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On November 6, 2018, a report was published on the Global News blog, telling a story of a woman being relieved of her leadership responsibilities at a church in Canada and being removed from membership because she chose to live in a homosexual relationship. In her interview with Global News, she made this statement,
“It makes me feel that they feel there is something wrong with me. I think that God has designed me to be a certain way, and God loves me just the way I am, so why is the church saying otherwise?”
Scripture states that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that God loved the world in such a way that He gave His only son, not to condemn the world but to save the world through Him (John 3:16-17). There is also the promise, whoever believes in Christ will be saved. Scripture doesn’t only attribute love to God, though. It also states that God hates all evildoers (Psalm 5:5), He hated Esau (Malachi 1:3, Romans 1:13), and He hated Israel in her rebellion (Hosea 9:15). God hates sin, yes, but if we are to take Scripture at its word, God also hates unrighteous people in some way. Please keep reading. This is too important.
At this point, I will see some arguments come from the ranks of popular Christianity. “God doesn’t hate anyone!” “It’s people who hate God, not the other way around!” We will either believe Scripture or not.
The idea that God loves every single person sounds great. When we experience hate, it is a very bad thing as we perceive it. There is a surprising fact that we need to be aware of, nowhere in the whole of Scripture is it explicitly stated that God loves every person. In fact, if we read the text of Scripture with this presupposition, our reading of the text will present us with philosophical contradictions that are impossible to reconcile. God can’t both love everyone and not love some. When we assume that God’s love extends explicitly to every individual, we set ourselves up for failure as Christian people. Teaching about God becomes very shallow because we are more intent on including all people than on following Christ. Our aim becomes to see as many people as possible walk to the front during an invitation time or to see as many people as possible baptized. “If you pray and ask God to come into your heart, He most definitely will come in!” Paul washer would rightly say that that is perhaps the greatest lie told in churches today. Worship has become shallow and we have avoided theological discussions that are too deep or too controversial for people with different viewpoints. Because we have tried to extend God’s specific love explicitly to every individual, we have become guilty of failing to pursue biblical truth in favor of worldviews that already exist. We have tried to simplify the Gospel to include many different religions (all referring to themselves as Christian). Consider for a moment the new popularity of the non-denominational or inter-denominational church. We no longer care about truth or sound doctrine. God loves everyone. Anyone can be a part of this body. Just say these words. It doesn’t matter if you still love yourself more than you love Christ. You can hold on to your sin, it’s okay. God loves you just the way you are. This is a concept with no foundation whatsoever in the text of Scripture. Yes, I was surprised to find that when I looked.
Wait! John 3:16! God loved the world! Remember? Oh, yes! What does it mean that God so loved the world? How can God both love the world, but admittedly hate evildoers, and Israel at times, and Esau? Has the word of God contradicted itself? Please turn to John 3. Let’s read the story together.
In verses 1-3, Nicodemus comes to Christ and tells Christ that he knows Christ must be from the Father because of the signs He is performing. Jesus replies to Nicodemus, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus starts into the conversation by answering Nicodemus’s insufficiency to even see God’s kingdom. How could Nicodemus possibly know that Jesus was from God if without being born again, he could not even see God’s kingdom? It is impossible. New birth precedes one’s ability to see the things of God. That is the prerequisite.
In verses 4-6, Nicodemus admits that he sees the statement as absurd. How can one enter again into his mother’s womb? Go ahead, laugh. That one is hilarious. Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit” This was a different kind of birth. Whatever is born of flesh is flesh. We are bound by our nature. In Romans 3:10-11, we see it stated this way, “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.” What is born of Spirit is spirit. Without this new birth, we are incapable of understanding, or seeking, or following God. We need a new nature. Without it, we don’t come to Christ or see the kingdom of God. New birth precedes our ability to pursue God. Any other gospel is not the gospel. Election to salvation is unconditional.
In verses 7-8, Jesus states that this process is like the blowing of the wind. It blows where it pleases. The Spirit bringing new birth does so as the Spirit pleases. We do not know where it comes from or where it is going. Such is the case with everyone born of the Spirit.
In verses 9-13, we see that Nicodemus still does not understand and Jesus continues His explanation. In verses 14-15, Jesus stated that He must be lifted up like Moses lifted the snake in the wilderness so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. New birth precedes understanding. Belief comes with understanding. All those who believe have eternal life. There is an order, here. People cannot believe and receive eternal life without first being born again, gaining a new nature from the Spirit of God.
In verses 16-17, we see the “love” statement. God so loved the world that He gave His Son. Only those who are first born again can believe. Even in this passage, the specific love of God is not extended explicitly to every individual, but generally to the world. There is not a contradiction after all. It is also stated that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it through Him.
