Scripture is clear that God rightly and justly responded to sin with wrath, there’s a way in which this concept can be twisted to make God look as if He’s the bad guy.

In case anyone’s in doubt about God’s wrath, Scripture makes the point clear. Here’s what Paul said in Romans 5:

Much more then, having now been justified [fn]by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (v 9)

The writer of Hebrews stressed the same point in chapter 3:

Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE,
DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME,
AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS,
WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me,
AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS.
“THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION,
AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART,
AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’;
AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH,
‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.’” (vv 7-11)

I quoted the whole passage because I wanted to show that it says this is from the Holy Spirit. The New Testament writer was actually quoting from Psalm 95, and clearly, throughout the New Testament the various individuals referred to the Psalms and the prophets as direct words from God. They referred to them as Scripture. And here he says the Holy Spirit said it. Which makes since because Peter tells us all the Scriptures were God-breathed, that they didn’t come from an act of human will, but God gave them through His Holy Spirit.

So essentially, from the mouth of God, we know of His wrath.

But did Jesus die because God was angry and vengeful?

Not in the least. First, God did not act in a fit of rage. Scripture tells us that Christ’s coming was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Nothing spur of the moment. Not something that God did because He flew off the handle. His plan all along was to love us to death—His death.

Secondly, God acted because He is just. Sin deserves punishment. He told Adam and Eve that from the beginning. He told each of the patriarchs that when He gave them His promise of blessing. They’d prosper if the obeyed and they’d fall under a curse if they disobeyed. He told Moses and the people of Israel the same thing.

So, guess what? When they hardened their hearts and basically told God they were determined to go their own way, not His, God said, essentially, Your actions triggered (or provoked) the curse I told you about.

So who’s fault was Jesus’s death on the cross?

Ours, and only ours. We are the ones who went astray, creating the need for redemption.

Christ, on the other hand, willingly gave Himself as a ransom for us all. He said, in fact, that it was the joy of thinking about us that got Him through the horrors of crucifixion.

The ironic thing that those who want to claim that God the Father turned His wrath on His Son, seem to forget is that God is One. We do not have three gods. Somehow in the beauty of the triune existence of God, He exhibits three persons, but they are all Him. All One. So the idea that God was angry at Jesus is just another way of saying that God was angry at God.

It’s kind of a nonsensical idea.

But it doesn’t change the facts. When we sinned, God’s righteous justice demanded His wrath. Jesus dying in our place satisfied that wrath.

We must not soften any of those truths, but we also must not impugn the lovely character of our good God. He has only and always treated us according to His character. He passes judgment upon us because He is just, but in love He redeems us, sacrifices for us, dies for us. Even if there were only one of us, He’d give Himself up in order that the one might be saved.

Can Someone Lose His Salvation?


Many Christians may not be aware that there are Bible scholars who disagree concerning the question: Can someone lose his salvation? This is a practical matter for me because I have family members who certainly look, by their choices, as if they have walked away from the Lord, even though they made a profession of faith at some point in their lives.

Some passages in the Bible make it seem abundantly clear that no, a Christian doesn’t need to fear losing his position in Christ. Verses like 1 Corinthians 1:21–22: “He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” And Ephesians 1:13b: “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Or how about Ephesians 4:30? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Of course there are other passages such as Romans 8 that tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God, and passages in Deuteronomy that say God is with us, that He will not leave us or forsake us. The Psalmist says God’s compassion for us is like that of a father. And of course there is the example of the Prodigal Son who simply stopped acting like a son until he came to his senses and returned to his father’s house. He was looking for servant status but instead received from his father the treatment of a son, as if he had never left.

So it’s settled, right? Christians can’t lose their salvation.

Except, what about the parable of the sower. Jesus’s explanation in Luke 8 of one kind of experience with the seed, the word of God, is this: “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” So receiving the word is not the same as becoming a Christian?

