God’s Grace Because of God’s Love

A few weeks ago a YouTube video made its way around that was a sermon clip from Mark Driscoll, Pastor for Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  In the video, which has since been removed from YouTube, Driscoll claimed that there is a side of God which hates people (You can read some of the transcript to that video here and see another video clip that provides further commentary here).  His reasons for making such a claim is grounded in a theology based on the wrath of God.

In my humble opinion, this is just bad theology and irresponsible preaching.  It is what happens when we attempt to build theologies on a single word or phrase in the Bible without keeping that word or phrase grounded in the larger narrative of scripture.  I have criticized my own church tradition, the Churches of Christ, in the past on this blog for doing the same thing with the phrase “make music” (psallō) in a passage like Ephesians 5.19 and the issue of worship.

I am sure Pastor Driscoll means well and I have know doubt that he preaches because he wants the world to know Jesus Christ and understand what the Bible teaches.  Be that as it may, he is just wrong in saying “God hates you.”  I have no doubt that it will be a terrible and fearful thing to encounter the wrath of God apart from Jesus Christ.  But God’s wrath does not come about because God hates us.  Because God hates sin and evil?  Yes!  Because God, in his holiness, must execute justice?  Yes!  But because God actually hates us?  Absolutely not!

In my sermon this last Sunday at the Columbia Church of Christ, I preached from Ephesians 2.1-10.  It is a passage that speaks of both God’s wrath as well as God’s love and grace.  I’m not a New Testament Scholar in the academic sense (neither is Driscoll) but I do hold a seminary degree (and so does Driscoll) and do exegete every passage I preach on before I write my sermons.  So I would just like to briefly point something out about this well known and well loved passage from Ephesians.

In v. 1-3, the human condition apart from Christ is explained.  We are “dead” due to our “transgressions and sins” which have come about because of our carnal cravings.  This is the reason why we are deserving of God’s wrath.  But…  Verse 4 begins with a big objection “but (de) God who is rich in mercy, because of (dia) his great love with which he loved us…” (my translation).  And the passage goes on to explain that God made us alive in Christ by the grace of God through faith.

The point of verse 4 and following is that God offers us grace in Christ because of his love for us.  We–yes, we–are the object of God’s love and that is why God shows us grace and mercy.  It should not go unnoticed that the word “mercy” (eleos) in v. 4 is the same word in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) used to translate the Hebrew word for “steadfast love” (hesed) which was foundational to Israel’s understanding of God (cf. Ex 15.13; 34.6; Num 14.18-19; 1 Chr 16.34; Ps 103.8).  That’s also a reason why we must read the New Testament in light of the Old Testament (I just had to throw that in as a bonus).  Further more, while the Bible affirms God’s hatred for sin, for the evil that we humans do, it never, to my knowledge, speaks of people as the object of God’s hatred.  The one possible exception I am aware of could be Psalm 11.5 but given the poetic genre of the Psalms, I would not want to make a propositional claim based on one verse–especially in light of what is said in the New Testament about God’s love (cf. Jn 3.16, Rom 5.5; Eph 2.4; 1 Jn 3.17).

So if you preach, preach about the seriousness of sin and the wrath of God that we will experience apart from Christ but do not preach that God hates us, no matter how much we stink of sin.  God loves us and he does so not because we deserve it but because he is God.  That is why we have grace in Christ, because God loves us.  If you don’t preach, you probably still are in a position to teach and influence others.  As such, I hope you will not make light of sin and the wrath of God that’s experienced apart from Christ.  However, no matter how much sin a person is dwelling in, I hope that you will help them come to know the love of God that results in the outpouring of his grace and mercy.

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4 responses to “God’s Grace Because of God’s Love

  1. Amen! Great points. The first thing that came to my mind when reading this…is if God hates us & we are created in His image…then that would be like saying He hates Himself, and that would make no sense. The entire premise of the Bible is to show how much God loves us, is patient, desiring everyone to have the chance to come to Him & demonstrating this by making the ultimate sacrifice out of a greater love that we can even fathom!! God IS love & graces us with His amazing love.

    Again, thanks for sharing!

    • Katherine,

      Thanks for your comment. Your comment about the “entire premise of the Bible” is why we must keep the story of scripture in mind and the climax it moves us toward (that is also why I prefer a biblical/narrative approach to theology over traditional systematic theology).

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  2. While I affirm the points of God’s love and can appreciate your emphasis, what do you think of the fact that we have (due to the resurgence of palatable sensibilities in the 21st century western world) elevated God’s love above God’s holiness? Isn’t it interesting that agape is never once mentioned in the entire book of Acts? Not one sermon had that word in it; not one story. And when we read Paul’s letters, what is it he stresses? God’s love? Not so much. Try Holiness. Jesus? The same. Yet how much preaching and teaching on holiness do we hear in these days? Compared to (our definition of) “love” – minimal (nil?)

    I think what Driscoll was using was a bit of hyperbole that is actually useful in this day and age of syncretism, easy-believism, weak-kneed faith, and the squishiness and spinelessness that Rob Bell has marketed as hip. With that, it is necessary to reflect on what the Word actually says who all apart from Christ are; namely, “enemies of God” (Rom 5:10). This is reality. Everyone, including me, outside of Christ, was/is an enemy of God and without God in the world (Eph 2:12). We are not His friends and God is not some lovey-dovey school-girl biting her nails hoping the phone will ring.

    We don’t preach the Gospel just because God loves people; we preach the Gospel because God not only loves people (and Amen to that!), but as you mentioned He is also just and righteous, and will dole out that justice and righteousness on all who continue to spit in His face; whether they have received the Word or not (Rom 1). See how Christ’s vengeance is portrayed in 2 Thess 1:6-10. This is not a soft and fluffy God we serve.

    The Lordship of Christ is hardly an effective message when it is purely based on love. Paul in 2 Cor 5:10 warns of the judgment to come; leads up to it in v.9 with aiming to please God; and follows in v.11 with what? The fear of God.

    While God is love; love is certainly not God. We must not be minimalist in our presentation of the transcendent.

    Grace be with you –
    Jr

    • Jr.,

      It is perhaps true that we have elevated God’s love above his holiness but then again, I’m not sure there is always a great understanding of either. Having said that, I am aware that “love” is never mentioned in the book of Acts. However, while there are a few verse in Acts describing God and Jesus as “holy” and “righteous”, these are not the theme of Acts either. The theme, which I am sure you are aware of, is God’s fulfillment to the story of Israel which he fulfills in Israel’s Messiah, Jesus which is a story of redemption. Yet in reflection of that story being fulfilled in Jesus and in the manner in which it was fulfilled (death and resurrection), one of the claims both the Apostle John and Paul make is that this was an act of God’s love. That is consistent again with Israel’s own confessing reflection of God with the term “steadfast love.” Yet never once – not once – do the Apostles depict God as having some side of him which hates sinners. And while apart from Christ, we are enemies of God, that in no way means that God hates us apart from Christ (in fact, elsewhere Paul depicts people as enemies because of their own doing…see Philippians 3.18; Colossians 1.21).

      That is why – and here I do not care what reasons, hyperbole or not, Driscoll has – to say that “Some of you, God hates you… God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you” is not only bad theology, it is also (and I mean this emphatically) irresponsible preaching. Maybe if Driscoll wants people to have a deeply committed faith to God in Christ, he should just stick to preaching what the scriptures actually say about God.

      Maybe what people need to hear is not less of God’s love but more of God’s love in its fullest and robust sense, which is never divorced from the redemptive actions of God nor from the holiness and righteousness that God is.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

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