Sermon 05-28-17: “What Is Jesus Worth to You?”

“Long for the pure spiritual milk,” Peter writes—by which he means the “milk of the word,” as the King James puts it. In other words, as God’s children, we should long for the gospel, for God’s Word, and for God’s kingdom. As I discuss in this sermon, we can’t fake “longing for” something. Either we do or we don’t. And if we don’t, then that’s a symptom of a spiritual problem. See, when Peter tells us to “put away” these various sins in verse 1, my temptation is to preach a “try harder”-type sermon: “Try harder to be a better Christian. Work harder on the ‘spiritual disciplines.’ Pray more. Study the Bible more.” But as I make clear in this sermon, our problem isn’t that we’re not trying hard enough; our problem is that we’re not believing the gospel wholeheartedly enough. We need to learn to apply the gospel to the problems in our lives. This sermon talks about how to do that.

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 2:1-10

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

There was a lot of heartbreaking news last week: First, there was the terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England—an attack designed to kill children, and  teenagers, and their parents. Twenty-two people died. Many more were injured. President Trump referred to the terrorists as “evil losers,” and I couldn’t agree more! Evil losers. I like that. When we hear about this sort of thing, it is perfectly good and even Christian for us to remind ourselves of Paul’s words in Romans 12: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”[1] We can thank God for that.

We can also thank God, especially on this Memorial Day weekend, that God has called men and women in our armed forces to be what Paul describes in Romans 13 as “God’s servants”—avengers, he says—who carry out God’s wrath on wrongdoers.[2] And on this weekend especially we thank God for those who gave “the last full measure of devotion.”

By all means, we Christians are supposed to live our lives as peace-loving and peace-making, inasmuch as it depends on us, but we do so with the certain knowledge that in the end, God will ensure that no sin, no evil, will ultimately go unpunished. There will be a Day when justice will be done—completely and perfectly. God will see to it! And for those of us who have trusted in Christ, we are thankful that on the cross, God in Christ has taken the punishment that we deserve for our sin and our evil.

Now on Friday, there was another horrifying event in the news. In Egypt, a busload of Christians, on their way to worship Jesus, were stopped on a dusty desert highway by masked men carrying automatic weapons—who sprayed the bus with bullets killing 28 men, women, and children—and injuring many more—for no crime other than this: they followed Jesus and were seeking to be faithful to him.

So here’s what I want to know: Is Jesus so precious to us that we would be willing to get on board that bus—out of obedience to him—even if doing so meant our death? Is Jesus so precious to us that we would be willing to pay that price? Is Jesus worth that much to us? Because make no mistake: that’s what Jesus asks of us. God forbid that what happened to those Christians would ever happen to us. But when we become followers of Christ we accept this as a possibility. Don’t we? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”[3] “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”[4]

I’m helping to teach confirmation class on Sunday nights, and I’m trying to get this across to these young confirmands—I’m trying to get across the scope and the seriousness of the commitment that God is asking these young people to make—if they want to be lifelong followers of his Son Jesus. I wish our confirmation liturgy included a question that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod asks their confirmands when they make their vows: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

Are we willing to say, “I’d rather suffer all, indeed I’d rather die, than to fall away from my Christian faith”? How would we answer that question?

I bet I know how most of those 28 Egyptian Christians on that bus last Friday would answer that question.

See, we rightly honor our men and women in uniform who, out of loyalty and love for our country, sacrifice their lives, but make no mistake: Jesus is worth infinitely more than that to us. Or he ought to be. Yet each one of us can look at our lives and easily find other people and other things who compete for the love and loyalty that we owe to him alone! Right?

And I promise, as a preacher I am tempted to turn this into a guilt-inducing message, a shame-inducing message: “We must be more like those Egyptian martyrs! We must try harder! We must be more faithful, more committed. We must do better!”

And indeed, when we consider what Peter says in verse 1, we might think that Peter is going to take a similar tack: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” We might expect him to try tough love: Put it away or else… or else this bad stuff will happen to you. No, he doesn’t take that “tough love” approach. Instead, with great compassion, he tells them, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

There is a note of warning there: “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” If you have… Peter knows that it’s possible—heck, it’s likely—that some of the people in his churches haven’t yet “tasted that the Lord is good.” And they may not even know it. But he says that one important mark, one characteristic, that should define us as Christians, is that we long for “pure spiritual milk,” which means we long for Jesus Christ, and his gospel, and his glory, and his kingdom—which we receive and experience mostly through the Holy Spirit as he speaks to us through God’s holy Word. We should long for those things! And if we don’t long for those things, Peter tells us, at the very least it means that we have a spiritual problem! We may still need to repent and give our lives to Christ and be saved; but even if we’ve done that, and if we are still saved, we at least have a problem that needs to be solved!

