Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tell People Jesus Loves Them

Below is my response to a recent post at the Defending and Contending blog. The author admonishes us not to tell people Jesus loves them. Yes, you read that correctly. It's Calvinism gone bad, with a TULIP that is unfortunately planted in the shallow sand of human logic, arguing backwards from assumptions concerning the mystery of divine election and God's disposition toward the non-elect. (NOTE: upon further reflection, I think the sentiments may have been born more from a distaste for shallow, Gospel-deficient evangelism than an excessive dependence on human logic or a harsh brand of Calvinism. And I share the distaste.) The TULIP grows and shows its vibrant color best when it is cultivated in the life-giving ground of Revelation and Grace. God's disposition toward the reprobate is a topic that needs to be handled with special prudence and care (can you guess which Reformed theologian I am paraphrasing?). The thoughts below are not comprehensive, but they are an attempt to present the other side of the Biblical teaching that is sometimes ignored and must be brought back into the equation if we are to be Scripturally balanced.
Just a few things to consider here. I think we might be in danger of throwing the baby out with the proverbial bath water . . . (and I apologize in advance for this long comment – thanks for your patience).
First, it is true that glibly telling people Jesus loves them is not the same as preaching the Gospel. It is also true that the Law can be a great tool to lead people to Christ. And it is true that God does not love every person in a way that ultimately ends in his or her salvation. But the love of God for all of His creatures is evident in the fact that he bears patiently with the reprobate while meeting their needs Providentially, and in some sense desires their repentance. He certainly commands it (Acts 17:30) – even if He does not effect it.
Is it possible that there is a logical fallacy behind the conclusion that Jesus does not love all people? Why can’t there be a sense in which God loves and hates all sinners? Do we have to make the categories mutually exclusive? Can’t there be a sense in which God loves all people as His creatures, and another sense in which He hates all sinners as rebels against Him and destroyers of His work? I find this is the only way to reconcile all of the Biblical statements about God’s disposition toward sinners.
If God had only hatred for the reprobate, and no real love for them at all, would he not have great pleasure in their destruction? Yet He says He has NO PLEASURE in it, but rather would have pleasure in their repentance.
Ezekiel 18:23 “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
This expression of hypothetical pleasure on the part of God surely indicates love for those He calls “wicked.” Unmingled hatred would never invite an enemy to repentance and reconciliation. But God loves His enemies, and even blesses them (Mt. 5:44-45).
Consider this: we do not know whether Adam and Eve were ultimately saved. But God certainly loved them by pursuing them, calling to them, clothing them, giving them instructions and promises, granting them children, etc. They may both have been reprobate in the end (we don’t know), but that does not mean God couldn’t rightly claim to have loved them. Do we assume that because God showed love to them they must have been saved?
If God says He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” we ought to have no qualms about telling the entire world (all the progeny of Adam and Eve) that God loves them. And to be accurate we must not forget to mention the thrust of the rest of the chapter: the fact that God’s love will not prevent Him from finally condemning all those who do not respond to His love with repentance and trust in Christ. But by all means teach children to sing, “Jesus loves the little children.” Let us not fall into the same trap the disciples did, when they tried to push the children away from the Lord. Jesus didn’t say, “Let the elect children come.” He simply said, “Let the children come to Me.”
Sharing God’s love can be an important part of evangelism, as Paul noted it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)
Reformed theologians have historically maintained a distinction between the general love of God and His effectual working of salvation in an individual’s life. God loves all sinners; He loves and justly judges some, while He loves and graciously saves others. But all of them have been sustained and blessed by Him all along the way. He takes pleasure in their repentance. He doesn’t delight in their destruction, though He delights in His justice when they do not repent.
So, I say we should tell the whole world about the love and judgment of God, and especially about the way both were demonstrated in the cross of Christ, to the glory of our great God and Savior. The Gospel isn’t “For God hated most of the people in the world . . .”
I agree that the angle of God opposing the proud is of great use in evangelism. This is a useful observation. But even here we must be careful, for what does His opposition say? It says, “Repent, or perish. Humble yourself, and receive grace!” If there was no love, there would be no such warning. If there was no love, there would be no confrontation. If there was no love at all, there would be no breath, no heartbeat, no patience, no warning, no command to repent, no Providential care.
Why do we share the Gospel in the first place? Because we love others, in obedience to God’s command. Is this love from ourselves only? That can hardly be. It is an expression of His love, even for those who turn away and go on hating Him.


  1. Rest assured that Bill isn't a hyper-Calvinist. I appreciated your further reflection parenthesis to this effect.

    In Christ,

    P.S. - great blog! I'll be back!

  2. CD,

    I appreciate the reassurance. It seemed that I might have jumped to a hasty conclusion in my initial remarks. And of course it's not fair to judge anyone's theology by a single article.

    I'm wary of any downplaying of God's general love for all people, but I understand the point Bill is making. While there is truth in it, I think it calls for some counter balance.

    That said, no one should overlook the value of his main point: lost people need to know that they are enemies of God, and not resting casually under His approval.

    Thanks for visiting and your helpful comments.



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