December 2, 2020

“But” Out Of God’s Love

“God is love.”

Honestly . . . how do you react, deep down in your gut, when someone invokes that little quote from John’s first epistle? I believe most thoughtful evangelicals are like me on this, if  honest. We have a hard time trusting love, don’t we?

Whenever any kind of apologetic or doctrinal debates turn toward love, don’t we (the theologically “in” crowd) at least internally start rolling our eyes and maybe even squirming. And for us older guard, what leaps to mind immediately is the “L” word (liberal), or from the more recent decade the “P” word (postmodern), or to the latest (and already fading) scapegoat, the “E” word (emergent . . . feel the shudders). When love is appealed to, we basically nod our heads impatiently, and with a wave of the hand dismiss sentimentality as diversion, redirecting thought and word with a simple, but all too telling, “Yes, but . . .”

In our objectively absolute, modernist evangelical’s way-of-the-worldview, love is an excuse for mushy thinking and diluted theology. When it comes down to it, we suspect it’s an attempt to minimize sin and therein God’s wrath and justice. In our guts, we know the guilty are just trying to avoid their rightful come-uppance.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I know whereof I speak—because I’ve been among the greatest of evangelical sinners in this regard . . . for decades. When my atheist friend protests, “You Christians say God is love, but we’re not feeling it from the likes of you,” before the opponent can take another breath, I’m there with, “Yes, but we’re all sinners too; just saved by grace.”

Then there’s that agnostic’s furtive glance from around his newspaper, headlined “Death Toll in the Thousands,” with his particularly bitter quip, “For a God who is so loving and omnipotent, he sure has a knack for inflicting arbitrarily brutal disasters.” And perhaps with not quite so much relish, I’ll still retort, “Yes, but that’s God’s wrath upon fallen, sinful humanity.” At least I avoid tossing out for good measure the exhausted cliché, “Yes God loves sinners, but he so hates sin.”

I’m also finding these days that my rationales are not so quick to the political draw when a homeless mother on the street corner, with her marker-scrawled cardboard sign, fixes her eyes on mine and (without a word) asks, “Why me, and not you?” Or when that middle-aged, unemployed friend sitting next to me in our men’s Bible study, falters in voice mid-prayer-request and awkwardly rolls his glazing eyes away from us. Seems he can’t put into words the hopelessness of this latest installment in eighteen months of rejection. Thankfully I can’t bring myself to “yes-but-provident-God” him.

I am getting better at keeping my “yes buts” to myself . . . on these occasions, at least.

The Good News Must Be Love

So of late I’ve been mulling through some very familiar scriptures, and I believe God’s Spirit has shifted them for me toward a rare certainty in the inescapable and ineffable profundity that God himself is love. By definition—that everything he has been about and is about is uncompromisingly love.

We of all people must not distrust love—we should never find ourselves responding to love with anything less than “yes, absolutely.” So how is a church elder to respond to my friend when she corners him in the back of the sanctuary after service and, in tearful, pleading whispers, once more brings up her alienated lesbian daughter: “Do you think she could come and just be a part of this church?”

Should he simply respond, “Yes, absolutely”? Shouldn’t he rather, in all good evangelical conscience at least qualify, “Yes, but she cannot be a member.” Isn’t it worth the implicit “Yes, I suppose; but she’ll never be accepted as long as she remains . . . you know, in sin”? It must be worth the qualifying of love so that we can be certain at least everyone knows where we stand on absolute truth and justice, mustn’t it?  Can we really trust that love is sufficient without performance conditions?

After all, we’ll certainly agree that if there is any core or essence to the Gospel, it is love. But love alone? I’ve found it no small challenge in some of my late musings to convince my evangelical brethren that love is the sole essence of spirituality, of all morality, of holiness—that the Gospel is no less than entirely about it. (Think about it—everything that matters in Christianity: faith, spirituality, morality . . . all are about persons relating to persons with more or less love.)

Sure, we can generally agree that love is the purpose and means by which Christ came into the world, and that it was love’s failing in human terms for which he came to redeem us. We might even agree (at least we should) that sin in its essence is one’s not being in right love relationship with God; and by application, not being loving amounts to sin in all of its various forms toward other people (most of all toward the person of God).

We also must agree (though some of us more begrudgingly) that Jesus insisted no less than love for God and love for one’s neighbor is the sum total and hinge-point for everything else that is the biblical “law” (modernist evangelicals, read “theology” and “doctrine”). Love is the significance of the faith that was counted as righteousness unto Abraham and all other patriarchs. Their faith was the measure of their love for the one true God. And no less than love is the essence of the Old Testament Wisdom Literature’s “fear of the Lord” mantra.

It is even at the heart of “God’s wrath.”

To deny the centrality and primacy of love is to deny the New Testament Gospel as well. What’s more, to distrust love is to distrust the Gospel. That’s because the Gospel is all about God’s love, our inability to love (sin), and God’s sacrificial remedy (love incarnate). All we must do is believe in his means of redemptive love (Jesus Christ and his Gospel story) and respond in kind.

Sin + Wrath = God’s Love

But we evangelicals know this like the back of our collective hand—that’s the problem. We need to be reminded (constantly) that Christ himself came because God “so loved,” so that humanity could respond to God’s love with love for him.

I think, though, if we can be even a little more honest with ourselves, the need for reminding is more than passive negligence or distraction—there’s an “aggressive” to that passivity. For example, if we can just set aside the vitriol over concerns for strains of universalism, we should really have to admit it is hard and even bitter irony that anything labeled “love wins” could create such a tightening of the Evangelical gut, rather than a rousing “Amen!” I think many of us would even have to admit that deep down, we elder-brothers-to-the-prodigal are afraid the likes of those questioning hell are going to let sinners off too easily (as if God doesn’t).

But” (there it is!), chime in the theologically shrewd, “what of God’s propitiation?” And I agree—to refuse salvation is to deny propitiation and remain in God’s wrath.

But what requires appeasement? There’s the rub.

Isn’t it, necessarily first and foremost, the original sin, which has been passed on down from generation to generation? And isn’t the essence of Adam’s and Eve’s first sin-act the very same state we’re all born into: God’s love estranged, distrusted, and then unrequited by disobedience? This is the state of every unbeliever’s existence: we all are born into “God’s wrath” because we are from without in respect to his love. To be sure, with our inherited state of both original human sin and God’s wrath, come all of the inevitable, unlovely, unloving consequences known as sins, from generation to generation. But it’s our corporate original sin—humanity’s great divorce from God—that occasions the need for God’s appeasement.

So naturally (literally), the unbeliever who remains in God’s wrath has chosen to remain in that general condition of humanity that is itself the byproduct of estrangement from God’s love. Being “in sin” is being in the state of God’s wrath—the just and only logical alternative to being in his love (as darkness is simply the state of being without light). Likewise, God’s justice is meaningful only in terms of his love—it is the fulfillment and consequence of God’s love (hell included).

