Who in the world would ever say in our modern age that the love of God is “difficult?” It sounds like an oxymoron akin to jumbo shrimp, postal service, and deafening silence. Difficulty with the love of God as an idea does not compute for most folks.
Why might that be? Well, no one wants to think the Creator God is anything but loving. This means to most that we can climb into His lap and get a hug at a moment’s notice. But is that always true? Beware any type of sentimentalism that pervades the areas of the world where living day by day is just too easy.
God is a God of compassion and mercy. He even is kind to evil men, and this passage from the teaching of Jesus Christ is in the context of the love of God. And loving our enemies…
Matthew 5:44-46 “But I say to you, 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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?…”
Saints who suffer terrible physical persecution particularly among their families around the world know that the life of Christ is anything but a cake walk. At times, they also suffer doubts, and questions about God’s care for them. This includes the love of God for them concerning their persistent tribulations.
Then there’s the usual questions and cynicism from unbelievers about what they consider the apparent genocide of people, including children, in the Old Covenant. And also there’s the fact that the Bible states explicitly and frequently that God hates and is angry with sinners, and will destroy the wicked.
Psalm 5:5 The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.
Psalm 11:5 The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
So much for the mythical phrase, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” Of course, what people mean when they say this is that God cannot both love and hate the sinner at the same time. But they are just plain wrong about that as the Scripture declares.
Not to mention the teachings and actions of Jesus like clearing the temple twice, His apparent insults towards His crowds and His disciples, His blatant sarcasm directed toward both civil and religious leaders, and His repeated proclamations of hell and the accompanying eternal torment.
How is all this the love of God as we imagine it? Indeed, it is difficult to the heart that is open.
Personally, I was helped immensely by D.A. Carson’s excellent book, The Difficult Doctrine of The Love of God. The title immediately grabbed my attention, and I downloaded the PDF and devoured it quickly.
A brief caveat here on the book. Brother Carson does get off on some tangents in my humble opinion. And you can tell he is a 5 Point Calvinist by his suppositions, but he is never arrogant about it like many of his fellow colleagues who hold to that spurious and destructive doctrine.
I thank God for him and this book that it gave me hope that I actually wasn’t crazy after all. Or demon possessed in my brain as some Christians have accused me of by my preaching and life. I kid you not for that terrible accusation is a fact, beloved. Amazing, actually, all the stonewalling.
On distorting the love of God, Carson rightly states that the modern idea of the love of God is set in some other matrix other than Biblical theology. He states then this statement.
The result is that when informed Christians talk about the love of God, they mean something very different from what is meant in the surrounding culture. Worse, neither side may perceive that this is the case.
We today live in a culture where many truths about God are widely disbelieved even in the church. A proper and biblical love of God cannot be divorced from his attributes of holiness, sovereignty, and wrath just to name a few.
Carson goes on the state the following, and in the context of the Western culture.
The result, of course, is that the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable. The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized. This process has been going on for some time…The hubris is staggering.
Nowadays, when you tell most people that Jesus loves them they are not surprised in the least, at least in the West. They would likely say that of course God loves them. They confidently state, “He’s like that, isn’t He?”
And if you took a poll with the same people, how many of them would choose the option that God is a friend only and not a judge? Maybe upwards of 95%+? The wrath of God as described in glaring detail from Genesis to maps has no place in their life or their heart.
And of course, this same poll taken in the church of God would probably yield almost identical results to those outside the church body. That is how much the world has invaded the church universal.
In addition, many of the modern sermons and teachings depict a God who is predictable and operates in patterns that are knowable. In short, God has been defanged and is nothing more than the baby manger Jesus. Nothing about the Jesus of Revelation chapter 1 where the apostle John fell at his feet like a dead man could be understood by most people these days.
We know, or should know, that God’s love flows from His holiness as do all His attributes of Personhood. We have written and described this in an earlier piece regarding understanding the love of God and can be accessed here.
Let’s take a look at the Scripture itself.
Keep Yourself in The Love of God
You may recall from this earlier teaching that Jude commands us to “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Well then, this exhortation leaves, as Carson describes, “the unmistakable impression that someone might not keep himself or herself in the love of God.”
What are we to do with this? This certainly smacks right in the face the predominant doctrine of “once saved always saved.” In addition, what about the hundreds of conditional passages and commands in the word of God? For instance, Jesus himself states in John 15.9 that His disciples have a responsibility for remaining in His love. It goes like this, “if you obey my commands, (then) you will remain in my love…” To make matters worse for the sentimental love folks, this doctrine begins in the Old Testament with the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai in the Arabian Desert.
Exodus 20:6 …but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
This is conditional. Let’s state it another way: if you love Me, then you will keep My commandments, and then I will show you more lovingkindness.
Not convinced? Let’s state it as a negative then. If you do not love Me, you will disobey Me, and I will not show you more lovingkindness.
This is certainly very unsettling to any believer or even lost person who is on a road of comfort in their local church and have been told only that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Romans 8.28. Now we know that those who will only quote that verse in Romans and fail to also quote multiple passages in John and elsewhere are proof texting the doctrine of the love of God. They are negating the required faithfulness of believers to obey and endure to the very end. Even through the great tribulation if need be in order to enter the final kingdom of God.
Even one of my favorite commentators and Bible teachers, Gordon Fee, has a terrible time trying to describe the inevitable in his excellent commentary covering 1 Corinthians. When the apostle Paul is warning his church plant about possible apostasy, our brother Paul also warns himself lest he be cast away after preaching to others.
