Skip to content

jesus

All the Saints

Share

I went to church this morning in Peachtree City, Georgia. The pastor spoke from Ephesians 6 where Paul writes about engaging in a battle against spiritual forces and encourages his readers to stand firm. The sermon contained nothing new. But I noticed something I hadn’t before that got me thinking. Paul concludes his description of the “full armor of God” with an injunction:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

While it’s true that the huge fault lines created by the Great Schism and the Reformation had not yet appeared in the church, still there were divisions. Even from the very beginning there were Grecian Jews who complained that their own widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6). Culture divided the church between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women. Yet Paul’s vision was of a church somehow still united, a church so devoted to following Jesus that it would pray for all the saints.

In our own day the church looks more divided than ever. Not only are there various denominations (and groups refusing to become denominations), the church is also divided between Democrats and Republicans, black and white, those who favor gun control and those who oppose it, pro-gay and pro-marriage, pro-abortion and anti-abortion. All the diversity found in our nation appears also in the church.

Some want to exclude those who differ in matters of politics or social policy by refusing to acknowledge that they are really brothers or sisters. Some want to deny that God’s grace might save a man without making him pro-gay or might deliver a woman without making her anti-abortion. But Paul makes it clear that all the divisions that separate us are nothing compared to the faith that unites us, faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

I certainly don’t want to pretend that the issues that divide the church are unimportant. They are not. However, we don’t have to let those divisions keep us from enjoying our unity in Christ. That enjoyment will present a powerful testimony to the world and open our own eyes to the possibility that each of us might be in some measure wrong. We can disagree. We can urge one another to see different points of view. But in all our interactions we must treat each other with love and respect. There should not be any name-calling or sarcastic put-downs. We ought not to mock or deride one another. We gain nothing by regarding one another as wicked or insane.

I confess, I have been guilty. I have joined with those who vilify fellow Christians for religious or political differences. Forgive me. With God’s help I will do so no longer. Instead, I will pray for all the saints.

Share

Them

Share

Read and comment on my blog.

Every group has its insider language, its set of assumptions about what insiders know and outsiders do not. For some groups the distinction between insider and outsider is so important that the groups incorporate secret rituals to ensure that outsiders don’t penetrate into the inside without first becoming insiders. Other groups require specialized knowledge, but they make no secret of it, and it is effectively available to all who take an interest in learning it. A few groups, however, actively recruit new members and claim a universal appeal. Such groups require a highly permeable perimeter where the distinction between insider and outsider, between us and them, is essentially fuzzy. The New Testament church is such a group.

In the New Testament, exclusive language occurs almost always in the context of describing heretics or apostates. These are not people who have never been welcomed into the Christian faith; they are people who were welcomed in but turned out to be pursuing their own agenda. They might be the Judaizers  of Paul’s letter to the Galatians or the proto-Gnostics of John’s letters. In nearly every case, though, they are former insiders who left or were forced out because their beliefs or teachings did not match those of the apostles.

Apart from these few, the New Testament church is very inclusive. Paul claims that the Christian faith encompasses every social and economic class and every ethnicity. “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” What characterizes a Christian is not circumstances of birth or station in life but rather virtues that Jesus himself embodied: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, forbearance, peace, and love. These are characteristics that are universally admired but not so universally practiced. (In fact, one of the great conundrums of life, effectively answered in Christ, is why people so much admire virtues they themselves do not practice, even to the point of pretending to themselves that they do practice them.*)

Every unbeliever is potentially a believer, and every believer is potentially a fraud. Since we do not know people’s hearts, we need to treat everyone alike with dignity and respect, just as God treats us. He keeps providing opportunities to trust him even to those who have never yet trusted him. We need to rid ourselves of the smug superiority so common among evangelical Christians; it is offensive to everyone. We are none of us so righteous we cannot fall nor so wicked we are past redemption. If we want to persuade anyone that Jesus Christ is worth living for, we must treat everyone with genuine love and kindness, not considering ourselves better but only as recipients of an undeserved pardon. On earth the kingdom of God includes everyone, even those who persecute it. Just ask Paul.

*For more information, see the works of C. S. Lewis, especially The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity.

Share

Does God Love Everyone?

Share

Read and comment on my blog.

I watched a clever music video today for a song by Michael Gungor Band called “God is not a White Man.” The chorus of the song repeatedly affirms that God loves everyone. Most Christians would find this claim unexceptionable, but does it accord with what the Bible says about God? Does God really love everyone? If so, what does such universal love mean? If not, whom then does he love?

Let’s start by defining love. I may use the same word to describe my feelings for ice cream and my feelings for my wife, so we need something a bit more precise. To love is to act from sincere affection in ways that will secure the good of the one loved. For example, I love my children. My love sometimes impels me to punish them, never because I take pleasure in hurting them, but only because the punishment will help them grow and develop into mature adults. So now let’s ask our question this way: Does God act from sincere affection in ways that will secure of good of everyone?

The consistent witness of Scripture is that he does not. God condemns some people and saves others. He pours out destruction on some while rescuing others. In the end, he accepts some people into heaven and condemns others to hell. Can we say that God loves those he condemns? Here is what the Psalmist says:

The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot. (Psalm 11:5-6)

So according to Psalm 11, God hates the wicked. If we were to combine this verse with verses quoted by Paul in Romans 3:10-18, we might justly conclude that far from loving everyone, God hates everyone. No one is righteous; everyone is wicked; no one fears God or seeks to know him, or knows the way of peace. Instead everyone is deceitful and destructive and violent. God hates everyone, and everyone is destined for destruction. The great wonder is that he hasn’t pronounced his judgment already and condemned us all.

The Bible no where says that God loves everyone. It says that he loves the righteous (Psalm 146:8). And it says that his nature is love (I John 4:8, 16). When God appeared to Moses he told him that he was “compassionate and gracious…, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” God’s own revelation of himself is as a God of love.

Here is a contradiction. God’s nature is love, but he still hates the wicked, and everyone is wicked. His love prompts him to forgive, but his justice demands that he condemn. So God provided a means by which people could be forgiven and made righteous. He sent his own son to take the place of sinful people and endure his wrath on their behalf so that they could take his son’s place and be accounted God’s children. He has made this salvation available to everyone who puts their trust in his son, Jesus Christ.

The expression, therefore, of God’s love to everyone is in Jesus Christ. Anyone who rejects Jesus, rejects God’s love. For such a person there is no love left “but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Heb 10:27). So now God loves everyone who loves his son and hates everyone who hates his son. He knows those who belong to him.

But what about you. Yes, you. Does God love you? If you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, then you know that he does, and nothing—not even death itself—can separate you from his love (Rom 8:38-39). If you have not put your trust in Jesus, then he still loves you enough to make you this offer: you give up your life and everything you call your own to him, and he gives to you eternal life and freedom from your guilt and sin. That’s the deal: all or nothing, life or death. There is no middle ground. Which do you choose?

Share