Monday, April 07, 2008

Where's the Love?

I was walking one day and a man, who was out of his mind, said that he loved me. I got away from him as quickly as I could, because he didn't seem to have all the oars in the water, and I didn't trust what he might do. I also didn't think much of his love since he wasn't dealing with reality.

What's the point?

I recently came across a statement made by a minister. He said he was troubled by the idea of preaching hell and damnation as the gospel message. In fact, that is not what Jesus and his apostles concentrated on in their teachings as opposed to love, grace, and mercy. I agreed, but wondered how accurate that statement was.

Hell and damnation is not the central message of the gospel (good news). I agree with the importance of communicating God's grace and love. Love is the motive behind the gospel. But then I was perplexed by the statement that Jesus and his apostles kept the message positive, and didn't call people to "repent or else!" The idea that this is not the primary message of Christianity is true. But I am not sure what he means by the message of God's grace and love being central without the call to repentance.

The whole truth

When I did a cursory look through the gospel of Matthew, Acts, the letters of Paul, and Hebrews I get the sense that what was primarily taught was the true nature of reality and Jesus came as the solution. This includes the reality of the coming judgment, eternal life and punishment, the living expression of God's love and the call to the proper response—which is repentance. It didn't seem focused on any one area, except the testimony on who Jesus really is, and what our response should be.

The reality is God's wrath is coming, the reason is our sin, the response of God is Jesus, the motive is God's love, our response to God is repentance. God loved us. He reached out to us. But our response is critical. But we often emphasize more than we should or get things out of order when we speak. For instance, Jesus didn't come to bring wrath. Wrath is the problem Jesus came to solve. (This is good news!) Nor did Jesus come to simply show us love. Our need for transformation is critical for our experiencing of His love. In other words, we are dead in our trespasses and sins and we need to be made alive. Being alive is central to experiencing the love God already has for us. (Ephesians 2:1-5) The message about our condition and God's solution must be believed in order for us to be changed by his love. (1 John, Jude)

Most of Jesus' discourse included these things—especially his messages to the people and his disciples. Paul reminds Christians of these things so that they will fulfill their role in this world in the light of these realities. Also, in Hebrews the author is warning believers against falling away from believing these overarching realities.

Bringing it all together

The emphasis on hell and damnation is a distortion. The emphasis on love and grace can also be a distortion. Hell and grace exist in duel compatibility with the gospel message—that there is a way out of the dilemma. What I am concerned about is the lack of will in our churches to call ourselves and others to repentance—not the preaching of hell, or of love per se. Love is cheap and meaningless in the context of low value and no understanding. In the context of great need and understanding, it will have greater meaning. And with greater meaning, the turn of one's life dedicated towards the lover is the logical reply. (Luke 7:36-50)

If the man on the street is not living in reality, his love doesn't mean very much. In fact, his statements can be taken as random thought processes rather than statements of true sentiment. Even a sophist can wax eloquent about love. But it often means nothing without proper context or personal meaning. However, if that statement comes from a meaningful person in your life it can have a profound transformative effect. But we must believe that the person is significant, and we must believe that person's message about reality. Then when the person demonstrates their love toward us, we can properly respond. Otherwise, we are just faking it.

I know too many people who believe that God loves them, and have little problem with Jesus' love. They just choose not to believe his message about the problem and his solution. So they go on in this life believing they are okay. But is that responsible for us to allow? We must teach the whole counsel of the Lord. (Matthew 28:18-20) We must do what Paul says he did. (Acts 26:20-21) And we must do so whether people agree or believe it. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)


  1. Good point. Salvation on one hand, and eternal punishment on the other, are both equal parts of the same message. We should not pull one away, apart from the other.

  2. Thanks David. I just hope not to sway too far either way. I think the process of faith is often ignored, and it's too easy to preach a one-size-fits-all message to different people.

    It's a good idea to focus on Christ while teaching the whole message. However, it's not as easy as it sounds. At least for me.

  3. You're right; it's not easy to keep the whole message in focus. When you refer to the process of faith, is that basically the idea that different people mature to different measures of faith at different times and speeds?


  4. Yes, that's part of it. I also think that people start at different places too.

    For instance, a person who comes from an abusive background can easily envision God as a disciplinarian. But have a real hard time understanding the concept of forgiveness or mercy. That person will need a heavy dose of affirmation, and less theological discussion at least in the beginning.

    On the other hand, most Americans tend to have little problem seeing God as the Santa Claus-buddy in the sky than as a Holy Being. This requires a shift in worldview perspective. They will need to understand the role of sin in their personal lives, and that it separates them from God (as enemies). And to know (and believe) what that separation from God means for them.

    Both types of people need the Gospel message. But they need to be introduced to it differently. And over time, and with maturity (and different maturity rates) they can be introduced to deeper truths. This is what Jesus did with his disciples.

    The "X" factor of course is the person's willingness to receive. Remember the parable of the soils?

    Not everyone receives the message about the Kingdom the same way. And the sower has no control over that part.