But mostly Peter gives us not a warning but an incentive for solving this problem: Because he tells us that once we experience the love of Jesus Christ, and his gospel, and his glory, and his kingdom—once we taste that pure spiritual milk of his word—we won’t be satisfied with anything else. Because what we receive from Christ is better than anything else in the world. As the Psalmist says, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”[5] We are meant to feel Christ’s love for us; we are meant to be “in love” with Christ. The truth of the gospel ought to penetrate our emotions—it’s not just something we think about. It’s not just something that lives in our heads. It’s not just something we agree with intellectually. We ought to experience it, emotionally. Emotion and intellect go hand in hand in the Christian life. Neither one by itself is sufficient, but together they help us long for Christ. They help us desire Christ.

Our problem with sin, Peter wants us to know, comes down to desire. We desire the wrong things. Or we desire them out of proportion to what God intends. What we need is the gospel of Jesus Christ to heal our desires, to tame them, to straighten them out, to bring them under the Lordship of Christ. What we need is to replace inappropriate desires with a desire for Christ.

Consider the sins that he lists here. These seem like small sins, in a way. I say “small” because, good heavens, they’re so prevalent in our church! Aren’t they? And they were prevalent in Peter’s churches. These sins seem small because we seem to have such a high tolerance for them! But let’s consider the desire underneath the sin: Why are we tempted to practice deceit, after all? Or why do we act like hypocrites? Because if people knew the truth about us, it would make us look bad in front of people—and well, maybe they would reject us. O.K., but what does the “pure spiritual milk” of the gospel teach us? That we’re all sinners—that church at its best is a hospital for sinners. That we recognize our powerlessness over sin, and that we need Christ to heal us. But we don’t have to fear being rejected because of what Christ did for us on the cross: he has forgiven us; he has accepted us. What else matters?

Or think about why you envy. Because someone has something that you think you need. And usually the sin of slander—which means to gossip or run someone down—comes from our resentment that other people have something we want; we’re not content with what we’ve been given. But how does the “pure spiritual milk” of the gospel heal these desires? By reminding us that God’s grace is sufficient for all circumstances; that there’s nothing that we have that we haven’t received; that God uses trials for our own good; that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength; that compared to Christ, we should count everything else as loss.

Can I share with you a way that this hit home with me recently?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a difficult conversation with a clergy acquaintance. More like an argument. Of course, he was perfectly cool, calm, and collected. I was the one who felt my pulse racing and my heart pounding; that “fight or flight” instinct is so strong within me. He told me, in so many words, that he didn’t believe in many core doctrines and convictions of our Christian faith; that he doubted much of what the Bible teaches; worst of all, he seemed perfectly O.K. with it! I was beside myself!

At one point, I said, “Please don’t teach these things to your congregation!”—for the sake of their own souls—because in my view nothing less than heaven and hell hangs in the balance. But also for the sake of pastors like me who may be appointed to his church some day and who will have to clean up the mess that he made! I told him that…

I was angry. And I thought, “How dare he call himself a minister of the gospel when he doesn’t believe in much of what the gospel teaches!” What’s his problem?

And as I was reflecting on this, I promise it was as if the Lord were saying to me, “Not so fast, Brent… What about you?”

Recently, I was with a group of friends who were saying goodbye to a friend who was moving to the West Coast. I’ll call him Steve. Steve, in addition to being a successful and high-powered attorney, is a former Marine. And he gave each of us a “challenge coin” as a token of his friendship before he left. Here it is… [Show the coin.] I posted a picture of this on Facebook, by the way, and a friend of mine who’s overseas in the army explained the purpose of a challenge coin. He said the next time I see Steve, I’m supposed to pull out my challenge coin. And if he doesn’t have his coin on him, then he has to buy drinks. Isn’t that great? So I’ll be carrying this around all the time. Believe me!

One side of the coin is engraved with a smiling skull and these words: “Death smiles at everyone. Marines smile back.”

I’m sure there’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere, but that’s not my point today. When he handed me the coin, he thanked me for my friendship and said, “Brent, you are consistently the nicest person I have ever known.”

You are consistently the nicest person I have ever known.

