"God Loves You" Three Dangerous Words in Evangelism

Posted: August 4, 2007 by Daniel in Christianity, difficulties, evangelism, get equipped, purity, reformed, theology

I really want to get Christians thinking about how they present the gospel. I believe all Christians who really know the peace, safety, wonder and grace of a free and eternal salvation through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection will want to share this treasure and spread the good news with those they see walking on in ignorance around them. It is right and good and necessary to point others to Jesus, to warn them of their eternal danger and show them their spiritual state before God. As those who profess that Christ is sovereign or Lord over our lives and hearts I hope it is fair to assume that faithful representation of the gospel is as important an area of obedience and submission to His Lordship as are all other areas of life.

I am often discouraged and disappointed by the official and unofficial efforts of groups and individuals to evangelise using the trite cliché “God loves you”. Sounds innocuous enough at first reading. But I believe that this simple statement presents at worst a lie and at best a hopeful assertion based on little more than humanistic sentiment and a humanly contrived sense of how God “feels” towards all humanity or unknown individuals with no consideration for the infallible and open meaning of the words of Christ, the Bible.

God never asserts that he loves all men head for head in the Bible. John 3:16 cannot be interpreted in the light of its context to mean this. We really need to read what the Bible says, not what we want it to say.

If God is sovereign, King, Lord and first cause of all things then he is also sovereign over salvation. Will we have God to be sovereign over the whole universe including education and yet make him an impotent, unsatisfied dependent and weaker than human being when it comes to the crowning work of His cosmos in the salvation of His church in Christ?

If God is eternal and unchangeable and not reactive to His creatures how can he passively love? In other words if God is God, how can he love those that he condemns to eternity in hell? Does he suddenly change his mind and decide to stop loving those who scorn his supposedly passive and impotent love. Obviously this does not represent the God of the scriptures. The God of the scriptures promises to faithfully and unfailingly save all those that he chooses to set his love upon (John 10:25-30). None can take them away from him. He is God after all. And he even reveals to us the reality that he hardens the hearts of many sinners and gives them over to their sins so that they will not repent and believe and be saved (Romans 1:18&28, Exodus 7:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). To say that God loves these “reprobate” cannot be reconciled with scripture.

That God is love is no reason to assume that this love extends to all men. God is also justice. Do we receive what we deserve from God for our sinfulness? God exists in his absolute perfections and attributes within his triune being without any dependence on his creatures to be whole or complete. He is under no obligation to love any man or creature in their fallen state. That He loves many, many people does not mean He loves all. That He promises to render vengeful justice on those multitudes who remain in their sins does not mean He will punish all men.

Confusing God’s longsuffering with his love is unfaithful to His word. He leaves some men inexcusable and lets them fill the cup of their iniquity that he might judge them all the more harshly for denying his existence and Lordship. He never extended His love to these people or else they would have been changed to repent and believe in Him. “What if God willing to show His wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” asks Paul of the self righteous racially proud Israelites in Romans 9:22.

That God is good to all men does not equate to God loves all men. The goodness that God rains down on all men will only serve to heap up more fuel for God’s anger against those whom He sovereignly passes over and leaves in their natural sinful state. Greater gifts from God require greater responsibility in the receiver. To whom much is given much is expected. The reprobate human who has been gifted with beauty, wealth, health pleasure and abundant access to the means of God’s grace in the gospel and fellowship of believers can never say that they were recipients of God’s love. The natural man, fallen in sin, takes all these good things and uses them in the service of idols, he fails the test. He hates the giver or seeks to deny His existence. All humankind is in this position of hatred to the Father of Light and in this position they are children of wrath. God’s righteous anger hangs over them in pending judgment.

