“For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him. If we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. “(2 Tim 2:11-13)
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name…I will vindicate the holiness of My great name…Then the nations will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezek. 36:22-23)
I have written and spoken much over the years about how modern Christendom has made grace in to something God never intended by making it in to an idol we set up that allows us to forgive ourselves of anything we desire and live worldly, carnal lives while believing we are “saved.” Part of what reinforces our misconception of grace is our equally false notion of God as being love, only love, and completely love. Two verses in 1 John 4 which say “God is love” are commonly used to define Him in this fashion. While I fully agree God is love, is that all He is?
Breaking down the verse from 2nd Timothy above, a verse also commonly used to justify false grace and the notion God is only love, we find within context it reveals just the opposite. Paul states several “conditions” that must be present for a person to be truly saved, and the consequences if they are not. He says we must die with Christ, we must endure with Christ, and if we do not and therefore deny Him “He also will deny us.” It is in the next sentence the misinterpretation takes place, and that by removing it from the context of what was just stated. Those who purport God is only love and embrace a false grace say even if we are faithless Jesus remains faithful to us, but that stands in direct conflict to the context and is therefore not at all what the passage says.
Within its proper context we find the One Jesus must remain faithful to is Himself, and not us. In the verse from Ezekiel above we find God rebuking His people for profaning His name among the nations, which leads to an explanation of why we were ever called as a people or saved in the first place. It was not because God was faithful to us, but to His own purpose. In Genesis 17 God said He would make a covenant between He and Abraham and his descendants. Prior to this Abraham hadn’t a clue he was going to be the father of a chosen race. God: wholly, sovereignly, and without influence from any created being decided to select a people for Himself. Never throughout God’s declaration to Abraham did He mention his value or worthiness for this supreme honor. He simply declares, “I will be your God.”
Notice in Hebrews 8 where God sees the impossibility of the first covenant succeeding and sets up a new one, which is the one we now live under the very same process takes place. He says His first people could not keep His first covenant and He had actually stopped caring for them. This is indeed an untenable situation for “the God of love.” So once again while His people were clueless He wholly, sovereignly, and without influence from any created being acted by setting up the New Covenant that would provide for a way for His new people to keep it. And once again, as with the first covenant He declares, “I will be your God.” In neither case do we see God declaring He was going to redeem us because we were valuable, worthy, or deserving. No, in fact He set up the New Covenant because His people had failed Him so badly. Romans 5 confirms this by declaring while we were still in our sin Christ came.
When His people rebelled against His first covenant and profaned His name among the nations, God reminded them of why they were selected in the first place and why He would redeem them in spite of their witness before the whole world. It was “not for their sakes,” their worthiness, or their value He would act then any more than it was when He first made the covenant with them, or the second one with us. No, it was for His sake alone, to vindicate His name so the nations would know, in spite of Israel’s condition, He was Lord! This is who He always remains faithful to: Himself, just like the verse from 2nd Timothy states. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:7-8), so if He remained faithful to us even when we were faithless, would that not make Him faithless to Himself? How could He possibly remain faithful to the faithless if “it is impossible to come to God without faith” (Heb. 11:6)?
When the Prodigal decided to leave home and live in sin and rebellion, the Father did not follow him because that would have meant He would have been unfaithful to Himself and His own holiness. No, He waited patiently by the gate for His son to repent [“come to his senses”] so that He could be faithful to His own promises by showing the son grace and love when he finally did turn around! When the son decided to “die to himself” he was welcomed back to “live with” his Father. When he decided to return to “endure with his Father” he was welcomed to “reign with” his Father. But as long as he “denied his Father,” he was also “denied” the ring, the sandals, and the banquet [per 2nd Timothy].
