Monday, February 14, 2011

Myths I Learned in Church

I downloaded the Mark Driscoll audiobook, Religion Saves and Nine other Misconceptions some time ago, and despite the poor narration (he does much better preaching), I enjoyed the book.

On Saturday our Hispanic pastor talked a little bit about his testimony, and it got me thinking of Driscoll's book and some of the things I was taught in church either explicitly or implicitly that didn't square with what is written in the Bible. I'd like to turn this into a series, but for now let's begin with Myth #1.

Myth #1: God Doesn't Hate Sinners

I'll start off by conceding that there is an equal and opposite myth here, so don't assume I'm suggesting we carry signs that say "God hates America." I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say that most churches, at least most churches my average reader would attend, don't organize pickets at military funerals.

That myth is destructive, and this one is just as much, if not more, due to its prevalence. Pick up a tract, listen to a pastor, or attend your child's Sunday School class and you may end up hearing a gospel presentation like this:

God loves you and has a plan for your life. He wants you to trust Him and to be His friend. If you give your life to Him by praying this prayer, you can be with Him in heaven someday.

or this, which is a little better, but not much:

God loves everyone, but we've all sinned by doing bad things. He sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross for our sins, and if we trust in Him He will save us and make us His children.

We like to quote John 3:16 and focus on just how much God loves us. We say things like "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner." While we should affirm God's love for us, we should not deny the enmity that exists between God and the sinner because it is an integral part of the gospel.

A Verse in Romans
In Romans we read, "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life" (Rom 5:10).

while we were enemies... This means there was enmity between us and God. This is not merely a separation, as in "God can't stand to be in the presence of sin," thereby turning hell into some kind of hazardous material storage bin. Sin is rebellion, and rebellion makes God our enemy and us His.

 we were reconciled to God... Reconciliation is a very important term regarding our salvation. In 2 Corinthians Paul says that we have "the ministry of reconciliation" (5:18). The word carries the idea of bringing together two parties that are at odds.

by the death of his Son... Christ's death was not only a payment or a covering of sin. It was a satisfaction of the wrath of God. What we deserved, He endured. The wrath of God was poured out on Him. When Christ prays for "this cup to be removed," before His crucifixion, it is the cup of God's wrath. The imagery in the Old and New Testaments makes this clear.

Consider a Few Other Verses

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (Col 1:21-22).

We do not want to see our sin as hostility to God. As a matter of fact, we like to believe that we a "basically good" people and that we are honestly pursuing God. Yet before we are reconciled to God, we are hostile to Him and in need of reconciliation.

...[W]e all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph 2:3).

This may be the clearest verse on the topic at hand. At one point in time, we were given to our sinfulness. We sought to please ourselves with worldly things, and as such we were children of wrath, like the rests of mankind. The expectation of humanity without God is wrath and judgment.

A Final Look at John 3
Just a little further down from John 3:16 we find verse 36: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." Those who are not Christians are under the wrath of God. This information is necessary to understand what is so good about the good news. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. The wrath of God is not longer upon him and he has been reconciled to God.

Yet how does this reconcile with John 3:16? We must remember that these two verses are not at odds with each other. We can conceive in our minds that a parent loves his child when he disciplines her. Can we conceive of a God who hates the sinner and loves him as well? We must because that is the essence of the gospel. When we realize how much God hates the sinner, His love for the sinner is even more amazing in our eyes.


Bob Cleveland said...

God tells us to love our enemies. Are we to do something, thereby, that God doesn't do?

You quoted Romans 5:10, but two verses before, God says He showed His love for us .. while we were still sinners.

For me, God loving sinners is no myth.

Andrew Wencl said...

I have older posts automatically send comments to moderation (to prevent spammers).

In response, I would have to ask if you read the whole post. Your comment doesn't reflect having considered my conclusion:

"Can we conceive of a God who hates the sinner and loves him as well? We must because that is the essence of the gospel. When we realize how much God hates the sinner, His love for the sinner is even more amazing in our eyes."