By Tony Merida

OrdinarySocial causes come and go like bad fashion trends, sometimes quite literally: what color bracelet are you wearing this month?

Surely our consumer-conditioned attention spans have something to do with this, but let’s be real: when you care about something enough to devote serious time and energy, it can be discouraging when the anticipated results never materialize.

Many people know they should care for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, but few are motivated to do this over the course of a lifetime. Jesus reminds his followers, “You always have the poor with you” (Mark 14:7). In other words, we ain’t gonna solve poverty anytime soon.

How in the world can we keep up the good work when it feels like a lost cause? Good theology.

Theological types often get stereotyped as all head and no heart. This is unfortunate because a few key doctrines of the faith provide the sustainable inspiration we need for a lifetime of good works.

Love everybody, because imago Dei

If we believe that everyone is made in the image of God—imago Dei—then everyone is worthy of dignity, love, basic human rights, and hearing biblical truth.

Those who abuse people made in God’s image through enslavement, torture, rape, and grinding poverty, are dehumanizing people and insulting God Himself. Many victims of human trafficking and abuse report how they felt inhumane after being oppressed.

Those who believe in the imago Dei should live out their theology through practical acts of love for the oppressed and vulnerable.

Show mercy, because redemption

The Bible records for us the story of God coming to save people. When we were enslaved, He freed us. When we were orphans, He adopted us. When we were sojourners, He welcomed us. When we were widows, Christ became our groom.

The mercy and justice of God meet at the cross, where our redemption comes from. We needed His redemption because we cannot live up to the standard God has set. But One did. Jesus Christ is the ultimate display of a life of righteousness and justice. Through repentance and faith in Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness.

Now, as believers, we have power to live just lives, and when we fail, we know God won’t crush us, for He has already crushed Christ in our place. Now we pursue justice because we love God, and have already been accepted in Him.

We want to show mercy. That’s what God’s redemption has done for us.

Stay hopeful, because restoration

The good news about injustice isn’t only that we’re making some progress today, though we are. We take heart knowing that the King of kings will return to restore this broken world, bringing perfect peace—shalom.

In the coming Kingdom, will be no more orphans; no more trafficking; no more abuse. This fallen world will give way to glory. Doing justice and mercy is about showing the world what our King is like. It involves bringing the future into the present, that is, giving people a taste now of what the future will be like then.

When you welcome the stranger, share the good news among the nations, cultivate diverse friendships, adopt children, or defend the defenseless, you are simply living as the King’s people before a watching world. We don’t fight the problems of this fallen world as victims, but as victors.

Work for good not grace, because justification

We can’t keep God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves perfectly. But Jesus has kept the Great Commandments perfectly for us. And only Christ can justify us. Only Jesus can make us ordinary citizens of the kingdom of God.

Justification means “just as if I’ve never sinned” and “just as if I’ve always obeyed perfectly,” as my friend Daniel Akin has said. Jesus Christ can forgive you entirely, and give you His perfect righteousness.

Justified people stand accepted in Christ. So, don’t look to yourself or your good deeds for salvation, but trust in Christ alone. From this acceptance and justified position, we can live in the power of the Holy Spirit to do good to all your neighbors. Tim Keller explains how receiving the good news leads to a life of good deeds:

Before you can give neighbor love, you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need (Generous Justice, 77).

In other words, justification leads to justice for others. Receive— and give—the neighbor love of the Great Samaritan, and give Him thanks.

Always remember the people

My focus flowing from these theological motivations is on people.

You may do justice and mercy through large-scale, political and social transformation like William Wilberforce, who worked to abolish slavery. Or you may do mercy and justice through simple acts like welcoming a foster child.

In whatever case, let’s do it all in effort to bless people. Because people are made in God’s image, because people need redemption, and because people will one day dwell with God in the new heavens and the new earth where everything will be finally transformed, we should be seriously interested in how to love our neighbors as ourselves—our orphaned neighbors, our lonely neighbors, our impoverished neighbors, our enslaved neighbors, our racially different neighbors, and our lost neighbors.

