How to Love Like a Trinitarian

The orthodox Trinitarian doctrine states that God exists as three persons (Father, Son, Spirit) in one being. There is only one God in terms of ontology, but there are three distinct persons that share this Divine essence. So the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son – but the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God.

…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Cor 13:14)

To those…who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work o the Spirit, to obey jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” (1 Pt 1:1-2)

Though it can be confusing, it is fundamentally important to recognize that Christianity is monotheistic.

A Trinitarian Salvation

It can be helpful to examine how each member of the Trinity operates. For example, the Father ordained the universe but created it through the Son. The Spirit convinces the dead-heart of Scripture but in a way that exalts the Son. Specifically for this article, I would like to consider the soteriological work of God. What actions has each member of the Trinity taken to redeem a people?

First, the Father chose whom He would redeem (Eph 1:4-6). In eternity past, He set His love on certain sinners. This love did not look for a difference among people (as if He chose the best and brightest) but made a difference. Though none of these rebels deserved to be chosen for such a glorious end, the Father mercifully decided to love them.

Second, the Son suffered in the place of these specific rebels (Eph 1:7-12). The Son took the form of a man and lived a perfect life on earth. In living a perfect life, He earned righteousness before God. On the cross, the Father smote the Son with the righteous indignation meant for His people whom He chose, and His people receive the credit for the Son’s righteousness.

Third, the Spirit awakens these certain sinners from a life of hating God to a life of loving God (Eph 1:13-14). This is when the benefits won on the cross are applied to God’s people. These sinners are sealed in the Holy Spirit, never to be taken out of God’s salvific love.

A Trinitarian Ethic

In salvation, these are the distinctive works of each member of the Trinity. I want to briefly explain how my belief and experience of the Trinity affects the way I love others.

First, as the Father’s love for His people, my love for people is not dependent upon their actions but upon my decision to love. I do not aim for the ones who seem to benefit me the most, or the individuals whom I best get along with. My desire instead is to mirror the Father’s love by unconditionally serving those around me. This type of love is truly the strongest because the dispositions of other people are not variables to be considered. The only consideration is whether or not I choose to love them.

Second, as the Son’s love for His people, my love for people is self-sacrificing. Paul addresses this in marriage: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). Based on my decision to love those around me, I should be willing to give of myself freely for their benefit. The consideration is not, “Do they deserve this?” but rather, “Am I able to help?” My action is motivated by my prior choice to love them, and determined on the greatness of their need rather than the merit of their lifestyle.

Third, as the Spirit’s love for His people, my love is active and pursuing. Rather than wait for our response, the Spirit seeks and powerfully awakens God’s people to His truth. Similarly, my love for others should not hinge on them reaching out to me. I do not mean a pestering love, but an active love. My service is always at-the-ready, to be deployed whenever I see the need arise.

My belief in the Triune God compels me to unconditionally, sacrificially, actively love others. In this, I mirror God’s own love for His people.

God is Always Faithful: Deuteronomy 7:7-11 and the Abrahamic Covenant

In Deuteronomy 7:7-11, Moses explains why God chose the Israelites. The choice occurred when they “were the fewest of all peoples.” The Israelites were numerous when Deuteronomy 7 was written, so this poses an inquiry that one of two options may satisfy. Option 1: “fewest” does not refer to numeric value, but strength. The text would mean, then, that Israel was not the strongest or most prosperous nation. This option does not seem grammatically plausible because the text says, “did not…choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples…” That appears to be explicitly numerical. Option 2: “fewest” refers to a numeric value. In this case, the choice being referenced must be God’s choice of Abram in Genesis. We will move forward under the supposition of Option 2.

Moving into verse 8, “but because” sets a contrast. The contrast is not between two possible reasons for God choosing Israel. The action of God in verse 8 is not the love-setting and choosing of verse 7. In verse 8, God is loving and keeping, and the result is different. This rather explicitly shows us that the situation has changed from verse 7 to verse 8.

Verse 7: God did not set-love on and choose Israel because of her number.
Verse 8: God brought Israel out of Egypt because He loved her and kept His oath.

Moses is not saying that the reason God loved Israel was because God loved Israel (as is often proposed). This passage often becomes an example of how God chooses someone simply because of His good pleasure. While this may be theologically correct, it is not what this passage teaches.

We see two principles in verse 7:

1) God set His love on and chose the Israelites.
2) This love-setting and choosing had nothing to do with Israel. Why? Because when God set His love on and chose Israel, they were of small number – not standing out among the nations.

It seems uncanny to suggest that Israel in her Deuteronomic or even Exodus state could fit this bill. They were a numerous people (in Numbers 2, Israelite armies totaled over 600,000). Also, where in Exodus or Deuteronomy has God made a choice of Israel? Were they not already God’s people, by God’s choice? Indeed they were: “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings,” (Exodus 3:7, emphasis mine). Israel was already God’s people: the love-setting choice of Deuteronomy 7:7 occurred before Exodus. What else could this love-setting choice be but that of Abram in Genesis 12?

Verse 8 gives two more principles:

3) God redeemed Israel from Egypt.
4) God did this because He loved them and was keeping an oath.