Verse 18 provides further clarification. This is why the honest preaching of Scripture is so important. Anyone who believes in Christ is not condemned. Anyone who does not believe is already condemned. The word “already” means that their condemnation was in place before they chose not to believe. Why? Because one must first be born again before belief is even possible.
- New birth
- Eternal life
God does indeed love the world in this way. In Christ’s death, salvation was made available to all people. In fact, Mark 3:28-29 states that all sins will be forgiven except for blasphemy against the Spirit. The problem is not that atonement is limited in its effect. It is fully effective. The problem is that not all people will be born again and be able to believe. Atonement is limited in its extent because not all people are born again. Therefore, not all people are able to believe in Christ. God’s love is unconditional and fully effective.
The teaching that God explicitly loves every individual correlates with the teachings of Jacobus Arminius as he responded to the biblical exposition coming out of the protestant reformation, though I could not find when this teaching about the inclusivity of God’s love actually became popular. Here are his points:
Human Free Will–This states that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can freely choose God. His will is not restricted and enslaved by his sinful nature.
Conditional Election–God chose people for salvation based on His foreknowledge where God looks into the future to see who would respond to the gospel message.
Universal Atonement–The position that Jesus bore the sin of everyone who ever lived.
Resistable Grace–The teaching that the grace of God can be resisted and finally beaten so as to reject salvation in Christ.
Fall from Grace–The Teaching that a person can fall from grace and lose his salvation.
Arminius’ teachings were condemned as heresy and contrary to the text of Scripture in the international Synod of Dort in 1618. I think it is crazy that this was so definitively dealt with so long ago, yet popular Christianity has returned to what was clearly and effectively established as not consistent with the text of Scripture.
What about God’s hate? Can God hate? Is He justified in hating anyone? What does the Bible mean when it claims that God has hated? It might be easy for us to, at this point, say, “Well, God hates those who have rejected Him.” Then, we have another problem. If people can only believe after being born again, then election is unconditional. If election is unconditional, then there are not conditions we must meet. God saves according to His own will and purpose. Those who are not born again cannot be so because they have failed to meet certain conditions.
If no one is able to see the kingdom of heaven, then the fact that God hates those who are evil and hated Israel in her rebellion means that God’s hatred is applied to all those who are unrighteous and who are not born again (because we are unable to seek God). Club heaven is so exclusive that not a single person meets the requirements to get in, period.
When someone says, “I think that God has designed me to be a certain way, and God loves me just the way I am,” that person proves he or she has no understanding of the Gospel. For we are all enemies of God (Romans 5:10), all deserving of God’s hatred, His righteous indignation, His just anger, and His absolute wrath. We, being born into flesh, having the nature of the flesh, were given over to sin by God (Romans 11:32). When someone says, “God has designed me to be a certain way,” in order to justify sin, that person has not understood that there is something about the condition of every person that earns God’s hate, His righteous indignation. We are wretched creatures.
Consider Esau in Genesis 25:23. God’s prediction, before Esau was even born, was that he would serve his younger brother. Then, the prophet Malachi, chapter 1, spoke saying that God loved Jacob and hated Esau. There was nothing Jacob did to earn God’s favor, His love. Esau, from the moment of birth, was destined to serve his younger brother. God exalted Jacob and humiliated Esau. God had decided this even before they were born. Jacob, who sinned much, was just as deserving of God’s hatred as was Esau as are all people.
This is where we recognize how deep the grace of God truly is. Romans 5:10 states that while we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. There was no way I could come to Christ. I deserved only hatred and righteous indignation from God. Nothing about what I have done is desirable to God. God created me, but I followed my desires into the pit of darkness. God, who chooses a people for Himself unconditionally, regenerated my heart (that’s the new birth) and called me to follow after Him. Even though I was deserving of pure divine hatred, God brought me into His own love by grace alone.
Yes, to see the kingdom of Heaven, you must be born again. I hope you will be, because grace is truly amazing. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
So, we make a great mistake in popular Christianity. God is love, there is no doubt. God so loved the world, yes. Let us realize that God has no obligation to us. We are the ones with obligation, here, and we fail absolutely. If not for the grace and mercy of God, we would be without all hope. He is creator, we are created.
Admittedly, this pursuit did not lead where I wanted it to lead. I wanted to say clearly and definitively that God loves every individual explicitly. It seems to me a good thought, I just don’t see that idea anywhere in the inspired word. What we can say is that all people share to some degree in God’s mercy and grace (Romans 11:31).