That’s how God loves us, as good theology helps us understand.

For more on this topic, see Tony Merida’s new book Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down.

Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. Tony is the author of OrdinaryFaithful Preaching, co-author of Orphanology, and serves as a general editor and as contributor to the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series along with David Platt and Danny Akin. He is married to Kimberly, with whom he has five adopted children.

The Bestsellers
Here is another entry in a series I am calling “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I am looking at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We have encountered books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and Randy Alcorn (The Treasure Principle) all the way to Bruce Wilkinson (The Prayer of Jabez) and Paul Young (The Shack). Today we look at the only bestselling book written by a alumnus of John MacArthur’s college and seminary.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

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Francis Chan was born in San Francisco in 1967, the son of Chinese immigrants. After professing faith at a young age, he attended The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary, graduating with Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees. In 1994, he and his wife Lisa founded Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. Though the church began with only thirty people, it grew quickly and within six years numbered over 1,500.

In 2005 Chan released a video titled Just Stop and Think that quickly went viral while also setting him up for the release of his first book: Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Published in 2008, the book is a call for Christians to live an authentic faith, and it was marketed behind language like this: “Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts — it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis describes it, you will never be the same.”

Chan develops two substantial themes. The first is a painstaking self-examination to determine if the reader is truly saved. “A lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven.” The second theme is a radical obedience concerned more for future rewards than present comfort or prosperity. “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

What may sound cliché after nearly ten years and a host of imitators was fresh in its time. “This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don’t want to plateau, who would rather die before their convictions do.” At the time Chan was writing, many Christian leaders seemed to be leading people away from the centrality of the local church. Chan, though, wished to express his love for the church and wanted to draw people back to it. In an interview after the book’s publication he said

As a pastor I hear a lot of emergent leaders talk about what is wrong with the church. It comes across as someone who doesn’t love the church. I’m a pastor first and foremost, and I’m trying to offer a solution or a model of what church should look like. I’m going back to scripture and seeing what the church was in its simplest form and trying to recreate that in my own church. I’m not coming up with anything new. I’m calling people to go back to the way it was. I’m not bashing the church. I’m loving it.

Crazy Love served as a call for young Christians to live obediently rather than safely. It was a message that resonated with an entire generation.

Sales & Lasting Impact

By 2009 Crazy Love had sold 500,000 copies and was awarded the Gold Book Award; the following year it crossed the 1 million threshold and was awarded the Platinum Book Award. To date it has sold more than 2 million copies. It is now clear that Crazy Love was responsible, at least in part, for kick-starting an entire theme in the Christian world—the theme of living radically, but doing so while being grounded in the gospel. Bestselling books like Radical and Jesus > Religion develop the same topics, though with different emphases.

Since the Award

In 2010 Chan announced to his congregation (which now numbered several thousand) that the Lord was leading him in a new direction, though he was not yet certain what it was. He explained that he was weary of being an Evangelical celebrity and that he was concerned that within his church he heard the words “Francis Chan” more often and with greater excitement than “Holy Spirit.” After his resignation he spent several months in Asia before relocating to San Francisco where he founded a church planting movement geared specifically to the city’s poor. He continues that work today.

Chan followed Crazy Love with Forgotten God, a book about the Holy Spirit, and then with Erasing Hell, a response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. In 2012 he teamed up with David Platt to write Multiply and to launch a discipleship movement. He has also written several books for children and travels extensively to speak at conferences and other events. While his influence crosses many demographics, his greatest popularity is among teens and young adults.

A Personal Perspective

My first exposure to Chan, at least to my recollection, was his “Just Stop and Think” video. I reviewed Crazy Love in 2008, shortly after its release, and expressed gratitude for it. Though I still think we need to focus on being ordinary Christians as much as we focus on being radical Christians, I understand how and why his book had such massive appeal, and especially among young people. While I have been a little bit concerned by some of the things Chan has said and done over the past few years, I appreciate his generosity (To my knowledge he has given away all or most of his book royalties which would now number in the millions of dollars) and his desire to escape the Evangelical celebrity culture.

hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner-NS-770x355-300x138

Member Mailbag – I hear this term a lot: “hate the sin, but love the sinner” or “hate the crime, but not the criminal.” It sounds like an excuse to hang out with people, while ignoring their sin.

