“Honey, can you go to the store for me on your way home from the church?”
This is a question that rolls across my texter machine (aka cell phone), at least three times per week. Having always lived in a large city, I never realized just how many changes came with living in “the country.” One of the changes I despise the most is the dreaded evening trip to the grocery store. Why do I tell you this? Because on Tuesday night my trip to one particular grocery store here in Newton took me right by the marquee of a local church that is part of a large national denomination. A church that would describe itself as a mainline “evangelical” Christian church.
Don’t ask me why I read church signs or marquees. Call it morbid curiosity. It is like a train wreck, you don’t want to look, but you have to look. I’ve learned a long time ago that I should not read these signs because they typically make me mad. It is like me surfing by a preacher on television. I know I shouldn’t stop, but I do. The church marquee and your average television preacher are generally the same. They generally contain messages that are unbiblical and run contrary to orthodox biblical Christianity. So what did the sign in question say?
“God is love, not judgement.”
Upon reading this my righteous indignation, soared from Defcon 5 to Defcon 1. Now, I understand why this particular church placed these words on their sign. They are trying to show our community how relevant they are. Man they are hip! (Can I still say that?) They are an open-minded church that is on the right side of culture. But in the process they made a statement about God that is just not true. God tells us who He is and is not, in His word. They could have stated,
“God is love and God is judgment.”
And that would have been true to how God describes Himself in the Bible. God is both! He must be! In order for God to be loving, He must judge wickedness and sin. Does Hitler get a pass? Stalin? Okay, okay, judge those two but everyone else gets a pass? God is a just judge, a perfect judge, and a righteous judge.
So why all the fuss?
Here you go…this church is doing the work of Satan by casting doubt on the word of God. A close study of Genesis chapter 2 and 3 will reveal that the first question from the serpent to Eve was, “Indeed, has God said?” casting doubt on what God had previously said. If you continue into verses 2–5 of chapter 3, you will find Satan subtracts from and adds to God’s word. Why do you think we find such a stern warning to those who add to or subtract from God’s word in Revelation 22:18–19:
God doesn’t play when it comes to His word or how He describes Himself in it.
“I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”
“God is love.” Of course I agree with that statement. John 3:16 knocks that ball out of the park.
Why have we come to the wrong conclusion in mainline American evangelical circles that a “loving” God is a God who doesn’t judge?
This brings me to the ditches that I implore you to avoid. I’ll explain. While trying to help my oldest son understand that the Bible absolutely teaches that God is sovereign and knows the end from the beginning; all the while working through human means (and human choices) to bring about this sovereign plan, I simply regurgitated something that an old pastor once shared with me. “When it comes to walking out our Christian faith, the Devil lives in the extremes.”
Does the Bible teach the sovereignty of God? Yes. Does the Bible teach that human beings have a choice to make? Yes, God is not willing that any shall perish. How does God take two ideas that seem to be diametrically opposed to one another and yet make them work in perfect harmony with one another? (If you’re not following, try wrestling with Romans 8:28 next time life kicks you in the teeth). I have no idea! But I do know this. Folks that take either side of the argument to the extreme are wrong!
You’ve probably seen it before: someone is driving and they start drifting off into a ditch, then they overcorrect and take themselves into the opposite ditch. We see this played out in vivid detail on the American church stage today. The church has about-faced from the tomato-faced, pulpit-pounding, hell fire and brimstone preacher of yesteryear to the pearly toothed motivational speaker of today. You know the one. The guy that wants you to believe that “every day is a Friday” and you can “have your best life now.” Which brings us back to the second half of “happy churches” proclamation—“God is not judgement.”
“Some say justice requires God to do this…as if justice was a natural force or law in the universe outside of God. All God’s reasons come from within His uncreated being. Justice, when used of God, is a name we give to the way God is, nothing more; and when God acts justly He is not doing so to conform to an independent criterion, but simply acting like Himself in given situation.”
God is love. It is not merely an attribute. It is a part of His very being. In the same way, God is just. It is who He is. His judgment against sin was put on display on the cross at Calvary. The just dying for the unjust. We are helpless to understand God’s justice without having a proper understanding of sin and God’s holiness. God is a judge and His justice flows from His holiness.
Many times in the Bible God is pictured as a judge. The Bible says that He will one day judge the world.
Why does the clear teaching of scripture that God is a just judge offend the delicate sensibilities of those within the church?
Many of us shy away from the thought of God as a judge because the examples of justice that we see on earth are flawed; some judges are corrupt and, even when their intentions are good, they can make mistakes. However, the fact that God is just assures us that when He acts as a judge, He will administer justice perfectly.
We should not reject the truth that God is a judge, on the contrary, we should rejoice that God is a judge! He loved us enough to die for us, while we were yet sinners. His mercy, grace, and love are not in spite of His justice, but because of it. He loved us so much that even though our sin demands our death, He sent His Son to be our substitute upon the cross. His justice was not violated but satisfied completely in Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9).
Until next time…stay out of the ditch, and think biblically. —Pastor Steve