“…how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…” – Ephesians 3:18 NIV
God loves us, so God forgives us, right? It would be easy to let such a feel-good statement slide by unchallenged. It would also be wrong.
A couple of years ago, as my in-laws downsized from house-scale to apartment-scale belongings, my father-in-law gave me a spare copy of a venerable devotional, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. These snippets of Chambers’ talks and lectures, given nearly a century ago, will take you deeper, faster into the essence of Christian faith than just about anything I’ve read short of the Bible itself. In the Nov. 21 entry, Chambers warned:
“Never build your preaching of forgiveness on the fact that God is our Father and He will forgive us because he loves us. It is untrue to Jesus Christ’s revelation of God; it makes the Cross unnecessary, and the Redemption ‘much ado about nothing.'”
In other words, the journey from God’s love to God’s forgiveness isn’t nonstop. If it were, everyone would go to heaven, because God does love everyone. Such thinking misses an entire dimension of that love, not to mention His character – holy, pure and incapable of disregarding sin. The real road to forgiveness leads through justice and repentance.
Sin is every human’s heritage of rebellion against God. It demands justice at a greater cost than anyone but God can pay. It’s an understatement, then, to say that God loved us enough to forgive us. The godhead – Father, Son and Spirit in perfect unity – loved us enough to see that the unfathomably high price of justice for our sin was paid at the cross. Nothing less would do.
The apostle Paul set it out plainly: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood…he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25-26 NIV)
Did you catch that? “Just” – the holy God – “and the one who justifies” – the loving God. Both qualities reached their highest expression at the cross.
Grasping this helps me to wrap my brain around one concept – Hell – that can be an impossible hurdle to belief in the God of the Bible. I suspect that many who do believe, choose to edit Hell out of their personal creeds. We ask, is sin really that bad? That might be a fair question if sin were the only issue. It is much more than that.
Consider again how high the price, how big the love that it took to make the path to a right relationship with God. To reject God’s invitation is to reject everything behind it: His judgment on sin as reckoned by the price He put on it, and His love that’s big enough to provide justice that spares the guilty. This was the love Jesus spoke of in the Bible verse we’ve seen and heard countless times: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)
But listen to what Jesus said of believers and unbelievers in almost the next breath: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18) Not condemned for sin alone; sin is the common denominator of believers and unbelievers. Condemned for unbelief in the only Name that can erase the stain of sin.
If God loves us so much, why doesn’t He simply sweep us away in a divine flood of that love? God’s love is overwhelming, but He doesn’t overwhelm us with it against our will. He leaves us the space to choose to repent and receive salvation.