Friday, July 17, 2015

"Is God's love really unconditional?"

How would you answer this true or false question:  (Circle one)

TRUE  or  FALSE    God loves us unconditionally, so we need to love others unconditionally.

Most people would probably circle "TRUE" as the right answer ... after all, "God is love" (I John 4:8).  Read through I John 4:7-21 and see if you don't come to the conclusion that the above statement is true.  And there's more!  Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48).

And then there are the two great commandments:  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself!"  In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus taught that anyone in need is our neighbor and in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus pronounced judgment on the one who did not show the same mercy to others that he himself had received.  All of this would seem to confirm that as followers of Jesus we have no choice but to love others unconditionally because that's the way God loves us.

But is that really the case? Let's look at how this "truth" is applied in our world and in our culture here in the United States today.  Christians are often accused of judging others and being unloving toward others.  Sadly, there are some who take the name of Christ upon them who are "guilty as charged!"  There are pastors and others who say and do things that are not said or done in love or compassion or mercy.  Such attitudes and actions are sinful and those who live in such a way need to repent.  There were some in Jesus' day and in the early church who did the same thing.

The Apostle Paul writes to the believers in Rome,

"Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.  We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.  Do you suppose, O man - you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself - that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (Romans 2:1-5).

Of course, everyone knows what Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-5:

"Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

There you have it!  Christians should not judge others and must love even their enemies.  Our statement must be true:  "God loves us unconditionally, so we need to love others unconditionally."

But wait a minute!!!  Does this mean that Jesus was being judgmental and unloving when He called people sinners and told them to sin no more?  What about telling people that they needed to repent, or even that they needed to be forgiven?  In fact, what about John 3:16???  Jesus said,

"God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."  What about those who do NOT believe?  Some people quote verse 17, where Jesus says, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him."  Jesus did not come the first time to pronounce judgment on the world, but to offer salvation ... BUT, He goes on to say (in verses that are rarely read),

"Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, BUT whoever does not believe IS condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment:  the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God" (John 3:18-21).

We must understand that God sent Jesus into the world to reveal His love and grace precisely because every human being since Adam and Eve has been conceived and born in sin, in rebellion against God, our Creator, and is thus worthy of eternal judgment.  God CANNOT overlook sin or let the guilty go unpunished.  Read John 3:16 again:  "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish ..."  God sent Jesus to provide a way for sinners like you and me to be saved from His coming wrath, from His coming judgment, from eternal hell, from everlasting separation from Him.

Paul writes in Romans 5:  "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life" (Romans 5:8-10).  This is really, really, really good news!!!  But to whom is God speaking here through the Apostle Paul?  Is He talking to everyone?  Does God "so love" everyone ... whether they repent or not, whether they are born again by God's Spirit or not, whether they believe in Jesus or not?

You will never understand the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, unless you realize that it is written to those who believe in Jesus.  The letters of the apostles are addressed to those who are followers of Jesus Christ.  God's forgiveness is given ONLY to those who confess the name of Jesus Christ, who believe that He paid their debt, the penalty for their sins, on the cross, and who, by the power of His Spirit at work within them, desire to turn from sin and to pursue holiness and righteousness ... not in order to BE saved, but out of thanksgiving to God for His amazing grace!!!
Once you understand that a number of things become clear.

We ALL deserve God's judgment and are squarely in the path of His coming wrath.  Yes, God IS love ... that's why He sent Jesus to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin.  But at the same time, the angels of God worship Him around His throne in heaven day and night saying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" (Revelation 4:8).  This is the same vision the prophet Isaiah saw as he records it in Isaiah 6, verse 3:  "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!"

And Isaiah's response is telling:  "I said, 'Woe is me!  For I am lost;  for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!'" (Isaiah 6:4-5).  Isaiah realized, as did the Apostle Paul later, and as every true believer has come to understand, "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) ... and that's what I have earned.  I have sinned against God and so have you and so has every human being who has ever lived ... except One ... the perfect Son of God who became a true man through the miracle of the virgin birth.

When I as a Christian and a pastor declare that those who live in sin, without any sorrow for sin, without any recognition that all sin is rebellion against a holy God, without any confession of sin or desire to turn from it ... when Christians declare that people will be judged by God, we are not pronouncing OUR judgment on others, but GOD's!!  You have heard it said, "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner."  That is NOT a quote from the Bible.

In the second commandment God says, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Exodus 20:4-6).

All mankind, every person, lies in the path of God's just wrath and judgment.  God declares in the Psalms and in Romans 3:  "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10-12).  Explaining the need for God's grace, for His undeserved favor, Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2:1-3).

But something happened!  "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:4-10).

Remember, these words are written to and addressed to believers, to those who have been born again by the Spirit of God and who have by transformed into new creations, with a new heart, a new mind and a new will, who now place their faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life.  God's LOVE is now and always has been an "ELECTING love."  It is NOT unconditional in the sense that it is given to all people.  The problem with the statement about God's love being unconditional is that "love" is not defined.  God shows Himself to be gracious and patient and compassionate in thousands of ways.  The fact that His judgment has not yet fallen upon this planet in the fullness of His wrath displays His character.

But when the Bible says that "God IS love," it is speaking about His relationship with those whom He has chosen to be His.  Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, in Ephesians 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love, He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will ..."  Only those who are chosen by God the Father, born again by His Spirit, and saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross are so loved.

