Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why God's Love Doesn't Make Sense

Sometimes, in conversations with people about how to share the Gospel, I have been challenged with this: "You should just talk about God's mercy and love. Tell them God loves them. Don't turn people away with talk of sin and Hell and judgment."

The question is: is that biblical evangelism? Second question: Does that even make sense?

Most often, people cite Romans 2:4 when they say this:

Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

As a young Christian, I stumbled upon an article by Greg Koukl called "Never Read a Bible Verse." It is one of the two most valuable lessons I've learned that has helped me in my walk with Christ.

In it, Koukl says:

If there was one bit of wisdom, one rule of thumb, one single skill I could impart, one useful tip I could leave that would serve you well the rest of your life, what would it be? What is the single most important practical skill I've ever learned as a Christian?

Here it is: Never read a Bible verse. That's right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph at least.

When I'm on the radio, I use this simple rule to help me answer the majority of Bible questions I'm asked, even when I'm totally unfamiliar with the verse. It's an amazingly effective technique you can use, too.

I read the paragraph, not just the verse. I take stock of the relevant material above and below. Since the context frames the verse and gives it specific meaning, I let it tell me what's going on.

I have found this to be amazingly effective. While many people study cults for hours and hours to learn to diffuse their arguments, I simply run to my bible. I take the verse that's quoted, and read the verses before and after it.

That way, you learn what the human author intended to say, to the people he was speaking to at that time, and then accurately interpret and apply what you're reading in its proper context.

So, instead of lifting Romans 2:4 out of context and making a doctrine out of it, saying we shouldn't preach about sin, repentence and the judgment to come, let's put the statement Paul makes back into its context to get the proper sense of it:

1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.
3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”
7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,
9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek;
10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
11 For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:1-11

It seems that Paul believed in preaching about sin and the wrath of God, too. Allister Begg (I think it was) put it this way: "It's because God has a real wrath, that His mercy makes any sense at all."

Hell isn't reasonable to someone who doesn't know the exceeding sinfulness of their sin. Thankfully, you can show a person their sinfulness without being harsh or rude. God has given us a tool to do this. It's called the law.

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Galatians 3:24

Unfortunately, many people take this too far. On the streets of many major cities (I'm assuming, since I've really only seen them in New Orleans), are people that profess to know Christ, yelling at the top of their lungs about how God hates this group or that group because of their sin. Singling out certain groups for condemnation may make you feel better about yourself, but it isn't the Gospel. I'm guilty and you're guilty. The only thing that makes me different than someone I'm talking to about the Gospel is that I've been born again.

So I gently, lovingly plead with people to flee from the wrath to come. First, I open up the law and show them that they've violated God's law, and deserve punishment, just like I do. Then I plead with them about the reality of Hell.

Then, unless I'm dealing with a really proud, arrogant person who won't listen to what I have to say, I take them to the cross and resurrection, and the need for repentance and faith. I plead with them to flee to the Savior, not simply to get out of Hell, but because of His kindness and love and mercy shown to us on the cross.

Have you ever done that? Can you look back to a time in your life when you've embraced by faith Jesus Christ as the only basis for your forgiveness before God? If you haven't, won't you think about this today? Every second, 7 people die. Before you put your head on your pillow tonight, over 150,000 people will step out of this world and into eternity - Heaven or Hell forever and ever and ever and ever. Please, think about it today.

Unless God's wrath is real, the biblical concepts of God's love and mercy are robbed of their meaning. It's because of God's wrath that His mercy is relevant.
- Allister Begg (I think)


  1. Jesse... amen to reading the Bible in its proper CONTEXT. As you know I am a passionate inductive Bible studier and also am teaching this in children's church. One of the main steps to the observation process of inductive study is CONTEXT. CONTEXT IS BOSS! This cannot be stressed enough. The Lord thankfully used one of my students in class the past couple of weeks for me to demonstrate WHY context is important. Remind me to show you what happened when they DID NOT read in proper context. LOL! Keep up the great work you are doing for the Lord.

  2. Yvette,
    Can't wait to hear about that! Thanks for the encouragement. I thought you were going to ask, "What's the second most valuable lesson?" :)

  3. The way I share Gospel has radically changed after I started hearing messages by Jesudian Silverster. I just expose the Father and His unconditional love. No law, No hell, No Conviction, Simply introduce the Father. Jesus came to search the lost, I just find the lost and connect back to the Father :)

    Also another slight variation and the most appropriate method I use as below. To many Christians if you ask 'What is Gospel?' they usually blink and say the four books or the message of God-Man-Sin-Wrath-Jesus-Cross-Salvation-Heaven flow. However if you allow Bible to be its own dictionary gospel is defined in Galatians 3:8 "Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you'"

    So the first Gospel giver is God, first gospel receiver is Abraham. The content of God intended Gospel is God wants to bless man. To be precise whatever God spoke to Abraham is called Gospel. When I share Gospel to somebody I carefully make sure that I don't speak anything extra than what God spoke to Abraham. I just unveil the Father and his wish to bless any man by faith, What do you think about this approach?