This is why the only remedy to being without, with respect to God’s love, is . . . to be in it (that is, “grace”: God’s unconditionally unearned love).

So how else should that evangelical elder welcome the daughter, who is all-too-familiar-thank-you with the common wisdom of (and religion’s zeal for) God’s wrath? How other than with, “Yes, absolutely she is welcome! She would be so loved here. I guarantee she will be unconditionally accepted by this local body of Christ.”

And what’s more, imagine he could be just that confident, without even a thought or motive toward “but.” 

Taste and See Some Familiar Scriptures

Here compiled are a few familiar biblical reminders for why love must necessarily be the foundation and premise of everything authentically Christian:

1. God preemptively loved the world. It’s so familiar, we can easily miss the profound implications, particularly with respect to those “wicked” who are under God’s wrath: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). God has loved, from Adam and Eve to this present day, all of us wicked who have been and will yet be in his wrath—the wrath from which he would yet save (still future tense when Jesus spoke these words into time). In the very context of an Adam-and-Eve-fallen world, God so loved it.

After all, God has always been in love with the yet-sinners: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom. 5:8-9). Interesting, isn’t it, how God’s justice and wrath must be described in the context of his love? God’s wrath is not an exception or counterpart to his love—if anything, it is a consequence of it.

2. In no uncertain terms, God the Son affirmed what even the Pharisees knew to be the foundational, preeminent law of the entirety of Scriptures—love. It’s the same significance as what James affirms to be the “Royal Law” (2:8). Unequivocally, the entirety of the Bible’s good news message is love (Matt. 22:34-40; see also Mark 12:28-34). In fact, as Paul echoes in his letter to the Galatians, the whole of Scriptures can be summed up in that single word: “Through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:13-14).

3. Significantly, per John’s first epistle, without love one cannot make a legitimate claim to the Gospel, or even its application to his or her own salvation. One has to question salvation itself if he or she would deny love as God’s motive or (more concerning) refuse to be about loving neighbors (1 John 4:7-9).

4. This is so much the case, that God’s response to his own wrath, in the form of his “propitiation,” is itself motivated by and all about his love (vv. 10-12). God’s wrath and propitiation cannot be about eliciting fear, as if salvation were about avoiding the frightening prospects of God’s retribution or hate. (As if Jesus actually came to save us from some monster Father God.) John is clear on this—you don’t legitimately love neighbors or God out of fear of his wrath (vv. 18-20).

So in love, God preemptively provided propitiation (no alliteration particularly intended). And the only response he requires is that we return to him the love for which we were created in the first place. That is the glory of God for which we were created, and that is very good news.

Putting Away Childish (Unloving) Things

One cannot discuss the preeminence of love without at least citing 1 Corinthians 13. But it has struck me recently how rare it is that I hear verses 11-13 (the “put away childish things” reference) cited in the context that Paul intended. Love’s preeminence is actually what God inspired Paul to represent as the measure and mark of Christian maturity. Childish religion is about mere performance of good works, sin management, protectionism, and fear. The Christian who would be in right relationship with God will put away such immature and inadequate motives, because from beginning to end, faith and hope are all about love (vv. 11-13).

So when next challenged to sum up the Good News of Jesus Christ, how much will we really believe (without qualification or caveat) that it must amount to very little more than this? God loves you so much that he [his Son] died and resurrected for you, enabling you to accept and requite his love, and in turn love those he puts in your proximity.

Still, many of my evangelical brethren will protest, “I agree that love was the motivating factor and that the cross is the ultimate display of love. But . . . that being said, the good news is only ‘good’ to those in a bad situation, else it would just be ‘news,’ not ‘good news.’ So what is the bad news, according to Scriptures? And should the bad news be acknowledged within the presentation of the good news?”

I know this protest first hand; and I also know that in my case, honestly, I was protesting way too much. I’ve since come to know that sin too must be understood in terms of love. So even the bad news is that people are not in love with God (i.e., original sin), and they accordingly act out unlovingly (personal sin) against God and other people.

See, even the bad news can only be understood and framed in the context of good news of God’s love. Sin is meaningless without love (not the reverse).

Likewise my sense of justice is meaningless without love. To the homeless mother’s unspoken, “Why not you,” I dare not look away and don my default theological and political postures—could I just bring myself to engage her gaze and somehow respond in so many words (if any), I don’t know, and even, What do you need? Or to my unemployed friend’s ashamed glancing off, can I for once keep my Eliphaz mouth shut and simply touch him . . . put my hand on his shoulder, and just affirm either by word or deed, This is just so wrong, or, You do not deserve this. (Or must I one more time opine in thought, “Rabbi, who sinned—this man or his parents, that he should be unemployed?”)

Because love is not rude—it cannot roll its eyes up against hers, which accuse from the street corner. Neither is it self-seeking, rationalizing away the dreadful implications of the unemployed not somehow deserving this. Love keeps no record of wrongs, even of daughters unrepentantly the objects of God’s wrath, “living in sin.” And love never (ever) delights in any of their come-uppance (never, “God, I thank you that I am not like [these] other people”).

The more I realize it is all about love, the more I grow in authentic faith, putting away childish rationalizations and hyperboles of justice, wrath, guilt, and fear. There is no counterpoint or equal in God’s economy to love. Everything that is truth comes down to love and is measured by it—everything! There is not a single piece of Scripture that should be understood without the context of God’s love.

It should sadden us deeply that we evangelicals can be so prone to distrust love—to always be responding (in effect), “Well yes, love; but . . .”

If Christianity is not all about love, it is nothing other than one more impotently human religious construct—a loud and annoyingly clanging cymbal. For grown-up Christian thinking, there can be no alternative. There is no “but” to God’s love.



  1. I am moved deeply by what you have said. I happened upon this blog while exploring places to renew my faith and study-time and apparently have stumbled upon you during a time of much upheaval over some interesting posts. A regular commentator posited that the “new” folks must have been attracted by the LGBT discussions, but that is not the case for me. My appearance happened to coincide with this ongoing discussion.

    I have always felt that there were no qualifications to the commandment to love one another. No exceptions, no take-backs. And the gospels and epistles have several instances where we are called to…well, to put it plainly… To mind our own business and stop spending so much time worrying about everyone else. If there is a denomination who wishes to support, acknowledge or affirm people who others believe are sinners, why should anyone else care? Others do not need to be wrong in order for one to be right. My sin is between God and me, not with anyone else’s nose butting in. At the final judgement, only two will be in attendance…God and me. Not God, me and someone else. Why can’t people just coexist in love, focus on being the best people they are called by God to become and let God speak to everyone in their own, personal way without butting into other people’s morality?