And even for these, God's love was not and is not "unconditional."  There was a price to pay for sin that we could not pay.  God so loved the "world," (meaning Jews AND Gentiles, some from every people, tribe, nation and tongue), that He sent Jesus to save His chosen ones.  Jesus paid our debt on the cross.  Because God is holy He cannot overlook your sin and mine.  Our sin cost Jesus all the suffering He bore on the cross as God the Father poured out His wrath on His Son, my Savior, the "second Adam," our sinless representative.  "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Corinthians 5:21).

Without Jesus' sacrifice on the cross not one person would receive the gift of God's love and forgiveness ... not one!  Left to ourselves, not one person would believe in Jesus and be saved ... not one!  Salvation is GOD's work, from beginning to end.  Amazing grace!!  Jesus meets the condition of perfect obedience in the place of those who believe in Him, and His Spirit moves us to receive God's offer of love and forgiveness by faith in Jesus.  Then His Spirit continues to work in us to produce holiness, including sorrow for sin and the desire to repent, to turn from it.  So Paul writes to the believers in Philippi, 'Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is GOD who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).

The life of every true believer is one lived in thankfulness to God for His gift of salvation, beginning with the new birth and the work of God's Spirit from beginning to end.  How do you say, "Thank you!" to the One who has saved your life except to give your life to Him as an offering every day?!  That is the joy true Christians know.  "I am loved!" 

AND ... it is the joy we are called to OFFER to every person we meet.  You see, we know that every person deserves God's judgment.  We know that unless people confess their sin and turn from it, putting their faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life, they will perish in their sin.  They will face the horrible wrath and judgment of God.  They will spend eternity separated from Him in the fire of hell.  As Paul spoke to the men of Athens in Acts 17, he said, "God has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).  JESUS Himself will be the Judge who is seated on the throne at the end of this age, as this world comes to an end.

Jesus spoke about this in Matthew 25 when He said, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' ... Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels' ..." (Matthew 25:31-34, 41).

God's love is not unconditional.  It requires the death of His Son and it requires the work of His Spirit and the response of a new nature to believe in Jesus and to desire to live in obedience to His Word.  Believers are not yet perfect, but God sees us as perfect in Christ.  The true believer is never proud, but rather, humbly confesses sin and trusts in God's forgiveness through faith in Jesus.  Our security is found not in ourselves but in God's promise that "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13).

Therefore, motivated by God's love for us, we OFFER His love to others by calling them to repent, to turn away from sin and to believe in Jesus Christ.  Too often those who claim to be Christians simply declare condemnation.  As ambassadors of Jesus' kingdom we must expose sin and offer forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.  We must show God's mercy, patience and compassion to all, but we cannot, we dare not, we must not make the mistake of telling people that "God loves you!  No matter what you say or do!"  By doing so we are condemning people to hell.

Since Jesus Christ is "the Way and the Truth and the Life," (John 14:6), we must declare the good news, the Gospel, that by trusting in Jesus Christ your sins can be forgiven.  "If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).  ALL sin is equal before God.  All sexual sin and immorality, whether heterosexual or homosexual brings the judgment of God.  All lying, stealing, gossiping and thousands of other sins deserve God's judgment and those who refuse to acknowledge their sin and to seek God's forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ will face His just judgment and endure His holy wrath.

In love, we must warn all people of God's coming judgment and offer them hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  To those who believe God says, "Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.  For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them" (Ephesians 5:1-11).

Some ask, "Why do you pick out one sin to speak out about?"  The answer is two-fold:  We as Christians have not picked out one sin.  ALL sin deserves judgment.  Secondly, the reason we speak out against the sin of homosexual immorality is because society is saying it is "normal," and even some in the church are saying it is acceptable to God.  That is a lie that is leading many away from God's forgiveness in Christ and that will leave them in their sin, facing God's judgment.  God tells us to call sinners to repentance ... ALL sinners.  The Church must speak out against ALL sin more forcefully in our world today!  Sin brings judgment.  And we must offer God's love, grace and forgiveness through faith In Jesus Christ.

One of the most beautiful verses in all the Bible is "The wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (Romans 6:23).  That is followed by Romans 8.  In verse 1 we read, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  And after saying much more, Paul concludes, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

God's love is conditional when it comes to salvation.  Only those who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ will receive the gift of His love and grace and forgiveness, the gift of eternal life in His presence.  As those who have received His amazing grace, we offer the same in love to all people.  Love does not mean ignoring or passing over sin.  God doesn't do it and we can't do it.  If we truly love people we must help them to see their sin and point them to the cross of Jesus where the debt for sin was paid for once and for all for those who believe.  Only those who are united to Jesus Christ by true faith will escape the coming wrath and judgment of God.

If you love someone, tell them about Jesus Christ.  Help them to see that while we still struggle with sin in this life, the mark of one who has been born again by the Spirit is the desire to confess sin and to turn from it.  Where there is no such desire, there is only spiritual death.  God offers His love in Christ to all who will come to Him.  His love cost Jesus everything and Jesus says, "If anyone would follow Me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).

Will you come?  Have you come to Jesus?  Do not believe the lies of the world, or even of those in the church who say that God loves everybody and everyone will go to heaven some day.  The same Jesus who said, "Judge not," says just a few verses later, "Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).  Only Jesus can open the eyes of the blind!  Come to Him today and call others away from sin to follow Jesus, too.  THAT is love!!

Here is a true statement:  God offers His love to all and those who receive His love and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ shall be saved from His just judgment against sin ... ALL sin.  May God grant to you the joy of life in Christ and use you to speak His truth to others, that many will be moved by His Spirit to confess, repent, believe and be saved!!  Glory to God!!