Category Archives: Love

Love: Friendship and Conclusion

This is the last in a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Notice that the author did not say that a wife or a husband loves at all times. We know all too well that husbands and wives frequently do not love at all times. A friend, who is a friend indeed, is defined by the fact that he does love at all times. This characteristic is not used to describe other love relationships. This characteristic gets to the heart of the matter. A true friend is one who loves at all times. A true friendship is characterized by the fact that it is not broken or disturbed as a result of unloving thoughts and acts.

Proverbs 18: 24 says, “A man of many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Here we find the writer of the proverb making an excellent point about the relationship between pseudo-friends (or what Lewis calls “acquaintanceships”) and true friends. In the course of making his point about true friendship he also makes the point that friendship is superior to brotherly affection. This is a very important point. A man with many “friends” comes to ruin. Why? Because they were not true friends. However, there is one, a true friend, who is more emotionally and relationally close than even a physical brother.

We find an example of this type of friendship in the relationship of David and Jonathan. Morally perverted interpreters of the Bible have taken this relationship and distorted it into a homosexual one. They have been forced to do this because they have no conception of the powerful emotional intensity found within friendship, choosing instead to believe that erotic love is the king of the emotions. II Samuel 1: 26 contains David’s statement about Jonathan after David had found out about his death. David says, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women.” It is easy to see how sexual perverts can misinterpret this verse. David actually has the audacity to assert that his friendship for Jonathan was more emotionally powerful than any of his erotic relationships with his wives and concubines! A statement like that would get him thrown out of most evangelical churches today. David knew the nature of friendship and clearly stated that it was the most intense and passionate of the human love emotions.

Maybe I have convinced you about the nature of friendship, but what about our emotional relationship to God? How are we to understand it? I would suggest that we would be best served by extending our understanding of phileo to our relationship with God as well. Erotic love for God is impossible and nonsensical. Storge affection for God, if it could exist between a created being and it’s Creator (which I do not think is possible), would be trivial at best. Phileo, as the connection of the soul of man with the Spirit God, is precisely what we find to be the case. God has made us in His image. Our relationship to Him should be grounded in agape love. Our relationship to Him can be bathed in the emotional love of friendship, if we are serious about pursuing it.

Friendship With God

Abraham is our spiritual father, if we are believers. The covenant that God makes with us today is an extension of the covenant that He made with Abraham thousands of years ago. The faith of Abraham serves as the example of biblical faith that is imputed as righteousness to God’s people. In James 2:23 we see the following statement about Abraham, “…and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’ and he was called the friend of God.” Arguably, Abraham had the most intimate relationship with God of all of the Old Testament saints. The New Testament describes him as God’s friend.

John 15: 13-15 contains one of the most powerful statements about our relationship with God in all of the Scriptures. Jesus is instructing His disciples just prior to His crucifixion. As a part of this instruction to them, at the end of His earthly ministry, He says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves; for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Most Christians today read over that passage with nary an emotional response. That should come as no surprise since the nature and quality of most believer’s friendships is poor at best. In light of what the Bible says about friends, should it not thrill our hearts to have Jesus tell us that we are now His friends?

There is no greater emotional connection that the connection of friendship. There is no more passionate relationship than that of friends. Friendship outstrips affection and eros in dignity, worth, and intensity. The fact that it is felt by so few does not change the nature of this reality. Jesus calls us His friends. Why do so few know this? Even more, why do so few feel this?

Earlier we looked at I Corinthians 16:22 which says, “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed.” The focus of that section was upon the fact that Paul did not believe cursing people was inconsistent with the doctrine of love. What I did not mention is the fact that the condition the curse is contingent upon is the lack of phileo. When Paul says, “If anyone does not love the Lord”, he is saying, “If anyone does not phileo the Lord.” Jesus has called us His friends. Is He ours? Do we phileo Him? Popular Christian music is filled with “I love you Lord”. What is being said? Does anybody have any idea what they mean when they say they love the Lord? Does anybody understand what it means to phileo the Lord? Does anybody understand the consequences of not phileo-ing the Lord? I fear not.