Or how about Hebrews 6 and 10? From the latter, vv 26–27: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”

From the former, vv 4–6:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

That description certainly sounds like a Christian to me. In addition, there are any number of atheists who will tell you, they once were Christians, but then they “realized” it was all myth.

So which is it? I have to admit, I kind of waver. I’ve thought at one point that God seals us but doesn’t imprison us, so if anyone wants to leave Him, they can, though nothing outside them will snatch them from His hand.

That sounds reasonable.

But of late I’ve found more and more verses that indicate that a Christian is really known to be a Christian because he perseveres. The idea is continuing in the faith.

Colossians 1:23a is an example: “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” Or how about Hebrews 3:6: “Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”

Hold fast, endure.

One commentary said there’s a difference between falling, like Peter did when he denied Christ, and falling away like Judas did when he betrayed him.

Another thought from a commentary concerns the Hebrews 6 passage that basically says, if you leave the faith, you can’t come back. Or does it. In truth, the idea may be that if you enter into sin and continue in your sin, you can’t repent and stay as you are. The Prodigal Son couldn’t repent and not return home, for instance. He had to leave the life that repudiated his relationship with his father.

So, can someone lose their salvation? Only God knows. Were those who knew the truth, who believed for a time, ever Christians? They certainly didn’t persevere, unless they come back home as the Prodigal did. Can we know what’s in a person’s future? Of course not.

What we can know is if we are remaining faithful until the end.

What we can do is pray for those who have turned their back on Christ.

I mean, He Himself asked the Father to forgive the very ones who crucified Him, so clearly He holds no grudges. And who knows which of the people we pray for will come out of the pig sty and come home?

Published in: on July 31, 2018 at 5:23 pm  Comments Off on Can Someone Lose His Salvation?  
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The Love Of God


Sometimes I take God’s love for granted. Then I run across someone who doesn’t believe God is love. Frankly, I was unprepared to read some of the nasty, snide things some people say about God, all the while claiming that they don’t think He exists. I don’t really understand why someone would slander Someone they consider to be an imaginary figure. I mean, do we make disparaging remarks about Bigfoot or the Easter Bunny?

But that’s beside the point. Their clear disdain, even hatred, for God has made me think all the more about His love. The bottom line is quite clear: if God didn’t love us, we would not be here. Why should He tolerate, let alone adopt, a bunch of wayward, selfish, prideful people who spend more time watching TV than talking to Him?

But adopt us, He did. Those of us who walk according to the Spirit, Paul says, who are being led by the Spirit of God, we are sons of God. We were not given a spirit of slavery leading to fear, but a spirit of adoption, by which we cry Abba, Father. (See Romans 8.)

I mean, it’s one thing to say that God saved us. He could have rescued us so that we could be His servants. That would be cool. I mean, I was a fan of the BBC show, Downton Abbey. I saw how the downstairs servants took pride in their jobs. Not all of them, but for the most part, they were happy to be working, happy to have their position, happy to have a place to stay and regular meals to eat. Imagine if the master of the house said that instead of having them as servants, he planned to adopt them as his heirs!

Well, that’s what God has done for us. And the amazing thing—there is no limit to the number of adoptees He will bring into His family. He hasn’t said, only people with a certain IQ or only those who are tall enough or who work out regularly or do a set list of “spiritual” things. He hasn’t said, only blue collar workers or only people in the Southern Hemisphere or only people who resemble Jesus with his dark skin and rough carpenter hands. No. He loves us all. He welcomes us all.

In fact, Christians are the most diverse group of people on the planet. But again I digress (see how easy it is to get sidetracked from God?)

The thing about God’s love that most people miss is that He waits patiently for us. When He sent the prophet Jonah to Nineveh to announce their coming judgment, He was first patient with Jonah. The guy willfully ran from God. He didn’t want God to extend mercy to the Assyrians, and he knew that was likely what God would do. Why? Because that was true to God’s character.