I find it hard to separate the sin from the sinner. I’m not saying I hate people. The analogy I’ve come up with is if someone broke into a home and killed a wife or child. Or maybe a drunk driver slammed into a family and killed a spouse.

I would blame the person and hold him responsible. I would not blame the sin for what happened. Surely the people who say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner” would want the person in prison.

While I don’t want to ignore my duty to love the sinner and hang out with them like Jesus did, I’m confused. Something does not sound right.

You raise a good and thoughtful question about a phrase that has been tossed around Christianity for a long time. It is one of those bumper sticker statements or fiery pulpit lines that sounds good in the moment, but lacks depth and needs more explanation and nuance, hence your question.

It reminds me of the caricatured conservative Christian lambasting the gay community. If we “hate the sin and love the sinner,” but never practicalize what God’s love fully means as it relates to the sinner, then we are missing something important.

Though the intent of the statement is good, the danger is it can lead us into the pluralistic relativism we so despise in our culture today. Hate the sin, but love the sinner is a forced juxtaposition of Bible thought that can abuse the word love, while obscuring God’s plenary character and attributes.

Whenever we take two thoughts like this–hate sin/love sinner–and put them together and try to create a doctrine out of it, we can create an unnecessary tension that can perpetuate Biblical ignorance while confusing the unregenerate world.

Though the goal may be noble–Christians should love everybody–the result can be bad: God’s justice, holiness, and wrath will be siphoned from His character. What you will end up with is a god that is amenable to our culture, but unable to save the ones you want to reach.

Can we hate?

My sister-in-law shot my brother five times with a gun. He died. She murdered him and was released from her crime by serving a couple hundred hours of community service. His death is a real illustration of your point: how am I to hate the sin and love the sinner?

I am using my illustration because it is real and I have had to wrestle with the “sin/sinner” juxtaposition. This situation affected me deeply as I had to work through what God was writing into my life.

There is no use for me to interact with the “hate the sin” part of your question because I think we all can agree that sin is to be hated. One look at the cross and we all can say in unison, “We hate sin. We hate that our sin caused the death of the LORD’s dear Son.”

The world may love their sin, but we do not love our sin. We hate our sin with a passion. Even if we find temporary pleasure in our sin, we always come back around to a biblically informed, heart motivated hatred for sin (Hebrews 11:25).

The more contoured issue for us to think about is what does it means to love a sinner. Unfortunately, in an effort to communicate that Christians are loving people, some of us have twisted love into something that looks more like our culture’s view than our LORD’s.

What is love?

If hate implies not accepting something—I reject your sin—then it makes sense for love to mean the acceptance of something. That is the message the Christian wants to communicate to the sinner. The problem is that this simple slice of love can easily run afoul without a deeper explanation of the whole.

If we are not careful, we can say, “The sin is not about you. You I love; it is your sin I hate.” As you have already noted, this is a biblically awkward juxtaposition. There is no nuance or deeper reflection about what love should be, can be, or how we are to live it out in light of the real threat of personal sin.

Love is deeper and broader than I accept you. There are other aspects of love that must be part of our definition and when they are, we will be able to represent God more impressively and comprehensively, whether it is in the evangelism of our friends or the sanctification of them.

Love without justice leads to a low view of sin. Justice without love leads to fear.

God of love

  • God is love and He will allow a person to go to hell because of their choice to live in sin.
  • God is love and His wrath is on a person who chooses to live in sin (John 3:36).

Our God, who is love (1 John 4:8), is also the God of wrath (Romans 1:18). God so loved the world (John 3:16) and His wrath is currently on any person who chooses to live in sin. The fact He allows a person to choose hell does not diminish His love at all.

  • God loves sinners.
  • God punishes sinners.