I believe most Christians do not recognize Jesus as their friend because they have little or no experience with human friendships, just as Lewis asserted. I also believe that the primary reason most Christians have no experience with friendship is because they have filled their lives with things and roles of little or no significance. The lives of most believers are so filled with things, behaviors, and practices that do not matter. It is literally the case that there is no time left to discover and cultivate a friendship. Most believers, I believe it is fair to say, don’t even know who they are as individuals, they do not know themselves when they stand as naked personalities. The average believer is defined by his roles. He is a husband, a chemist, a father, a golfer, and an aficionado of antique cars. But who is he when everything is stripped away? Who is he when he stands, as Lewis says, with a naked personality? Very few people are able to answer this question and, as a result, very few people have experienced the joy and thrill of friendship, with others or with God.

I believe most Christians do not feel friendship with Jesus primarily because they are at odds with His will and purposes. Friendship is based upon commonality. It is not possible to cultivate a friendship with one with whom you are at odds. It is not possible to cultivate a friendship with one whom you are at cross purposes. Given the almost total biblical illiteracy of today’s Evangelical, it is practically impossible that the Jesus of the Bible will ever be experientially encountered. Given the horrible theology and beliefs about God held in the minds of the average Evangelical, it is virtually impossible for a friendship with the true and living God to develop. There is just too much distance between what the believer believes and does and the real nature and character of God for a friendship to be discovered and cultivated. As a result, most Christians live their lives in relationship with a God of their own imaginations, or, at best, with a figment of the God of the Bible.


Evangelicals have no theologically precise doctrine of love. The doctrine of love, as evidenced by the behavior of most Evangelicals, is completely contrary to the doctrine of love taught in the Bible. The doctrine of love clearly explicated in the Bible is consistent throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The biblical doctrine of love has significant inter-testamental changes that are routinely ignored by the Evangelical. The practice of this corrupt doctrine of love is responsible for the physical, psychic, and spiritual harm of thousands of people, believers and unbelievers, around the world. This fraudulent doctrine of love has destroyed our ability to practice biblical forgiveness and discipline. This abhorrent doctrine of love has made biblical evangelism impossible. The elevation of emotional loves over agape has rendered our relationships with each other, in the church and in the family, unfruitful and contentious. We need to repent and return to the biblical doctrine of love.

Love: A Suggestion for our Doctrine of Marriage

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

Given that the majority of marriages between Christians end up in divorce and given that a majority of Christians who are married practiced sexually immoral behaviors prior to being married, does it not make sense to consider an alternative view with respect to the establishment of new family units? I fear that the Church does not seriously consider the damage that is being done to believers by virtue of our decision to overlook porneia and to use eros as the basis for the institution of marriage. Of that, we need to repent. Meanwhile I have a few suggestions that, if followed, I believe would make our marriages more consistent with biblical truth.

  1. We must stop using eros as the foundation for marriage. We must recognize that a person who is experiencing eros is the least qualified to determine if his/her prospective marriage partner is suitable. Therefore we must have someone, who is not under the influence of eros, be involved in the decision to get married. For children under the biblical age of emancipation (20 years of age) that someone would be their parents. For adults (over 20) it would be their closest friends (which could still include the parents, but at a different level of relationship). I am not saying that eros may not be a catalyst for considering marriage. Indeed, it is most often the case that it will. However, it should never been seen as the foundation for a biblical marriage.
  2. We must stop overlooking the serious sin of porneia and the biblical commandment for those who do not have self-control to get married, regardless of their age. In I Corinthians 6, just prior to his instructions on marriage, Paul is speaking directly about sexual immorality. In verses 9 and 10 he flatly states that those who engage in the practice of fornication (porneia) “will not inherit the kingdom of God”. Do we believe this? Do we take this seriously? Why do we look the other way with respect to porneia? Why do we seem to be more afraid of early marriages than we are the judgment of God?
  3. We must recognize that marriage is the remedy for porneia and require that all who are engaging in porneia be married, regardless of age. This foolish notion that a woman must wait until she has her college degree prior to marriage is as unbiblical as it can possibly be. The same is true for the man. If they are “burning” with lust, they are commanded to marry. Early marriage is not evil or wrong. The cultural opposition to the concept of early marriage is primarily derived from the “women’s liberation” movement and should have no impact upon the Christian. We would all greatly benefit from a better understanding of the biblical roles of husband and wife in a marriage. That is not the focus of this essay and has been addressed somewhat in my essay on “Authority”.
  4. For those over the age of 20, get good counsel from those who know you and your prospective spouse best before swearing the marriage vow. Recognize that eros is a deceiver. Roll play, in the presence of neutral parties, some of the situations that are going to come up in your future married life and see how you react to each other. Deal with problems such as children, money, employment, and sex. Do what you can to break through the dense fog of eros and seek to see each other as you really are before getting married.
  5. For those under the age of 20, parents need to be willing to exercise biblical oversight. This means being aware of the fact that children can and do experience eros as well. It is not to be dismissed as “puppy love” and ignored. Too many young girls have become pregnant as a result of “puppy love”. Biblical law recognized that a young man or woman could be married anytime between the ages of 13-20, under the guidance and supervision of their parents. Put quite frankly, I believe we could greatly benefit from returning to the practice of arranged marriages. Parents are usually in the best position to see who the best marriage partner could be for their child. But Evangelical parents do not take their children’s eros seriously. That is a huge mistake. (In all of this I am assuming, of course, that marriage would only be between believers.) I Corinthians 7 continues and addresses the father of a virgin girl (between age 13-20) and gives him instructions on how to handle himself with respect to the issue. In verse 36 and 37 he flatly states that if his virgin daughter is failing in the self-control arena, he should have her get married, no matter how young she is. We should do the same.

