For Love of Sinners
I grew up around one of those cliché masters, “For the love of God!” Even his cursing fell short of taking the name of the Lord in vain. “Cheese and rice” was acceptable replacement cursing for “Jesus Christ.” Even “Jeepers Jenny” made me suspicious. As I meditated this week on love as a motivation for evangelism, I searched my soul for the mysterious element of love for sinners. It must not be a cliche but a lifestyle.
When I became Reformed in my faith, I joined a notorious band of God glorifying pre-suppositional apologists for the faith. Their theological arguments were simply better than my Roman Catholic, Methodist, Fundamental Baptist, and Dispensationalist earlier orientations. I desperately tried to shirk my credo-Baptist leanings so I could escape congregational church governance and find refuge in some form of hierarchy. Still, today, I remain a Baptist and I am happily Reformed, and I am apparently stuck with church governance as I have known it in the ministry. Holding particular doctrinal positions can be a costly form of discipleship. But there is a problem with me and people like me.
Where’s the love? Well, that is the problem. Reformed Baptists love doctrine and love Jesus (in that order?) and put up with people…even their own kind…sometimes. In the fight against principalities and powers, who are behind the promulgation of bad theology, love quickly grows cold. We are champions of truth, but it is almost as if heretics make better lovers. There is an enormous amount of posing with these imposters, however. I suppose we will know them by their pseudo-love for one another. In spiritual matters, one must begin with a love for God who is true. The god of the Christian cults is not true, so love is not genuine in the congregation of cultists. We need love and truth.
Jesus, who said, “I am…the truth…,” preached the supremacy of love while he was arguing, “Truly, truly… “ It begins with love for God, and it extends in love for people. Love is essential, but love is often missing. How can we be deficient in the most integral component to our identity and practice? Well, love is a product of God, who is both love and truth. The fruit of the Spirit is love…(Gal 5:22). It is first on that very important list of distinctions between the rivals — flesh and the Spirit. Is the Holy Spirit withholding love, causing this drought? No, the Bible teaches us that when there is a problem, the problem is us.
The flesh is at war with the Spirit. We all begin biological life in the flesh, and our sin nature causes us to live selfishly in the quest to gratify the flesh. The apostle Paul wrote, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (Rom 7:18a).” The flesh operates in obedience to the law of sin (Rom 7:25b). The flesh is sold into bondage to sin (Rom 7:14b). Our flesh is a natural enemy to a holy God, because we are guilty of crimes, worthy of judgment, committed against the good Law of God.
But God sent Jesus Christ, in love, to lay down His own life for His people (Jn 15:13). God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and demonstrating His love toward us. Christ died for ungodly sinners, who were walking through life in the futility of their fleshly minds, disobedient to the Law of God, and in sinful indulgence of the flesh. Pride had dominion of the heart. The lust of the eyes wanted to serve in every way, the lust of the flesh.
But God had mercy upon whom He desired to have mercy. He sent His Holy Spirit to disrupt our journey on the wide way to hell and eternal punishment. He caused us to be born again of God (1 Pet 1:3). He delivered us from the domain of darkness and slavery to sin (Rom 8:15; Col 1:13). By His grace, we know His love for us, which should produce the most humble and grateful creatures in the universe. My argument is that this is what is lacking, and we must remedy it for effective evangelism.
Evangelism is communicating God’s love for sinners (Jn 3:16). There is a number of ways we are falling short of the love of God, and I wish to address this deficiency that I possess, and which I witness regularly in my brethren.
First, we are not God. God is love, and we are clay in the re-making process. We will never be God, so perfect love will always prove elusive for us. We must not expect perfection in love, during our tenure upon the earth. We must acknowledge Christ, the standard, however. We are being conformed to the image of Christ, who is God, who is love, who is true. Love should increase in our Christian life.
Second, because our love is not perfect, there is a dimension of fear that persists in us (1 Jn 4:18). This is too broad a subject to unpack here, but it might be summed up with the fear of loss. My reputation might lose value if I am detected as being one of those Jesus freaks. Pride is usually the medicine for fear in sinful people. We puff up pride in ourselves, as a cover up for fear of losing face with people, heading headlong into an eternity of unquenchable fire. Thus, pride is the antithesis of love. When we are not loving others, it is fear, and it is pride crimping our loving evangelism.
Third, we are too busy trying to gain a life for ourselves that we believe we cannot afford to lose our lives for the sake of another. We forsake financial investments in the kingdom, by hoarding resources in disobedience to clear biblical teaching (Lk 12; Heb 13:5). We refuse to invest time in hardened sinners. We withhold the spiritual gifts that could be a blessing and an inspiration to other Christians, releasing their spiritual gifts for the benefit of sinners. Christ laid down His life for us, should we not lay down our lives for the brethren (1 Jn 3:16–17)? Should our love also extend to more than the church? God’s love is perfectly abundant because He is infinite; therefore, we can give love away like God does toward us. God gives. Christ gives. Spirit gives. Love gives. We should give.