Jesus Christ prays for his sheep in this situation. He saves His sheep. They hear his voice in the Gospel. They recognize their name “sinner”. They are made to see their plight “condemned”. They alone are able to see the kingdom of heaven through the door that now appears open to them in the Gospel that has touched their hearts and been planted by the Spirit. They now believe in Jesus Christ, that He alone can make them right with God. He alone will take them through His own person to be in a position where they can know and experience the love of God. God plans this. 1 Peter 1:2-7 God has determined that His children will be saved through the means of the gospel. The Gospel is not “God loves you”. The gospel is Jesus calling out to the lost sheep in the darkness of this world “repent and believe” and all those that are his sheep will hear and respond to the voice of their shepherd (John 8:47 & John 10:1-30).

All men are called to repent and believe in Christ the sin offering, but only those that God loves will respond in faith to this call of the Gospel when he makes them willing to believe in the day of his power. Jesus never, ever, ever went and preached the easy believism “God loves you”. Jesus was scathing of those that assumed self righteousness or some claim on the favour of God. Jesus only ever pronounced the favour of God on those that he knew to be his. Jesus only ever prayed to the Father for his sheep. Jesus was absolutely clear about the fact that he came to love, live and die for those that the Father had given Him before the foundations of the earth (John 17). The Jesus of the scriptures, the incarnate Word ascended to the right hand of God cannot be pleased with such a gross misrepresentation of the Word which he embodies.

Below I have included some pertinent scriptural references. That God doesn’t love everyone is not the central message of the Bible, nor is it a truth that needs to be overemphasized. It does however need to be recognized to ensure that the truth and integrity of the Gospel is maintained when we proclaim it.

Jude: 4
2 Peter 2:9
Romans 9
2 Thessalonians 1:7-8

God’s love is constantly affirmed and demonstrated and presented as a given to God’s people, those who have faith. The furthest it extends to those outside of faith is to those who are yet to be called to the faith who are still in their sins or yet to be born but have already been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1

No doubt you are familiar with all these passages. God’s Word is truth. Jesus Christ is the truth and true revelation of God and His word. Are we helping the cause of the Gospel of our incarnate God by processing it through our simplistic humanistic paradigm that seeks to understand God’s love as a merely human sentiment and acts to produce millions of these easily swallowed sugar coated gospel substitute “God Loves You” tablets to feed to our spiritually starved neighbours who often don’t know who God is or what he is like and requires of them? Did Jesus say “you shall know the untruth and the untruth shall set you free? Is it a small thing to misrepresent the Word?

Please don’t just write this off as fanatical or imbalanced. I am really and prayerfully seeking to be faithful and to help build up those I believe to be brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe Christians who promote the “God loves you” gospel are also often seeking to be faithful. That doesn’t mean we and they can’t get it wrong sometimes. Please consider what I have said in light of the whole testimony of the Word.

Article written by Josh.

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Comments
  1. joarm says:

    Hope this isn’t too long or controversial.

  2. Thanks so much for this post.

    I am so glad that you are contributing here Josh – you have some important things to say and the ability to say them clearly and with persuasion. Well done, you have really raised the bar.

    I think that one reason that Christians may have a negative reaction to what you have said is that when they came to Christ they were told that God loves them – and that was their motive for coming. They then may have moved on to have a central interpretive motif that God loves everyone and that this is what they should pass on to everyone. What you have said is going to buffet against these Christians and challenge them to rethink what they are presenting to others.

  3. J D says:

    Josh,
    Your article is very correct. Preachers use to work for a living, like everyone else. Now that it is a full time paid position we have encountered many new problems. If your survival is based on how many people you can fill the building with, instead of biblical truth, one tends to bend God’s word in order to fill the offering plate. People are now told that all you have to do is to love God and he will love you back. God’s new testament has conditions that must be met. God is treated like a personal problem solver. Lukewarm Christians call on God to solve all their problems. It is almost like telling people that God will serve them if they just show up to church. People dance in church as they sing, drink coffee, and eat cookies. If God showed himself in these lukewarm social meetings, those people would be hugging the floor and begging for mercy. Living for God, instead of living for yourself, is a humbling experience. Eight times, the Bible tells us to greet each other with a holy kiss, but who cares, that would be embarrassing. We are told how to dress, but that would be outdated. We are to be known by our actions, but that would not be popular. We are told to gather on the first day of the week to break bread, but who wants to cook all that unleavened bread every week. Before my son died, he remarked that, “God’s love is so great that there are no words to express its greatness, but we must remember that God’s wrath equals his love.”