He told me this a couple of weeks ago. And I only realized on Thursday of last week that when he told me this, it’s like I didn’t even hear it; I couldn’t take it in as a compliment; it didn’t register. Why? Because, from my perspective, he couldn’t have meant it. He knows me too well. I’m a horrible person.

Not that I consciously thought these words at the time. I didn’t have to… They’re part of a tape loop that’s constantly playing in the background of my thoughts. And it’s telling me, “You’re not good enough. You’re not successful enough. You’re a loser.” The volume isn’t usually turned up very loud, but it’s always there—whether I notice it or not.

There are many interesting reasons why this tape loop exists. But it has to do with the fact that my parents—who were wonderful parents in so many ways, and I love them dearly—but they had a blind spot: I felt like they wanted me to be someone else—some all-American boy who excelled at sports; who was athletic, popular, good-looking, and just sort of a normal kid, you know? And I didn’t feel like I was any of those things. I never felt like I measured up.

I was really interested in music. And computer-programming. And—oh my goodness, Christianity. Once, my mom made an appointment with the youth minister at my church. I didn’t know about it until afterwards. She told him that she was worried that I was becoming a “fanatic.” A little religion is all well and good, she said, but all this Bible-reading, all this churchgoing, all this witnessing… it’s getting out of hand.

And I know she had this conversation because my youth minister told me about it. And I was upset. Once again I felt rejected. And he put his arm around me and said, “You’re fine, Brent. You just keep doing what you’re doing.” And there it was: that thing I desperately craved: Acceptance. Unconditional cceptance of who I was. It’s the greatest feeling. And God put a few other adults in my life at the time—a football coach, a teacher, an uncle—who helped me to feel this kind of acceptance and unconditional love.

But my point is, last week I noticed again that this tape was playing, and I thought: “Here I am feeling indignant because my fellow pastor doesn’t believe much of the gospel? But what’s my problem. Because here I am, listening to the tape loop and living as if I don’t believe it?” Don’t I preach this all the time: God loves us so much that he paid an infinite price to save us: He exchanged his righteousness for our unrighteousness. He forgave us through our faith in Christ. He clothed us with his Son’s righteousness. It’s like, I have no trouble believing he did that for y’all. But did he really do it for me? That’s my problem.

So I need to hear Peter’s words in today’s scripture: He says, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house…” Do you get the picture. He’s comparing us, the church, to a temple, and Christ, he’s saying, is the cornerstone—the first and most valuable stone at the foundation of the building. Peter says that Christ the living stone is “precious” to his Father. And when we place our faith in Christ, it’s as if we become “living stones,” too, and we are “cemented” onto this cornerstone.

But not only that: Verse 7 tells us, “So the honor is for you who believe.” That is Peter’s way of saying, “What is true of the Father’s relationship with Christ is now true for you. Just as Christ is ‘chosen and precious,’ so are you.”

And Jesus makes this same point in his prayer in John 17. He prays that the world will know that the Father loves us, those of us who’ve placed our faith in Christ, the exact same way that the Father loves Jesus—the Father loves us just as much as he loves Jesus.[6]

Can you believe it? Can I believe it? That’s the acceptance I so desperately crave. That’s what I desire so badly. That’s the “pure spiritual milk” that will heal my soul. And that’s the gospel! That’s what Christ offers us!

Last week, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the band U2 performed their classic song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” It includes these words:

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

And I promise I only just realized that the whole song is a prayer to Jesus. He’s saying, “I would do anything for you, Lord.”—because of how much you love me; because of what you’ve done for me; because of how precious you are to me. I would do anything for you, Lord.

Next week, I’m going to look at this scripture again, with an eye toward what it says about our church’s mission—what we’re supposed to be doing. But what Christ asks us to do shouldn’t be difficult. Because we long for him and his glory, and his gospel, and his kingdom. We crave it more than anything else. We won’t be satisfied with anything else.

1. Romans 12:19 ESV

2. Romans 13:4 ESV

3. Mark 8:34-5 ESV

4. Matthew 10:28 ESV

5. Psalm 34:8 ESV

6. John 17:23 ESV

10 thoughts on “Sermon 05-28-17: “What Is Jesus Worth to You?””

  1. Good sermon. I do have one issue, which I may be wrong about it, but I have held to the position for quite a long time and so won’t easily relinquish it! 🙂 Specifically, I don’t think love is “unconditional.” I think the fundamental nature of love is that it is conditional. If you will, the more love is returned in response to love, the greater the mutual love becomes. One reason I see things that way is because of salvation itself. God willingly offers love to all, and pays a very high price for it–but, if we don’t accept it, then it is withdrawn and hell awaits! So, is this conditional nature of love only for the “salvation/damned” distinction, or does this “withdrawal” of love teach us something about what love is? I opt for the second view.

