What do I mean by wrong?
By wrong, I mean sinful. By sinful I mean filled with law breaking. By law breaking I mean breaking God’s law.
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. I John 3:4, ESV
By breaking, I mean not doing what God said to do and doing what God says not to do.
When I do wrong I do not properly represent or reflect (image) God’s character – which by the way, along with enjoying God (The Westminster Catechism, Question 1) is what I was created to do. Since all of God’s moral laws are extensions of his character and, thereby, reflect his character, when I break his law, I, at the same time, fail to image him as he is – I fail to glorify God – I fail to reflect God as he is. So, that is why the Apostle Paul can say that sin (breaking God’s law) is also “falling short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23.
Love is the goal.
Now I’ve read that love is the fulfillment of God’s law (of the ten words or 10 commandments, Romans 13:9) – it is the end of it – the point of it, Romans 13:10.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law, ESV.
How does our culture say that we should love our neighbor?
Our culture says that doing no wrong to a neighbor – loving them – means cheering them on to be who they are regardless of how ‘who they are’ reflects God’s character. Doing no wrong to a neighbor – loving our neighbor – our culture says, means encouraging people to do what they want without regard to the painful consequences that God says will follow.
Is this interpretation right?
Uh, no! Applying this interpretation of love to people is the least loving thing you can do. First is demonstrates total disregard, and I would even say hatred, toward God. And second, it demonstrates hatred toward people.
Why do I say that?
Ultimately I think that the prototype of love of neighbor Paul has in view, when he talks about love as the fulfillment of the law, is Jesus on the cross absorbing God’s wrath for our law breaking. It is Jesus on the cross instead of us.
The result of our sin in the presence of God’s holiness, righteousness and justice is God’s great and justified wrath toward us. This makes sense. Think about it. You are not holy or filled with justice. You do not always do what is right. Furthermore, you didn’t create people who malign you and so you have no authority over them. Yet, what is your human response toward unjustified wrongs done to you?
You might ask at this point, “Why can’t God just forgive sin? Why does sin have to be punished?” Unpunished sin, sin that is not dealt with justly, sin that is overlooked without receiving a penalty, creates a problem for God who is not only holy, righteous, and just but who is also love and shows mercy. For how can God remain just and righteous (full of rightness) and thereby remain who he is if he pardons guilty people? Think of a courtroom judge here.
The solution: On the cross, God’s love and mercy merged with his holiness and righteousness and justness. We Christians were sin, but Christ became sin for us, 2 Corinthians 5:21. And he, as our sin, was fully punished on the cross so that we, who are joined to Christ through faith, could justly be fully forgiven and given a right standing with God. The cross was the way that God could fully pardon us without compromising his own holy, righteous, and just character.
So then, over and against my love for God and my love for somebody else stands God’s love for me and that love does not compromise any of God’s other characteristics – God’s love is an uncompromising love. And so, likewise, our love should not compromise God’s characteristics either.
What is my right response to God’s love for me?
Well there are many right responses: thankfulness, worship, honor, humility, a general sense of unsurpassed awe. But one right response is love. Love for God – love for who God is – love for God’s character.
If I truly love God, I will not want to defame his character.
In a sixth-grade class I taught, fighting words began with “Yo mama.” Just as sixth-grade boys want to defend mom’s character out of love for her, even more so, we should defend and uphold God’s character out of love for him. And, when we demonstrate sinful characteristics that are not God-like, or say it’s okay for others to continue on their sinful way, we are basically overruling, disregarding, and, yes, even hating God. We are saying it’s okay for you to sin against God – it’s okay that your character does not reflect his. It’s okay to be something God did not make you to be. It’s okay for your life to reflect Satan and not the God who made you. (As Tim Keller says in his sermon, “Peace-Overcoming Anxiety,” if you don’t believe in Satan, you are one of a few people in the history of the world who doesn’t.)
Another right response is love of neighbor.
If I am impacted by God’s love for me, I must love my neighbor. This is true for lots of reasons, but one reason I think this is true is because God’s love has been poured into my heart, Romans 5:5. (See Romans 5:1-11 for the whole explanation.) This love poured into us must flow out from us as love for God and love for neighbor. It is also God’s character to love, and, if we are properly reflecting his character, we will of course love too.
I am interpreting love of neighbor, contrary to culture. I am interpreting love of neighbor as warning them of what God says will happen if they continue to sin against God – if they continue to image their father the devil instead of God, Ephesians 2:2; John 8:39, 44. There are of course other ways of loving your neighbor that are not relevant to the focus of this blog – meeting physical needs, listening, lending a hand, seeking justice, etc.
If I really believe God and I really believe that he promises that the wages of sin are eternal spiritual death, Romans 6:23, (and I can choose either Christ’s death in place of mine or my own spiritual death) then I will not tell my sinning neighbor that he is okay. If I truly love him, I will explain with earnest to my neighbor the dire situation that he is in. I will not say to my neighbor, be who you are and do what you want. I will not say you’re okay because I know the destructive end of that. Instead I will speak out and passionately warn my neighbor of the danger of sin.
A final thought – “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is a sermon based on love.
If you’ve ever been in a basic English literature class you have probably read or at least heard of Jonathan Edward’s most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Unfortunately the critique is often accompanied by jeers and unflattering comments. Once, I even heard a local pastor make fun of this sermon in front of his congregation – who laughed along with him. But, when we understand who God is and that we should speak out against sin out of love of God and neighbor, I think we will understand what Jonathan Edwards was trying to do. He was loving both God and neighbor as hard as he could. Am I? Are you?
Praying that all you say and do will be done out of love for God and neighbor, 1 Corinthians 16:14.