Verse 8 clearly speaks of a different scenario than verse 7. Here, God’s action is the redemption of Israel from Egypt. One may ask, why did God redeem Israel from Egypt? Why would He rescue Israel from slavery and not other nations from the same fate? What made Israel’s plight unique? The uniqueness of Israel was this: God loved them. The love is in context of the oath: God had covenanted with her “forefathers” (Abram, Isaac, Jacob) to love her. He had made a promise to love Israel and so He kept the promise. So the logical flow is this: God chose to love Abram and thereby Israel – Israel finds its way into slavery – God redeems Israel from slavery, because He is faithful to all whom He loves. That is what verses 7-8 teaches.

“But what of the contrast at the beginning of verse 8? What, then, does this say of the relationship between the two verses?” The “but” here is meant to draw attention to the substance of the Abrahamic covenant. The substance of God’s faithfulness – the reason for it – is not in Israel’s faithfulness or stature. The reason God redeemed Israel from Egypt was solely because of His faithful love – the same characteristic mentioned in Exodus 34:6, “abounding in lovingkindness.”

Understanding these things, it is fairly clear this text does not teach that God unconditionally elects individuals or even groups of people. The only thing we may say of God’s selection is that His calling of Abram was not because his household stood-out numerically among the people of his time. In Deuteronomy 7, Moses implies to Israel that God chose Abram simply because of His good pleasure. Moses then says that this choice of God is the reason that He delivered them from Egypt. The point of this passage is the faithfulness of God. Verse 9: “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” In light of God’s faithfulness and justice, Israel is called to be faithful (vv.10-11).

What does this teach us regarding the covenants of Scripture? God delivered Israel from Egypt before the Mosaic covenant. Exodus 34:28: the Mosaic covenant is the “ten commandments.” The Law is the Mosaic covenant. The nation which God chose to love, He then made a new promise – this promise did not cancel out the old, but provided a new relationship. What remained was this: Israel was a people loved by God. What came was this: God would now dwell among His people in the tabernacle. In accordance with this new thing, Israel was to prescribe by new rules. Now: the whole purpose for this was not substantive, but as a foreshadow. The Mosaic Covenant gave a context in which the gospel could be understood. Yet in Deuteronomy 7:7-11, we understand that the Mosaic Covenant is not addressed. God’s choice in verse 7 is the beginning of the Abrahamic Covenant, and His action in verse 8 is in faithfulness to it.

Another thing this passages teaches us about the covenants is that God is faithful in them. When God makes a promise, He always keeps it. This sets the stage for God’s call for faith in Christ. If anytime we had reason to question God’s faithfulness in the New Covenant, we need only look to the countless times God remained faithful to the Abrahamic Covenant.

If Deuteronomy 7:7-11 had to be summarized into one principle, it would be this: God is always faithful.

The Freedom and Pleasure of God: Responding to Olson’s “Against Calvinism” (pg. 114)

I am currently reading Roger Olson’s book Against Calvinism. I would like to respond to a critique he has made of Calvinistic ideology in the book. This is not a critique of the book but of one assertion therein. Here is the quote:

“This is exactly what non-Calvinists worry about with regard to Calvinism: that its deep, inner logic leads inexorably to exalting God’s glory over and even against his love. Apparently, God can (or must) limit His love, but He can’t limit His self glorification,” (Roger Olson, Against Calvinism, Zondervan, pg. 114).

One of Olson’s main concerns seems to be that the God of Calvinism is not recognizably “good, loving, and just,” (Olson, 111). For this article, I will consider specifically Olson’s grappling with God’s “limiting” of certain attributes. For example, in the main quotation above, does God really exalt His glory at the expense of being loving? How can God be pleased to predetermine certain people to hell and still be displeased that they go there? “How is God love if he foreordains many people to hell for eternity when he could save them…? How is it that God wants all people to be saved if he determines some specific individuals to be damned? How is it that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek 18:32) if he foreordains everything, including their reprobation and eternal punishment, for his good pleasure?” (Ibid.).

I want to give ample opportunity for Olson’s work to defend itself. He gives an alternative solution to God “limiting” His love in order to exalt His glory: “I would put it the other way around and say that in light of Christ’s self-emptying (Phil. 2), God can limit his glory (power, majesty, sovereignty) but not His love (because God is love; see 1 John 4!),” (Olson, pg. 114). I would like to restate Olson to make sure we understand the best possible presentation of his argument, but I’m bound by the fallacious reasoning he employs. In the prior statement, we have God’s glory as in the magnifying of His attributes. In this statement, we have God’s glory as in His “power, majesty, sovereignty.” This is an equivocation of the term “glory” and undermines his nod to Philippians 2.

There are two things happening on page 114. First, there is the question of whether or not God can “limit His love but not His self-glorification.” Second, there is the question of whether He can “limit His glory (power, majesty, sovereignty) but not His love.” Questions on matter of principles might be: does God have the ability to limit His attributes? Which is more valuable: God’s love or God’s glory? Is there any attribute of God that He can exalt above or at the expense of another? Can God cease to be all-powerful? Is God’s sovereignty in all things contradictory to His love as revealed in Scripture? What I want to consider in this article is this: does God actually have the ability and/or freedom to exalt His glory above His love?