    I use a marriage illustration for this. Sure, we are taught that we are supposed to love our spouses “unconditionally,” but we live with pretty good spouses, so we can go with that. However, consider a wife whose husband goes off the deep end, gets drunk every night, won’t keep a job, starts beating the kids, does nothing around the house. Can anyone tell me that her love for him should continue unabated the same? I don’t believe that.

    Similarly, though we are “married” to God as part of his Bride, the Church, how our “Spouse” feels about us varies according to how we respond to the love he advances to us. I find this in Paul’s “he will suffer loss, but he will be saved, yet as one escaping the flames” in 1 Cor. 3. And look at how Jesus talks to the 7 churches in Rev. 2-3. So, while it is my current belief that God’s love “never fails” once we enter the fold (if someone conversely believes you can fall from grace, then necessarily God’s love for Christians is conditional), I don’t think that means it never “varies.” If we “love back,” then God’s love for us will “intensify.” And how do we show responsive love, according to Jesus in John 14-15? “By keeping my commandments.” That’s my view at present.

    1. I didn’t use “unconditional love” in relationship to God, did I? I hope not. I agree with Thomas Oden that God’s love isn’t unconditional in the sense that repentance and faith are “conditions” under which we are fully accepted by God. By all means! Even if God loves unrepentant sinners, and he does, I’m happy to say that he doesn’t love them as much (if divine love has any connection to human love) as he loves his beloved children, whose sins have been washed in in the blood of the Lamb. And it’s hard to construe hell as a place through which God expresses love.

      Where we disagree, I think, is the degree of God’s love AFTER we’ve been saved. Since Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, such that Christ’s righteousness has been credited to our account and, as Jesus says in John 17, the Father loves us the same as he loves his Son, it’s hard to see how God’s love is conditional, at least at that point. We are always, I believe, in a “grace alone” relationship with God based on the finished work of Christ on the cross. (Let’s not argue about that again!) For those of us who believe in the possibility of backsliding, however (and I hold very loosely to that doctrine, myself) the only condition is that we continue to trust Christ.

      As for discipline or punishment of believers, I think that it follows as a consequence of God’s love, the same way a parent disciplines a child. If he disciplines one child more than another, it’s not because he loves that child less. Even in human families, the most troublesome child is often the most “loved” child, experientially—given the amount of care and concern that human parents show toward the child.

      Not that I’m arguing this is true of God’s love! We don’t sin so that grace may abound. Im just trying to show that it would be less than loving on God’s part to ignore our behavior. When he disciplines us, he does so from a place of love. I don’t mind calling that love unconditional at that point, given my qualifications above.

      1. I assume from John 17 you are referring to v.23, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (NIV). The NAS renders it, “that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me.” Is Jesus referring to the QUANTUM of love being the same, or referencing the fact that God does love us (as, indeed, he also loves the Son)? In the same discourse, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. … Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” John 14:15, 21 (NIV). (In the OT, the angel refers to Daniel as being “greatly” beloved, KJV. Certainly he would qualify under this “test”!)

        However, I agree that “spankings” are not a sign of lack of love, but rather an encouragement (though a painful one). But that passage references those who are “educated thereby” receiving the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” What of those who are NOT “educated,” but instead continue along in their sinful ways regardless? At some point “chastening” may become “punishment” if we reject it. Consider those who misused the Lord’s Supper, as a result of which “many are weak and sickly among you, and some sleep.” Those who “sleep” are beyond the prospect of repentance and change and improvement of behavior. So, does God love them to the same “extent” as Daniel? (Much less the perfectly obedient Son?)

        In saying “God is love,” as in 1 John twice, what God does is evidence of what love is. So, if God sends people to hell if they reject his love, evidenced by the sacrificial death of his Son, then we know that love is conditional (as you agree as to them). But if love is a conditional thing, why would we expect that “nature” of love to change just because God deals with believers? Consider that God will reward some believers more than others. Consider that as to the believer who had nothing to show for his work, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet as one escaping the flames. Is that all irrelevant to love? Or does that also reflect the true nature of love as being conditional, waxing or waning in accordance with our responsive love back?

        So, my conclusion is that love is simply a “conditional” thing intrinsically, with respect to which God is guided as to ALL his acts, whether toward unbelievers or unbelievers.

