A love that that is divorced and not understood in light of God’s absolute holiness (not vice versa) is not the love that God has expressed and revealed in His written Word and incarnation. Even a simple reflection of John 3:16 expresses this idea. Yet we’ve even managed to turn that verse into pure sentimentality even though God’s holiness is evident in the verse and surrounding passages. To “perish,” “be condemned already,” “judgement,” and “wrath” (v.31) are all expressions of God’s righteousness and justice which are manifestations of His holiness. But we have so humanized the “love” of God that even unbelievers are no longer surprised that God would love sinners. Quite the contrary. They are so continually told that “Jesus loves you” or “God loves you” that they now demand that a loving God will never condemn them and they need not fear Him.
When I was a new Christian I attempted to share the Gospel with a very vocal God hating gentleman. My approach was to soften him up and hammer home on the “love” of God. I vividly remember the account. We were both walking back to our cells after a lengthy discussion on Christianity. His cell door was next to mine and as we were walking in closing our doors I looked to him and said, ” Jaime, Jesus loves you.” He responded with a very smug and confident look and replied “I know.” That was it. No surprise, amazement or shock that an absolute holy God that hates evil would love a sinner that has committed such evil. There as no I want to hear more about this. Just utter confidence that God loved him and that is all that mattered. Even as he was standing in hatred of God.
He was not struggling as Luther (and most others before the last couple of centuries) did. That Luther feared and was tormented by the thought of God’s holiness and the judgment that awaited sinners. He, in fact, hated God before his conversion because He believed that God demanded justice and righteousness, flowing from His holiness, that he fell far, far short of. He tried his best to attain it through his own life and efforts. The more he tried the more he failed and hated the righteousness of God until he came to the phrase “the just shall live by faith” and in his own words recounts his conversion:
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.'” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also fount in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strenght of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.*
Why was Luther such a godly and Christ loving man? Precisely because he understood what grace is. That an infinitely holy God, whom Luther deserved (and everyone else) His righteous fury, would be merciful to him and set his love and affections upon him, not by virtue of Luther’s worth, but out of God’s own will, pleasure and for God’s own glory. That God would crush His own Son and raise Him from the grave to reconcile sinners to Him, was for Luther, the greatest expression of God’s love.
Note what is lacking in Luther’s conversion. The modern idea that all he needed to hear is a verbal, sappy, sentimental expression of how much Jesus “loved” him wouldn’t, and couldn’t, have helped anyone let alone Luther. I believe to the contrary, that if he were to have had someone come up to him during his great distress and say, “Don’t worry Martin, Jesus loves you,” Luther would have flung a candle at him instead of the devil. What Luther needed to know was how God’s righteousness and glory could be maintained in the justification of sinners. He learned through the reading of the Holy Writ that Christ, at the cross, took his sins (Luther’s) upon His (Christ’s) shoulders and imputed (transferred to his account) His righteousness. Luther, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, was able to comprehend that the cross was about the glory of God first and foremost and yet His love for sinners was on display for His own glory. That is why he could later say that the cross is “where wrath and mercy meet.”
Luther knew both biblical truths:
You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel. “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Is 48:8–11).
You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is 43:24–25 emphasis mine).
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God”(Ro 5:7–9).
Be on the look out for more to come on this subject.
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
* Quote taken from this website