There is on contradiction here. If we interpret love without understanding God’s wrath or justice, we will have a gushy, post modern, to-each-his-own, cultural world view of love.

I love my former sister-in-law, but I demand her sin be punished. If her sin is not punished, then I am making light of my brother’s death and I am placing little significance on his life or how he died.

The hard truth is that her sin cannot be punished unless she is punished. It is also true she cannot experience the depth of God’s love until she realizes the depth of her sin (Luke 7:47).

God’s love for me is as profound as my understanding of my sin. If He ignored my sin, then His love would be without force. And I would have never understood the love of God or experienced His love to the depth that I have if he had not confronted me about my sin.

  • Love without justice leads to a low view of sin.
  • Justice without love leads to fear.
  • Love and justice lead to holy, worship-filled awe, and reverence.

God of justice

To ignore sin is to say it does not matter. What would God be like if He did not punish sin? We would most certainly conclude that sin was not a big deal to the LORD. This is not the God you want to worship.

You want a God who believes in justice, a God who does not let sins go or sinners escape. You want a culture like this too. No justice for all the wrongs committed is a world that even our culture does not accept. To some degree they have a sense of and desire for justice. They would even say this is love.

Love is so large that it encompasses justice. To love well is to demand justice.

The hate the sin, but love the sinner mantra does not fully or accurately communicate the seriousness of the problem and can easily miss the eternal judgment that is certain to come on any sinner that does not repent. To love well is to punish sinners. This truth cannot be avoided.

If you have a gushy view of love, you will not punish the sinner. You will see it as hate. Sometimes love is confrontational. Sometimes love requires a sacrifice for sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:10).

The LORD has no choice: He has to confront sin, which means people will be punished. To punish sin and to punish sinners is the right thing to do. The justice part of love demands this.

Mercifully, our great God of love chose to punish His Son so we, who should be punished, do not have to be punished. The justice part of love was served. God hated our sin so much that He punished the Innocent.

The hate the sin, but not the sinner forced juxtapositions makes preaching from a pulpit easier to listen to, but it can twist our understanding of God by weakening His attributes, specifically His justice.

God’s love for me is as profound as my understanding of the depth of my sin.

Can we love?

If you mean you hate the sin and love the sinner enough to tell him the whole truth about God’s current and future wrath, then you would be using the expression in a theologically precise way.

If you mean you hate the sin, but you want to show him how loving you are, and part of how you do this is by compromising the love of God, then your understanding of the love of God is insufficient.

Still yet, there is a deeper issue for us to explore. Rather than thinking about our topic in a generic or theoretical sense, let me ask you this question:

What does your love look like for the sinners who sin against you?

Let us suppose you are in a difficult marriage and your bitterness, un-forgiveness, and general disappointment toward your spouse continues to grow, even if it is imperceptible to others. How much do you love those who sin against you?

  • How much do I love my sister-in-law?
  • How much do you love your spouse?
  • How much do you love the person who hurt you?

Let us circle back around to our mantra, hate the sin, but love the sinner. Is that really true for you? Is there someone in your life who has sinned against you and you are not able to actively love them by your kindness, affection, and desire to serve them? We can abuse our love the sinner mantra in two ways:

  1. We want sinners to like us, so we do not tell them about the LORD’s wrath.
  2. We dislike sinners who have hurt us, so we refuse to love them the way LORD does.

My experience has been that most people have a hard time loving those who have sinned against them. As an example, there are too many Christian spouses who have a genuine disdain for the person they married. They may say they hate the sin, but love the sinner–except when the sinner sins against them.

If you are really going to love the sinner, then love them the way Christ did by dying for them (Ephesians 5:25). Let us lower the platitude flag and get in the trenches with them.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:19-21 (ESV)

I mean, if we really do love the sinner and hate their sin, then we should be spending time with them, helping them, serving them, and genuinely leading them away from their sin.

Jesus is our perfect example of someone who hated sin, but loved sinners. He had comprehensive love that encompassed any kind of person. All sinners and any sin fell within the parameters of His Gospel love for them.