Fourth, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must be obedient to Christ’s command to us. Love in our hearts will manifest in words of love toward others. We can practice this at home and really be peculiar in the world around us. We might even make loving disciples of our children and extended family. It is costly. Paul suffered for the sake of the elect (2 Tim 2:10). He followed Christ’s example in the joy of suffering.
Christ suffered for us, and we must join in His sufferings. The writer of Hebrews captured this, “For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one (Heb 10:34).” 1 Peter is a practical instruction manual for how to suffer well as a Christian. We die to self so that others might live. This resembles Jesus, in whose steps we follow.
Fifth, our first love for sinners is to meet their greatest unfelt need. They need to be saved from God. God’s wrath is revealed against their ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). We must warn them of the wrath to come, if we actually love them. The insinuation is perceived immediately. By exposing evil in sinners, you are judging them in truth, but they do not usually receive it as love from you. I often have to reassure sinners that I am not their judge, nor am I judging them. I show them John 3:18, which declares they are condemned already!
It takes boldness to speak to people this way, but late converts, like myself, grieve that so many Christians kept me in the dark on this subject for years. Sinners need honest, humble, loving saints who will talk to them about the realities of sin, judgment, punishment, and eternity. Speak the truth in love. They will appreciate you on the day of judgment, and your love for them will be recognized as an aroma, a fragrance of life or a fragrance of death (2 Cor 3:14–15). Flowers are for sunlit gardens and darkened funeral parlors. The need is unfelt, which is why sinners continue in sin. Sin is like leprosy. We must help them feel the threat posed against them. The fear of God is produced by knowing God. We must help them learn of God and remind them that time is fleeting.
Sixth, most sinners are not opposed to evangelism. Rarely, in all of my years of evangelizing have I had a hostile resistance to my approach. Of course, the approach matters. We must demonstrate a spirit of love, which should not be difficult if we are walking by the Spirit and walking in love. The tenor of speech reveals an authentic concern to meet someone’s need, or it can reveal a “Here are the facts! Turn or burn!” confrontation. Love loves. Confrontation is sometimes done in desperate situations, but most evangelistic encounters are not life or death in the moment desperate acts. Even when sharing with someone on their death bed, a kind and gentle spirit is fine. God saves.
Seventh, we preach, and God gives faith. Too much Arminian manipulation has created false conversions of people who actually turn bitter against Christianity and most vigorously oppose the work of the church. When the church tricks someone into following Christ, we have created twice the child of hell. We must preach Christ and Him crucified, faithfully. Then, we must wait for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction of sin to the person. This can sometimes take years, even decades.
We must plant the seed of the Word, and then water it when possible. God gives the increase for the harvest. He is also the harvester. Christians acting as “closers,” as if they have successfully sold Christ to a sinner, will press for “decisions.” Church numbers are up! Often, the goats in mega situations outnumber the sheep. It creates an infinite loop of goats demanding goat food, not the good Word of God. Pastors succumb to the demands of the goat herd in order to retain their positions and remunerations as goat herders. If we are faithful with the stewardship of the Gospel entrusted to us, He will be faithful to add sheep to the fold in His time.
In summary, we have endeavored to engage the problem of loving evangelism. We have deemed love as the only motivation for true evangelism. God has loved us in the beloved, and we are commanded to love one another, neighbors, and enemies. Love is not love without truth. The truth of man’s condition must be expressed to each person, so that they understand their need for God’s love in Christ.
Born again Christians love the fact that God has saved them. His love wells up in them, to communicate that love to others. If you love Christ, obey Christ’s command, to go into all the world, to bear witness of Christ, for the deliverance of sinners into becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. Satan hinders the communication, by attempting to embarrass and humiliate Christians. We must love hell-bound sinners more than our reputations. We must be fools for Christ, in order to win the fool, who says in his heart, “There is no God.”
In conclusion, love never fails. It is the right motive in our relationship with God and with others. Love is not a squishy man-made concept. It is Christ dying for sinners. The message of love is the message of Jesus Christ and His Cross. If we hate our neighbor, by withholding the knowledge of God and His love, then how can we say we love God? Therefore, with God’s love in our hearts, we must love others by speaking of God, who is love, to our neighbors. They will know our evangelistic love for them, sooner or later, today or on the Day of Judgment; but our labor of love must always be for the love of God and for love of sinners.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
December 18, 2020