A God of love or a permissive God?
|“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV)
Awhile back I received one of those sappy, “aw-shucks” e-mail forwards from an acquaintance. You know, the kind that you are suppose to find inspirational and which tries to put you on a guilt trip if you don’t pass it along to others. While I appreciate the thoughtfulness of those who forward such e-mails, I almost never pass them along to others. Besides the fact that such “inspirational” e-mail forwards are usually dripping with a syrupy sentimentalism that makes me feel like gagging, this particular one had some rather off-base theology implied in it. (Seems that for many today if a saying can produce a warm emotional response then it is regarded as being true, and if you question such a saying you are obviously just a mean person.) One of the sayings in this e-mail forward (accompanied by a beautiful picture) basically implies that no matter how you lived or what you believed, when you die you will automatically be brought to the gates of heaven, not the gates of hell. But touching saying and beautiful picture aside, Holy Scripture teaches otherwise. (Yes, I know, I’m just such an insensitive doctrinal purist to point this out.) The implication was that God’s love means that He holds no one accountable to a moral standard. God’s love is interpreted as permissiveness.
Once I was having a conversation with someone about a controversial issue in society. (I believe it was the question of homosexuality.) As I tried to defend the biblical view on the subject we were discussing, the person with whom I was dialoguing (who seemed to be getting impatient either with my line of reasoning or with the position I was defending) said, “Well, I believe in a God of love.” (Thereby implying that I don’t believe in a God of love, or that my conception of God’s love was somehow deficient.) Again, on an anecdotal level this conversation just reinforced for me the perception that many today equate God’s love with a sentimental permissiveness, a permissiveness which holds no one accountable to any moral standard — especially not to The Standard of the moral law of God (as summarized in the ten commandments).
Yes, the God of the Bible is a God of love. But He is not a God of sentimental “love.” God’s love is not “sloppy agape.” It is not a syrupy kind of love that affirms us no matter what. The God of the Bible is a God of love, but He is not a permissive God, and His love is not to be equated with permissiveness. God’s love is a holy love, a love that comports with His absolutely righteous and just character. It is a love of costly grace, a grace that moved God the Father to send His Son to die on the cross to propitiate God’s righteous wrath against sin and thus to redeem hell-deserving sinners like us from lawlessness. God’s love as revealed in His Word is not the cheap, permissive “love” (“cheap grace” as Bonhoeffer described it) that so many in our emotionally-driven, sentimentalist culture imagine it to be. The sentimental, permissive, spineless “love” that many today ascribe to God is in reality a blasphemous trivialization of the real love of God in Christ as revealed in the Scriptures.
Perhaps one of the reasons why so many in our culture today seem to equate God’s love with permissivenesss is because so many have been raised in permissive, child-centered families where there are few (if any) real consequences to misbehavior, disobedience, or disrespect for authority. Since they themselves have never experienced any really serious consequences for their misbehavior from human authority figures (like parents), and since they are used to getting off easy as a matter of course, they just assume that God will let them off the hook on judgment day for their imperfections. The Scriptures paint a very different picture. God is a God of inflexible holiness, and His holy character demands that sin be punished. To sin against His infinite Majesty is to incur infinite guilt, which demands infinite punishment. Because of our sin all of us deserve eternal punishment in hell. But God’s holy love for sinners like us moved Him to send His eternal Son to be punished in the place of a great multitude of sinners upon whom He chose to set His eternal, saving love. God’s love moved Him to satisfy the just demands of His holy wrath, and Christ’s sacrificial atonement on the cross provided that complete satisfaction of Divine justice. Not only that, but through Christ’s perfect obedience the perfect righteousness God requires for right standing before Him and entrance into His holy heaven has been obtained for those who trust Him, that perfect righteousness of Christ being imputed to believers and received by faith alone. The good news is that anyone and everyone who comes to embrace this gospel of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ by trusting Him alone as Lord and Savior will not perish in hell (as they deserve to do), but will be granted the gift of eternal life (John 3:16). This is the costly love of the true and living God.
The true God is a God of love. But He is not a permissive god, like the contemporary idol of cheap grace, sentimentalism, and “sloppy agape” that so many today seem to worship. His love comports with His holiness, and His grace is costly. His costly love was manifested in the death of His very own Son on the cross. We dare not cheapen His amazing, costly grace by ascribing permissiveness to Him or to His love.