God’s Glory and Love

God’s glory is the greatest possible end of all things. Is God the supremely beautiful Being?  Yes. Is He the supremely good, just, moral being (He Himself being the standard of goodness, justice, morality)? Yes. Is there anyone or anything else unto which we can rightly attribute a superlative of value and worthiness of praise? No. These things being as they are, God being magnified, publicized and projected is the most fair thing to occur in the universe. We declare with the Psalmist that “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1). With the Seraphim: “The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa 6:3). Everything above, everything below: all of creation. Everything glorifies God. This, we recognize, is the best possible thing to occur.

When someone is prideful, we seek to humble them by saying, “Hey, the world doesn’t revolve around you, buddy! It’s not all about you.” Well, thing is, the world does revolve around God. It really is all about Him. God’s glory is the greatest possible end of all things – both of all things cumulatively and all things individually. To exalt anything above His glory would be to exalt dust above diamonds.

One reading of Olson’s comments in Against Calvinism on the matter of God’s glory and love (again, because of the equivocation, it is rather difficult to understand exactly where his critique lies – if it is not all possibilities strung into one) could easily pose this question: would it be right for God to exalt His glory above His love? “If exalting anything above God’s glory exalts dust above diamonds, are you saying His love is dust?” No, my friend. That gravely misunderstands the issue and meaning of God glorifying Himself. God’s glory is the going-public of His attributes. It is when He puts Himself on display. How, then, can one question whether He puts His glory or His love first? His love is displayed in His glory. This really makes no sense.

The only way this makes sense is if we are speaking of ends. Which is the greatest end: that God would love others or that God would glorify Himself? This is a reasonable question (reasonable in the sense that it actually makes sense).

Supremely Pleasurable Decisions

First, we must recognize that Scripture does not say God must exhaust every opportunity to be loving. If you say this then you must do the same with his justice – then how is anyone saved by grace? You must do the same with patience – then how does His longsuffering ever run its course and culminate in punishment of sinners in hell? Consider this question, friend: does God have the freedom to delegate which of His attributes is manifested in any particular situation?

By freedom if you mean “right,” then of course. By freedom if you mean that nothing external influences the decision, of course. By freedom if you mean it is undetermined by His own greatest pleasure, of course not. God does not do what He is supremely displeased to do, in any situation. We should not express this by saying that God is limited, because the limit is intrinsic. We express this in the following manner: Positively, in every situation God delegates that attribute which He is most pleased to express therein accomplishing that end which He is most pleased to effect; Negatively, in no situation does God delegate an attribute which He is not supremely pleased to express therein never accomplishing an end which he is not most pleased to effect. Every act of God is the work He is supremely pleased to do, and every event is the accomplishment He is supremely pleased to effect. He is supremely satisfied with all that He does, and nothing He accomplishes supremely dissatisfies Him.

We must now state this in simple language. What does this mean? We must understand that God does not choose to express an attribute in the way one chooses which shirt to wear on a given day. Because then we would have to ask which attribute God utilized to choose that attribute – but then which attribute did God utilize to choose that attribute which He utilized to choose that attribute – etc. The circle would never end. God’s expression of His attributes is not a decision He makes but something He does naturally. It is the automatic, free, instinctive thing for Him to do. By definition it is “undetermined” in our use of the word, because its determinating agent is God Himself.

We see then that God always does what He is most pleased with doing. “Most pleased with doing as in the end of His doing or the doing itself?” Scripture seems to point us to the end for certain. Undeniably, though, since God is sovereign and always accomplishing His purposes, every action is something He is most pleased with doing. And this is another question: “End as in effect or purpose?” Since God always accomplishes what He intends, this distinction is unnecessary for our purpose here. Thirdly, Scripture also points us to every deed, as He is working “all things after the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11) and doing “all that He pleases” (Ps 115:3). Therefore, every event and every end is what God is supremely pleased with accomplishing. Yet we cannot alienate any action of God in history, for all His actions are in a particular context. What He does in Numbers is in the context of Genesis, and Genesis in the context of Revelation. This means that all God does in and upon history has a context and we cannot rightly understand what God is most pleased with by looking at one action in isolation. We must take into account the context, being His other actions as revealed in Scripture.

For example, consider the cross. As an isolated event, outside of any other act of God as context, it is probably best seen as a demonstration of how God hates His Son (it could not be a demonstration of God’s injustice in punishing an innocent person, because as an isolated event, we have no other action or word from God whereby to judge whether or not He is being consistent/unchanging). In context we see that God inexhaustibly loves His Son – of course! But, then, why did He crush Him on Calvary? Evidently, something was more important than preventing the suffering of His Son. Something had a greater value. You might be thinking of Romans 3:25-26 and 5: “The demonstration of His attributes!” Scripture clearly points us to that, no doubt. I absolutely agree. Yet I believe that if one considers the ultimate context of God’s actions, a glorious new picture unfolds. What ultimately was more important than preventing the suffering of His Son?

