God's Intolerant Love
October 8, 2018
In a series of sermons leading up to the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, we’ve been focusing on what I’ve labeled: “Reformation Words.” These are words which encapsulate the Biblical truths that were rediscovered during the Lutheran Reformation; allowing for the truth about God to be understood clearly once again. So far our words have been “Scripture, The Cross, and Grace. Today, the Reformation word is Love.
The Church of Luther’s day, with all of it’s focus on deeds and donations had begun to make it seem like the goal of the Christian is to make himself attractive by dressing himself up with good deeds.
This is often how human understanding of love works. If you want to snare someone, you’ve got to find a way to fool them into thinking that you are more attractive and beautiful. So you put on a false face, make yourself seem more virtuous and interesting beautiful. I remember a friend who met a girl and changed so completely that we did not recognize him. I and the rest of his friends one night asked “who long do you think you can keep this up. He didn’t understand, He did later, when he could no longer keep it up. It wasn’t fair to play this game, to be something that I’m not… not fair to the other person, not realistic for myself. Many a marriage is formed in untruth and then the masks come off and what a surprise! False advertising! If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
In Luther’s time, there were many who thought that this is how the Love of God worked, If you could somehow rustle up enough good deeds and sacrifices, and dress yourself in them, that God like a trolling suitor would find you attractive and “marry” you, ie save you. But this is simply untrue. Whatever righteous or virtuous behavior one might use in an attempt to win God’s favor is simply not enough. Scripture is clear. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) and again “There is not one righteous, no not one.” (Rom 3:10)
But God still loves… However in a much different way than we are used to thinking about it. Luther explained it in this way. “The love of man comes into being in finding that which is pleasing to it. The Love of God, does notfind, but rather creates that which is pleasing to it.” Do you see how this is dripping with Good news. The Love of God creates that which is pleasing to it! It’s not about you making yourself acceptable to God by what you do. It’s about God making you acceptable to himself by what he does! And of course, we know what he has done to make us acceptable! He gave his only son to die on the cross, to take away our sins… and when we come to understand that he has done this for us, when we look to Christ in faith, God declares us acceptable to himself. Acceptable because he has removed our transgressions from us. Acceptable because he has clothed us with the garments of salvation.
This is the wonderfully good news about God’s love that Martin Luther helped the Christian Church rediscover. To my mind, understanding God’s love as something that creates what is pleasing to it rather than searching for what is pleasing to it is really the core of the Reformation. Before the reformation, People didn’t understand the Love of God and therefore didn’t understand what He was all about… he was seen as distant, angry, even hateful by some, or a mindless deity easily controlled by others. Even though the Bible is clear, centuries of false teaching lead to this. Oh there were pockets of people who figured it out here and there, but nobody spelled out so clearly and openly as Martin Luther did at the time of the Reformation. And the World was blessed by this.
So how would such wonderful news about God loving people and mercifully making them acceptable to himself become so muddied? By workings of the Evil one, of course. The last thing he wants is for people to clearly understand the active, redeeming love of God in their lives. Every false teaching and every heretical article of false doctrine is inspired by Satan to meet that end.So it is not at all surprising that Satan would muddle the Good news of God’s love in our time.
One of the most highly praised and constantly lauded public virtues is the teaching of tolerance. In our day, there seems to be no truer way to love another person than to fully and freely accept or tolerate everything about them. Some Christians have haplessly adopted tolerance as a Christian virtue, that we must tolerate sin and that God saves us by tolerating us.
But in one his epistles the Apostle Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit, which is really a description of someone who is made new in Christ. His list includes the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so on…but oddly enough to the people of this generation tolerance is not on that list. Could it be that God, the author of our faiths is not in favor of tolerance? Could it be that God is Intolerant some things.
Beginning of Time. Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned. They violated the one commandment that he gave them. They disobeyed. God did not tolerate their disobedience. He swiftly brought justice. He banished the now sinful great grandparents of the human race. From the Perfect paradise and posted an angel with a flaming sword to prevent their re-entry.
Noah and the Flood. An account we love to tell our children and draw pictures of with, big old giraffes’ heads sticking out of the ark. As fun as it is to think about an ark filled with animals and the rainbow at the end, have we forgotten the reason for the flood? God brought the flood because he refused to tolerate the recalcitrant sinfulness of the human race.
Sodom and Gommorah. Again the same deal. God said their sin called up to heaven for judgement. Judgment came. God did not tolerate their sinfulness.
Did you recall that that there’s another side to each of these biblical accounts. Before God cast Adam and Eve out he told them his ultimate plan to redeem them through the birth of a child. And while the whole earth was flooded in Judgement, Noah and his Family were saved and floated above in the boat God commanded they build and board. And Lot as well as his family were warned in advance of what was going to happen to to Sodom and Gommorah so they could escape. In each act of God’s justice against sin there was this offer of mercy and the call to respond in faith
From the Old Testament, what do we learn then about sin. All sin, ultimately brings judgment and the wrath of God. So when God offers a merciful escape…we would do well to listen for this is his love. God does not tolerate sin because he wants to save us from it. That’s the message of the Old Testament. And also the message of the New Testament and the life of Jesus. Think about it. He was innocent man, falsely accused, captured, spat upon, beaten severely, stripped and nailed to cross. For what purpose? To bear away the sins of the world. But if your mind has been warped by our culture to think that you are a good person because you tolerate sin and that God tolerates sin, you just made Christ’s loving death pointless. Do you see devils work here? The pinnacle of God’s express love, the giving of his own Son, reduced to a pointless exercise “virtuous” people don’t have a problem with sin and in some cases applaud those who are being consumed by it. This is the alternate reality Satan would have us believe.
God is intolerant of sin, in the same way we are intolerant of cancer. I’m sure it could be argued that cancer happens naturally in our bodies. And since it is so natural we should accept it’s inevitability and consider it to be part of our lives. But we don’t ever talk about cancer like that because we understand the destructive power of it. We’ve declared war on it, we march against it. We seek to cut and and irradiate and blast it out of our bodies whenever it appears. We scramble to overcome it because we know that it means death. Sin is like that, it is the metastasizing cancer that seeks to consume what life was meant to be. God does not tolerate it and I love him for that. He would have all people repent and believe the Gospel so that they can have life and have it to the full.
This is the clarity that God gave to Martin Luther in his time and to us in our time. We can rejoice, but we must seek to preserve it not only for ourselves but for the people we would reach.
We have been asked and will be asked to tolerate that which God has clearly labeled as sinful. The world, which is under that spell of Satan applauds the toleration of sin as if it were virtuous. The Devil’s in this and we must recognize his work for what it is. He wants us to bite the forbidden fruit, to ignore the call to board the ark, to stay in Sodom believing God won’t really punish. He wants us to agree that sin is good so that we will be caught in sins, and thereby damned for them.
So much better to hear what Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry: ‘Repent and believe the Gospel.” To repent is to agree with God and not to tolerate sin. To call it out, to confess it and depend on the atoning work of Jesus Sacrifice to remove it from us. To repent is to receive that ultimate Love of God that covers our sin and all of our inadequacies making us acceptable and righteous to him. Let no one or no thing ever confuse this offer of Love. AMEN