    • humanslug says

      LA, I agree that we too often have our noses in other people’s business when we should be about the business of showing love to each other. On the other hand, I disagree that sin is “just between me and God.” Any sin, even hidden private sins, are like stones dropped in the collective pond we all swim in, and each dropped stone sends ripples of effect and influence throughout our families, churches, communities, societies, and on throughout all creation. And a culture saturated with sin is like a pool in a hailstorm — it throws the common environment we all share into chaos and confusion.
      Where we as Christians get off track is when we try to combat sin — either at the individual or cultural level — with judgement and behavior modification programs. Both judgmentalism and attempts at law-based righteousness only serve to magnify sin and increase its power over us. Only love demonstrated through action can effectively defeat or cure sin. We are called to combat sin with love and to love sinners unconditionally.
      But neither sin or love exist in isolated, individual vacuums — and both sin and love are highly infectious.

      • I agree that sin has an effect on the entire community, but we cannot know people’s hearts and their personal relationship with God. Only God knows our hearts and when we judge, butt in, “inform” people that they’re sinning, we are taking away God’s work and replacing it with human assumption and tainting the process of reconciliation with our inherently non-omnipotent viewpoint. I agree if a sin has personally hurt me, it is right for me to say “that hurt me” and why. But then we must get out of the way of God’s redemptive power, continue to love unconditionally and trust in God’s path for reconciliation. But when we preach, complain, judge and assume, we are not trusting God and giving in to the evil of despair and worse, placing ourselves as God’s equal, who is our only judge and protector.

        • humanslug says

          No disagreements here.
          Sometimes love means backing off, doing nothing, and letting the Holy Spirit do His thing.
          Sometimes love means taking an active role, bearing someone else’s burdens, encouraging, and maybe even admonishing on occasion.
          But it’s not ever easy to know what do (or not to do) when it comes to people you care about.
          Maybe the best policy is to wait until you’re invited to get involved — and then make damn sure you’re well aware of the logs in your own eye.

          • Logs in eye… I don’t know if I prefer the log in the eye to the Holy Spirit-wielded 2×4 that whacks me upside the head when I don’t listen to God’s path.

  2. LA…..welcome as we return to regularly scheduled programming!! Most of us find our way here while searching and growing and struggling…..

    Sorry, more will need to wait until after some caffeine and a re-read, or two!

  3. Wow, Craig, this is a wonderful post! I was going to quote my favorite lines but there are too many of them. It does certainly simplify things if we just remember that God truly is love and that we are in that love. We forget, though, over and over again. I know I do.

  4. Beautiful.

    Many times in my life, I have heard pastors make the statement, “When you leave this life, you’ll stand face-to-face before God, and He’s going to ask you one question…”

    Usually that question is something along the lines of “Did you receive me as your Lord and Savior?”

    Brennan Manning took a different take on the idea though, stating that he believed the question God will ask is will be, “Did you believe that I loved you?”

    We Christians often deny the love of Christ in our efforts to be, or at least appear to be, perfect in every way…especially in comparison to those we consider to be “less perfect” than ourselves. In doing so, we essentially deny the Good News of the Gospel. When we believe we must be “good”, or that we are better than others, the Good News becomes just news. And who cares? The world is more interested in knowing who won American Idol, or what designer some Kardashian is wearing than hearing that they need to self-improve.

    I’m not saying that we should just keep on sinning, but that we should desire inward change for different reasons…not so that we can impress God, but because we are infinitely impressed with God and His love.

    Thank God I have faith in a God that loves me in spite of me…

  5. Wonderful post, thank you. Very edifying. I especially liked:

    Childish religion is about mere performance of good works, sin management, protectionism, and fear. The Christian who would be in right relationship with God will put away such immature and inadequate motives, because from beginning to end, faith and hope are all about love (vv. 11-13).

    That is a great insight. And you are correct, that isn’t how we usually interpret that verse. That said (yes, here comes my “but”)…

    One of our problems is that we each think of something different when we hear the word “love.” Miguel touched upon this in the “Chaplain Mike’s ‘Agenda’” post. Love is simple and at the same time beyond our comprehension. Here is a tired old example that is non-the-less absolutely true:

    If I would have allowed my kids to set the rules for how they thought I should have “lovingly” raised them, they would be a mess today (instead they actually turned out pretty good). I’m not perfect, but most of the time, even the things they thought were mean, hurtful, selfish, uncaring, harsh, dumb, etc. were really done with their best interests in mind. Years later they will understand when they have their own kids, just like I understand my parents better now than when I was a kid.

    So, what is “love.” One clue is this quote that has stuck with me. “God loves me too much to leave me the way I am.” Sometimes love feels like a warm embrace and sometimes it hurts like a dickens.

    • Where the parent-child metaphor breaks down is that a human father doesn’t have the ability to dwell within a child, transform that child into his likeness, and make that child a participant in his own nature. Discipline might change us, but theosis transfigures us. Punishment changes our outward behavior; the “lifting up of humanity into God” alters our entire inner reality and identity. God may discipline us, but discipline is not the primary way God transforms us.

      In human parenting, strict discipline produces law-abiding children, perhaps, but most of the trouble people have growing into loving and healthy and mature adults has a lot more to do with whether they felt loved as children than anything else. In the same way, it’s God’s love, not God’s discipline, that most deeply transforms us. And receiving God’s love gives us more power to live Godly lives than all the discipline in the world ever could.

      • You are right; I can’t dwell within my children. I can only lovingly administer the external discipline and pray for the Holy Spirit to handle the internal transformation. But that doesn’t negate the usefulness of and need for the external discipline. Scripture is clear that God disciplines us because He loves us and in multiple places says that God set up structures for discipline in society, in His Church, and in the home.

        At the same time I fully recognize that discipline without love is a destructive thing. My problem with your implication is that you seem to be trying to make it “either/or” when it should be a “both/and.” Those who love recognize that there is a time to discipline whether they are a parent, church leader, or societal magistrate.

        • Honestly, I’m having a hard time thinking of any permanent change in my character or actions that has ever come about because anything I would identify as God’s “discipline.” I can certainly name times when I didn’t commit a particular sin because of fear of displeasing God, or when I was forced to repentance because of consequences of sin. But I literally cannot think of a time when “discipline” has altered the thing inside me that made me want to commit that sin in the first place. The only times I’ve experienced that sort of transformation have been as a result of experiences of God’s love, not from any sense of judgment or punishment.

          Even more bizarrely, at a few times in my life when I’ve been tempted to make a particularly destructive sinful choice, what has stopped me has been an unexpected, uninvited, entirely overwhelming sense of God’s love enfolding me – not God’s anger. The closest I’ve come to a sense of God actively stepping in to alter the path I’m on through “discipline” has been through the Holy Spirit convicting me of sin, opening my eyes to see that the way I had been living was not Christlike. If you’d count conviction as a form of discipline, then maybe we aren’t really in disagreement on that. But conviction is not a form of punishment.

          When Hebrews talks about God “disciplining” us (I’m not sure if the concept arises elsewhere in the NT), it’s referring to hardships in our lives, perhaps in particular persecution for our faith, as discipline. I think it’s referring to “discipline” in terms of “training,” not in terms of “punishment.” I don’t believe, for example, that if we do bad things God makes bad things happen to us to punish us. When you talk about God “disciplining” us, what form do you think that takes?