We must look at the ultimate context: the end of all things (the purpose and result of all things). What end of all things? In eternity future when all of history sums “up in Christ” (Eph 1:10) as Redeemer and Lord, and God’s attributes are most clearly glorified. The ultimate plan God has for the universe is that ultimate end that He is ultimately satisfied in. Therefore, in any situation, God’s pleasure in accomplishing His plan for history over-rides His pleasure in any other possible outcome. God’s displeasure in Christ’s suffering did not over-ride the pleasure He had in glorifying His grace in the redemption of a people. In this way, then, God always does what He is most pleased with: His greatest possible present pleasure in relation to His greatest possible future pleasure. This is how God can be in a real sense both pleased and displeased with the death of His Son and the damnation of the wicked.

Essentially, God always makes the supremely pleasurable decision.

The Freedom and Pleasure of God

So, we return to the original question: does God have the freedom to delegate which attribute is manifested in any particular situation? There is clearly no “delegation” – only a natural and happy acting. In any particular situation, God is wholly uninfluenced and does simply what He wants to do. He is the perfect and only example of a free being. The question, then, is flawed first in its assumption that any attribute can be “delegated” by an accomplishing entity. Second, it is flawed in assuming that in any particular situation only one of God’s attributes are manifested. God is not a series of pillars that, in certain situations, we only see one pillar. God is an elaborate tapestry of threads – a sovereign, terrifying blanket that is laid upon every situation. Some threads are more recognizable and distinct than others. What I mean, friend, is that in every situation God remains Who He is. God does not cease to be loving when He punishes sinners in Hell. God does not cease to be just when He forgives His people of their sins.

We understand also that God has absolute freedom. This is a third critique I have of the original question. I don’t think it is necessarily helpful to consider if God is free in any situation – of course He is. Instead of asking what God is able or allowed to do, we should use the language of what He actually does. For example, instead of asking, “Can God forgive sinners?” It is more correct to ask, “Does God forgive sinners?” With these things in mind, we restate the question: Does God express certain attributes over others in certain situations? The question is not in God “exalting” one attribute over another, as if one was more important, but rather in God’s expression of His nature. And yes – God can express certain avenues of His nature over others at different times.

I suggest that, in light of the things we have seen concerning God’s freedom, power, justice, etc. in this article, it is much more helpful and accurate for us to speak of God in a language of freedom instead of a language of ability. It is undoubtedly true that there is a sense in which God is unable to do certain things. His inability, however, is intrinsic. The inability to do certain things is completely within Himself, meaning that He does not do something because He is displeased that it be done. God does not refrain from walking into a bar and getting drunk, because He literally can’t accomplish the action: He refrains because He is displeased to do such a thing. God is completely free! The freedom of God is His ability to do anything He is pleased to do. He has the absolute power and right to decide upon anything. To say that God is free is principally to say that all of His decisions are supremely pleasurable, that He supremely delights in everything He does, and that such decisions are uninfluenced. This is the marriage of two principles, that God acts according to His greatest delight and that God is immutable/never changing. God’s freedom is His immutable pleasure.

In speaking strictly of the freedom of God, we perhaps need to clarify the facets and make some distinctions. God’s freedom is most fundamentally His unbounded-ness in all things. His intrinsic freedom is the immutability of His pleasures – that fact that nothing influences what He is pleased with. His corporate freedom is the immutability of His ability to accomplish His intrinsic freedom – the fact that nothing influences whether He is able to do what He is pleased with. His ethical freedom is the immutability of His right to accomplish His intrinsic freedom – the fact that nothing influences whether He has a right to do what He is pleased with.

Concluding Remarks

In Against Calvinism, Olson speaks of God’s “inabilities” as genuine inabilities rather than things God merely chooses not to do. In addition, we clearly see that God’s glory is the best possible end of all things. God’s love is not some noble attribute far above the rest. Why, we must wonder, does Olson single-out God’s love as being the characteristic that God must glorify above the rest? Why not His justice? What about His patience? Why is His love the one part of His nature that Olson is so bent of exalting above all others? Why not His holiness, Roger? Aside from this problem, there is the problem of even trying to exalt one of God’s characteristics above another. As discussed some in this article, it is not viable – nor is it orthodox.

God is free. He is unchanging in His delights. To be more specific: God’s freedom is that He is unbound in all things. He is free in rights (all that He does is moral), abilities (He can do anything) and desires (He is uninfluenced in desires). Put the freedom of God together with the sovereignty of God, and you have something similar to Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens and He does all that He pleases.”

God accomplishes all He is pleased with!

Is God Pleased To Damn People?

Although no attribute should be exalted above another (i.e., none of God’s characteristics cancel out or over shadow another), the narrative of Scripture certainly casts special light on several. God’s holiness, sovereignty and love are good examples. An unbiased, simple reading of Exodus should leave any heart gasping for air at the wondrous terror of God’s omnipotent and righteous pursuit of His own glory in the salvation of Israel. And who could escape Hosea without a deep impression of God’s unconditional love for His people? Surely we have all been brought to tears by the prophet’s vision in Isaiah 6 – the thrice holy God manifesting Himself in the image of Jesus Christ (John 12:41).