1 Corinthians 9:26-27 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (adokimos).
To add insult to injury to sentimental love folks, the Greek word used to describe disqualified is exclusively used in reference to former saints and believers that were headed for eternal damnation. You may take a look at all the uses of this word in a piece that we wrote here on being approved or disapproved by God.
Brother Fee is sugar coating here with flowery language to describe this in the commentary. He puts it this way.
“…that the Corinthians exercise self-control lest they fail to obtain the eschatological prize.” (bold emphasis mine)
This is not the only place in 1 Corinthians where the apostle Paul warns them. In the middle of the letter in chapters 8-10 the whole treatise there deals with not causing a believer to stumble. In chapter 8, he shows them their callousness and lack of love by flaunting their “freedom” by publicly eating meat sacrificed to idols since it was causing weak believers to return to the pagan temple “fellowship dinners” that they have left when saved.
When they did so, these weak and stumbling believers resumed participating in the three part ceremony that “blessed” the meat. In turn, this ceremony called the demons to the very dinner table. Consequently, the clean house of these souls were infected once again with demons. These precious brethren were falling away from the faith…and heading to perdition.
Luke 11:24-26 (Jesus declares:) “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”
They were then responsible for this eternal destruction of their fellow saints. The serious admonition reads like this.
Romans 14:15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy (apollumi: eternal destruction) with your food him for whom Christ died.
Let’s be crystal clear. These passages and many, many others declare ominously to all if any believer, even like the caliber of the renowned apostle Paul himself, fails to consistently obey Jesus Christ by exercising self-control, both the perpetrator and the stumbled victim who could have escaped the temptation goes to hell. And that is not the love of God to most people I know in the church of God worldwide.
One young, incredulous, and supremely confident 5 Point Calvinist on a fast track to the unbiblical role of Senior Pastor in a new church replication declared to me in exasperation, “How could God orphan His children?” What he meant was, “How can that be the love of God?” I mentioned the fact the better question to ask is why does He do that and under what circumstances.
I quoted to him probably a dozen passages including 1 Timothy 4.1, and that God has also divorced Israel. He was not persuaded. At the time, I had not written our piece about being erased from the Book of Life. Most likely, nothing would have made a difference…even someone rising from the dead to proclaim the true truth to him directly! No wonder most refuse to agree.
The Wrath of God Is God’s Love Too
When I preach to groups, I often ask them when was the last time they heard a message on the wrath of God? Almost no one responds positively. The baby manger Jesus would never do that, would He? But the great I AM displays this frequently in the Word of God.
His wrath is a major doctrine. Major. The Greek word used to describe this emotion of the Almighty by Paul is orge, an unbridled explosion of anger. John in the Revelation of Jesus Christ uses the word thumos, again the same explosion.
Here we see the lost are tormented day and night in the presence of Jesus and His angels to display the wrath of God in it’s full strength.
Revelation 14:9-11 Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
In Romans 1 we see how the Lord Master treats the persistent sinner that suppresses the truth they know which is evident.
Romans 1:18, 24. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them…Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.
Why does God have wrath? He gives His all to sinners, and His beloved Son, and still they insult the Spirit of grace. It’s a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Hebrews 10:26-31 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.
Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
How is His fierce wrath a part of His love?
God’s love is protection and provision. He is protecting and providing for His saints when He prevents sinners from cohabiting with the redeemed. He also avenges the tribulations of the saints through His wrath by sending His Son, the Christ.
Revelation 6:9-10 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
Revelation 19:15-16 From His (Jesus Christ’s) mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
We Must Admit There Is Difficulty With The Love Of God
Contrary to the modern notion that God wants to “fall in love with us,” the God Who is, the great I AM, does not concentrate on an inner emotion only in lieu of His justice, discipline, and wrath. Brother Carson puts it this way.
(The cultural ‘love of God’) espouses a theology of grace rather different from Paul’s theology of grace, and at its worst ends up with a God so insipid (i.e., bland and weak) He can neither intervene to save us nor deploy His chastening rod against us. His love is too “unconditional” for that. This is a world far removed from the pages of Scripture… In short, we need all of what Scripture says on the subject, or the doctrinal and pastoral ramifications will prove disastrous.
I frequently quote a line from Dan Allender’s book Bold Love that states, “If Jesus had practiced the type of love we advocate nowadays, He would have lived to a ripe old age.”
Now I know these truths about the love of God after struggling with the obvious for years like a spiritual salmon heading upstream against the mighty flow. Now when I hear some doctrinal neophyte of any salvation age just gush about how wonderful the love of God is, I chime in and say, “I guess it all depends…”
When they recover from the shock of my statement, I kindly and slowly begin a short discourse along the lines of this piece. We never know who may be the next evangelist for the real true truth that will emerge right among those in His church!
David the Psalmist was very uncomfortable in Psalm 139 reckoning the fact God knew all his heart’s thoughts and motives behind them. So should we with the fact the love of God proves difficult for we mere mortals.
What kind of a God creates over 100,000,000,000 (billion) souls knowing that probably 95% will end up in the lake of fire? Is that a God of love?
Yes indeed. He is certainly that.
Our dear Lord God Almighty never, ever made that place of torment for one solitary human being as we all know. It was the love of God that poured out the Life of His only begotten Son for the entire world.
Amazing grace, this love.
And what should be…will be…our response in return?
We of all people must get this right. And walk worthy of that love.
Understanding the Love of God can be found here.
Conditions for 100% of God’s love can be found here.
Please comment on this post right below. Feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion.
Your friend and brother in fighting the good fight,
Saints, we’re one day closer to Home, and Him! Love Him wholeheartedly!
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Please comment on this post right below. Feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion.
Marc White, Director, Walk Worthy Ministries, www.WalkWorthy.org