          • I really don’t want to get caught up in a discussion on “discipline” since that isn’t really my point here. I’ll just say that I agree with you that the sense of it is training that takes many forms. As I think Craig is pointing out, since God is love then everything He does is love. And that has to including His discipline.

            My original point was that when we hear the word “love” we mistakenly think only of the stuff that feels good. But I think God’s definition of love (recorded in the Scriptures and fully manifested in Jesus Christ) is bigger and more complex than that.

            My point in talking about my kids was to illustrate in a practical way a tiny bit of that complexity. Come to think of it, every authority position I have been in has taught me something of how “hard” love has to sometimes be. I’ve had to fire people for the good of a business. I’ve had them shed tears about how they need to provide for their family and that loosing the job will ruin them. Was I unloving? But letting them stay would have hurt the business and may have eventually cost multiple other employees their jobs. I’ve also been in church leadership and been part of administering “discipline” toward one in order to protect another. It would be a lot easier if love was nothing more than acceptance. It is often hard and painful to be the person in authority who has to figure out how to do the loving.

  6. One of the most common descriptions of God in the Old Testament is “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” (Ex 34, 2 Chr 30, Neh 9, Ps 86, Ps 103, Ps 145, Joel 2, Jonah 4). Note that those verses span the entirety of Israel’s history: as their understanding of God was evolving in many other ways, that’s the one conviction that remained constant. That love was so central to their understanding of God that even Jonah took it for granted – and fled _away_ from Nineveh because he was afraid God would be more forgiving to them than he himself would be.

    For me, the shift from relating to God in terms of right doctrine and right conduct, to relating to God through trust in God’s unconditional love, felt like converting to a completely different religion (and perhaps I was!). When talking about my faith and my experience of God, I connect very naturally with anyone across the whole liberal-conservative or traditional-modern spectra as long as their faith is grounded in knowledge of that love, but when talking with people who don’t believe in that love, regardless of what theological similarities we otherwise have it feels like a completely different God we’re talking about.

    • Exactly–I’m with you. I still call myself evangelical, but only because I honor Scriptures as God’s inspired word, and I do believe in the great commission (though how it is implemented can be up for grabs). I also tend to find the essential doctrines of orthodoxy end up resonating with Scriptures implied and applied.

      Nonetheless, the shift I’ve experienced in my soul over the past several years makes my faith seem almost a different religion from what I’ve believed and practiced for around four decades. I know I’ve been a follower of the same Christ all along, but I can’t help but see this as by far the actuality of “born again.”

      It can be hard not to disparage and despite my previous worldview . . . but I don’t (honestly).

      I’d never go back, though.

    • Jackpot! that is what it feels like for me now. And it is certainly a weird transition.

  7. “Should he simply respond, ‘Yes, absolutely’? Shouldn’t he rather, in all good evangelical conscience at least qualify, ‘Yes, but she cannot be a member.’ Isn’t it worth the implicit ‘Yes, I suppose; but she’ll never be accepted as long as she remains . . . you know, in sin’? It must be worth the qualifying of love so that we can be certain at least everyone knows where we stand on absolute truth and justice, mustn’t it? Can we really trust that love is sufficient without performance conditions?”

    The above paragraph is full of unwarranted presuppositions. The first, and most glaring, appears to be the presupposition that a refusal to welcome someone into full membership in a church (or to maintain a recognition of someone’s status as such) represents a failure of love. Why does that follow?

    When a church admits someone into membership, or allows someone to remain a member in good standing, that church is giving public endorsement to that individual’s salvation. It is affirming that said individual has repented of sin and has publicly declared faith in Jesus Christ. The church is certainly not claiming that its members are perfect or do not sin anymore. It is, however, claiming that its members have renounced sin as master and have turned to Christ, so that when they do sin, they own it as sin, repent, and enlist the support of brothers and sisters in the church to fight against it. The open embrace of what Scripture clearly identifies as sin would stand in clear contrast to such a public endorsement on the church’s part, and it would actually be unloving to allow someone to join a church or to remain in good standing as a member of a church if that person calls good what God has called evil.

    Read 1 Corinthians 5. Paul calls upon the church at Corinth to remove an incestuous man from their membership (this man was sleeping with his stepmother). In addition to his desire to protect the purity of the church and to keep other members from falling into sin without fear of consequences (see vv. 6-8), notice in particular what Paul’s motive is with respect to the man in sin. Verse 5 reads, “…you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (By the way, just a little thought experiment here: what if we replace the lesbian in the blog post example with an incestuous man or a pedophile? Does it still work? Are you willing to follow your logic to its end point?)

    Paul desires the eschatological salvation of the man who is in sin. And the only way he knows how to pursue that, at this point, is to remove the man from the church and hand him over to Satan, so that through this disciplinary act the man may wake up to what he has done and turn away from sin. Love does not equal unconditional approval. Where unrepentant sin is involved (as any parent knows), love requires discipline. Love is willing to do the dirty work of confronting and correcting. Of course, our gut reaction today is to assume that anyone who confronts and corrects is a “holier-than-thou,” and that is one reason we are so reluctant to do it. We are afraid we may be perceived as arrogant and judgmental. But true, God-like love doesn’t care what the outside world will say about us for loving sinners the way God does. Love will press on for the good of the one who is caught in sin, in spite of the (ironic) fact that they will inevitably be labeled “judgmental” by the judgment police of our culture. You see, love is willing to pay the price of being ridiculed, even on Christian blog sites, for the sake of the eternal salvation of those who are lost in sin.

    If we soft-pedal the issue of homosexuality, we are not loving those who have embraced that sin. We are telling them that the open embrace of sin is perfectly compatible with allegiance to Christ. We are telling them that there is a path to redemption that does not run through repentance. We are patting them on the back as they wander the road to Hell.

    The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t doubt the good intentions behind this blog post, or behind anything I have read here lately. But good intentions won’t deliver anyone from the wrath that is to come.

    • David Cornwell says

      “But good intentions won’t deliver anyone from the wrath that is to come.”

      True, but the love of God does.God’s intentions are shown to us through Christ.

      “soft-pedal the issue of homosexuality”

      But we all soft pedal certain sins that are dear to us, close to us, lodged in our heart of hearts. That’s why they are called “deadly”. We are blind to our own sin, which may include judging our neighbor or building a wall of self righteousness around our church with a sign outside proclaiming how “right” we are.

    • I disagree, Aaron. The membership red herring is a perfectly common excuse to justify being unloving. As with this article, so with how we operate in church often–membership wasn’t the question, yet it’s where we want to go, and thereby where we want to qualify love. Because, as the thinking goes, why would we want to welcome anyone in who (by our standards) cannot hope to qualify as being a member? And so it follows: insist that the prospective member first change before he/she can be acceptable, and therein reasonably accepted.

