DON’T Let Sleeping Dogs Lie – Part 2: God’s Loves Us Unconditionally
Welcome marathoners in and for Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) Exhausted, depleted from running the Godly, good, and being-a-blessing-to-others race? Welcome. Sit. Relax. Let’s feast.
Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered “reformation, revival, and constructive revolution” (Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City) so that God will be glorified and people blessed.
Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth, pure doctrine of the Bible
Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed
Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment
Series Preface: Please Take a Moment to Remember the Context of “DON’T Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”
In part, “The Proverbial saying, “Let sleeping dogs lie.” means we should avoid interfering in a situation that is currently causing no problems—but might do so as a result of “interfering”, speaking up, shedding light, judging between right and wrong, or making an uncomfortable, revealing observation in any way, shape, or form.
Please spend some time chewing on this claim: a) In a culture where [radical, unresolved] emotional ambivalence—defined as “the coexistence of opposing attitudes or feelings toward a person, an object, or an idea; warring, contradictory, incompatible emotions remaining unresolved in a person’s spirit; particularly complex emotions characterized by tension and conflict that is felt when someone experiences both positive and negative emotion simultaneously”—is the NORM… b) the vast majority of people make an unspoken covenant between each other to “Let sleeping dogs lie.”… Or, in other words, AVOID bringing up ANYTHING that reveals the rampant and disturbing emotional imbalance, warring in BOTH party’s spirit. Breaking this pact can be accompanied by high relational risks.
Discomfort, dissonance is the enemy of the emotionally unintelligent, worldly, conflicted human being. So let’s not stir one another up! Rather, just let sleeping dogs lie. And yes, regarding this dilemma, the church has taken on the same attributes as the world: Don’t go bringing up “the messy stuff.”” (John Dozier, The Training Table, November 8, 2017)
WE MUST BREAK THIS HABIT OF THE UNEXPLORED, VULNERABLE, FEAR-FULL, NEEDY HEART.
Today’s sleeping dog we’re NOT going to let lie? “God Love Us Unconditionally”
“All You Need is LOVE…” [Beatles, MMT, 1967].
There’s never been a truer statement, right? But here’s the catch: Even though every human being is an Image Bearer of God, if we were in a room with 200 people, from 25 places around the globe, and were to ask each one of them privately what the definition of “LOVE” is, how many sorts of answers would we get? And could we imagine how many answers would conform to the God of the Bible’s answer to such a foundational, yet most likely elusive, answer?
My “love story?” As a 45-year-old, going on two years of intense Christian counseling, when I was asked by my effective, trusted counselor, “Do you believe you’re capable of loving someone?” It didn’t take me more than a two seconds to answer, “Absolutely not. I have no idea what love is… or how to accept it or return it…” You see, I had come far enough along knowing the details my story, and seeing the innumerable ways I had received so little God-honoring, other-centered love—as well as how thoroughly I had adulterated, perverted love, to put it nicely—myself…
Well, to say I knew anything about what love was meant to be by God would have been laughable had I answered in any other way.
So laughable, in fact, all I could do was weep: I literally had no place within my heart to look for an answer to the question, “Do you believe you’re capable of loving someone?” The question was met with a terrifying void, silence in my heart. But knowing my story, and standing face-to-face with so many ways that love has been brutalized, debauched, and degraded… How could I have possibly known what love is?
If we were more honest with ourselves I don’t imagine my story would actually… really… be all that anomalous: Most of us could stand to see the void of un-love for what it is; and then, only then, begin to fill it with The Origin, Author, and Agent of Love… The Triune God of the Bible.
And let me offer the key insight, truism into my own story that’s a very personal and yet universal reality: It is as impossible to work ourselves out of the deadly problem of not knowing what God’s love really consists of, as it is for fresh and salt water to flow out of a spigot at the same time. As it is a carrot to be a Woolly Mammoth… As it is for a worm to graduate from Stanford U. summa cum laude… It’s simply impossible.
This is why the problem is described in the Bible as being SO BIG, INSURMOUNTABLE that what? We must be born again. We absolutely must participate in God’s cosmic do-over. The utter depravity in all of our hearts requires the most radical solution… even for GOD to think of.