When I was first awakened to the sovereignty of God in all things and the bottomless chasm of His love, I was swiftly confronted with a conundrum. Perhaps the reader can relate. If God is absolutely in control of all things, and if God’s love is immeasurably vast, then why does God damn people to hell? I found my answer in the justice of God. I realized that God is not only a loving God, but He is also righteous. God will always act in accordance with all of His attributes. Although He loves people, He will give people what they justly deserve. Because of God’s justice, He has prepared a real, actual place called ‘hell’ in which all the rebels of His Kingship will suffer His wrath forever.

This led me to another problem, however: the Scriptures clearly say that “There is no one righteous, no not one,” (Romans 3:10). If this is so, then how could God not send anyone to hell? I found my answer in the love of God. God loved the world by sending His unique Son to suffer the penalty of sins (John 3:16). He did not suffer the penalty for everyone’s sin, but for those who put their faith in Him, repenting of their rebellion and submitting to His reign. The love and justice of God meet in the cross of Christ: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” (Romans 3:23-26). So God’s love is satisfied in the salvation of His people and the offer of grace to the lost. His justice is satisfied in the death of Christ on the cross and the suffering of the guilty in hell.

Dwelling on this for a few months led me to yet another question: is God pleased to damn people? I understood that hell was necessary for God’s justice but I was struggling with what it meant for God to be satisfied with damning people. Does God laugh when He throws men into hell? Does God delight at the thought of burning people in the flames of His wrath? If God does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3), then in what sense is He pleased with the destruction of the wicked? How is this pleasure compatible with Ezekiel 18:23, “‘Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?'”

Maybe you have pondered this as well. First, I believe it is important to affirm several truths.

1. God Does Not Love Like We Love

When we refer to “love” we often include feelings and ambiguous, fleeting affections. God’s love is not so. You cannot watch a Disney movie and attribute the love that Beauty has for Beast to God. God’s love is something He does. It is a commitment He makes. He does not “fall in love,” He sets His love on people. John 3:16 is a wonderful example of this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son..” Notice so loved. This does not refer to the degree to which He loved but the way in which He loved (see the Holman Christian Standard Version). God loved the world in this way – what way? The incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I challenge you to read the New Testament and pay particular attention to the references of God’s love for us. In most cases, you will see it referring back to an action or commitment of love He has made (consider also 1 John 4:19).

2. God Does Not Love All People The Same Way

One of the tragedies of superficial evangelicalism is the traditional idea that God loves all people the same way. You will not find this anywhere in Scripture. Does God love the reprobate, unrepentant man the same way He loves His church? Did Jesus have the same love for all of His apostles, or was not John the recipient of a special affection from Jesus (John 13:23)? What of the special affections He had for the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (John 11:5)? What of the fact that God has predestined only some individuals to salvation (Ephesians 1:1-14)? We constantly differentiate between the people we love. Should a woman love a stranger as much or in the same way that she loves her husband? Of course not. If we allow such differentiation among humans, why do we not allow it for God? We must clear our minds of tradition and approach Scripture critically. When we do this, the text makes clear to our hearts and minds that God does not love all people the same way.

Some argue that God loves all people the same way because He made all people. The argument seems to be that God loves us because He made us – but is this viable? God made the angels and Lucifer before they fell, and yet He extends to them no salvation. Does He love them? How does He, if so? As He loves His church? To go even further, does He love the Devil as He loves the persons of the Trinity? How on earth can we not differentiate between the love between the Father and the Son and the love He has for other beings? The case seems clear: God does not love all people the same way.

3. God Does Have Love For Those Who Will Never Repent Of Their Sins

Whatever form or extent it may be manifested in, Scripture advocate for God’s love of the eternally rebellious man. While this love is not of a salvific nature, it is authentic. Consider these texts:

“‘Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?'” – Ezekiel 18:23

Say to them, ‘As I live’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'” – Ezekiel 33:11

“This is good and acceptable in the sigh of God our savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 2:3-4.

4. God Not Only Hates Sin, But Also Individual People

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” This slogan has probably done more to misconstrue people’s understanding of God’s wrath than anything else in the North American evangelical church. Like it or not, Scripture explicitly refers to God’s hatred for sinners, not just their sinful deeds. When all people are brought under judgment and God separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), He will throw people into hell, not sin. Sin is an intangible object referring to our disobedience. It is tempting to embody sin as a corporeal thing, but as faithful exegetes we must resist this temptation. Sin refers to the disobedience of those rebelling against God’s kingdom, and it will be these rebels that God punishes. God’s righteous anger rests people because of their sin, there is no abstract object called “sin” that God is angry with. Consider these texts:

“Moreover, you shall not [n]follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.” – Leviticus 20:23

“The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.” – Psalm 5:5

“The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates.” – Psalm 11:5

“There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.” – Proverbs 6:16-19

“All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.” – Hosea 9:15.

