Modern Evangelical Christians have dramatically shifted emphasis in presenting the gospel, away from hellfire and brimstone as in earlier days, to focus almost entirely on God’s love.
The love of God is surely a more pleasant topic, less offensive to sinners, and absolutely amazing, but was this a good move? In other words, was this shift in focus a biblical one, or does it tend to lukewarmness, compromise and spiritual decay?
Putting it another way, should the unregenerate, those who don’t already deeply love Jesus Christ (1Co 16:22), ever be encouraged to meditate on the love of God? Or is this a topic which should generally be reserved only for committed Christians?
If we note the biblical emphasis, observing that God’s universal love for Man is only explicitly highlighted twice in all of Scripture (Jn 3:16, Tit 3:4), that entire gospel accounts written to introduce the life and ministry of Christ to the world don’t mention it, and that the wrath of God is made plain several hundred times throughout the Word, and repeatedly in each gospel account, we might begin to think something is amiss in current evangelical witness.
John the Baptist introduced Christ by preaching repentance (Mt 3:2) and eternal fire. (Mt 3:12) Paul is mindful of the terror of God as he’s persuading men (2Co 5:11), acutely aware that those who don’t know God are in real, eternal danger. Jude advises us to make an exception for certain kinds of people, compassionately entreating them with gentleness (22), but to generally use fearas a primary motivation in our witness. (23) Why might this be?
It is by the fear of the Lord that men depart from evil (Pr 16:6); this is the first step in seeking God: to quit openly rebelling against Him. (Is 55:7) Unless we’re seriously pursuing God, more concerned about what He thinks of us than our family and friends, going after Him with all our hearts (Je 29:13), we’re unable to believe on Him (Jn 5:44)
In coming to God, we must not only believe He exists, but also that He rewards those who diligently seek Him (He 11:6), who strive to enter the kingdom. (Lk 13:24) But until we choose the fear of God, we’ll just keep going our own way, alienated from the life of God through our ignorance (Ep 4:18), reaping the consequences of our sin and rebellion. (Pr 1:29-31)
Those who remain committed to willful sin, heedless of displeasing God, don’t know Him (1Jn 3:6); they aren’t yet experiencing God’s grace, His gift of repentance(2Ti 2:25) unto life (Ac 11:18), which always accompaniesfaith(Ac 20:21); there’s no salvation without it. (Lk 13:5)
As we encourage souls to seek the living God (Da 12:3), we must be mindful of their peril while not casting our pearls before swine, or giving that which is holy to those who aren’t interested. (Mt_7:6) Our Lord, Man of sorrows (Is 53:3), lives in us, calling us to follow His steps. (1Pe 2:21)
God, give me holy tearswhenever and wherever they’re appropriate.
A cleanheart isn’t merely forgiven, it’s also free of corruption, darkness and lies, inclined toward and aligned with its Creator, free to live according to His design. To the degree that our old man continues to dominate our lives, our heart isn’t clean, and we’re prisoners to sin (2Ti 2:25), which isn’t good. (He 12:14)
So, when King David found himself in a bad way with God, having sinned grevously, he asks God to create within him a clean heart (Ps 51:10); he wants a miracle, to be a new man.
God is certainly able to do this, yet one should know how God chooses to go about these things, to understand His methodology in such creative acts. It isn’t what we might think.
Our inclination may be to expect God to zap us such that we’re instantly holy, and all we need to do is sit back and enjoy the excitement. Yet this is a bit disingenuous; like claiming we desire physical cleanliness while neglecting to bathe.
So, while only God can perform miracles, He generally tends to work them through us as we engage with Him in His work. (Php 2:13) It’s no different here: He gives us instructions on how to clean our own hearts, and works the miracle of a clean heart in us as we obey Him, working through our obedience to cleanse us.
How then does God tell us to cleanse our own hearts, and put ourselves in order before God? By paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and motives and constantly holding them up against the Word of God as a plumb line. (Ps 119:9) We hide God’s Word in our heart, so we know it from memory and are constantly thinking about it, so we won’t disobey Him through forgetfulness (De 26:13) or carelessness (Ps 119:11), then we commit to obeying all of it that we can as well as we can. (Ps 119:6)
This makes perfect sense, if we think about it for a bit. How can we even desire a clean heart if we’re still carelessly toying with sin, willing to disobey God, unconcerned about the trajectory of our lives? If we aren’t alert, paying attention, looking for where we might be missing His Way, asking God to help us, we’re acting as if we love darkness, as if we have no real interest in a clean heart.
So, though it’s true no one can fully cleanse their own heart (Pr 20:9), we can’t say that we even want a clean heart unless we’re willing to try, to take the first step and do what God says to do. As we try to obey Him He enables us, and does things in us that we can’t do for ourselves.