  • He gave them time – Jesus never turned a person away when they came to Him, e.g., Nicodemus and the rich young man.
  • He gave them truth – Jesus never compromised what God’s love meant, which included speaking about the LORD’s justice, wrath, and holiness.
  • He gave them love – Jesus was never sinful to anyone, no matter how sinful they were to Him. He never responded with unkindness or un-forgiveness toward others.
  1. Do you hate the sin, but love the sinner? If yes, then…
  2. Are you willing to love them enough to explain the wrath that is on them?
  3. Are you willing to love them even when they hurt you?

I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that the early church did not need a lot of books or sermon series with titles involving words like “dangerous” or “extreme” or “radical.” If we need these books today, it is only to battle the complacency that can come when Christianity is a majority religion or an accepted religion. When Christianity is in the minority or when it is the object of persecution, life is already plenty dangerous.

Yawning At Tigers
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But our temptation is toward complacency and sometimes we do need a good shaking up, a good talking to. Drew Dyck delivers this in Yawning at Tigers which carries the subtitle You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying. The title conjures up an image of a tiger in a zoo, taken from the wild, penned into a little cage, pathetically pacing back and forth. When he is caged up we can approach him confidently, safely, at our own time, without any hesitation. But this is not God as he reveals himself in the Bible.

Dyck shakes up our complacency in two broad ways. In the first half of the book he looks at the way we can inadvertently shrink God down to our size, to a manageable size. We tend to do this by neglecting or redefining his holiness, by ignoring or writing-off his wrath. To combat this, Dyck draws the reader to God’s majestic holiness, his (dare I say it?) dangerous holiness—the kind of holiness that caused Isaiah to fall on his face and Uzzah to fall dead on the ground. Through several chapters he examines God’s holiness from several different angles and reveals this holy God as being infinitely better than any safe and manageable God we may prefer.

In the second half of the book he shows that we can also attempt to tame God by diminishing his love. Just as God’s holiness is too terrifying, his love is too unbelievable, so we try to make it make sense in light of our fallibility. “We take the infinite, divine love described in Scripture and place limits on it. We make it reasonable. We project our own faltering brand of affections heavenward and assume God’s love is as flawed as ours. Even as we pay lip service to God’s boundless mercy, we tabulate our shortcomings and wonder whether we’ve exhausted his grace.”

The book packs a powerful one-two punch with the emphasis on holiness followed by meditations on love. Dyck is a good writer—a very good writer—and his prose is lively and always interesting. The whole “God is dangerous” theme could easily be overplayed, but he doesn’t allow that to happen. He turns constantly to the Bible and to a host of good sources to back and extend his claims.

With all that said, I have some concerns about the book’s sources, which raises a question I’ve often considered: How much must a book be taken on its own merits and how much do we need to be concerned with secondary sources? In this case Dyck quotes a few books, authors, or people that I would be hesitant to promote. While he quotes them in such a way that they advance good points, a reader following footnotes might find himself reading books that may prove as unhelpful as Dyck’s book is helpful.

I also find myself concerned with some of his discussions on the immanence of Jesus. I understand that Christians are constantly attempting to properly account for both the transcendence and immanence of God, the fact that God exists beyond time and space and the fact that he is fully within it as well. One way the emphasis on immanence can go too far, at least as I understand it, is to suggest that we see Jesus himself in the faces of the poor or the downtrodden. That manifests itself in quotes like this: “When I touch a poor child, I touch Jesus Christ. When I listen to a poor child, I’m listening to God’s heart beating for all humanity.” There are traces of this in Yawning at Tigers and I think it is unnecessary; the book would have held up very well without it.

Those concerns aside, Yawning at Tigers accomplishes what it means to. It convicts us of the ways we have diminished God and encourages us to see God as he really is. It’s a sweet and powerful book and one that both blessed and encouraged me.

 

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.
TeamPyro
by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Phil back in April 2007. Phil addressed a common—and seriously erroneous—view of propitiation.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Too many Christians think of divine forgiveness as something that utterly overturns justice and sets it aside—as if God's mercy nullified His justice—as if God's love defeated and revoked His hatred of sin. That's not how forgiveness works.