So my having been born again in 1983, when I was 31 years-old, I could THEN… humankind can THEN… begin as a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) to be delivered from darkness into His divine light (Col. 1:13)! We must be born again before we can actually, honestly, holistically reconnoiter the sublimely conditional love of God.
Over time I could begin to own such true, lofty, yet common-to-all-humanity truths like, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” (C.S. Lewis, )
Does that hit home with anyone else? Like, maybe around 7.442 billion [2016 population of planet earth] others? All fallen, human hearts suffer from the same vestiges of shame that disfigures God’s way of love. If we had God’s insight to how many way-less-than-good decisions were made each day due to people’s treatment of the heart like, “Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.” we would be shocked into reversing the curse!
So What About God? Does He Love Us Unconditionally?
Short answer: That’s a big “No!” What was your initial, gut answer to this seminal question about God’s love? Here’s where my mind went right off the starting blocks: Have you ever personally, or as a friend, relative, or guest, listening to one of the most popular wedding ceremony passages from the Bible? The famous, yet little-understood, 1 Corinthians 13 “The Way of Love” passage… and death-until-us-part marriage commitment? Is there something fundamentally fundamental about it to you?
Yes, it’s replete with the CONDITIONS of God’s definition of love—which, notably, is the word “agape”, a WHOLE different, better, conditional way to know what self-sacrificial love is. And, it was inspired by God through its author’s heart and pen to… Get This: be a strong rebuke from earlier chapters to the Church at Corinth—because they had become idolaters and prostituted agape love so incredibly… thoroughly!
[RE-]think about it this way: “For Paul, love (agape) has a single meaning, which is defined as “putting the needs of others ahead on one’s own.” It was at the heart of the Christian experience; it shaped the Christian’s understanding of God’s own character and it was the chief expression one Christian would use toward a fellow believer and the world.
In Paul’s description of love, he leaves no room for it to be anything less than attending to the needs of others. The gifts of the Spirit [a basis for Paul’s rebuke], as useful as they were for the gathered community, were meaningless when performed for personal glory or selfish ambition. Paul’s description of the character of love begins by his mentioning two positive attributes: patience and kindness. Paul follows that by contrasting love to negative attributes; he argues that it is not “envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor. 13:4-5). In the end, Paul states positively that love “rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:6-7). Paul makes it clear that love begins when someone else’s need supersedes one’s own.
Paul establishes the necessity of love in his opening paragraph (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Paul then follows this (1 Cor. 13:4-7) with a description of the character of love. Finally, Paul ends with the permanence of love and establishes agape love as a mark of true Christianity by asserting, “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Immediately following (1 Cor. 14:1), Paul literally challenges the Corinthians to “pursue love;” to put others’ needs before their own.” (Gordon Fee, The Love Passage, parenthesis, emphasis added)
Of course, beyond this example of the 1 Cor. 13 “Love Passage” so popular in marriage ceremonies, consider the traditional marriage vows itself: full of conditions to be met for LOVE in a God-honoring marriage. Plainly, God has placed conditions on HIS self-sacrificial, salvific love!
“Where in Scripture do we find this notion of the unconditional love of God? If God’s love is absolutely unconditional, why do we tell people that they have to repent and have faith in order to be saved? God sets forth clear conditions for a person to be saved. It may be true that in some sense God loves even those who fail to meet the conditions of salvation, but that subtlety is often missed by the hearer when the preacher declares the unconditional love of God. People hear that God will continue to love them and accept them, no matter what they do or how they live. We might as well declare an unabashed universalism as to declare the unconditional love of God without a clear and careful qualification of what that means.
An interesting contrast can be seen by comparing the preaching of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century evangelists with modern evangelists. The stress in earlier centuries was on the wrath of God directed toward impenitent sinners. Indeed, Jonathan Edwards’s preaching has been described as evangelistic preaching that employed a “scare theology.” That approach has given way to a more positive emphasis on God’s love. Of course, Edwards also declared the love of God, but not without reminding sinners that as long as they remained impenitent, they were exposed to the wrath of God and were in fact heaping up wrath against the day of wrath (Rom. 2:5).