5. God Does Not Hate Like We Hate

The hatred of God is not like our hatred. We should not see God as an angry viking in the heavens, ill-tempered and unable to control His thunderous wrath. His wrath is holy, controlled and always just. His wrath is the very definition of righteous indignation. The manifestation of His wrath is never needless or arbitrary, but always for the purpose of enacting justice in the pursuit and destruction of evil. In addition to the righteousness of His wrath, there is also a terribleness to it. The terribleness does not refer to a deficiency or evil characteristic within it, but rather to what it means for those who are its recipients.

“People will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from the fearful presence of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth.” – Isaiah 2:19

“A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; the Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; the blossoms of Lebanon wither. Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve; indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, the world and all the inhabitants in it. Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him. The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of [b]its site, and will pursue His enemies into darkness. Whatever you devise against the Lord, He will make a complete end of it. Distress will not rise up twice. Like tangled thorns, and like those who are drunken with their drink, they are consumed as stubble completely withered.” – Nahum 1:2-10

“And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.'” – Revelation 6:16


 

With these truths in mind, I believe we need look no farther than Isaiah 53:10, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” This is Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the death of Jesus Christ, and He explicitly states that God was pleased to crush Jesus. God was pleased to put Jesus to grief. Certainly we know that God did not have delight in flinging His wrath upon Christ – yet this seems to be the meaning of the text. I submit that God’s pleasure in Christ death was purely in reference to the satisfaction of His wrath against sin. We can think of a judge who is presented with his 33 year-old son in court. The son has murdered 12 young girls in cold blood and the judge knows what must be done. Because the judge delights in doing what is right and enacting justice for those 12 innocent girls, he will pass the death-penalty on to his 33 year-old son. However, who would deny that the judge would be grieved over flinging the wrath of America’s judicial system upon his son? The judge certainly would not be pleased in the sense that he delights in the grief of His son, as one may delight in playing sports or reading books. Rather, the judge certainly would be please in the sense that he delights in the satisfaction of justice for those 12 young girls.

All of mankind exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). We have all committed the greatest injustice by rebelling against the supreme authority in the universe and seeking to rob Him of the glory and honor He is due. It is our moral obligation to give Him such glory, and yet we have all turned aside (Romans 3:12). On the cross, God counted our sins to Jesus – He treated Jesus as if He had committed our injustice. Thus presented with His Son, guilty of the grandest injustice (the defamation of God’s name and thievery of His glory), God the righteous Judge was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief (Isaiah 53:10). He was pleased in the sense that He delighted in the satisfaction of justice, not in the sense that He delighted in the suffering of His Son as one delights in a hobby.

But what of people? The damned are not children of God, and so the analogy is not applicable, is it? Although not perfectly, I think it is still applicable, in light of several texts that explicitly communicate God’s ill-delight in the eternal death of all humans: Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:3-4. We must understand these texts in light of Christ’s death and God’s pleasure in Isaiah 53. God’s ill-delight does not over-ride His eternal purpose of damnation in light of His justice. Just as His ill-delight in Christ’s suffering did not keep Him from satisfying His pleasure for justice in His death, so His ill-delight for the reprobate’s suffering does not keep Him from satisfying His pleasure for justice in their death.

So when we read such passages as Deuteronomy 28:63 (“It shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.”), we know that the pleasure being referred to is not a happiness as one has in biting into cold, vanilla ice cream or the delight that one has in playing basketball. God’s pleasure in the destruction of the wicked is the joy He has in glorifying His holiness in the appeasement of His wrath. He delights in the satisfaction of justice and the glorification of His attributes. God is not an impish torturer wringing His hands for more damned souls to confine within His wrath. He is the righteous, omnipotent judge of all things and His wrath is white, pure and holy.

Praise God that He is a judge of consistency and holiness, and not of corruption and cold, arbitrary decisions!

The Relevance of God’s Sovereignty for His Church

God is sovereign – and you’ve heard that before. Three common questions that follow are: 1) “Is He really?” 2) “What does it mean for God to be sovereign?” 3) “How does His sovereignty effect us?” I would like to address these three questions in this article. This is obviously not a treatise on the sovereignty of God, but hopefully it will help us all see a little more clearly why God’s sovereignty is relevant to His church!

Is God Sovereign?

Assuming that you are a follower of Christ, addressing the “Is He really?” question would be a waste of time – because you already know He is. As J.I. Packer presented in his book “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” you believe God is sovereign because you pray to Him. Why would you ask Him for a need if you didn’t believe He could provide it? Why ask for healing if you thought He was unable? And who would call on God for salvation if they did not believe that He was powerful enough despite any circumstances to save them, that the gospel is in fact “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16)? The sovereignty of God is not something that needs to be debated or proven here, and so I shall not spend any more time trying to convince you of it.

What Does it Mean for God to be Sovereign?

The second question addresses what it specifically means for God to be a sovereign God. Let’s see what Isaiah 46:5-11 has to say about this issue.

God scoffs at idols in v.5-7, saying that “though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; it cannot deliver him from his distress.” The idol has no power, no ability to save. Thus, the Lord’s rhetorical question in v.5 makes sense, “To whom would you liken Me and make Me equal and compare Me, that we would be alike?” With this in mind – that these man-made gods have no power to deliver – God boldly makes His declaration, “For I am God, and there is no other; i am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'” God is unique, in a class all by Himself. He is not simply quantitatively, but qualitatively different than all other things. This is a big part of what it means for Him to be holy (Isa. 6:1-6). This uniqueness of God is what He is stressing in this passage. In what way is He that no one else is? What is said about God that can only be said about God, no one else?

