Some Post-Christmas Thoughts on the Love of God in the Incarnation

Nativity (8) In some Reformed circles there’s a debate about whether a Christian should ever tell unbelievers that God loves them. The argument goes something like this, “We never see an example of Jesus or Paul, or any other NT writer, using such language when preaching or speaking to unbelievers”. I don’t know that this assertion establishes the position, and I don’t pretend the argument isn’t more nuanced than this. However, I also don’t believe it to be true primarily because of the Incarnation. Jesus was born, God’s Son was given. The gospel is “good news”, and part of that good news is that God does love you.

Some of my brothers and sisters in the faith will be quick to point out that God doesn’t really love unbelievers because if He did, they would become believers. In other words, the only love that counts is God’s redeeming love. Making such a distinction, I think, is unhelpful theologizing (that might not be an actual word, but it conveys what I’m trying to get across). If there is redeeming love, can you explain to me what non-redeeming love is, exactly? It can’t simply be good will. Good will is not love in the Scriptural sense. I’m open to correction though, so let me hear it in the combox if you think I’m mistaken. Let’s consider an example in Scripture of Jesus loving an unbeliever:

“And as He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, Do Not Murder, Do Not Commit Adultery, Do Not Steal, Do Not Bear False Witness, Do Not Defraud, Honor Your Father and Mother.’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ Mark 10:17-21

Now, there’s no indication in the text that the Rich Young Ruler ever did follow Christ. Some will make that assertion because “Jesus felt a love for him”, and if that is so, he must have been saved later because, well, Jesus only loves those whom He saves. If we go no further than the text, we cannot make that assumption. It says that Jesus felt a love for him (as a total aside, this also disproves the notion that love is not a feeling. It’s much more than that, but it definitely is a feeling. But I digress…).

In my opinion, it’s biblical to tell unbelievers that God loves them and that He invites them to come to Him in the gospel of His Son. The gospel is not simply a regal command to “repent and believe”, but a fatherly pleading and exhortation to do so. I think the Incarnation itself (among other things, such as the fact that “God is love”) establishes this. Don’t miss this important aspect of the First Advent, nor doubt whether or not it’s pleasing to our heavenly Father if you tell sinners He loves them. The failure to express God’s love when we share the gospel may be a primary reason our evangelism is not particularly winsome or fruitful. At least consider the possibility…

C.M. Granger

Beware of M&M!!!

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Exodus 17:1-7 (ESV)

There can be seasons in our life when things just don’t ‘go well’ for us. Other times it could just be horrible. In those times we must remember to avoid M & M’s. For those who read the Old Testament often, this may be a familiar story – for those who don’t, it may seem like a strange story, but many may be hard-pressed to see how it has any relevance in our modern society. Let us look a little closer.
Exodus 17 tells us that all the Israelites camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. This was a tough time for the Israelites and they quarreled with Moses. They even took it a step further and questioned whether the Lord was among them or not. This was sin. They grumbled and tested the Lord. When things were rough and didn’t go their way, they quarreled against their God-appointed leader and tested the Lord. Moses renamed that place Massah and Meribah. Those two Hebrew words mean, Testing and Quarreling. Every time anyone would pass through that place, they will recall how the Israelites grumbled against their leader and tested the Lord. Are there lessons for us from that story? Absolutely. For me, when things don’t go my way, I tend to grumble against those who have authority over me. When I hurt emotionally and physically, I am often tempted to question God’s care for me, or worse, “Does He really know what’s best for me?” This is sin. BUT God has a remedy for sin – His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has provided Jesus as our Savior, and the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. Salvation has been secured in Christ. Our part is now to resist the desire for evil and avoid Massah and Meribah {testing & quarreling}. This season enjoy your little M & M candies, they’re not poisonous, but let those little red, yellow, brown, orange, green and blue candies remind us that there is an M&M that is poisonous to our souls, and we must avoid it all cost!

Brian Spivey D.O.C.

More from Murray, On the Uniqueness of Scripture

“Scripture is unique, not because it takes the place of God, nor the place of Christ, but because of its relationship to God, to Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. It is unique because it is the only way whereby we come into relationship to God in the redemptive revelation of his grace, and the only way whereby Christ in the uniqueness that belongs to him as the Son of God incarnate, as the crucified, risen, and ascended Redeemer, comes within the orbit of our knowledge, faith, experience, and hope. We have no encounter with God, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit in terms of saving and redeeming grace apart from Scripture. It is the only revelation to us of God’s redemptive will. That is its uniqueness.

Here then is the conclusion proceeding from its uniqueness, its incomparable singularity in the situation that is ours in God’s providence. If we do not accept its verdict respecting its own character or quality, we have no warrant to accept its verdict respecting anything else. If its witness respecting itself is not authentic, then by what warrant may we accept its witness on other matters? By reason of what Scripture is and means in the whole compass of Christian faith and hope we are shut up to what Scripture teaches respecting its origin, character, and authority.”

John Murray–Collected Writings, Vol. 1, The Infallibility of Scripture, pg. 12

I’ve been reading Murray lately, excellent, profound, wise.

In two small paragraphs he dismantles postmodern views of Scripture. I haven’t heard or read a satisfactory response to Murray’s points here, though many books have been written on the subject.

C.M. Granger