    1. Hi Nehemiah,

      Thanks for contributing your thoughts. I'm not sure I understand your approach. Can you help me out?

      I'm not sure I understand. From your perspective, could you clarify for me:

      What is the Gospel?
      Why should I care?
      What if I don't care?
      What must I do to be saved?

      Looking forward to fruitful discussion.

    2. Hi Jesse, Thanks for writing on this. As I have mentioned earlier Gospel is defined in bible in Gal 3:8. God promised unimaginable blessings to Abraham. The same is meant as Gospel.

      To analyze the word Gospel, "Gospel is a calque (word-for-word translation) of the Greek word euangelion (eu- 'good', -angelion 'message')". Gospel basically means Good News.

      Let me take two guys share gospel to a non-believer as below,

      Bill : "Hey dude, Are you not saved yet? Get saved man, we all sinners, wages of sins are death, Christ died on the cross for all our sins, accept Him and get forgiven so that you can escape from wrath of God, Also you will go to heaven"

      Whatever Bill says is true however its not a good news in the hearer's point of view. Let us see how Gladys shares the Gospel

      Gladys: "Hello Mr, do you know we have a Father God in heaven who is watching you and loving you always, And you are one of the lost sons, He wants all sons back. He wants to dwell in you and bless you by making you pure, rich, healthy with all earthly and heavenly riches. He wants you to keep you safe and joyful. In fact the very reason Christ died on the cross is whatever pleasure Abraham enjoyed all can fall on you, Gal 3:13,14. Do you know Abraham was the most blessed person man in the world, God wants to give the same to you. let me read the blessings Abraham was promised and received....And now brother just by faith in Christ you can receive this stunning offer of righteousness, richness, health, peace etc"

      Whatever Gladys talks is also truth, However I am sure the ways Gladys shared Gospel makes the word meaningful. That's why Gal 3:8 intelligently defines Gospel as 'conversation between God and Abraham' nothing else. Because there is no other good news than a news of blessings.

      Your others questions.

      Why should I care? - Obviously to go to heaven, however there are many others reasons why I accepted Gospel. I wanted to enjoy LIFE. Contents of LIFE are righteousness, health, prosperity, joy & fellowship. Contents of DEATH are wrath, sickness, poverty, sorrow & separation. Adam purchased Death in garden of Eden. Christ purchased Life on the cross. I accepted Gospel since I wanted to be the consumer of life.

      What if I don't care?
      If we don't accept Gospel we will be living under death in which sin, sickness, poverty, sorrow upto separation(hell) will overcome us. So gospel gives you the offer of relationship with God by faith and enjoy LIFE.

      What must I do to be saved?
      Faith, nothing else.

    3. Nehemiah,

      Thanks for the thoughtful discussion here.

      If God is loving us always, and we're sons already, why do I need to be saved?

      The bible actually teaches that you and me "belong to your Father, the devil" (John 8:44) unless we are "born again" (John 3:3).

      The Gospel is not "me" centered - it's God-centered. Until I repent and trust in Jesus, the "good news" isn't good news at all. The bible says that God's wrath abides upon me (John 3:36) if I do not trust in Jesus.

      What's the Gospel? Christ died for me. The Father is not just loving everybody. God is love. But God is holy, just, and righteous. He leaves no sin unpunished. Because He is good.

      He offers a pardon from what I deserve, and sonship, if I repent (of my self-effort) and trust in Christ. He died for me, to purchase me back from my father, the devil.

      We are not all sons of God. The bible teaches that those who have placed their trust in Christ have been adopted into God's family and are sons (Eph 1:5). Read Ephesians 1 - that's good news! But only if you're "in Christ." Otherwise, you're doing what comes naturally - opposing God - because the spirit that works in you is the spirit of the devil (Eph 2:1-3). That's not good news. But it's the truth.

      The good news (Gospel) is that Jesus died for me. When I embrace that and put away my self-effort, God changes me. He lives in me, and He lives through me. That's good news! But it's only good news to those who've placed their trust in Christ.

      Apart from Christ, there is no forgiveness (by His own words), no sonship, and only wratch and (just) judgement.

      So, Nehemiah, what must I do to be saved? "Faith. Nothing else."

      What do you mean by "faith?"