The tenth verse shows us how God is unique here. He declares the end from the beginning. This is a declaration by God of the occurrences of time. We may immediately say, “Yes, God can do that, because He is omniscient.” This is very true, but I believe the text chooses a different explanation. God says, “I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” God knows all that will come to pass not simply because He is all-knowing, but also because He is able to accomplish anything He desires. He knew that the Israelites would leave Egypt, because He had the absolute power to make it happen. He knew that David would succeed Saul as king of Israel, because He was omnipotent to bring it about. He knew that Abraham would father a nation, Daniel would survive the lions den, Jesus would die on a cross, and Paul would write his epistles.

You may think of a small child who comes to his father and says, “Let’s wrestle.” The father, being human, does not know the future – but who would deny that the father is going to win this wrestling match? The father engages in the wrestling match rather playfully, because he knows without a shadow of a doubt what the future will hold: he will triumph over his offspring. Now, of course this isn’t a perfect example – there are several inconsistencies. But you understand? God has the absolute power and control to bring about whatever He desires to happen. For that reason, God knows all that will happen.

We also see here that God has plans for His creation. He doesn’t simply sit in heaven, doing random deeds on earth as He wills. He has an agenda for history, a purpose to be established. We see in Isa. 46:8-11 that God has absolute power and control to bring about all that He desires to occur. The Psalmist attests to this as well: “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases,” (115:3); “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps,” (135:6). Nebuchadnezzar agreed in Daniel 4:35: “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does acording to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” In Ephesians 1:11, Paul sung the same song: “Also, we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.

When I read any story in the Bible, it is clear to me that God indeed has absolute power and control to bring about all that He desires to occur – and this is where I will rest a definition for His sovereignty. He is sovereign (having the power and control to bring about all that He desires) over nature (Exod. 7:14-10:29; Ps. 78:12-16; Matt. 5:45; 6:30; 10:29-30; Lk. 8:22-25), over nations (2 Chron. 20:6; Ps. 2; 33:10; 47:1-4; Isa. 40:23; Acts 17:26), over human plans (Ge. 45:7-8; 50:20; James 4:13-15), over health and prosperity (Ex. 4:11; Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6-7; Ruth 4:13; Isa. 45:5-7; Amos 3:6-7), and over all other things. There is no opponent or circumstance that can abate God from accomplishing what He desires to accomplish – and that is what it means for God to be sovereign.

How Is God’s Sovereignty Relevant to Us?

This is good stuff. These are facts – truth straight from the Word of God. A computer or robot might stop here with the definition of God’s sovereignty, but we need a bit more, don’t we? The truth is, most of us aren’t scholars. Most of us don’t enjoy spending hours reading thick theology books by people who can’t even have the decency to have a last name that we can pronounce. Maybe it’s not so much that some of us wouldn’t enjoy to do that every day, but more because we simply don’t have time to be scholars. We have jobs to work so that we can provide an income for our households; food to cook so that our families can eat; children to care for so that they don’t grow up to become the next Hitler; weddings to plan, classes to pass, bills to pay… Unless we’re getting paid to do it, we just don’t have time to sit in a study and contemplate these things all day.

But let’s take honesty hour a little further. Many of us hurt too much to explore these things. Our homes foreclose; our jobs get laid-off; our children go to college and walk away from the faith; our spouses leave us in affairs; our husbands die of heart-failure; our best friends lie helpless in hospital beds after car crashes; our wives miscarry pregnancies. Tragedy strikes, and often the last thing on our minds is theology. “I need something practical,” we say. “I live in the real world, not simply in the realm of contemplation.” I think we can sum this all up into one question: how is God’s sovereignty relevant to us?

Here’s the thing – and please hear me, this is so important: God doesn’t get cancer. God doesn’t get tired. God doesn’t wear-out. God doesn’t double-cross. God doesn’t forget. God isn’t subdued. God isn’t tricked. God isn’t withheld. God doesn’t lose a leg to a drunk driver. God doesn’t get wounded in combat. God doesn’t get caught off-guard. God doesn’t have affairs. God doesn’t die. God doesn’t lose.

The sovereignty of God is relevant to you because no matter what happens, you can rest assured that Your Father is completely in control. The sovereignty of God allows us to sing hymns on the way to the hospital. It allows us to smile at funerals. It allows us genuine confidence in the face of financial drought. We face tragedy and calamity with confidence and joy, because we know without a shadow of a doubt that God has the power and control over all things, to do what He wills. If we are saved, His will is that we be kept in His hands for all eternity. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

If you are called by God and love Him, then there is a place in your mind that cannot be abated. It is a city encased in high walls, deep with marble and granite. Its battlements are lined with soldiers, having sharp spears and thick armor. Its towers climb higher than mountains, never swaying to the wind. This city is called The Sovereignty of God, and upon the North wall of its keep is embroidered, in pure gold, the truth that is its very foundation: “Thus saith the Lord, ‘I will accomplish all my good pleasure.'” This city stands in your mind and is strengthened every time you read the Word and learn more and more of God’s absolute power and control, and love for His church.