      Homosexuality is a perfect example of the exception in evangelical minds to God’s grace and love. (Because, they think, God’s wrath is upon the living abominations–how could he possibly show love or be in the least loving toward an abomination without implicitly conveying aproval of the abomination?)

      This is the “childish thinking” to which Paul referred in 1 Cor. 13. Doctrines and all truth are meaningless without love.

      The only godly (and biblical) response is unqualified, unconditional love. And as God the Son displayed himself, such a sacrificial love is given preemptively, and largely unrequited.

      The significance of judging not, lest you be judged, is that if you’re going to qualify grace and God’s love upon compliance and obedience and freedom from sin, you should expect no less in terms of your own salvation . . . and good luck with that.

      • Craig,

        You may not have been trying to represent my view, but if you were, I want to be clear that you did not represent my view at all.

        I belong to a church whose members are very welcoming toward sinners. We rejoice to have self-identified homosexuals coming to our corporate gatherings, being part of our lives, getting to know us, and we them. We don’t demand anything from them at that level.

        But if someone wants to join our church as a member, we do make demands, because membership in a church entails identification with Christ. As a local church, we cannot say that those who call something that is sinful good have identified themselves with Christ. They have not died to sin, and therefore, they have not died with Christ. For us to say that they have would be to dishonor Christ and to affirm them in sin, leading them to a greater sense of comfort on the road bound for Hell that they are traveling. It would be the exact opposite of what love demands.

        But suppose a self-identified homosexual comes to us and says, “Look, I struggle. I agree with what God has said: homosexual acts are wrong. I see what I have done as sinful, and I want to renounce it, but there’s no switch in my brain that I can flip and make myself automatically heterosexual or asexual. I’m going to have to fight this with your help.” To that person we would say, “Welcome to our family! We’re ready to fight with you.”

        The key is not that someone has to be sinless. It is that they have to be repentant. The difference between believers and non-believers is not the presence or absence of sin in one or the other. It is the renunciation of sin as lord and the affirmation that Christ is Lord. Love does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth.

    • Per 1 Cor. 5, Aaron–that’s very diferent. That scenario is about removing one from within a church’s inner circle (membership, if you will . . . or better, if you must); and the expressed purpose is to turn that one over to the destruction he unrepentantly clings to, all the while insisting he remains a Christ follower. By removing such a one, you are effectively clarifying for him the lie he is otherwise perpetuating upon others and (most significantly) convincing himself of. Both Paul’s and Jesus’ (in Matt. 18) purpose is clear–repentance from a believer who wilfully remains in sin.

      It’s one thing to go through the painful (and very exceptional) scenario of removing a believer who won’t repent of sinning against people, and lives on definately so in opposition to the truth.

      It’s another thing to welcome in the sinner seeking love.

      The difference is, you have no right to judge the sin or reject the fellowship of anyone, unless they have granted you that right to love them so much as to hold them accountable, particularly within a fellowship of believers.

      In short–we can and should hold one another accountable as believers, particularly when we unrepentantly practice sins against one another. Why? EXACTLY BECAUSE THIS IS LOVE.

      We cannot and should not hold others accountable for such when we have no love relationship with them. As Paul puts it so succinctly in that 1 Cor. 5 passage, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God wil judge those outside” (vv. 12-13).

      It’s unloving elitism to be approaching the outsiders with eyes toward membership. Our soul purpose should be to help them realize God’s love by realizing our unconditional, without-exception (including sexual-sinner) acceptance.

      Now, if you want to talk about a believer in a church who is having unmarried homosexual relations repeatedly and unrepentantly . . . then 1 Cor. 5 could apply.

      • David Cornwell says

        “Now, if you want to talk about a believer in a church who is having unmarried homosexual relations repeatedly and unrepentantly . . . then 1 Cor. 5 could apply.”

        Even that we’d better be very careful about, because some of the more common, but yet terribly destructive sins are common in every church. And I can also assure you also that unknown and unnamed sexual sin is present in most congregations. So first we have to be honest with ourselves and with God, in prayerful self examination.

        • Are you saying that we have to reach some level of self-knowledge or sinlessness before we act on something that clearly needs to be addressed for someone’s good? Perhaps sin is as pervasive as you indicate because there are too many standing around thinking “I’m not righteous enough to address that” instead of stepping forward and saying “I know I’m a sinner too, but you have got to get rid of that because it is killing you and those around you.”

          • David Cornwell says

            Partly true, we’d better have some self knowledge before we point at others. And we need to realize our own brokenness if we are to point it out in someone else. I’m just saying that it should be as painful to us as it is to the one we are pointing the finger at. We are, regardless of our church standing or affiliation are part of a broken and sinful humanity.

            I’m not saying that we must reach a level of sinlessness, not at all. We just need to realize that we really aren’t that much better than the other person regardless of our state of grace.

          • Jesus does command us to minister to our own plank-in-the-eye before ever daring to minister to anyone else’s. This is very clearly and plainly stated. Until you, I, and everyone else is free from sin ourselves will we be allowed to even mention another’s sin. Yet, time and time again we miss this passage, believing in our own rightness and ensuring that we look like the man who stood in temple praying “thank God I’m not like THOSE sinners!”. Remember that the other man in that story prayed only so that God could hear him.

            Why should we ever presume to need to know another’s heart or require them to reveal anything about their struggle with sin in order to be a “member”? The RC church was condemned repeatedly for its use of excommunication, yet preemptive excommunication is what is being proposed here. Hospitals are for sick people and churches are for sin-sick people. If the gay man wants to share his struggles, fine, but if he wants to be private then Jesus certainly tells us that is an acceptable path. To presume to know God’s action in his life is to elevate oneself to God’s level.

          • LA – First, the passage you are referencing in Matthew 7 is about perspective, not sinlessness. On that basis I agree with David C’s assertion that a level of self-awareness is called for before we address sin in another person.

            The other point I would make is that our responsibilities towards each other differ based on our relationships. For instance, a parent has a level of responsibility and freedom to address an issue that a sibling doesn’t, a boss has a level of responsibility and freedom to address an issue that a co-worker doesn’t, a pastor has a level of responsibility and freedom to address an issue that a parishioner doesn’t, etc. When there is public, unrepentant sin of a serious nature (I realize “serious” is subjective) scripture is pretty clear that church leadership need to deal with it.

    • The membership thing is hard to speak about concerning NT examples because there doesn’t appear to be a difference between people who go to the church gathering, and people who are “members in good standing.”

      Also, the example of the incestuous guy is tossed around to justify any sort of exclusion people feel like, but the reality is the Corinthian church had a whole raft of people in sin, probably a bunch of it sexual in nature. He picked one of them to throw out. The rest? He chastised them, but they stayed…the point is it was a judgment call.