God did exactly what Jonah feared: “When God saw that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented from their calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

Thing was, God first extended His mercy to Jonah. He was merciful to send a storm and a fish to swallow him instead of taking off his head. He was merciful to give Jonah another chance to obey. And when Jonah pouted about God’s extending mercy to the Assyrians, He graciously taught Jonah what was right. Some prophet of God, that guy. But God loved him.

And He loved the Assyrians. They were a violent nation and so wicked He determined to bring judgment upon them. Until they repented, fasted, and prayed.

God extends His love to the whole world—no exceptions. He isn’t filtering out bank robbers or gossips or womanizers—at least if they do what the Assyrians did and turn from their wicked way.

The turning, the repenting, is just a way of accepting God’s love.

I know it’s harder for people today to understand this because in general parents and children don’t have the same relationship they once did. Once, parents would say, Don’t play with matches, and if you disobey me again, I’ll have to spank you. A time out is better than what most parents do today. But again I digress. Parents never took matches away from kids because the parents wanted to bully their kids or to be mean to them or to keep them from what would make them happy. They’d stop them from playing with matches to keep them safe.

God is like THAT. His love is greater than any desire to be liked, as if we could vote God as Person of the Year if only He’d let us have what we want. God’s love means that He makes the tough calls. God’s omniscience means He understands far better than we ever could, what the outcome of actions will be. So His love and His wisdom and knowledge mean there are times when He has to tell His kids, No. We’re asking for matches to play with, or chocolate for breakfast. He loves us too much to give us something so dangerous or unhealthy.

On top of that God loves us so much, He cares more about out spiritual lives than our temporal lives. After all, these bodies are tents. They only house the part of us that is everlasting, and it is the everlasting that is most important. God doesn’t ignore our lives here and now. He loves us that much. He will provide for us, better than for the lilies of the field or the sparrows. But what He wants above all, is for us to become like His Son.

I feel like I’m just getting started talking about God’s love, but this article is long enough. Suffice it to say, I could write all my blog posts about the love of God without coming to an end of it. Oh, I would likely come to an end of my knowledge about His love, but there are so many people like Jonah, like the Assyrians that illustrate God’s patience, which is really just an aspect of His love. It’s an inexhaustible subject.

Published in: on March 2, 2018 at 5:42 pm  Comments (5)  
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God Loves Us Because We’re Special?


George Herbert

George Herbert


This post first appeared here in June 2013 as part of the Evangelical Myths series:

– – – – –

Another myth that has crept into the Church is that God loves us because we’re special.

Western culture influences the evangelical Church. One evidence of this influence is in the development of a Man-centric worldview. Humankind has grown in importance, at the expense of God.

A literature professor of mine gave a generalized view of the philosophical shift that has taken place.

For centuries the culture was God-centric, to the exclusion almost of Man’s responsibility for his sin. God was over all, created all, engineered all, and Man was little more than a puppet or, as the hymn writer said, a worm.

During the Renaissance there was a shift toward valuing Mankind in a different way—in a balanced way. Writers such as John Donne, George Herbert, and a number of others known as the Metaphysical Poets wrote of God in a more intimate, personal way, and some also wrote of their own personal experience.

Today, the pendulum has shifted further so that Humankind is now the chief object of exploration, and God is less so, seen as a mere sidelight, or even thought to be dead or non-existent.

Evangelical Protestants have not been untouched by this change. Writing friend Mike Duran addressed this topic in his article “On Worm Theology,” in which he used the term “worth theology” to describe the current thinking (emphasis in the original):

On the other hand, consider that there is a movement afoot, both in Christian and secular circles, to overemphasize Man’s inherent goodness, giftedness, esteem, and worth. This view swaps worm theology for worth theology, defining God’s redemptive actions in terms of our intrinsic goodness and worth. Rather than self-loathing, worth theology affirms our nature, destiny, and latent abilities. Of course, it can also lead to ego-stroking, gauzy positivism, and an inflated sense of self. Not to mention, denial of the concept of “sin.”

