Does God love us just the way we are?
SPROUL: The kingdom of God is not Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. There are few things more dangerous than preachers preaching that God loves everybody unconditionally, because the message people hear is: “There are no conditions. I can continue to live just as I’m living, in full rebellion against God, and I have nothing to worry about because there aren’t any conditions that I have to meet. God loves me unconditionally. I don’t have to repent. I don’t have to come to Jesus. I don’t have to leave my life of sin. There are no conditions and no strings attached; God loves me just the way I am. He’s glad that I turned out so nicely.”
I’ve written a book on the love of God in which I talk about three ways that theologians speak about the love of God. First, there is God’s love of benevolence, wherein God has a good will towards everybody, both believers and non-believers. Second, there is the beneficent love of God, or that love by which God gives benefits to people whether they’re believers or not believers: “The rain falls on the just as well as on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). The third and most important consideration is the love of complacency. The love of complacency is not the love of smugness, but rather the filial love that God has for the redeemed. That love is directed first to Christ and then to all who are in Christ, our Elder Brother, and that salvific love is not something God has for everybody unconditionally.
Sometimes we close our eyes to what the Bible frequently says about God’s posture towards the impenitent. God, the Bible tells us, abhors the wicked. That is strong language. God abhors and detests the wicked who are impenitent. Then people say, “God loves the sinner; He just hates the sin.” But He doesn’t send the sin to hell; He sends the sinner to hell. So, it is very dangerous when we tell people, “God loves you unconditionally.” We have to do things from a biblical perspective rather than trying to change the biblical character of God. God is angry every day against the wicked, and justly so. Every impenitent sinner is exposed every second to the rage and fury of God’s wrath, as Paul tells us in Romans 1:18 and following.
There is no understanding of the good news apart from the bad news. Christ came into the world that was already under the universal indictment for rejecting God the Father while the clear revelation of God was made manifest to every human being. Our nature is so fallen that we don’t want God in our thinking, we don’t want God in our minds, and we want so much to win people to Christ that we’ll do everything we can to hide from them the reality of the wrath of God. We don’t tell them that for every moment they refuse to repent, they are heaping up wrath. People aren’t afraid of the wrath of God, and it’s because we’re telling them, “You don’t have to be afraid of God because God is nice and His kingdom is like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
MACARTHUR: It takes the terror out of it. “Knowing the terror of the Lord,” Paul says, “we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). It’s a fearful, terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). The preaching that God loves you unconditionally is the wrong message. The sinner needs to be terrified about his condition. He doesn’t need to feel comfortable with the idea that he’s turned out so well, as R.C put it.
SPROUL: Just in the last year, John, I’ve had two guys come into membership in our church as adults—baptized as adults, by the way—whose testimonies are that what drove them to the gospel was that they realized they were on their way to hell, and it literally scared the “hell” out of them.
LAWSON: Yeah, and rightly so.
MACARTHUR: Part of what Steve was saying earlier is that if we’re going to ever call a nation to righteousness, the preaching has to dramatically change.
This is a transcript of R.C. Sproul’s and John MacArthur’s answers given during our 2012 West Coast Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.