We need to admit that the evangelical doctrine of marriage, if it exists at all, is a miserable failure. We need to repent of what we are doing and return to biblical standards of behavior and belief with respect to love and marriage.

Where is the Passion?

I can’t conclude this essay without addressing a question that I am sure is in the mind of everyone who takes the time to read this. Where is the passion? All that I have written about is the necessity of duty and obedience to the law. Love, as everybody universally experiences it, is about passion and excitement. I have seemingly reduced the Christian experience to a series of stultifying duties that sap the individual believer of all the joy of living. Is this all that a relationship with the living God entails? Certainly not.

I have to quote extensively from C.S. Lewis in order to make my point for those who have or will not read his book “The Four Loves”. In the chapter on friendship he says the following things:

When either Affection or Eros is one’s theme, one finds a prepared audience. The importance and beauty of both have been stressed and almost exaggerated again and again. Even those who would debunk them are in conscious reaction against this laudatory tradition and, to that extent, influenced by it. But very few modern people think Friendship a love of comparable value or even a love at all…. to the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few “friends”. But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make it would describe as “friendships” show clearly that what they are talking about has very little to do with that Philia which Aristotle classified among the virtues or that Amicitis on which Cicero wrote a book… How has this come about?

The first and most obvious answer is that few value it because few experience it. And the possibility of going through life without the experience is rooted in that fact which separates Friendship so sharply from both the other loves. Friendship is — in a sense not at all derogatory to it — the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary…. This so called non-natural quality in Friendship goes far to explain why it was exalted in ancient and medieval times and has come to be made light of in our own…. Affection and Eros were too obviously connected with our nerves, too obviously shared with the brutes. You could feel these tugging at your guts and fluttering in your diaphragm. But in Friendship — in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen — you got away from all that. This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels.

But then came Romanticism and “tearful comedy” and the “return to nature” and the exaltation of Sentiment; and in their train all that great wallow of emotion which, though often criticized, has lasted ever since…. (on the other hand) Friendship is a relation between men at their highest level of individuality. It withdraws men from collective “togetherness” as surely as solitude itself could do….In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself…Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.

If what I have written so far seems dull, drab, and lacking in emotional intensity, I would suggest that you, as Lewis suggests, are an example of one who may be described as being in the “great wallow of emotion”. I suspect that it is also true that you do not value friendship (phileo in Greek) because you do not experience much of it. Lewis has made some brilliant points here that directly relate to our doctrine of love.

Phileo is an emotion that will continue into the eternal state. Unlike the emotions of affection and eros, which originate in the body and will pass away with the body, phileo originates in the soul. The soulish nature of phileo can be seen in what Lewis describes as the essential solitude of phileo. Phileo is a love that is expressed by an individual who is not engaged in any behavioral role. Eros is expressed between a husband and a wife. Affection (storge) is expressed between a mother and a daughter. Phileo is expressed between two people, regardless of the other roles they play in life, because they share a common perspective about what they see and experience. In the eternal state, all of our roles that are related to life in this world will cease to exist. Not surprisingly, the loves that nurtured and sustained those roles will also cease to exist. The love that nurtures and sustains our connection to one another as individual souls, however, will continue forever. That love is phileo and it is, in my estimation, the greatest and noblest of the human emotions.