As I understand the rationale for this “worth theology,” it revolves around sentiments like “God don’t make no junk” and “if we are to love our brother as ourselves, then we first have to learn to love ourselves.” Ultimately, we must understand how worthy we are because Christ died for us. Certainly He wouldn’t have died for us if we weren’t worth dying for.

Well, actually He did. He died for us while we were yet sinners.

As I understand Scripture, our great worth does, in fact, come from our creation. The “God don’t make no junk” idea is pretty accurate. We learn in Genesis 1 that all God made, including Humankind, was very good.

But if we go no further in our understanding, we are still not better than worms. What we’ve too often overlooked is that God elevated Humans in a way that forever separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom: He fashioned us in His likeness and breathed His breath into us. We, then, are God’s image bearers!

He also gave us dominion over the rest of creation—not for us to despoil or waste or misuse, but to enjoy, to maintain, to care for. It’s a high and holy charge that God has not rescinded, despite what Humankind did next.

In Adam, we turned our back on God. WE created a barrier between us and God; because of OUR sin and transgressions, God has hid His face from us so that He does not hear. We marred His image in us. It is this state—the absence of the presence of God, the spoiling of the good He made—that makes us wretched.

Some of us are conscious of our state and others deny it with their every breath—still fighting God for control. We want to prove we don’t need Him, that we can do life on our own.

Denial doesn’t change things.

The insidiousness of the “worth theology” is that Christians climbs into a position of control in a similar way as those who choose to deny Him. Individuals, like finicky cats, deign to respond to God’s pleading, as if we are adding worth to His kingdom by coming to Him.

Christianity, then, becomes all about our best life, our health, our wealth, our comfort and ease, our safety and welfare.

But that’s not what God intended.

Christianity is about God. That we have been created in His image is a reflection of His creative power. That He saved us is a reflection of His love and mercy. That we have the ability to walk in newness of life is a reflection of His grace and goodness.

Life, even life here and now, is not about us. It’s about God. And wonder of wonder, He turns around and includes us and blesses us and elevates us yet again.

– – – – –

    Love

    by George Herbert

    Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin.
    But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lack’d anything.
    ‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
    Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
    ‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
    I cannot look on Thee.’
    Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
    ‘Who made the eyes but I?’
    ‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.’
    ‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
    ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
    ‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
    So I did sit and eat.

Mercy And Justice And George MacDonald—A Reprise


Some time ago one commenter left a link to a sermon George MacDonald is purported to have authored (I have yet to find mention of the source). The only Biblical text I found was Psalm 62:12, which states

And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, For You recompense a man according to his work.

In the King James, which the sermon quotes, lovingkindness is rendered mercy. The writer then makes a case for his interpretation of justice, leading to a denial of justice as punishment.

How odd this position seems to me, but perhaps that’s because I’ve had good Bible teaching all my life.

The cultures around Israel during King David’s time (Psalm 62 is one of his) did not practice justice. They practiced revenge. Consequently, the declaration that God would recompense a man according to his work was a statement of mercy. He would not punish a man for something his father did or punish the brothers or the children. God’s mercy was demonstrated in His justice, set in opposition to their vengeance.

How simple and straightforward. How righteous.

We are accountable before a Holy God for what we do. He does not pile on more than we deserve.

But here’s the thing. We are required by law to stop at stop signs. If I run a stop sign and get pulled over by a cop, I am guilty of breaking that law. No matter that I’ve not run a stop sign the prior 2000 times, or the 200 million times before that. Stopping at the stop sign is what I am required by law to do. Fulfilling my obligation does not earn me points against a future time when I might slip up and run the stop sign.

In other words, there is nothing I can do to make up for my situation. I can only recognize my condition—I am a lawbreaker deserving of the just (and merciful) penalty for my actions.

What great news, then, that Jesus, who was not a lawbreaker, and therefore, faced no penalty, stepped in to rescue sinners.