      It seems to me there could be a process in which the “unrepentant” sinner (who exactly does that NOT refer to?) would be happily welcomed, the sin would eventually come onto the table in some way that was a normal part of church life (ie, so-and-so keeps talking about their gay partner), and from there an ongoing conversation could commence about what the person’s beliefs/hopes were concerning that behavior. The church’s view could be put on the table at as well. Processes for alternatives could be suggested. People could get to know the person more fully and welcome them into personal relationships as well as the church’s gatherings. There could be fruitful dialogue about the roots of the behavior, potential ways to address it, and why the church feels the way they do about it. There’s a lot of room for real and fruitful growth to take place before we starting citing the “hand him over to Satan” verse…

      Lots of time could elapse. Eventually, in my thought experiment, it would become obvious that this person was going to pursue the sin in such a way that it would risk a corporate swell of sin of some sort. This is easily noted in bodies of all kinds- one person’s behavior “infects the herd” so to speak, and there becomes a greater threat afoot. In some situations, the body sees the threat and cuts it off. In others it succumbs- the idea with the church is that the Spirit is present so that it will not, but in a last resort someone could be “cut off” from the congregation, because there’s no other choice.

      But I don’t see any Biblical reason to make people sign on a dotted line concerning the gay issue as soon they want to take part in some way.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        Maybe that’s why this is such a complicated issue: because many of these concepts (i.e., “unrepentant” sinners, “negative impact” on the overall church community, etc.) need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, rather than assuming that the Bible offers one blanket rule of thumb that must be applied in every situation the exact same way.

        1 Corinthians 5 was a specific reference to a specific individual that posed a specific problem to a specific church community. The fact that this was an implied sexual relationship (I use the term “implied,” because no reference is made to whether they were having sexual relations, and it was common for men to take several wives purely to add to their harem, not for romantic or sexual purposes) is irrelevant; this could have been a person with a drug dependency issue, or an abusive parent or spouse, or a person with unresolved anger issues who was sowing disunity in the church. The principle seems to be that if the church is negatively impacted by the unrepentant sinner, and the church has taken every possible strategy to confront and engage the person, then that person should be removed from the community.

        In the case of the parent with the lesbian daughter, the only reason to not grant her full membership would be because she is new to the church community. Shouldn’t the church let a little time lapse before they make a decision about what her role in the church should be? At least let the woman in the front door first, show her the love of God through the community and make her feel loved within a church family. Even first-time employees get a probation period, right? Unless a person poses an immediate physical danger to the church, or it is clear that her behavior either drags weaker church members deeper into sin or actively disrupts the mission of the church, I don’t see the problem in letting her soak up the church environment (unless there is something inherently toxic about that church environment, which is a WHOLE other discussion entirely).

  8. Maybe its just me, but I have an awfully hard time “loving” people most of the time. I don’t “hate” people, but expressions of love just don’t come easily for me.

    So say I’m in a situation like the one where the guy has been unemployed long-term and its obviously tough on him. I’m more likely to say, and do, nothing out of fear that my gesture or words will be interpreted by friend as coming from as an Eliphaz than because I think less of my friend or that he is unworthy of my love because of this struggle. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been struggling and evidence of this has come out in a Christian group setting and no one has said anything and I’ve interpreted their actions to mean they don’t care when in actuality it is more likely that they were just scared for similar reasons as me. So I assume that they would also interpret nothing being said to them as condemnation of some sort rather than fear, at least initially.

    I’m not trying to justify my actions here (I am working on improving myself in the direct affirmation area), but just saying that I think fear is also a motivating factor sometimes behind someone not showing love to another who needs it.

  9. When Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for endorsing the behavior of sinners by eating and drinking with them at Matthew’s house, he told them, “Go and find out what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9:13). Here is my reflection on what he means:

  10. Wow! Somehow I read this without noticing that it wasn’t by Chaplain Mike. All the way thru I was thinking, Wow, wow, who knew? It wasn’t until I got down in the comments that I discovered it was by Craig. I don’t even know who Craig is but I wish he lived next door to me. How far would I have to walk to find someone else with this understanding so I could gather with him or her? What a rarity!

    I don’t know just what Jesus meant when he spoke of his return, what we like to call the Second Coming. I do know that of all the possibilities I have considered, that Jesus floating down out of the sky dressed in a bed sheet is down at the bottom. Near the top, often at the top, is the idea that it may be a matter of spiritual illumination for those ready to receive, and that the illumination may be just what Craig’s message is all about. Certainly we have done everything possible for two millennia to keep this understanding locked up and hidden away. As usual, the Pharisees stand at the ready to keep it that way. Blessings to you, Craig!

  11. This is a very good post asking some really good questions. I go back to Jesus who loved the sinful women but also told her to go and sin no more. Where does truth enter into the picture ? I know I am always to love and show compassion but what about speaking the truth in love ? What does that look like ? Is love giving a wink and a nod to someone violating Gods word ? Jesus said alot of things that would never be considered tolerant in our day and age. Love is the vehicle behind everything but how it is to be used is the real question. If you really look at alot of the words Jesus used we can get a clue about speaking love in truth. It does not mean we do not speak up about certain issues. It is all in how we reply with love being the measuring stick and truth being our guide.

    • I’m with you. It’s not easy, and I wouldn’t want to represent it so.

      I wrote another article here a while ago in which I tried to parse out another word that, like love, has many facets of meaning and application: sin.

      I believe the BIble is clear throughout that there is a state of sin into which all humans are born (what’s often referred to as well as “the wrath of God” and theologically as “original sin”). That state is separation from God–it happened at the beginning of human history, and we’ve all been trying to get back to Eden since. Things are not right with us and with our world because we are not in right relationship with God. That’s sin, and frankly, that’s the main thing that concerns God. By way of analogy, it’s our disease.

      All other sins are merely symptoms of that main big problem. Some symptoms are more destructive than others, butr if all your focus is upon the symptom as being the problem, there’s never going to be healing–never going to be right relationship with God.

      So right relationship with God is all about loving him (and, thereby, being loving toward other people too); and really, all of the symptomatic sins we commit are all about failing to love God (or others) well.

      I’m convinced, as cliche’ as it all may seem . . . it really is all about love. Everything in the Bible–every doctrine, all that is orthodoxy. If it’s true, it’s measured by love. If it’s not about or not accomplishing love, it’s a lie.

      That’s the standard by which we should be measuring all that we call “truth.”

      • Craig wrote, “I’m convinced, as cliche’ as it all may seem . . . it really is all about love. Everything in the Bible–every doctrine, all that is orthodoxy. If it’s true, it’s measured by love. If it’s not about or not accomplishing love, it’s a lie.”

        I agree, Craig. I have found that if a “relgious” belief I have tends to make me angry, bitter, afraid or hateful, the belief is most likely wrong and is not of God. If we have encountered God’s love then we offer that love to other people. If they are doing things that are sinful but then they encounter God’s love as well, eventually they will become aware of their sin and want no part of it. I am talking about sins as the majority of us would agree upon: selfishness, cruelty, stealing, murdering, lying and so on.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Here might be some of the problems with “telling the truth in love.” When we attempt to do that:

      1. We tend to cherry-pick the sinful acts we want to address, which comes across as hypocritical.
      2. We don’t take time to learn someone’s story first, before understanding why they engage in acts that we consider “sinful.”
      3. Our approach comes across as condescending, rude, and humiliating.
      4. We are guilty of sins that we don’t want to address, either, and the person who we approach sees that as hypocritical.
      5. Our confrontations never really include a plan for reconciling the person back into the community, and if they do, they often require the person confronted to make a tremendous sacrifice, while the church community sacrifices little to nothing.