Phileo is based upon commonality. Friendships do not develop between people that are diametrically opposed to each other. Friendships grow and deepen as more and more common elements are discovered and explored. Friendships exist, in their most pure expression, between Christians who share a common Spirit, serve a common Lord, and follow the dictates of a common Bible. Friendships are most passionately discovered between individual members of the Body of Christ who are most similar to one another in gifts, skills, and calling. Lest you think I am making all this up, let’s consider a couple of biblical examples.

Love: Eros is the Deceiver

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

(I presuppose C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves” in this section.) Eros is an emotion that is entirely derived from our bodies, our flesh. Eros has nothing to do with our souls. This fact can be proved by simply considering the fact that eros does not exist in the intermediate state and will not exist in the eternal state. Those saints who are now in the intermediate state are without bodies. As such they are incapable of experiencing eros. That fact is probably a part of their inexpressible joy.

The fact that eros will not exist in the eternal state is seen in Jesus’ response to the Sadducees in Luke 20: 34-35 where He says, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage.” I know that this reality comes as a terrible shock to all of those starry eyed Evangelicals who believe that the essence of heaven will be eternal bliss with their spouse. Hardly. There is no longer any reason or need for eros in the eternal state.

Eros is an emotion that is derived from the body for the purpose of bringing men and women together for the purpose of procreation. Prior to the fall it would have operated very differently in our relationships than it does now. However, we are living after the fall so we must take eros for what it is today, not what it was. After the fall all human beings became, by nature, totally and completely selfish. No natural man or woman ever thinks about anything other than himself at all times and in all places. This being the case, it is not difficult to see how a problem can come up with respect to the continuation of the race. Men hate men. Women hate women. Men hate women. Women hate men. That is our natural state. If we see each other as we are realistically, we can’t help but have a hate reaction towards each other. We are all truly despicable. Yet, if we are to continue the race, we have to somehow overcome our natural hate for each other and get together long enough to have sex. How is this to be accomplished?

I suggest that we must come to understand that eros is the physically produced, intoxicating drug/hormone that causes us to lose touch with reality enough to suspend our natural hatreds and come together as man and woman. Think about it for a moment. When a man (I can’t speak for how women think and feel) is in love, he says all sorts of things that are totally detached from reality. I have seen men describe the object of their eros as if they had never met her! I am told that she is his “best friend” when a mere couple of months after the wedding they are not even speaking to each other. I am told that “she understands me better than anyone” and then, a year later, he tells me that she does not understand him at all. I am told that she is “wonderful, loving, caring woman” only to find out later that she is a nagging monster that will not give him one moment’s peace. I am told that “our love is heaven sent and will last forever” only to discover, two years later, that it was more likely hell sent and already over. Eros is a deceiver. Eros tells the person who is subject to its intoxications all sorts of lies. Eros should never be trusted.

Earlier I mentioned the prohibition against any type of erotic touch. Without a doubt, the most common response from teenagers (and their parents) to that prohibition is to assert they are touching each other out of friendship or affection, not eros. In all of my experience I have never heard that statement uttered by another person and not eventually discovered it to be untrue. It is technically possible that it could be true but we must never forget that eros is the great deceiver. It will do anything to get its way. It will tell you that you are kissing and holding hands as affectionate friends rather than erotic lovers. It is a lie. Do not believe it even for a moment. It is a wise life principle to establish that anything you believe about your beloved, when you are in eros, is probably wrong. Eros is utterly incapable of seeing the truth and making informed, rational decisions. Eros should be the basis for absolutely nothing in our lives. Indeed, most of the time we should manage our lives in order to avoid it as much as possible.

Eros and Marriage

It should be obvious by now that eros is not a basis for marriage. The decision of who to marry is one of the top two or three decisions an individual will ever make. The decision to get married will have direct ramifications upon all of the life that is to follow. Given the gravity of the decision of who and when to marry, does it make sense to entrust that decision to eros? Yet, that is precisely what Evangelicals do. How foolish. No wonder Christian marriages are as dreadfully miserable as those in the world. When we begin on the same immoral foundation as the world we should expect that our marriages will end up on the same rubbish heap.

