August 30, 2015

Hate the sin; love the sinner

Isaiah 63:1–64:12, Luke 23:26–24:12, Job 14:1–10

When God is described as loving sinners but hating sin, many scoff and say that is impossible. But mothers understand. I know what it means to dearly love my children and strongly hate any rebellious or foolish behavior. Parents have no trouble understanding the love of God paired with His attitude toward sin.

Isaiah didn’t either. He quotes God’s wrath in one sentence and in the next declares His love for them: “I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” Then Isaiah says, “I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, ‘Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.’ And he became their Savior.” (Isaiah 63:6–8)

Why are parents like this? Why is God like this? Isn’t it because both know that their children are capable of better things? Perhaps, this is true for parents. As for God, He knows the source of the sin. It comes from that sin nature that is ours in Adam and present with us from the day we were born. Job puts this very succinctly: “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1)

It seems to me that God’s answer is not that we could be so much better than our sinful nature makes us, but that sin hurts us, plus we could be so deeply forgiven and cleansed. We can pull up our boot straps to a certain extent, but God’s  forgiveness and Christ’s indwelling must happen for any genuine and lasting transformation can take place. Becoming a better person is about God’s power to change a life, not ours.

Everlasting change is possible only because Jesus was willing to take our sin on Himself. When He died on the cross, He fully demonstrated the hate-sin, love-sinner heart of God . . . “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” (Luke 23:33–34)

Not everyone understands this great love-hate quality of God, or if they understand it, they will not accept it. One of the criminals crucified with Him said, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

In love, Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39–43)

Paying our penalty is only part of the good news about God’s love. Jesus died for us, but He also lives for us. Those who came to the grave were astounded that His tomb was empty. Then angels appeared and said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

They remembered. They left that place of death to tell this good news to His disciples and “all the rest” (Luke 24:5–9) Jesus hated their sin yet loved them so much that He was willing to let it all sin and guilt be put on Him. Yet love won; He did not remain dead, but revealed the power of God’s love by conquering death. The power of His death deals with the sin, but the power of His life is available to sinners because He loves us.

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