  12. My dear friend CM, I have enjoyed sitting under your teaching many times for many years, but never more than now. I am so happy to have this vehicle to continue to do so. Thank you for taking the time to ponder and write about this so important an issue. I agree with and echo where the Lord took you on this. Just thank you.

  13. Thank you to all who have read and encouraged me in return. It means so much when you find sympathetic ears that resonate with how God is ringing you.

  14. Marcus Johnson says

    I’m not sure that we are still really aware of how our juxtaposition of God’s love with God’s “wrath” sounds like to unbelievers. I think we have this issue totally resolved in our heads, but to unbelievers, it still sounds like God’s unconditional love has conditions.

    Take 1 Corinthians 5, for example. This seems to be the only instance in Paul’s epistles in which he specifically calls for someone to be ousted from the church community. First, I am assuming that there is more to this story than just what is included on the page, perhaps because this was a letter addressed specifically to the church at Corinth. As a result, much of this story was understood between Paul and the church, in the same way that if I wrote a letter to a specific person, there are some details that I would omit because those details are already understood between the two of us.

    Keeping that in mind, why would Paul ask the church to oust this man from their congregation, but in the following chapter, he would call out certain people who would “cheat and do wrong,” yet not demand that they be ousted from the church as well? Is it possible that there was more to the story about how disruptive this person’s sin was? I’m wondering if this story is sufficient in and of itself to be interpreted and applied the way the church interprets and applies it.

    Also, I’m wondering why we would refuse a person from fellowship if we believe that their sexual orientation is sinful, but accept people who have unresolved anger issues, or hold grudges against certain people, or refuse to be actively involved in mission and discipleship? Aren’t those all sins, too? In every church community, I keep running into folks who exhibit sins like these, yet they remain in the congregation, and no one feels particularly compelled to ask them to leave. Any ideas why?

    • Danielle says

      If I had to guess:

      Sex, along with gender or household “order”, are important symbols and sources of meaning across time and culture. They are so psychologically/culturally/socially/economically powerful that we endlessly fixate on them, manipulate them, and police them. There may be historical counter-examples, but for the most part, the problem seems to be systemic.

  15. Danielle says

    Everyone mentions the woman caught in adultery, which is a good example. But we could always screw things up a bit more by mentioning King David. Yes, he gets in trouble for stealing a man’s wife at one point and repents of that sin. We all like that story.

    Here’s something more troublesome: he’s bothered by the fact that he has a small army of wives and concubines. Apparently Nathan’s not bothered either, or any other contemporary. Yet despite the fact that a man with multiple wives with a petition for church membership would cause endless controversy on any Christian web forum, Scripture identifies David as the man after Gods own heart, and his reign is remembered as a high point in Israel’s history.

    Whatever you make of these historical facts, it seems the bottom line comes out to something like this: God accepts the fact that we/our culture/our situations fall short of divine perfection. He chooses to be the parent/lover of humanity anyway. If you accept Christianity’s interpretation of who Christ is, you add this idea: God is even willing to become human, not just in a generic sense, but a person trapped inside of a particular body, in a particular culture, at a particular time, with all difficulties that situation produces, just like every ordinary Joe who was ever born.

    There’s more to be said in theology and life than, “God is love,” but everything else turns out to be an elaboration on this one truth.

    • Agreed completely! King David is definitely the #1 spanner in the works when it comes to morality in the Bible. He’s a polygamist, rapist (because you don’t say no to the king) and murderer who gets that incredibly awesome title of “Man after God’s own heart”. That just blows a monstrous hole in so many ways of thinking. I always try to keep him in mind any time I’m reading or thinking about our penal system since he committed crimes that many feel are in the “lock him up and throw away the key” category.

      I guess he’s a really concrete example of Love covering a multitude of sins, because he does seem to love many people (and God) passionately and wholeheartedly.

      • I am not quite certain what thinking you are referring to when you say David ‘blows a monstrous hole in so many ways of thinking’.
        When David came alive to the fact that he had sinned he repented wholeheartedly and immediately – eg his affair with Bathsheba. He repented, he was forgiven but he was disciplined by God. It seems that some of the other sins we are aware of were not ones that God challenged him on – maybe within his culture he behaved well – maybe they didn’t threaten the love he had for God – maybe his repentance for those sins just wasn’t recorded?
        He was a man after God’s heart but he also paid a very heavy price for what he did and that included the way in which he had a family life.
        The fact that God still used David despite his errors (and many lead Biblical characters appear to have been deeply flawed humans) gives me hope that God will not give up on me either but his love does not mean I can live in the way I want to – ‘Go and sin no more’ Jesus said to the adulterous woman – love does cover our sins but to be a person after God’s own heart means we have to recognise our own sinfulness and repent. David didn’t get away with anything. Love is very tough sometimes – otherwise it wouldn’t be love.

        • Danielle says

          David repented of some major sins of which he was aware. But then there are other things that were more or less acceptable in his time, that we today would consider problematic, like polygamy. Can you imagine the church membership interview after David rides his machine into the future?

          “Well, David, you have quite a testimony. It’s clear that God’s really worked in your life. Grace, our worship coordinator, is especially interested in convincing you to use your talents in worship.”

          “Tell us, how many people will be coming up with you when you present your family for membership?”

          “Well, there’s me, and then there’s my 7 wives…”

          “Oh, I don’t think we can allow that! What do you need 7 wives for anyway?”

          “Well, my first wife laughed at me, so I stopped sleeping with her.”

          Now imagine the church scandal that ensues about the antics of his kids hit the newspaper.

          I’m being silly of course– the point is, history is messy and God’s in the middle of it anyway. Grace changes us but it does so within in the inhospitable terrain of our foibles and within our circumstances.

          • I wouldn’t disagree with you on your last paragraph – and apologies if I’m being a bit dense – but I’m still not clear what point you are trying to make by using David’s life as an example. Maybe I’ve misunderstood you but I read your first post as an attempt to minimise sin by highlighting the honour God bestowed upon David.
            God’s grace was extended to David but David also suffered the conseqences of his actions. Love does cover our sins and love disciplines us as well – it’s a sign that we are truly God’s children (Hebrews 12:7 – 11).
            God is love so sin has consequences – as David discovered. We may dislike the idea that we cannot determine what is acceptable behaviour for us but it is clear that those who follow Christ will be subject to God’s discipline because He loves us. David is an excellent example of this. I’ll slightly amend my last sentence of my first comment: love feels tough at times when you are loved by God otherwise it wouldn’t be love.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Maybe the point should be that God allowed David to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. Many of the people who we tend to label as “unrepentant sinners” are already suffering the consequences of their wrongdoing–broken relationships, loneliness, physical sickness, financial burdens, etc. Until they can really understand the depth of God’s love, they won’t understand the nature of their sin, and by denying a person the fellowship of the church, we are essentially cutting them off from an experience which could engage that person in God’s love. Confront them, yes, but expose them to the love of God through the church community, then when every avenue has been exhausted (and that should take a really LONG time), let them go.