      2. I don’t think you’ve wrestled adequately with imputation, the sole and continuing basis on which we are made acceptable to God. If we Christians are God’s children through faith, I can’t comprehend the Father literally loving any one of his children less than another, regardless of rewards and punishments.

      3. I may not fully understand imputation. However, I don’t think it means, “When God looks at us, he sees Christ.” What God sees when he looks at something is exactly what it is. What Christ did on the cross was to be the propitiation for our sins, i.e., “paid the price” for them in our place. That is why we don’t go to hell, but instead are allowed into heaven and the presence of God. But that obviously does not mean God does not “see” or “take into account” our sins “across the board.” Otherwise, he would be unable to dole out rewards and punishments. “Man shall give account for every idle word,” Jesus says.

        As far as loving all children “the same” (“Mom loves the both of them, blood is thicker than the mud,” as the song says), once again we may be hampered in our opinion in that regard because we have basically good children. But this is like my earlier illustration of the wife with the derelict husband. If things get “that bad,” we no longer expect “equal love” (or, we should not, in my opinion). Similarly with children. Note that in the OT, in the event of a derelict son, the parents were to bring him out for judgment and to cast the first stones. Egregious, unrepentant sins should and do affect “how we look” at someone, or “how we feel” about someone, and that is part of what love is.

      4. Ok, but remember the older son in the parable. He’s angry because the father is treating the younger son, as he perceives it, better than he’s treating him. He likely perceives that his father loves the rebellious younger son more. “You never gave a young goat for me and my friends!” The older son’s perception is that the father is too gracious with this child that has done nothing to deserve it. Or what about the eleventh hour worker parable? Again, the perception of the “first hour” workers is that the employer is treating the eleventh hour workers too generously—giving them the same wage.

        I’m not using this to argue that different rewards aren’t given at judgment; I’m only cautioning you to keep things in perspective: regardless of rewards or punishments or discipline for God’s children, God is incredibly gracious with us. Given that, arguing over whether or to what extent God’s love is conditional risks missing the point. God loves the “least in the kingdom” an awful lot if they’re in the kingdom at all! Right?

      5. I think I can interpret your two examples consistently with my view. As to the Prodigal Son, note that the father says to the elder son, “All I have is yours.” In other words, there were consequences to the younger son for blowing all his money–he had no inheritance. But certainly we should be overjoyed to have anyone come to God, regardless of their lack of merit. (As to the prodigal, I am not sure there was a TOTAL lack of “merit”–certainly he owned nothing to give, but he was attempting to offer himself as a hired servant, even though the father brushed that aside.) As to the laborers in the field, I think there is a similar point that we should not begrudge anyone, however late in life or previously profligate in their ways, being allowed into the kingdom with us. (However, I acknowledge that the parable may also suggest that God is not obliged to use a “one-to-one correlation” between what his children do and how he rewards them. But, as you note, there are too many other passages that deal with rewards to doubt differences in how various believers will be treated in heaven.)

        So, how do these passages relate to variation in love? Consider this scenario. What if the younger son had a “relapse”? What if he abandoned home again and never came back? Would the father still be compelled to “love him exactly the same regardless”? I think the father forgave the son and welcomed him lavishly, at least in part, because he “repented” and “came back home.” As to the laborers, we must assume that they gave that last hour their best. What if they were caught napping on the job? Same result? So I don’t think we can push these parables too far as far as their teaching about God’s love is concerned. I still come back to John 14 & 15 about loving God being shown by keeping his commandments, and that who shows such love will be loved by God and Christ.

      6. There were consequences to the younger son for blowing his share of the inheritance. But in the parable those consequences are borne mostly by the father and the older son: all three would have far less to live on for the rest of their lives. Moreover, when the father kills the “fatted calf,” he is literally killing his older son’s fatted calf—since the father has already divided up his estate between the two.

        Remember: the older son in the parable is just as lost as the younger son at the beginning. He’s supposed to be happy that his father is so incredibly gracious, merciful, forgiving… that the father has received the younger son back so freely.

        My point is, if you’re going to make an argument about different degrees of the Father’s love toward us, you ought to find a different scripture. This is most assuredly not a story about anything other than God’s “prodigal” grace. It undoubtedly offended the Pharisees and scribes to whom Jesus directed it.

  2. (For some reason my last comment I made here did not appear to post, so I am putting it here again just in case.)

    Well, I don’t believe I picked out the prodigal as an example–just responded that I don’t think that passage forfeits my point. But I would acknowledge that is not the primary point of that parable.