As we’re meditating on His word, as we find gaps between our behavior and God’s standard, we ask Him to quicken and enable us to align with Him (Ps 119:25), to make us go in the path of His commandments. (Ps 119:35) We ask Him to expose and correct the lies within us (Ps 119:29), asking Him for enabling grace whenever we need it. (He 4:16)
Since we’re seeking strength to do God’s will, we can be sure He hears us. (1Jn 5:14-15) We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice that He is transforming our character, step by step into the image of Christ. (Ro 5:2) This is how grace reigns in us through righteousness unto eternal life (Ro 5:21), enabling us to overcome sin. (1Jn 5:4)
To design is to envision an outcome and then purposelydetermine how to rearrange matter to achieve that outcome. The context might be physical, resulting in a tool or a machine, or metaphysical – symbols or imagery conveying meaning, or a combination of the two. Design is ultimately produced only by intelligence; unconscious matter cannot envision, purpose or determine.
Complexity is a measure of difficulty in design; more complex designs require more intelligence. When we encounter highly complex, inanimate designs we immediately recognize them, and we naturally ascribe the intelligent cause to humans; proposing any other cause is irrational.
Yet living creatures also have the appearance of profoundly complex and exquisite design, far beyond human capability, so it’s natural to infer the existence of a supreme Mind, a God, the Designer of the human mind, and to be inspired unto worship. (Ps 139:14)
But when we’re predisposed to rule out the possibility of a transcendent, intelligent Cause a priori, we invariably struggle with the apparent design of living creatures, desperately looking for a natural cause rather than a divine one.
Enter Charles Darwin, a mid-19th century biologist offering an explanation (Evolution) for how unintelligent processes might account for the appearance of design in Nature: organisms change (evolve) over time due to slight, random changes in offspring (Common Descent), some of which improve chances of survival; in competing for scarce resources, random (unintelligent) processes tend to eliminate inferior organisms (Natural Selection), favoring those more suitably adapted to their environment. Given sufficient time, Darwin supposed such processes might plausibly account for design throughout Nature.
Yet Darwin and his contemporaries were unable to explain how Evolution works at the required level of detail; they were clueless about the complex biological machinery of life because the tools enabling this level of research were unavailable until the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Now, we understand the molecular mechanism which drives Evolution: random anomalies (mutations) may occur during DNA replication which alter the structure of proteins, the building blocks of living cells; some of these changes are beneficial, helping offspring survive.
This explains, for example, the wide variety of Galapagos finches or African cichlids; Evolution nicely accounts for variations within a kind of organism (generally within the same family classification, micro-evolution), but it has not yet explained how the various kinds of organisms (family and above, macro-evolution) came to exist in the first place. Why not?
Differences between families of organisms, say between a finch and a swan, or between a cichlid and a shark, lie at the molecular level, in the myriad array of biological machines which make up living cells. Many of these machines are irreducibly complex: disabling any one of the component parts breaks the machine; such machines cannot be formed gradually, in a step-wise manner, continuously improving or altering their function: it’s all or nothing.
Consequently, after decades of intense research, scientists hoping to find a naturalistic explanation for the apparent design of living systems find themselves at an impasse: mutations in DNA replication cannot reasonably account for the large differences between diverse kinds of biological machines. It’s like proposing that blueprints (DNA) for sewing machines came from haphazard copying errors (mutations) to blueprints for washing machines, one step at a time, such that each intermediate machine (none of which were ever actually observed) worked as well as or better than the prior one. It’s unthinkable, patently absurd.
It should come as no surprise then to find that, to date (early 2020), no scientific publication of any kind explains exactly how random rearrangements of DNA could reasonably account for the design of any irreducibly complex molecular machine in any living organism, not even the simplest of these machines. The reason is obvious: each one comprises many very complex proteins arranged in very specific ways to achieve very complex functions, much more complex than a sewing machine.
The chances of randomly forming a typical, useful protein molecule from scratch, even if all (20 or so) required types of components are present, compares to blindly selecting a particular atom from among all the atoms in the Milky Way galaxy.
Even if we start with a similar but fundamentally different kind of supposed parent machine, the time required to randomly generate just a handful of the numerous mutations needed to form the specific proteins required by any one of these complex biological machines would be astronomical. In other words, even the simplest of the biological systems is so extremely complex that it is inconceivable for even one of them to come into existence via Evolution.
This scientific impasse is not based on an absence of knowledge (God of the gaps), but on overwhelming biochemical evidence that is only becoming increasingly problematic for Evolution as we learn more about how living organisms work. No reasonable alternative theories have been proposed which explain the scientific data, and given the overwhelming nature of the evidence, we have no reason to ever expect a naturalistic explanation.
The only rational conclusion we can now derive from science is that every living thing is designed by a very powerful Mind. The entire body of scientific knowledge in biochemistry points to this conclusion; there is zero evidence for macro-evolution.
