Saturday, February 10, 2007

Embracing the Love of God: Part 1

With Valentine's Day on the horizon I couldn't think of a more appropriate time to contend for the Love of God.

What keeps God's love from becoming mere maudlin sentimentality? What is the bulwark, the firm foundation, that keeps the love of God from falling into the abyss of universalism, and prohibits us from the idolatry of seeing God as the great grandfather in the sky, filled with woe and sadness at His inability to make us all happy? I suggest to you it is the balance forced upon the person who honors God's Word by handling it aright, carefully taking into consideration all that the Word says. When we lose our balance in that area, we are liable to fall into any number of serious errors.

There is a biblical mandate to proclaim the "whole counsel of God," to hold back nothing the Holy Spirit has deemed important enough to reveal in Scripture and preserve for us today. The gospel by definition includes the wrath of God, repentance from sin, denial of self, all focused upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel exalts the Triune God and humbles man. It takes our eyes off of ourselves and puts them on our Creator. God gets bigger, we get smaller. God becomes Lord, we become servants, slaves. I do not see this in much of what we would call a “gospel presentation” today. I see man being made the focus of God's attention; I see God presented as seeking, equally, a "relationship" with each individual, without distinction, and experiencing rejection and failure when the creature spurns His appeal. Rather than the gospel being a command, it is reduced to a series of suggestions all based upon the improvement of man's life (rather than His own glory and authority as Creator). Sin is "messing up," it is "junk from the past," rather than a slap in the face of a holy God, bringing certain punishment unless forgiven. In other words, the focus is on man, not on the risen Christ. What is missing ends up vitiating even the good and right things that are said.

What you win them with is that you win them to. A gospel that does not challenge the sinful sovereignty of the rebel soul will fill your church with religiously hypocritical rebels, nothing more.

In no way am I saying, "You can only say God is glorifying Himself and you can't speak of God's love." What I am saying is that "neglecting the God-centeredness of the Gospel leads to great damage to all involved."

God's love is awesome. God's love is shown every day in this world. God's love in Christ glows with spectacular brilliance only against the biblically mandated backdrop of His holiness, wrath against sin, and perfect provision of salvation in Jesus Christ. To disengage God's love from His own glory, His own purposes, and His own freedom of saving as He chooses in Christ Jesus reduces it to mere human sentimentality. God's love is not in doubt: it has been proven, beyond all doubt, by an empty tomb. It has been proven in a self-giving Savior. But it is only experienced salvifically by those who bow the knee to Christ and confess His name in true faith. God's love in Christ Jesus is not experienced by those who remain lovers of their sin.

The gospel is not a bare "offer" to all people to accept God's love in Jesus: it is first a command to repent and turn, and then it is in fact a wide and broad and glorious proclamation that the love of God in Christ Jesus is freely experienced by all, Jew and Gentile, who in faith turn to Christ! But that does not mean you have to reduce the sovereign Creator to a suitor begging for acceptance by the almighty rebel! God's love in Jesus is specifically limited by divine revelation to those who are repentant and who have faith in Jesus Christ the risen Savior. To promise the love of God to those who continue in love with their sin is not only unbiblical, it is treasonous. If you do not include this in the message so as to avoid making the love of God in Christ Jesus a mere sentimental attitude on God's part you will end up filling the church with rebels who think they are right with God---wait, sorry, that's exactly what we are seeing today! The love of God and the grace of God are both powerful and purposeful. Man wants both to be general, non-specific, and, most importantly, under the control of the will of man.

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