  4. Des says:

    Interesting thoughts! If God doesn’t love the sinner how am I supposed to get saved, If I am under condemnation which I really deserve how does Christ die for me if he doesn’t love or care about me! I am not reformed i was looking to find out about it. I understand that we don’t gain anything by “God loves you” statements like I see brainwashed into my nephew on those baby faith tapes however if God doesn’t love us how do we know he died for us or did he just die for you and I am destined for hells everlasting flames. I am not trying to be arguementative just trying to comprenhend what this reformed way of thinking is all about thanks for the website.

  5. Josh says:

    Hi Des,
    I know where you are coming from. About 15 years ago I asked all those questions and many more in relation to reformed theology of the people who I knew believed it was true. A few important things to understand are some principles of getting theology or knowledge of God from the Bible. I believe God’s word is consistant, perfect and doesn’t contradict itself but rather has simpler and more clear passages to help interpret the more difficult parts. The way the good news about Jesus atoning work is presented by those who were called to preach and promote it (the apostles and early church pastors and leaders and all believers everywhere) is that all men everywhere are to be commanded to turn from their sins (hate them, stop doing them) and trust that Jesus is the only sacrifice suitable for their great needs. This demand and offer always go hand in hand. Jesus clearly stated that all who come to Him in faith for salvation will not be turned away or cast out of his presence. He also made it clear that people who come to Him out of false pretence (to look good, to appear as something that they don’t actually believe in) have no part with him. Jesus words are the test for our being loved by God. We have to labour hard in the Word of God to see what Jesus said, to believe what Jesus said, and to be encouraged and satisfied by the promises he gives to all who believe. If you believe Jesus at his word, if you actually love His person, His character and his divine work of redemption then God’s Spirit has already worked in you, making you willing and able to believe. You would never consider God as good and his demands as reasonable and yourself a worthless sinner and Jesus an awesome saviour if God’s Holy spirit hadn’t fundamentally changed your spiritual nature from being dead to alive. How can you know if you are loved by God – good question and the answer is kind of another question – do you believe in Him, do you believe what He says, do you experience the change of heart that makes you want to be right with Him through Jesus. If you do believe, If you do have faith then God already loves you. Hence the Holy Spirit is likened to the wind, moving without human volition and changing lives from the inside out so that we see its effect but don’t know where it came from or where it will go next. Jesus continually says that His sheep here is voice and follow him. Jesus laid down his life for his sheep. No greater act of love was ever shown. If we hear his voice we will want to follow if we see ourselves as those that need a Saviour.
    I haven’t included any scriptural references which I apologise for. There are some great resources about assurance of God’s love and knowing if we are saved and many references in the four gospels regarding the promises I have spoken about. I hope this helps Des. Check out the reformed confessions on the link to Christian Reformed Church of Launceston on this site. The Heidelberg Catechism is really clear on this and so is the Westminster Confession of Faith. They are both statements of what Christians (reformed Christians) believe the bible teaches regarding matters such as the ones you queried. They have scripture references too. Enjoy

  6. I don’t believe that “God loves you” is inherently wrong. In fact, looking at the most famous verse of all time, John 3:16, it clearly states that “God so loved the world….” Thus I don’t think it’s wrong at all.

    But before you all jump me, let me address what I do think is wrong. What I do think is wrong is using the phrase “God loves you” in most evangelistic outreaches. That sends the wrong message. In fact, it’s why most backsliders backslide and most Christians are lukewarm: because the message “God loves you” has replaced “God hates sin, and must therefore punish you for it, because he is a holy God.” (Which could bring us to another question, what is the “fear of God,” but maybe later.)