The amazing love of God is beyond comprehension here, because God did not wave His hand and dismiss my sin. He bore it Himself. He transferred my sin in the same way that the sins of Israel were transferred to scapegoats. It’s a mystical process, if you will, something that sounds too incredible, too hard to fathom. The Holy God, unstained in His being, complete in His purity, piled my sin on His shoulders. He bore my sin and carried my sorrow.

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
– I Peter 2:24

And in more detail from Isaiah

But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
– Isa 53:10-12 [emphasis mine]

Paid in full. The blood of Jesus Christ blots out my sin. I receive God’s mercy when I understand that my work is insufficient to pay what I owe, that Christ alone could afford to bear my sin because He bore none of His own. The angel of death passes over me as surely as he once passed over the Jewish homes that bore the blood of the spotless Passover lamb slain on their behalf.

What a clear picture of God’s redemptive work—the marriage of His Justice and Mercy—prompted by His infinite Love.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in December 2010.

Published in: on January 26, 2018 at 5:52 pm  Comments Off on Mercy And Justice And George MacDonald—A Reprise  
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I’m Thankful For God’s Grace


Because I want to focus more on God this Thanksgiving, I considered which of His innumerable traits I could feature the day before the actually holiday. I settled on His grace and found an appropriate post in the archives which says a good deal about this quality.

I’ve edited and revised the article a bit. After all, this is an old one I wrote in the early days of this blog. I also added song lyrics and a video, which include God’s grace.

– – – –

In fiction, I think Christians often depict God as a God of grace, too often at the expense of His other attributes.

However, one Sunday, I realized that grace itself is not a “simple” trait, any more than God is a simple person. And certainly God’s display of grace is as deep as He is.

The sermon that Sunday was from John 21 (the story of the resurrected Christ cooking breakfast for His disciples while they fished) and highlighted some ways that God extended grace to Jesus’s disciples, especial to Peter.

First, God extended grace to them by humbling them. The account begins with a miracle—implied rather than stated—of closing the disciples’ nets to fish.

The context is this: after seeing the resurrected Christ and waiting around for a week or more, Peter had declared he was going back to work. As if that was something he didn’t need God for. As if that was what would give him purpose. Instead, these professional fishermen worked all night in a place of abundant fish and came up empty. By humbling them, God showed them their need.

God’s grace also sought Peter out—Jesus first went to the bank of the sea where the disciples were fishing, and later He pulled him aside for a private talk. Peter, much like Adam in the Garden after he sinned, seemed to be in “stealth mode.” After all, the last exchange before Jesus went to the cross was a look shared between them, right after Peter swore he didn’t know the Man. How much Peter needed to talk to Jesus! But he went fishing—went back to His pre-Christ life, back to making a living using a skill he was good at.

Having put the disciples in a situation to face their need, God’s grace guided them. It helped them with what they were trying to accomplish. Jesus told there where to let down their nets, and the result was a catch of large fish. Not just a few, not some large and some small. Large fish so numerous their nets started to break. This is the aspect of grace we see most often, but clearly not the only facet of it.

Jesus nwxt extended Himself to the disciples as a friend, as a servant. He cooked breakfast for them. So like Him—the Master who was willing to wash His men’s feet, the Messiah who sacrificed His life, Incarnate God who dressed Himself in the form of Man.

God’s grace then called Peter beyond earthly success to eternal significance. No more catching fish for Peter. His new job was to feed God’s sheep.

I’ve often wondered what happened to that incredible catch. They ate some for breakfast, but what about the rest? Did they leave them for the poor? Give them to the guys in the next boat? Stop by Peter’s house and tell cousin Daniel their were all his if he but cleaned them and hauled them away? Or did the fish stay on the bank and rot or become bird feed? Today’s fictionalized account would probably have Jesus release the unused fish back in the water. Whaterver.

The point is, the fish no longer mattered. Jesus was giving Peter something much more important to do. His grace lead Peter beyond “having it all.”

