God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Some of us have an image of God as the meanest schoolteacher we’ve ever had, someone who demands perfection and delights in punishing us when we don’t measure up to that standard. We live with the faint hope that this time we’ll do better, but in our hearts, we’re sure we’ll fail and get blasted again.
Jesus shattered that false image of God. His heart, His delight, His passion was to impart the love of God to every person on the planet. He moved toward the people condemned so He could demonstrate His grace to them. He touched lepers, befriended prostitutes, and stopped to give attention to sick women. All were condemned by others, but not by Jesus.
Was Jesus ever tough? Yes, He reserved harsh language for those who condemned the poor and oppressed the needy. He was angry that anyone would get in the way of God’s desire to rescue, redeem, and restore broken people.
Jesus’ love for people wasn’t just sentimental feeling, He took initiative and action to connect with people, touch them physically and spiritually, and make a difference in their lives. A mean schoolteacher? No, not at all. He’s the most loving parent and dearest friend anyone can ever have.
I can’t understand how God could love us so much that two thousand years before we were born He sent His Son into the world to die on the cross for the sins we were going to commit. But just because I don’t understand that love doesn’t mean I can’t accept it.
I remember thinking as a child that there were times when my parents were the meanest people in the world. Usually it was when I wanted to do something that they felt wasn’t good for me. As a child I knew I was invincible and all my wants were good things to be enjoyed. I had no idea of danger or harm that could come from any of my ideas. One of the things I remember was the incident of the grapevine. We had found a grapevine that allowed us to swing out over a pretty deep hollow and we imagined ourselves as Tarzan. The thrill of flying high above the ground was almost indescribable. My father found out about it and cut the grapevine so we couldn’t reach it. As that child, my perception was that he was just a killjoy. I wasn’t wise enough to know the danger should that vine break when we were at the highest point. I didn’t think about the fall and perhaps the magnitude of injury or even death, but my dad did and so he protected me against myself even at the risk of my not liking him for the moment.
Love moves us to act sometimes against the wishes of those we love. And when we do their perception of us may suffer. Parents experience this phenomenon frequently. I think that most parents make their decisions out of love and care for their children and when they restrict activity or withhold something from their children, they do so because their love moves them to protect. Most parents want what’s best for their children and strive toward that goal. Parent’s wisdom usually comes from experience and maturity. As they have passed through life, they often learn from their mistakes and observations and they wish to use them to help their children avoid the pitfalls of life.
Often we forget that God has always existed and that He created the universe and instituted the laws that govern it. When He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden, He provided for them the best of everything. They were given a place of delight. No tedious labor, no sickness or disease and even death couldn’t visit that place. In the Garden He placed a single tree among all the other trees. One rule He gave: you can eat of all the trees in the Garden except one and if you break the one rule, you will bring suffering and death upon you. They broke the rule, received the sentence, and then God intervened in mercy and grace and offered them pardon through the future death of His own Son. If we paused the story in the middle, we would conclude that God is a strict, demanding Being. But if we read the end of the story, our perception of God is radically different as we see how His love and grace offered a way out.
Many in our world today are pushing to live anyway they wish without any consequences. Some justify their lifestyle by professing they do it in love. Many resist and reject the idea that they should have any restrictions or limits. Like children, they demand their way and when they don’t get their way, they respond with temper-tantrums. They draw the wrong conclusion and paint God as a mean, joy killer, and harsh teacher and judge who waits as a spider to pounce upon His prey the moment they fail.
That view, however, ignores the cross that paints the picture of a loving God. While the law of the universe brings consequences and justice to lawbreakers, the grace of God offers redemption. No, God won’t let us do whatever we want or have whatever we want. Yes, He will discipline us when we start down the wrong path. But His motive isn’t to make our lives miserable but safe.
One of the things I discovered as a child is that the things that can harm us are usually the most attractive. That grapevine held an amazing attraction and when my dad removed the temptation, I wasn’t a happy camper. We may want to rebel against God’s instructions. We may want to accuse Him of being mean when we don’t get our way. But when we grow up, we realize that everything that God prohibits is destructive to us. When I grew up and especially when I had children of my own, I began to appreciate my mom and dad’s love. I realized that my selfish, demanding self had given them pain. When I accused them of being unkind and uncaring while all the time they were acting to protect and shield me, I was being a brat. When the day came that I realized their love for me was greater than their need for me to like them, I was ashamed for the way I’d acted. The look on their faces when I apologized for conduct and thanked them for being the best parent in the world was priceless.
One day we will stand before God and on that day our understanding will be opened. In that moment, we will realize fully that all the while God has acted in love toward us and those things that we wanted to do but He wouldn’t let us were as harmful as He said they were.
When God corrects us, He doesn’t condemn us. When He spoke to the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, His words are clear, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Christ didn’t negate the fact that her actions were sinful. He didn’t embrace her lifestyle but He embraced her. He offered her forgiveness and grace but He also instructed her to cease her sin. That’s the full measure of grace. Yes, God loves us. Yes, God has placed restrictions and limits on acceptable conduct. Yes, He offers us grace, mercy, and forgiveness. No, He doesn’t condemn us but one day He will judge us. And yes, He insists that we cease sinful practices. And all of this because He loves us, He really does!
Dr. John Thompson