There are many attributes of God, and among them is one called “impassibility.” This means God is without passions. He is not overwhelmed by any emotion, and not incapacitated or weakened or stifled by any event or any amount of grief or love. Rather, God is totally self-controlled. While God does grieve, and does passionately love, he does so completely by purpose. The perfect picture of this is the cross. God couldn’t have possibly executed His own Son who was begging, “Father, if it is possible please let this cup pass” if emotions were allowed to rule, for the pain both were about to endure would have overwhelmed them and those “twelve legions of angels” would have surely been sent. But they were not.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us for the joy set before Him of “bringing many sons to glory” Jesus endured the cross, “despising the shame.” Would you willingly do such a thing if emotions ruled your character? May it never be! No, justice ruled that day! Judgement upon sin and death ruled over even the love the Father had for the Son! And it wasn’t love for us that was the motive, it was zeal for His original covenant and for His holy name that led Jesus to the Cross of Calvary! Our impassable God knew without the supreme sacrifice sin could not be dealt with, and so “was pleased to crush Him” (Isa. 53:10)!
God is also “omnipotent,” which means He is all in all and everything and all-powerful and almighty. God is not restrained to bow allegiance to any one of His attributes but is all-powerful in all of them. Combining these two attributes, it becomes evident that while God is love that attribute does not claim sovereignty over all His other attributes.
Therefore, if God were only love as so many believe, does that then not by definition relegate Him to something less than God? If He is so overtaken by the emotion of love that it is all He is and it negates His characteristics of justice, righteousness, discernment and judgement, does that not violate both attributes of impassibility and omnipotence? Does He not then cease, by definition, to be God? One verse in Isaiah serves as a constant reminder the almighty, omnipotent, unchangeable, impassable, all-in-all God of the universe refuses to be packaged in a box labelled love: “There is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other: the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity! I am the Lord who does all these” (Isa 45:6-7)! He does “it all” because He is “it all!”
Finally, will Jesus not be our ultimate Judge? John 5 and Revelation 5 tell us it is the Son who will judge because the Father has given Him the scepter of judgement, and that all should honor [fear, revere] the Son as they do the Father. Elsewhere in Revelations Jesus is pictured on a white battle horse, garments dripped in blood, wielding a sword that will destroy nations! Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying Jesus would come “to proclaim justice [krisis: damnation, judgment, justice] to the Gentiles, and in no fewer than 12 places the wrath of God is mentioned in the NT. Is God only love? While I certainly believe God is, holds, and sends in to our hearts the greatest love of all, to say that His power to love overwhelms His equally powerful discernment, passion for justice, and judgment is simply not true no matter how much we would like it, for our own sakes, to be.
That said, I do believe God is always good. In Hebrews 12 we are exhorted to not forget our place as sons by disregarding the discipline of the Lord. In this passage the Writer tells us the reason we must be “scourged” [literally flogged or whipped] as sons is because love actually demands it! Any parent knows at times love must be tough, and at times it must be tender for love to do what it is meant to do, and that is to bear fruit. John 15 goes to great lengths to tell us those who abide in God’s love bear fruit. It’s what they do. John also tells us the method God uses to get us to bear more and more fruit. It is the same way the Writer of Hebrews says He does it: by “pruning [scourging]” us. Hebrews goes on to say it is “for our good!” So, whether God is reassuring us with tender love or disciplining us with tough love, He is always good. Even the perception of love by those who say God is only love is false if it refers only to tender love.
Just because we perceive Jesus to be lopsided in character towards love because that is how we have experienced Him to date under the dispensation of grace, does not mean that is “all” of who He is. That is a false perception built upon our experience, not truth. A new dispensation is coming, and soon, when the Savior will hand over the gavel to the Judge and the Lamb will step aside so the Lion can roar! Then we will see a very different Jesus than the one we think we now know. That is a time Luke tell us we will find men “fainting from fear” due to the expectation of what is coming upon the world. That “what is coming” will be a Jesus we have never witnessed to date, and on that day these myths proclaiming God is only love will be shattered as all myths eventually are. That is the truth about the Jesus we serve—the Jesus to be loved and feared.