            By the way, I should also point out that polygamy back in the time of King David was not considered a sin, the way it is today, so Danielle’s point (although the skit was very creative) might be rendered moot. Once society progressed to a point where we began to understand the negative impact of polygamous relationships on the people within the family unit in context with our current sociel structure, polygamy became taboo. Not sure why she skipped over the whole “sleep with another man’s wife, then get the man killed in battle” thing for the polygamy bit.

          • I think it’s worth noting that with David, he had an existing relationship with God so he knew something of the depth of God’s love for him already – when he suffered the consequences of his sin he knew why he was suffering and why he was disciplined.
            The way I see Christians behaving is to jump in and demand changes before we have earned the right to speak the truth in love. I agree with you Marcus – invite people into a loving community first – be in relationship with them properly – allow the Holy Spirit to speak before we do. We may not have to do any confronting at all – it is the Spirit after all who convicts.

          • Danielle says

            Sorry to be abstruse. My only point with the polygamy example is that there are “sins”–from either a heavenly perspective or a later time period/other culture’s perspective–that we aren’t even aware of. For example, we can all find things to critique in David’s life that David would not have occurred to him. Presumably, nobody at the time thought, “oh, David’s misfortunes are the natural result of his participation in the marriage system of the day.” At least, that doesn’t seem to the point the Biblical writers tried to make.

            And yet, even in our systemic inability to see ourselves as others might, God just marches into history.

            By so writing, I do not mean to minimize “sin”; rather, I am observing that the human dilemma runs even deeper than the “sin” we know enough to repent of. We’re caught in limited perspectives and in circumstances. But that’s the very context in which God shows up.

  16. humanslug says

    I wonder how many of our failures and problems as the church — both today and throughout our history — can be boiled down to a failure to love combined with an unjustified, obsessive focus on something else?

    • “something else” -can you give an example by what you mean?

      • humanslug says

        Doctrinal perfection, liturgical perfection, organizational perfection, behavioral perfection, who gets to wear the big hat of authority, Christianizing society and culture, stamping out heresy, conquering the infidels, seeking political power and influence, acquiring land and money, scriptural nitpicking, mapping out how the world’s gonna end, maxing out on God’s blessings, producing Jedi faith masters, putting on the best and biggest Sunday morning show, jumping through all the hoops necessary for salvation, getting everyone in the world to sign a “decision” card, building the most impressive tent for God to live in, getting God’s favored candidate in office, keeping it trendy and relevant, keeping it the same as it’s always been, and making sure the color for the new carpet in the sanctuary is in line with God’s perfect will (just to name a few).
        You name it, and the church has been obsessed with it at one point or another.

  17. Beautiful piece of writing, and much needed. I’ve seen exactly what you talk about in terms of Christians who affirm all the right doctrines about love but who, when it comes to practice, put qualifiers on it. Cultural influences(particularly socioeconomic stratification), sinful human nature, and an aversion to the complicated and messy involvement that love requires, all play a part in this.

    Some of my saddest moments as a believe, and ones that have most alienated me from the institutional church (but not from Christ), were moments when love was utterly lacking. Including the reaction of my mother, a retired longtime missionary and almost lifelong Christian, as we drove past a homeless guy on the side of the road with a cardboard sign asking for help: “Well, get a job buddy.” Including members of a church Bible study who were on the verge of religious war against Muslims. Including a close relative who asserted her family’s spiritual superiority as a reason for a disproportionate material inheritance.

    I don’t think any of these people had a clue how much their witness and the cause of Christ were damaged by their lack of love as a default response. And there are many who are like this.

    Conversely, I think that when those who follow Jesus, whether currently in a local church or not, begin consistently demonstrating Jesus’ love and overcoming those who do the opposite, they will see people drawn to Jesus as never before, simly because there is something utterly compelling and attractive about the love of Christ lived out faithfully.

  18. Jack Heron says

    “We pick and choose those we call friend
    And ask “who is my neighbor?”
    Begrudging love to those in need –
    Why waste our time and labor?

    For we can guess each hidden sin,
    “He drank”, “She stole”, “They slandered.”
    The Lord may love the whole wide world
    We have a higher standard.”

    Shamelessly nicked from a recent post on Stuff Fundies Like (

  19. Bless You Craig for such beautiful truths you have shared today… Lifts me up!

    What a balm for my heart after reading some of the comments to CM’s post this week.

    Am I alone when I say that it has been a slow slow process for me to change? When I first became a Christian at 28 I prayed to be a loving gentle woman. I was raised in a violent home and had a deep longing to be a loving person, after thirty years of falling, failing, dropping out & yet getting back up again & again my hope now rests in His love for me and His love for the world.

    It should sadden us deeply that we evangelicals can be so prone to distrust love—to always be responding (in effect), “Well yes, love; but . . .”

  20. The danger of the political divide amongst Christians is that it tends to create a false dichotomy between love (grace) and truth. Grace, without truth, is neither, and vice-versa. I think what tends to happen is that conservatives harp on the truth at the expense of love, while liberals harp on love, sometimes at the expense of truth. The result is that both sides wind up with neither. Conservatives harping on “truth,” usually wind up confusing specks and planks so that though they are technically correct in their “truth” about somebody else’s sin, it often comes with the neglect of the full truth, in which they are still sinners in need of ongoing repentance, which ought to be their primary concern. This hypocrisy is quite off-putting, un-loving, and dishonest. Conversely, liberals who define love as “unconditional acceptance,” at the expense of truth (God does not offer unconditional acceptance, but rather on the condition of Christ’s merit and our faith and baptism) wind up having, in the long run, something that is actually not love. Case in point, the “tolerance” crowd are often the least tolerant of dissenting viewpoints. It is not loving to tell somebody that they can have Jesus without His cross, or that they can have His righteousness and unite it with the harlot, to use a Pauline term. This is not loving because it ultimately endorses destructive behavior. The distinction is real, that we must be accepting toward all people without endorsing all behavior, because God clearly hates sin, yet came to die for sinners. But usually, if you have to use the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner,” you may have already missed the boat on that second part. It seems to only come up as a defense of going at somebody’s weakness at an inappropriately early stage of relationship.

  21. MIguel point to what Elton Trueblood called, “the holy conjunction…’And'” as the key to our failings no matter under which banner we fly. Just as focusing on Jesus’ humanity or divinity to the exclusion of the other ends in heresy, so does choosing one side of these pairs.
    This theme is expanded upon here;