Is forgiveness from sin grounded only in the love and mercy and goodness of God—apart from his justice? Does love alone prompt the Almighty to forego the due penalty of sin, wipe out the record of our wrongdoing, and nullify the claims of justice against us, unconditionally?

Or must God Himself be propitiated? In other words, do His righteousness and His holy wrath against sin need to be satisfied before He can forgive?

It truly seems as if most people today—including multitudes who identify themselves as Christians—think God forgives merely because His love overwhelms His holy hatred of sin. Some go even further, rejecting the notion of propitiation altogether, claiming it makes God seem too harsh. The problem with every such view of the atonement is that mercy without propitiation turns forgiveness into an act of injustice.

That is a seriously erroneous view. As a matter of fact, that very idea was one of the main errors of Socinianism.

The original Socinians were 16th-century heretics who denied that God demands any payment for sin as a prerequisite to forgiveness. They insisted instead that He forgives our sin out of the sheer bounty of His kindness alone. They argued that if God demanded an atonement—an expiation, a payment, a reprisal, or a propitiation—for sin, then we shouldn't really call it “forgiveness” when He absolves us. They claimed that sin could either be paid for or forgiven, but not both.

In other words, they defined forgiveness in a way that contradicts and contravenes justice. They were essentially teaching that God could not maintain the demands of His justice and forgive sins at the same time. They thought of forgiveness and justice as two incompatible ideas.

Scripture expressly refutes that idea. One of the most glorious truths of the gospel is that God saved us in a way that upheld His justice. Justice was neither compromised nor set aside; it was completely satisfied. God Himself was thus fully propitiated. And our salvation is therefore grounded in the justice of God as well as His mercy.

Our thoughts about such things are almost always too shallow. We take God's mercy for granted and ignore His holy justice. But a right view of God will always exalt His righteous hatred for sin as much as it magnifies His love and mercy. God's mercy is not some maudlin sentiment that causes Him to forget about His holiness and set aside His righteous anger against sin. The demands of righteousness must be fully and completely satisfied if God is ever going to forgive sin. He cannot and will not simply overlook sin as if it didn't really matter.

In other words, the gospel is not only a message about the love of God. It is that; but it is not only that. The true gospel magnifies His justice as much as it magnifies His love.

When was the last time you thought of the gospel as a message about divine justice?

“Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).


31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day fifteen:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The New Testament knows nothing of the lone Christian—the man who claims to be a believer but who deliberately or carelessly allows himself to drift from the local church. Just as the wolf will prowl outside the flock of sheep, looking for the one that strays from the shepherd, Satan prowls the church, looking for the people who stray from Christian fellowship. Every Christian is dependent upon the local church and we neglect it to our peril, for it is in the church that we powerfully experience the means of grace God gives us—the Word, prayer and the sacraments (or ordinances). We cannot thrive or even survive without them. Neither should we expect to.

It is also within the church that we uniquely experience the joy of imitating Christ in putting aside our own desires in order to love and serve others. And so, my brother, don’t simply go to church: Be an active, serving, participating member of that church. Do not expect that you will be able to put sin to death or to pursue holiness without the local church.

Father, I am grateful for the gift of the local church. I am grateful that through the church I am able to experience those wondrously ordinary means of grace. I am grateful that you led me to my church, and I pray that you would help me to commit to it more and more, that I would love the people you bring there, that I would have deep and meaningful friendships there, that I would faithfully serve your people by stirring them up to love and good works.


What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?” She asked the question with tears rolling down her cheeks. She had come for the ride, and for a final chance to kiss me goodbye, as my wife dropped me at the curb outside terminal one.

Her sister, eight years old, had come along too. An eminently practical child, undisturbed by most emotional drama, she simply said, “Bye, daddy!”, gave me a quick peck on the cheek, and went back to her book. Her older brother had been content to skip the ride in favor of staying home. But she, the eleven-year-old, was distraught. She had been weeping for the entire half hour it took us to travel from home to the airport. Her cheeks were stained by tears, her eyes full of them, when she hugged me and kissed me and kissed me again. “I love you daddy. I’m going to miss you so much…” And a moment later, “Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?”

