An erroneous doctrine has grabbed Christendom by the throat and threatens to choke the life out of the church. Mere professing Christians have long taken false comfort in this error, not realizing that they were willingly abetting their own spiritual death. Sadly, far too many in the real church are falling prey to the same seductive but destructive error. The error involves a false notion concerning God’s love. Many have glommed onto the true biblical statement that “God is love” (I John 4:8) but have proceeded to define that love in sentimental humanistic terms, rather than those set forth in the Word of truth.
For such people, it has become fashionable to define God’s love in some of the following unbiblical and fallacious ways. Some like to announce that God’s love is unconditional, by which they imply, not that God will never forsake His own (though He will certainly chasten sin), but that we need not worry about sin because God will disregard it or take care of it in some mysterious way that does not affect the one who is sinning. In a similar vein, some like to declare that God loves us just the way we are, a statement implying that we need not deal with sin because God will not make an issue of it. Others believe that because God is love everyone will go to heaven. Still others believe that the natural blessings so many in this country enjoy are a token of God’s love, when, in fact, they may be tokens of His mercy and grace, but not necessarily His love.
One verse in the book of Romans gives the lie to all the foregoing opinions and succinctly expresses the nature and expression of God’s love toward lost sinners. With great simplicity but greater profundity, Paul gives us a description of God’s love for the lost. God does not express His love for the lost through gifts of health and wealth nor through ignoring or overlooking sin, nor by finally ushering everyone into heaven regardless of their faith, character, and deeds. Note especially Paul’s use of the present tense verb in this declaration: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).
Paul is not using the historic present tense to give a sense of immediacy and vibrancy to some long-past action. Rather, the use of the present tense drives home the reality that God has one way of manifesting love toward sinners, whether yesterday, today, or tomorrow, namely through the substitutionary sacrifice of His only begotten Son to pay His holy penalty for sin. When we say, therefore, that God’s love is infinite, we are not affirming that God will relent and ultimately accept rebellious sinners into heaven; rather, we are acknowledging the infinite value of the gift of the Son Whom the Father gave, and the infinite cost both to Father and Son that redemption exacted.
Is God good, and kind, and gracious to sinners? Absolutely. But the only love He manifests toward any sinner is in the Person of His Son and through the vicarious death He suffered on the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13) the Lord Jesus said. To reject that infinite expression of love but then to think that God would manifest His love in some immeasurably inferior way is to be deceived.
It is right and biblical to extol the love of God, but we dishonor God and commit an eternal disservice against the lost if we suggest that God has expressed His love for them through any other person or by any other means than that which Paul states so simply. He withholds judgment in longsuffering mercy, but He expresses love through the gift of eternal life in the Person of His crucified, buried, and risen Son. Paul strains the boundaries of expression with these words: “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Eph. 1:4b-8a).
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