    Of some possible interest on this question is a passage on the “screen” in church this morning, Psalm 103:8-14. That certainly supports a view that God does not remember our sins against us as believers (v.12 particularly). Burt wouldn’t you know it–the passage does not end there! v.17-18 says, “But from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s LOVE is with those who FEAR him, and his righteousness with their children’s children–with those who KEEP HIS COVENANT and remember to OBEY HIS PRECEPTS.” (NIV).

    The recognition that God has forgiven my sins is of course of considerable comfort. But I still struggle with the notion that God “feels” the same way toward those children of his who obey versus those who don’t (or, do to a minimal extent), and that how God “feels” has nothing to do with “love.” (If the terminology is a problem, perhaps you can substitute “like” instead of “love.”) I simply don’t think we find from our actual experience that we “like” people exactly the same regardless of how they treat us, nor would I expect others (such as my wife) to like me the same regardless of how I treat them (her). And while God is “greater” than us, we are made in his image, and we have his Spirit, and further scripture clearly teaches God is a God of wrath and jealousy as well as love (or liking). I don’t find that scripture teaches these other traits apply only to unbelievers.

    (I just thought of an example that when Jacob was blessing his sons, he said to Reuben, “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel because thou went up to thy father’s bed; then defiled thou it: he went up to my couch.” Genesis 49:4. (KJV).)

    If we think about the matter, why, exactly, do we have such a hard time with the idea that love (or liking) is conditional? It seems to me that this is due to what has been drilled into us from a young age into the present by “pop theologians.” “Unconditional love” is the battle cry. I recognize that you said you don’t hold to that, but it seems to me that you hold to it as to believers. I just don’t see much in scripture that tells me that is how love is. Instead, we see that God “treats people differently” all the time based on what they do. Why does he give different rewards? What IS that supposed to show? Why will some have higher “status” in the kingdom (the Twelve Disciples will judge the twelve tribes of Israel; Jesus does not correct James and John when they ask to sit on either side of him in his kingdom, saying that is for his Father to decide). Why does he talk so differently to those in the seven churches in Revelation? Why does he say, for him who knows what is right but does wrong, he will be beaten with many stripes, but he who does not know and does, few stripes? Why does he say, he who teaches Christ’s commandments and does them, he will be great in the kingdom of heaven, whereas he who teaches and does wrongly will be least? Where is it that he ever says, “all the same,” about ANYTHING?

  3. Brent, I just recalled what I think is a good illustration that I used in a Sunday School class that I taught once on God’s conditional love. Imagine a thermometer. It measures the presence or absence of heat, and to what degree. At a certain temperature, we feel “normal,” neither hot nor cold. Above that, we are “warm” or “hot” to varying increasing degrees. Below that, we are “cool” or “cold” to varying increasing degrees. The degree to which heat can increase is, for all practical purposes, infinite. The degree to which it can get cold is “absolute zero,” no heat at all. So, we can say that the “whole scale” is one of “heat,” but at the same time consider that a certain point on that scale “divides” between what we call hot and cold.

    Likewise, we can posit a spiritual “thermometer” which measures the presence or absence of “love,” and to what degree. We can say that there is a “midpoint” which divides between what we call “love” (or, “liking”) to varying degrees, and what we call “hate” (or, “disliking”) to varying degrees. The degree to which love can elevate is infinite (that within the Godhead itself). The degree to which it can cool is to absolute zero, which is the amount of love God ultimately has for Satan. At some point, when all the books are closed, only those who are above the “midpoint” will go to heaven, and those below to hell. (In fact, the “point” that places one above or below is their response to Christ’s sacrifice.) But just as with heat, there are varying increasing or decreasing degrees.

    Actually, almost on one has any problem on the “negative” end of distinguishing between Jehu on the one hand and Hitler or Stalin on the other. Likewise, in my opinion, the amount of love varies in degrees for those on heaven’s side of the scale, and the basis on which those degrees are measured is, according to John 14 and 15, the obedience to God’s commands. (Other things may factor in as well, but that appears to be the primary one.)

    It is important to note that one’s MOTIVATION is a matter of obedience versus disobedience as well. Thus, for those who obey “for show,” Jesus says, “They have their reward.” But for those who obey “in secret,” God will “reward them openly.” Also, being humble and recognizing one’s need for Christ’s mercy is also a “positive.” (I’m not suggesting we can keep a “calculator”–we have to leave the ultimate evaluation up to God. “I am coming, and I will have my reward with me.”)

Leave a Reply