Once again, I find myself challenged to show God’s character—not merely by increasing the angles from which I look at Him, but by peering through the magnifying glass of Biblical study so that I can see more than the surface of His traits. His grace, like His love, is greater far than tongue or pen can tell.

1
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
2
When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall;
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call;
God’s love, so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
3
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Mercy And Justice


top_signIn one sermon which George MacDonald is purported to have authored, he addressed God and His justice. The only Biblical text I can find is that from which he seems to have wandered—Psalm 62:12, which states, “And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, For You recompense a man according to his work.

In the King James, which the sermon quotes, lovingkindness is rendered mercy. The writer then makes a case for his interpretation of justice, leading into a denial of justice resulting in punishment.

How odd this discussion seems to me, but perhaps that’s because I’ve had good Bible teaching all my life.

The cultures around Israel during King David’s time (Psalm 62 is one of his) did not practice justice. They practiced vengeance. Consequently, the declaration that God would recompense a man according to his work was a statement of mercy. He would not punish a man for something his father did or punish the brothers or the children. God’s mercy was demonstrated in His justice, set in opposition to their vengeance.

How simple and straightforward. How righteous.

We are accountable before a Holy God for what we do. He does not pile on more than we deserve.

But here’s the thing. We are required by law to stop at stop signs. If I run a stop sign and get pulled over by a cop, I am guilty of breaking that law. No matter that I’ve not run a stop sign the prior 2000 times, or 200 million times before that. Stopping at the stop sign is what I am required by law to do. Fulfilling my obligation does not earn me points against a future time when I might slip up and run the stop sign.

In other words, there is nothing I can do to make up for my situation. I can only recognize my condition—I am a lawbreaker deserving of the just (and merciful) penalty for my actions.

What great news, then, that Jesus, who was not a lawbreaker, and therefore, faced no penalty, stepped in.

The amazing love of God is beyond comprehension here, because God did not wave His hand and dismiss my sin. He bore it Himself. He transferred my sin in the same way that the sins of Israel were transferred to scapegoats. It’s a mystical process, if you will, something that sounds too incredible, too hard to fathom. The Holy God, unstained in His being, complete in His purity, piled my sin on His shoulders. He bore my sin and carried my sorrow.

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (I Peter 2:24)

And in more detail from Isaiah

But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors. (Isa 53:10-12; emphasis mine)

Paid in full. The blood of Jesus Christ blots out my sin. I receive God’s mercy when I understand that my work is insufficient to pay what I owe, that Christ alone could afford to bear my sin because He bore none of His own. The angel of death passes over me as surely as he once passed over the Jewish homes that bore the blood of the spotless Passover lamb slain on their behalf.

What a clear picture of God’s redemptive work—the marriage of His Justice and Mercy—prompted by His infinite Love.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in December 2010).

Published in: on March 3, 2017 at 5:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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Who Does God Love?


Advent Wk 3At Christmas, we highlight God’s love for humankind, evidenced by sending His only Son to take on flesh, and ultimately to bear the punishment for the sinners.

On the surface, the question who God loves might seem simple. He loves the world. Which is true. We know this because John 3:16 tells us so, but also because Jesus commissioned His followers to make disciples “of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19, NASB). Luke records Jesus’s words in Acts 1:8b: “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Those first disciples had walked with Jesus and listened to His teaching, watched Him be arrested and put to death, saw the place where He was buried, then witnessed the resurrected Christ walk into their room, talk with them, break bread, fix breakfast, and ascend into heaven. He left them with the command to tell everyone everywhere what they’d witnessed.

Why would they go to places all over the world—and why would we who have inherited this commission—if God’s love didn’t extend to those in the remotest parts of the earth?

But here “simple” comes to an end. Some believe the natural conclusion drawn from the fact that God loves the world is that God saves everyone: if you love ’em, you save ’em. This of course means the Paris terrorists are saved, the San Bernardino shooters are saved, Hitler is saved.

