I’m always fascinated when I encounter something that helps to refocus my perception. I’m not saying that I’m willy-nilly in my beliefs. Quite the contrary. Yet, I’m continually growing in my faith and my limited understanding is slowly expanding.
Granted, my focus has been on victims of natural disasters and on the homeless (I prefer to consider them as outdoor friends), but the world is much larger than my myopic view. We live in a world with immeasurable complexity, yet I tend to reduce it to black and white. Through the lens of the Bible, there are the saved and the unsaved, the ultimate black and white comparison, but oftentimes I find myself usurping the Judge’s Seat.
I’ll admit that I can only consider one idea or issue at a time. I’m aware that John 3:16 tells us that Jesus came because God loves the world (or more specifically, mankind), but I am also aware that John 3:17 states that the world might be saved through him (emphasis added). That implies that not all will be saved.
I believe in the doctrine of election as evidenced in John 15:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and Revelation 13:8 (just to name a few verses). I also believe in free will as evidenced in the Garden which Paul points out in Romans 5:12. Two apparent paradoxical truths that are difficult to hold simultaneously. It’s like a difficult calculus problem that has to be addressed in parts before the answer can be derived.
The point is that God alone determines who goes to heaven without compromising our free will, and we need to be faithful to what He has charged us with: to be faithful in proclaiming the Gospel.
It’s not up to us to decide if the homeless, or the Muslim, or the postmodern, or our neighbor across the street is grafted in. Our job is simply to proclaim the Good News.
It’s interesting how people like to place limits on the sovereignty of God. It is something that is impossible, because if God has limited authority, He is not sovereign. Yet, some are not comfortable with the idea of a sovereign God. You can see this as books of the Bible are ignored, concepts such as justice are glossed over, and you are left with a spiritless, plastic, bumper sticker god. The bumper sticker says, “God is Love,” or more appropriately, “god is love.”
What is interesting with “do it yourself” religion is that you can add or subtract components to make your faith truly unique. God does some pretty scary stuff and the Bible promises some scary stuff for unbelievers, so it is easy to dismiss the Wrath of God because it sounds mean. Now that eternal punishment is off the table we are free to do as we wish. At least that’s what we want to believe.
Let’s assume that this bumper sticker is true. Does it mean that God is only love? Or is He more? What about righteousness? What about justice? What about mercy?
As I was exploring this concept I focused on 1 John 4. It’s very compelling that the first verse of the chapter exhorts the reader to test the spirits as there are many false prophets. Nevertheless, we are adhering to the assertion that “God is Love.” One noteworthy verse mirrors John 3:16. It states, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:9 ESV) Is this saying that we all will live through Jesus? It says we might. John 3:16 was also a conditional statement. The verse doesn’t say that everyone will have eternal life, but “whoever believes in Him.” So we are left with two groups of people: those who believe, and those who do not. So far, I don’t see evidence of unconditional love.
If believers will have eternal life, what happens to the unbelievers? John 3:18 leaves no room for interpretation when it says “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” If we take the Bible seriously, how can we synthesize this with our newfound belief that “God is Love?” We can’t.
I read a post recently that said God cannot execute wrath because it is sinful. I searched the Bible to find if there was scripture where someone might come to that conclusion. Granted, it is a stretch to use the Bible to assail God’s character at all, but if we believe that God loves unconditionally, we can believe whatever we want.
Colossians 3 teaches the believer to seek Christ, not his sinful nature. It also mentions God’s wrath. But is His wrath sinful? In verses 5-8, the reader is advised to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:5-8 ESV) In one short passage we have God’s wrath and man’s wrath. But are they the same?
To learn the original intent it is best to read it in the original language. Regarding God’s wrath, the Greek word is όργή (I’m aware the markings aren’t quite right, I just can’t figure out how to type them). This is #3709 in Strong’s Concordance and it defines this word as fixed, controlled, a passionate feeling against sin. Man’s wrath is θυμόν in Greek. This is #2372 in Strong’s Concordance and is defined as rage which is a flaw not present when the Lord expresses intense anger. We see that God’s wrath is controlled and purposefully executed without sin. Man’s wrath is not righteous, rather it is an impulsive fury.
God is Love. But is that all He is? He is also Just. God could be a Just Judge and be unloving. He could be like the Pharisees and carry out the Law to the letter. God cannot be Love and not be Just, though. It seems counterintuitive, but if you love someone you also hold them accountable. This is what people don’t like. Accountability. We want to sin as we please but we don’t want to reap the consequences. The consequences are real. The Bible says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV) “And such were some of you.” Paul was addressing true believers who repented of their sins.
We all worship a god. Do you worship materialism? Do you worship a god that turns a blind eye to sin? Do you celebrate a god that affirms a sinful lifestyle, like the god of this age? Or do you worship the Living God of the Bible who detests sin? 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is patient so that we can come to repentance. This is where people quote John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” I agree with that statement wholeheartedly, but are we loving if we avow or even encourage a sinful lifestyle? That is most unloving as we are spreading lies from hell when we promote happiness over holiness.