Divine design is now more evident in living things than is human design in inanimate things, which we readily accept where we’re free from crippling bias. Design is clearly seen everywhere, being understood by us all, whether we happen to like it or not. (Ro 1:20)
The ability to reliably distinguish between male and female is critical for healthy community; we’re to treat older men like fathers and younger men as brothers (1Ti 5:1), and women distinctly differently as mothers and sisters (2), so gender should be evident by appearance.
To ensure this, God tells women not to wear clothing which pertains to men, and men not to wear women’s clothing (De 22:5a); this requires us to design gender-specific clothing to help us easily determine gender. As we resist this principle we’re an abomination to God (b), so it’s evidently quite important to get gender-distinction right.
In light of this, how do we relate with men claiming to be women, and women claiming to be men? Acknowledging that God makes us male and female, and that He makes no mistakes, is a good place to begin. (Ge 5:2) Sharing this understanding with those who are interested is certainly also appropriate. (1Pe 3:15) But is it consistent with the law of love to refer to a woman as he, or to a man as she? (Ro 13:10)
We must be very careful here: our speech should always reflect the nature of God in us (Co 4:6); we ought to say what we mean and mean what we say (Ja 5:12), speaking always in His name(Col 3:17), walking in His steps (1Pe 2:21), doing what He is doing as He lives in us. (Ga 2:20) We shouldn’t compromise in fear(Pr 29:25), nor align our walk with ungodliness (Ep 4:17), but always speak the truth in love. (Ep 4:15)
This doesn’t mean we say whatever we think to everyone we know, without any filter or consideration; not only is this impossible, it’s generally unloving and unwise. We shouldn’t correct those who’re unreceptive (Pr 9:8): give that which is holy only to seekers. (Mt 7:6) We should carefully weigh our words (Ps 39:1), and be more prone to listen than to preach. (Ja 1:19)
Yet when it comes to choosing our words we must own them, and be very deliberate and precise. (Mt 12:36) Using a word pertaining to a female to refer to a male is to expressly violate this basic principle of gender-distinction, akin to providing him a dress, heels, lipstick and jewelry, and helping him put it all on. It is explicitly conforming our behavior to support and encourage perversion, a mindset diametrically opposed to God’s design.
It is inconsistent with the law of love to encourage or enable a person in their own deception, comforting them in a lie they insist on believing. Every man and woman is so by God’s design, a design that’s perfect and good. To actively align our speech with a rejection of this design is to violate the dignity God has bestowed on us, which cannot be consistent with love. To be a friend of the world by conforming ourselves to it’s rebellion to avoid upsetting or offending with the truth is to be an enemy of God, if anything at all is. (Ja 4:4)
Looking for a gender-neutral way* to communicate is perhaps one way to avoid direct conflict; failing to express an opposing view via a neutral expression seems better than actually aligning with perversion. Yet, even this might be viewed as a compromise: when perversion cannot actually be entirely ignored and must be addressed in some way, would Jesus confront it or modify His behavior to accommodate it?
These matters are not easy to sort through, and every situation can be uniquely challenging. God help us navigate these complex issues, and give us wisdom and grace to honor Him!
The sabbath law includes a command to worksix days a week (Ex 20:9), so we should be looking to be productive every day except Saturday.
Working is therefore good for us on every other day, even if we live in a culture mistaking Sunday for sabbath, unless we’re causing weaker saints to stumble, to violate what they mistake to be the sabbath, thus wounding their conscience. (1Co 8:12) In that case we might need to be discrete about it; if we’re a bit creative we can likely figure out a way to worship and fellowship with others and also get some work done on Sunday, resting on Saturday as God commands.
We know work is good because God is good, He designed us to work before the Fall (Ge 2:15), and He proclaimed it to be good. (Ge 1:31)
We can also see in this command that God has a particular job for each one of us: He says, “do all thy work.” There is work that is ours, and work that is not. A large part of being successful in life is figuring out what we’re designed for, finding our calling, identifying the work God has given each of us uniquely to do. It is then that we can apply ourselves, training, equipping, disciplining and preparing ourselves (2Ti_2:21), honing our skills and talents to serve Him with confidence and joy, trusting Him for strength to overcome, and to accomplish (2Co 9:8) what He’s granted us to do. (Eph 6:6)
When we’re living according to our design, obeying and honoring God as well as we can, we’re free, satisfied as we fulfill our purpose, complete in Him. (Col 2:10) It is here that we find meaning and fulfillment. (Php 1:21)
Day after day, as we prayerfully seek to labor for our Lord, working as unto Him (Col 3:23-24), we pursue our destiny: to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Mt 25:23) There is no higher calling than to please the One Who made us. (Col 1:10)