    Josh, you hit it head on. I commend you for it, brother, because so many people these days absolutely refuse to tackle the flaws of modern Christianity with the Bible. Great work!

    Please check out my blog at http://areturntochristianity.blogspot.com/ and listen to Paul Washer’s “Evangelism Conference 2002.” Once you do that, spread the word. Please.

  7. colleen bennett says:

    I will just say that many that have turned from religion because of the Christians. These are people who have grown up in churches and been hurt. I personally am not one of those but have friends that are. God loves you says nothing to them when they are hurting. Fear of God sends them running because they think God is a scary guy who could never forgive them. When we finally turn out lives to God and surrender all is when we learn by ourselves how much he really loves us. Until then the righteous people scare us to thinking we don’t want to be like them..so self righteous. None believers need to understand that christians aren’t perfect and the reason we have our faith is usually because we have failed God so many times and He Still Loves Us. With that in mind non belivers can see that we are just like them people who mess up but still want and need to be loved.

  8. Colleen, thanks for your comment.

    I think it is safe to assume that many people have been hurt by Christians. I also think it is safe to assume that many people have been hurt by many people.

    I always aim to share with people that I too am a sinner. Unfortunately it is often difficult for people to hear past their objection to Christianity. Many people just don’t actually want to hear the gospel, let alone think about it and the implications for their lives. I was speaking with one such person less than an hour ago.

    What Josh is stating in the above post is that we need to be careful in how we explain the love of God to people. We could think we are doing them a favour in saying that God loves them, when there is the reality of their relentless rebellion against God. We have to ask the question – does the bible teach that God loves everyone?

  9. courtney says:

    Josh,

    Thankyou for that. Your message was very succinct. I truly believe that every word was spot on.

  10. Paul Rivas says:

    I think that your notion that unrequited love being impotent is incorrect. God’s love being extended even to those who reject him does not make him powerless. It makes him loving. In loving there is always the possibility that love will not be returned, even for God. In first Timothy 2:4 we are told that God wants all people to be saved. Does it make him powerless because this desire is not met?
    By saying that God only loves those who love or will eventually love him you make his love conditional and trite. Jesus asks, “”If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” Do you truly believe that God’s love is less than a sinners? No! His love is so powerful and strong he can love even those who do not love him in return. We see this in Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man. Mark 10:21-22 “Jesus looked at him and LOVED him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
    At this the man’s face fell. He WENT AWAY sad, because he had great wealth.” (See also Hosea and Matthew 23:37)
    Your dismissal of John 3:16 is also problematic. If Jesus did not mean “God loves everyone” he would have used a different word than “world” he would have said that God loved the chosen or something like that. The fact that Jesus indeed meant “God loves everyone” is strengthened by the following verses that state that not everyone will believe. That is, God’s love and salvation is extended to all, but not everyone responds.
    You also claim that, “That God is good to all men does not equate to God loves all men.” But the Bible disproves your claim. In Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6: 32-36 Jesus tells us to not only love our neighbors, but our enemies. He says that then we will be like our Father in heaven who is kind to the just and the unjust. Here Jesus himself equates doing good to someone with loving them.
    As a minor point, John 10:25-30 does not mention love one way or another. You have taken your belief that God only loves those he chooses and superimposed it on this. No where do these verses say that he will save all that he loves.
    I also think your supposition followed to its logical conclusion would lead to disobeying the very words of Jesus. We are told repeatedly in scripture to be like God. If, as you assert, God loves only those he chooses, then we should love only those who are Christians. But we are told by Jesus to love even those who are not part of our group, even those who are our enemies. (Again see Luke 6:32-36 and Matthew 5:42-48)
    Finally I leave you with Psalm 145:9 9
    “The LORD is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.” (Note that the word compassion is translated in Daniel 1:9 as ‘tender love” (KJV))

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