God’s sovereignty is very relevant. It keeps our soul anchored when our lives toss and turn at sea. So be confident, church! I encourage you to scrounge around in your week for time devoted to studying these things! It is well worth it, because the more you learn about God and His sovereignty, the more at peace you will be in a world of unpredictable tragedy. When calamity arrives, rest in that city: The Sovereignty of God. Plant it firmly in your mind, and it will plant you firmly in peace.

Seven Attributes of God (Exodus 34:6-7)

Though Moses sought to behold God’s glory, he could not gaze upon Him and live (Exod 33:18-20). God’s grace to Moses was providing a means of glimpsing His glory. God would hide Moses in the cleft of a rock and cover him with His hand, thus providing a veiled image of Himself (vv.22-23). As God passed by Moses (34:6-7), He proclaimed His character. His self-testimony provides us with a clear and concise explanation of His love and justice. Consider with me the seven attributes referenced.

I. Compassionate

This could also be translated, “merciful; favorable; pertaining to showing favor.” The idea is similar to that of grace, yet with variation in emphasis. This word “compassion” seems to emphasize the concept of having favor on someone. God concerns Himself with the well-being of people. He extends care and mercy to them. You might picture Jesus having compassion on a multitude of 5000 people who have nothing to eat (Matt 9:36). “Compassion” relates to the helplessness of an individual’s situation, in which God chooses to show favor on and aid.

II. Gracious

Though this could also translate “compassionate,” it must be differentiated. The emphasis is on forgiveness in the face of unsuitable behavior. It depicts God dealing with others in a manner which is not warranted or waged. This is the “grace that is greater than all our sin.” God looks upon a rebellious, guilty people and yet pardons their sin. He is in the business of redemption: “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).

III. Patient

This could also be translated as “slow to anger; long-suffering before getting angry.” The righteous indignation of God has a reservation; it is not as a river, running swiftly whenever it is filled. It is more similar to a lake, being damned at the mouth of a valley. Rains fall and the waters rise, but God has complete control over when He will open the flood gates. Why do sinners live full lives? Why is there a “final judgment”? How can God’s wrath for sin be abated for a time? Because God is patient.

IV. Loyal in Love

The NASB says “lovingkindness,” which can also be translated as “loyal love; unfailing kindness.” It is a love or affection that is consistent, steadfast, enduring – being built upon a prior relationship. The particular relationship relevant to Exodus 34 is the Mosaic Covenant. God can be counted on to remain faithful in whatever relationship He enters into. He is perfectly dedicated. As time passes and contexts change, His covenant love remains. It is defined by loyalty.

V. True

“Truth” also translates “faithfulness; reliability.” The truth of God is this: whatever He claims is correct, reliable and trustworthy. He does not lie, deceive or bear false witness. This includes willful and accidental misinformation. What He says can be depended on to be infallible. His Word is for us a sure foundation to be built upon with faith. The best of science is only theory; human reasoning is brimmed with fallacy. Yet the Word of God is true in the most coherent, consistent and impenetrable way.

VI. Forgiving

God is “The Forgiving One.” He forgives “iniquity, transgression, and sin” (v.7). This simply means that God forgives all types and kinds of sin. We note here that God truly does accomplish forgiveness. It is not a temporary or partial. God’s forgiving nature is manifested in actual forgiveness being given to individuals. His forgiveness is not reluctant. The Hebrew literally says that God will “pick up; lift up” our sins. He will “bear them up.” Ancient gods would demand that propitiation come from the people themselves. Yet God “Himself bore our sins” (1 Pet 2:24), having become a curse for us (Gal 3:13) in imputation (1 Cor 5:21). God presented Himself, under His own initiative, as the propitiatory sacrifice for His people’s sin (Rom 3:25).

VII. Righteous

The righteousness of God is described in the negative: “He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Exod 34:7). “Unpunished” means “be pardoned; not receive a just punishment.” Conversely, God will punish and deal rightly with all guilty people. First, God makes sure that the guilty get what they deserve. The severity of God’s demand for justice was exemplified on the cross, where “the Lord was pleased to crush [Jesus]” (Isa 53:10). Second, God will seek vengeance for sin, no matter how persisted a group of people is at sinning, or no matter how widely accepted a certain sin may be. In all His dealings – the ends of His purposes and the means by which they are accomplished – God is righteous.

Just and Loving?

If God is a just God, how can He be a loving God? If God forgives the guilty, then how can He claim that no guilty man will be left unpunished? This is a contradiction at the most fundamental level and should provoke serious thought. How is it possible for God to be loving and just at the same time?

Exodus 34:6-7 points forward to Christ. His work on the cross allowed God to forgive sin and yet still be just. God punished Jesus for the guiltiness of His people. When God did that, He satisfied His justice. Christ is the rock in which we are hidden, as Moses was hidden in the cleft. Through His mediatory work we enjoy a true relation with God. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Rom 11:33)