There’s something in most of us that recoils at such an idea. We want “good people” saved, but not the heinous ones. We want to tell the world that God loves them, unless the people are trying to kill us. Those, we’d happily send to hell.

But we’re an imperfect lot. Could it be that God loves Muslim terrorists, that if they were the only people in the world, He still would have sent His Son? And if so, does His love for them mean they are saved?

I know—too many questions. Talking about God’s love should make us feel good, not feel confused. But God simply defies our every effort to confine Him with our own mores and understandings. He is Other, which means greater, more Perfect than we can imagine.

The truth is, if God only loved the “good people,” He wouldn’t love any of us. None of us is good.

We forget that when we stare into the face of people who embrace evil and call it good. Most of us regularly fight the evil inside us, and hence, we are loath to call it evil. We get angry or jealous or selfish or greedy or covetous. We lust, we envy, we betray our friends, our spouses. We gossip, we lie, we say mean things about our boss, our coworkers, our in-laws. And we think we’re good because we didn’t shoot anybody today.

So who does God love—just the not so very bad, bad people?

He says He loves the world.

But in loving the world, is He therefore obligated to save everyone?

God isn’t obligated to do anything our human understanding dictates He should do. He’s already laid out how salvation works (John 3:16 again): He loves, we believe, He gives everlasting life.

The belief component is all important. Some people call this “easy believism” because they attach it to a false teaching Paul confronted in the New Testament. Some people thought that since they were “saved” or “in Christ” they could live however they wanted. After all, whatever sin they committed was forgiven, washed away by the blood of the Lamb.

Just one problem there. If we truly believe something, it affects our lives. If we believe our car will be repossessed if we don’t make the payment, we aren’t apt to take that money and go to Vegas or on a shopping spree. We believe we’ll lose our car if we don’t make the payments, so it affects how we act.

Husbands who believe their wives want something nice for Christmas act on that belief (to the best of their ability!) They would be foolish to say, Well, I didn’t get you a Christmas present this year because I bought myself some new golf clubs instead. His belief affects his actions, and wives all know this. So if he’s bought himself golf clubs, his actions demonstrate his true belief about his wife.

So too in our relationship with God. If we say we believe that Jesus came as payment for my sin, but we keep on sinning, willfully, knowingly, with no intention of changing our sinful behavior, we are demonstrating that we don’t really believe.

God loves, but we have fallen short of His glory, His holiness. All of us have. Everyone except Jesus Messiah. God doesn’t change His standards or go back on His word because He loves us. He declared from the beginning that rebellion carried a death sentence.

Jesus, of His own free will, took our sin that we who believe might have everlasting life. We who believe look so much like those who don’t believe. Except little by little who we are inside is being reshaped to look more and more like Jesus.

Those who don’t believe, those who say they believe by act in a way that shows they’re lying, have not escaped God’s love . . . or His wrath. In our human way of thinking, love and wrath seem incompatible. But Scripture leads me to believe they are not, when we’re talking about God. As I see it, God loves us so much, He isn’t going to force us to love Him back or to spend eternity with Him if we really hate Him. I’ve heard people say they’d rather be in hell than in heaven “with a God like that!” They hate Him.

God’s going to let them walk away. But He is also going to punish sin, just as He said He would. Since they’ve rejected Jesus’s payment of their debt, there’s nothing left but for them to pay their own debt.

So who does God love? The world! Absolutely. If only the world loved Him back.

Published in: on December 17, 2015 at 7:35 pm  Comments Off on Who Does God Love?  
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Living With Guilt


Convict_Chain_GangThere’s a perception among many that Christians are the most tortured, guilt-ridden people on the planet. After all, our God has all these rules, and He judges everyone and is probably just waiting to zap whoever he catches breaking one of his commandments.

That picture is a sad caricature of what a true Christian is like. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are people in a number of arms of the Church that have the perception that their salvation rests on the works they do. But that’s a misconception of the truth.