My family is accustomed to having me travel. I do it fairly often—usually every month or six weeks. But most of those are short two-day trips and I am home almost before they really realize I’ve been gone. Plus, in some ways life is good when I’m gone—the family gets to eat out more, there is more “fun time” with mom, and one of the girls usually ends up in my bed. But every couple of years I go on a longer trip, like this one to Australia.

“Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?” she asked. And I understood immediately that it was a good question, and a tough one for an eleven-year-old child. I don’t know all the reasons it is so difficult. But it is. We all know it. We have all experienced the pain of saying farewell.

I believe it’s hard because goodbye is an unnatural state. We were created for fellowship—unbroken, sweet communion with God and with one another. The first and most crushing goodbye was God’s goodbye to his people, to Adam and Eve, when they declared independence from him. They had severed themselves from his fellowship and it would take the death of his Son to restore communion.

In a world like this, goodbye is always accompanied by fear. It carries the fear that this may be the final goodbye. Alongside the goodbye is the knowledge that at some point we will each bid the other a final farewell, that there will be a final kiss, a final hug, a final “I love you,” at least on this side of eternity.

For my sweet girl to say goodbye to her father carries that entrenched fear, that deep-rooted inevitability that there must be a final goodbye. Goodbye is difficult only because this world is broken.

She misses me when I am gone, and I miss her. The separation is difficult—the separation from her good morning cuddles, her goodnight kisses, her for-no-reason tokens of love, her sighed “I love you.” But we are just a short week away; there are only a few mornings and a few evenings apart. We will only miss one drive to church listening to Anne of Green Gables and a few evenings of sitting together in the living room reading By the Shores of Silver Lake. But then there is the fear, that back-of-the-mind, out-of-sight but never out-of-mind trepidation that this goodbye might be the final goodbye and, even if it is not, that the final one must come.

It is hard. It is hard to be the girl who misses her daddy, and the daddy who misses his girl. But this is not the time for despair. This is not the time to mourn as those who have no hope. This is the time to give thanks to the one who guarantees that in him there are no final farewells, no permanent separations. It is the time to look forward with hope and joyful anticipation to the time we will never fear saying goodbye.

My girl and I may be separated for a few days. Or maybe the Lord will decide that I do not return from this trip. But even then, the separation will be short because we know, and we believe, in the words of the poet: “One short sleep past we wake eternally, and death will be no more.” In that day death will be gone, and so too will every painful goodbye.

 

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Dan back in February 2011. Dan addressed the popular but false ideas behind the slogan “Love, not doctrine.”

As usual, the comments are closed.

Breaking news: Jesus talked about love!

Well honestly, the way I see it mentioned hither and yon, you'd think there was a segment of the church which denied that statement. If so, I've yet to meet it. Certainly there are parts which aren't very good at it, but denial? Denigration? I don't think I've ever heard anyone deny or denigrate genuine, Biblical love — not the way folks have repeatedly denigrated doctrine.

Love is the mark of a disciple (John 13:34-35). In this passage, our Lord does not say that doctrine is the mark of a disciple, or that correctness is the mark of a disciple, or even that truth is the mark of a disciple. So love, some would say, clearly supplants concerns about correct doctrine.

Not so fast. Why stop there? Jesus also does not say that monotheism is the mark of a disciple. He does not say that abstaining from murderrape, or theft is the mark of a disciple. He does not say that wearing clothes or eating are marks of a disciple. He does not even say that believing in Him, in any sense, is the mark of a disciple.

So what have we established? Only that Jesus didn't say what He didn't say in this passage. Which, hopefully, all are agreed upon. We had better hope He said other things, somewhere. Because if all we had were this passage, we would not even know what this passage meant! I mean, what is love? Warm feelings? Cheesy sentimentalism? Coddling? Indulging? Unconditional approval and enabling? Indifference towards damaging (or even damning) error? Treacly benevolence?