Edwards warned his people that they were more repugnant to God in their sin than rebellious subjects were to their princes. This was part and parcel of proclaiming the gospel of reconciliation. There can be no talk of reconciliation without first establishing that there is some prior alienation or estrangement. Parties who are not estranged do not need reconciliation. The biblical concept of reconciliation presupposes a condition of estrangement between God and man.
Much is said of man’s hostility toward God. The Bible says we are God’s enemies by nature. This enmity is expressed in our sinful rebellion against Him. The common contemporary view of this is that we are estranged from God, but He is not estranged from us. The enmity is all one sided. The picture we get is that God goes on loving us with an unconditional love while we remain hateful toward Him.” (emphasis added)
As probably one of the most well-known ’round the world passage in the Bible states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever is a pretty good guy or gal should not perish but have eternal life.” NOT! How about the real thing: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) All humanity is offered God’s love and truth in salvation as long as he or she repents from the heart and believers in the One Who God sent to rescue sinners, Jesus Christ.
How Has God’s Agape Love Suffered Under a Secularized, Humanized World?
It has been wisely said, “The second oldest religion is humanism.” From The Fall in Genesis 3 on, we fallen Image Bearers of God have flipped the meaning of agape love around “to be anything less than attending to the needs of MYSELF…” first, second, third, and foremost.
Net-Net: Far too many, even self-proclaimed “Christians”, insist that God’s love is unconditional: This is due, in the largest part, to ignorance or arrogance. If ignorance, then let’s wise-up by committing to get to know God by the only means He’s offered us a relationship: by repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, His Word in the Bible, baptism, committing to a community of faith, and serving orphans and widows. If arrogance, then let’s be more honest with ourselves and those in our midst: ANY attribution of God as important as this one [God’s Love is Unconditional] can only be ascribed to our sin and self-centeredness—E.g., “The ONLY conditions of love that I want placed on my life is that of NO conditions. I want to be and do whatever the hell I please. And it’s God’s responsibility to forgive and love me anyway… unconditionally!”
That’s not simply blasphemous; but it does’t make a stitch of sense theologically, logically, or anecdotally either. [And non-believers can’t be expected to know.]
Yes, God will, Beloved: He will love us so much that He will not force anyone into heaven, but, rather, He will be agape-loving, respectful, polite, and other-centered enough to let us fulfill our will for ourselves… EVEN IN HELL: a) in time estranged from God, purposeless, and in despair, and b) ultimately separated from God’s grace in eternity. [Which, by the way, will be far, far worse than some fiery place filled with red, dart-pointed devils scowling at the damned. It will be unimaginable, self-selected torture… forever. See Resources below.]
“From what has just been before us, let us note how vain is the presumptuous hope of the wicked, who, notwithstanding their continued defiance of God, nevertheless count upon His being merciful to them. How many there are who say, ‘I do not believe that God will ever cast me into Hell; He is too merciful.’ Such a hope is a viper, which if cherished in their bosoms will sting them to death. God is a God of justice as well as mercy, and He has expressly declared that He will “by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7). Yea, He has said, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, all the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17).” (A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God, The Mercy of God)
Yes, God’s mercies even extend to that end: God’s LOVE and JUSTICE can never be pulled apart. Ultimately, God’s manifold mercies suffused within His character of justice must have an outcome of His mercy in heaven AND in hell. God’s mercies include hell and heaven.
Please begin to renew your heart, mind, soul, and strength about the conditional [Special, Common Grace] love of God today. Look closely at the above www-linked references. Pray for a change of heart. Be increasingly aware and discerning about how the flippant and unloving use of “God’s unconditional love” exists in the church. And seek to “pursue agape love;” to put others’ needs before our own.
The Trinity’s interdependent Plan of Salvation is where to begin to see His unconditionally conditional love and truth worked out: We all, each and every one of us, must first be “born again from above” (John 3:3); then we can begin the journey of unpacking, living out the amazing conditional love of God, and then neighbor, as self!
“Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know and love God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.” (J.I. Packer)
See you all at The Training Table next week and we’ll feast by way of poking the sleeping dog, “All Roads Lead to God.”