In reality, Christians are wonderfully freed from guilt, sin, the law. We freely acknowledge that we’re failures. No matter how we might like to live in obedience to God’s mandates, we admit we can’t—not a hundred percent of the time. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we become so engrossed in our own lives and projects and comfort and well-being, we sometimes don’t even know who our neighbors are.

We know we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but sometimes it’s just so hard to get out of bed in the morning to have that time reading the Bible and praying that we know will bring us closer to Him. And doesn’t the church already have enough Sunday School teachers?

I could go on about pride and grumbling and judging and greed and gossip and selfishness and hatred in our hearts—you know, the kind Jesus says is as bad as murder. We Christians are a bunch of sinners, like all the rest of the world. But there’s this important distinction. We don’t bear the burden of our sin any longer.

No guilt.

No shame.

No secret desire to sneak into a tiny monastery cell and engage in self-flagellation.

We’re also not boasting about the sins we’re chalking up. We aren’t bragging about getting out of a speeding ticket by lying to the cop or planning how we can cheat the IRS when we file our taxes.

The truth about Christians and sin is this: Jesus Christ paid the debt we owe for all our sins—past, present, and future. The guilt that we were rightly bearing is off our shoulders.

yokeWhat we know now is God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Out of hearts filled with gratitude, we want to love God better, obey Him more perfectly, follow Him where He takes us. We simply owe Him our lives and we don’t want to let Him out of our sight.

Happily, we don’t have to!

And that’s such great news, we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to let other people know how Jesus will also take the burden of guilt they’re lugging around off their shoulders.

I can hear people now: What guilt? I don’t have any guilt. That only comes from crazy religious people with their lists of do’s and don’ts. That whole sin thing is a religious construct to force people into their churches.

Well, actually, it’s not. First we have these natures in us bent to glorify ourselves instead of glorifying God and serving ourselves instead of serving others. In other words, our bent is to reject God’s authority and to live for ourselves. Some people deal with this by saying God doesn’t exist and we have to learn empathy. But the fact is, we never learn it perfectly. So even if we set aside our rejection of God and just looked at how we treat others, we can see that bent nature in us all.

Most people are quite aware they aren’t perfect. However, they have allowed society to talk them out of recognizing that not-perfect state as sin. It’s kind of like these criminals caught on security cameras in the act of stealing the packages or dog-napping the puppy or passing the note to the bank teller, then standing up in court after they’ve been arrested and pleading not guilty.

Well, of course they’re guilty! What they’re hoping for is to escape punishment by some technicality.

I don’t know if people who say they don’t sin are angling for the same escape or not. But I will say, if they don’t own their guilt now, they will one day.

The ONLY people who are living without guilt are those who have accepted the grace of God poured out on us as His gift through His Son Jesus who took our sins on Himself and paid the penalty we deserved.

Simply put, we’ve been forgiven.

I’ll add that we also have a virulent enemy who tries to make us feel guilty even though we’ve been forgiven. He throws our past in our faces and tries to shame us by our failures. He loves to discourage us so we don’t face each day remembering how accepted and loved we are by God.

We’re in a battle, but not against people who don’t believe like us or against a certain political slant or law. The battle we are waging is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12b).

These are the forces that hate God and don’t want us to lift up His name, who want to see us stumbling under guilt we’ve imagined still belongs to us. These forces would love to see us fall into sin and besmirch the name of Christ by which we are known.

Sometimes we fall, but God is the One Who holds our hand. He won’t let us pitch headlong out of His loving care. He’ll bring us back into His arms and carry us if that’s what it takes.

It’s God’s amazing love that drives us forward. Now, instead of hating on God, we want to do His will. We don’t have a list we need to check off because it’s in our heart to pay attention to what pleases Him.

So for the Christian, living with guilt has been changed into living for the delight of pleasing God. The Chris Tomlin song “Amazing Love” says it well:

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.