So rather than camping on this passage as if it were the only thing Jesus ever said, without any context, what if we — oh, I don't know — considered everything Jesus said? Shall we?

So we ask: is this the only thing Jesus ever said about love, or about what should distinguish His followers? Hardly. Let's start with the latter:  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?” Jesus asks (Luke 6:46). So right away, we know that Jesus expects obedience to His words to characterize His real followers.  Nor do we see a hierarchy, as if one may obey some but disregard others. Jesus seems to think that He is our Lord, or He is not; and if He is, what He says should produce obedience in us.

Whatever He means by “love” in John 13, then, it must be characterized and framed by obedience to His words — which, as we just saw, leads us to the rest of the New Testament, and back to the whole of the Old Testament as well.

In fact, Jesus Himself ties those ideas together, repeatedly (John 14:15, 21, 23-24, 15:10). So would He ever have tolerated a notion of love divorced from a specific, set doctrinal framework? Fantasy-Jesus, yes. Fantasy-Jesus thinks all sorts of things, largely things that will keep the world's good graces. The actual Jesus, however, the one who really lived and lives — He would never have conceived of such a view.

Love for God comes first (Matthew 22:37-40). Then, and only then, is it followed by love of neighbor. And what, pray, is love for God? The concept is explained and given full color in the Old Testament, whence Jesus mined this gold. Let's just lift a snippet:

“You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.” (Deuteronomy 11:1)

Do you see it yet again? Love for God walks hand in hand with wholehearted acceptance of the full authority of all of God's words. But what is more, plugging in Deuteronomy, it means doctrinal loyalty, it means clinging wholly to the true God — which is to say as well, to the doctrinal truth about God — in the face of all opposing doctrines. It is loyal devotion to God, as His doctrine is revealed in Scripture alone.


There are times I grow weary of good things. Things I love. Things I would not want to live without. Things that have the ability to make my heart beat a little bit faster and keep my mind racing when I ought to be asleep. They are good things, but somehow, through time or familiarity or neglect or something else, they begin to feel not so good. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it seems to be yet another cost of being a sinful person in a sinful world. Even the best things feel like bad things at times.

The Bible is one of God’s great gifts. Without it I would be hopelessly and utterly lost. I would not know who I am, who God is, or what he desires from me. That Bible is living and active, it is the very words of God recorded and preserved for me. Reading the Bible saved my soul and transformed my life. It gave me meaning and purpose and direction. And yet even it can seem so humdrum at times. Drab. Uninteresting. A chore. A duty. Even it can seem like a not-so-good thing.

There is no one on this earth I love more than my wife. She is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. I am deeply dependent upon her—I’ve been married to her for almost my entire adulthood—and really wouldn’t know how to go about life without her. I love her dearly. Yet at times, too many times, I can find myself growing frustrated with her. Short-tempered. Surly. Just plain angry. In those moments, or in those extended times, it’s like I’ve grown weary of the gift. For a time that good thing becomes a not-so-good thing.

Children. Vocation. Location. Everything I love, every good gift, can fade in time.

I have come to realize something about those times when I grow weary of good gifts: This weariness makes a statement about me, not the gift. The weariness is so often a direct result of my neglect. I have neglected to cherish the gift and honor the giver.

Kevin DeYoung says “The most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible.” And in the same way, the most effective means for increasing our love for the Bible is to spend time in the Bible. To know it is to love it. When I don’t love it, it’s inevitably because I haven’t been spending time in it. There is no gift of God that returns commitment with apathy. No, the commitment returns confidence, love, respect, enjoyment, gratitude.

The most effective means for sustaining and increasing my love for my wife is to spend time with her. If and when I find myself growing weary of such a good gift, the problem is me, not her. The problem is inevitably my neglect. I have stopped spending time with her, pursuing her, enjoying her. I have stopped seeing her as God’s good and perfectly-chosen gift.

In a world like this, and in a sinner like me, even the best gifts lose their luster. Or they seem to. The gifts lose their luster when I neglect to honor the giver and to cherish the gift.

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