Would you make a decision to buy a new house by putting on a blindfold prior to visiting the house? Of course not! Why then, do so many believers make the decision to marry someone after putting on the emotional blindfold of eros? It is because we have abandoned the biblical doctrine of marriage and adopted the dreamy view of the world that marriage is founded upon the emotion of erotic love. Eros was never intended to be the basis for marriage (a catalyst, yes; a foundation, no). As in all things, agape love should be the basis for marriage. A couple has no chance of happiness in marriage with the absence of agape.

Ephesians 5 describes the duties of husbands and wives to one another. ‘Love’ is frequently used in this passage. In every case the word is agape. The foundation for marriage and the sustaining love of marriage is agape love. Agape love is the love of duty and fulfillment of the law. But Paul goes even further in his instructions to the husband when he says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” We see here that Paul teaches that the love found within the marriage union is to be the same sacrificial love that is to be found in the church. This is the fulfillment of the new commandment of love given to us by Jesus. Without the presence of this sacrificial love, the marriage is doomed.

Paul concludes this section of his letter by quoting Genesis 2:24 which says, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.” This Old Testament statement about the initiation of the marriage covenant is interpreted by him in a fascinating way when he says, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” This is another passage that is often ignored by Evangelicals. Paul is clearly stating that the physical union that occurs in the marriage covenant is a type of the spiritual union that occurs in the Church covenant between Jesus and His Bride. As he says, the “mystery is great”, but somehow the marriage union is to serve as an illustration of our present and future union with Christ. We should never lose sight, as we go about the day-to-day activities in our marriages, that our marriages are to point to and be an illustration of the activities that will occur in the eternal state when the Lamb is joined to His spotless Bride. What more motivation could we possibly need to treat each other with agape?

Love: Love and Marriage

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

The primary focus of this essay has been agape love. Agape love is the dominant love in the Scriptures and should be the focal point of an examination of the biblical doctrine of love. Evangelicals, along with the rest of the world, do not put much emphasis on agape. Quite the contrary, it is usually the case that erotic love is the dominant emotion in the lives of all people, including Evangelicals. It is also true that Evangelicals rarely, if ever, have a doctrine of love and marriage. Instead, they prefer to follow the cultural dictates of their time. As a result, tremendous harm is being done to both the family and the Church. The fact that half of all allegedly Christian marriages also end up in divorce (I have heard some statistics that put Christians with a higher percentage of divorce than the pagan population) should serve as a red flag warning that something is seriously wrong. The fact that Christians engage in sexually immoral behavior at the same rate as pagans (professing Christian girls have the same rate of premarital sex, pregnancy and abortion as pagans) should indicate a problem exists with our doctrine of eros. We need to look at the current evangelical doctrine (I use that term generously) of eros. We also need to determine what the biblical doctrine of eros should be. We also need to see how eros and marriage are related in order to see if God has an opinion about the matter.

I believe it is fair to describe the evangelical doctrine of eros and marriage as follows:

  1. Eros is the feeling that people experience when they “fall in love”. It is the most beautiful and wonderful human emotion that any individual will ever experience. It motivates men and women to grandiose acts of personal sacrifice on behalf of “the beloved” and brings out the best in human nature.
  2. Eros is the feeling that forms the foundation for the eventual “soul oneness” that partners in Christian marriage are expected to experience. The goal of all Christian marriages is to become “one” in both body and soul. Eros is the bridge by which that oneness may be attained.
  3. Eros is an emotion that is thoroughly authenticated and validated in the Bible. See Song of Solomon and Ephesians 5:32.
  4. The state of being in eros is to be expected as the normative state for married couples. An absence of eros in the marriage union is a sign of marital problems. Marriage enrichment weekends and seminars are a good way to learn techniques to keep the eros going over the years.
  5. Eros does make it difficult, for those who are experiencing it, to exercise physical self-control. Therefore, physical boundaries of touch need to be established between two people who are in eros and not married. It is universally agreed that vaginal sexual intercourse is a sin. All other types of erotic touch, from holding hands to fondling to mutual masturbation, are up for debate. Eventually it just boils down to the conviction of each individual’s conscience on the matter. Although these types of sexual immorality are frowned upon, they are generally overlooked and taken as just “going with the territory” in today’s modern relationships. In no case is the practice of sexual immorality seen as worse than the horrendous sin of premature marriage.
  6. Eros is an emotion, a gift from God that should be sought out in order to experience the pleasure that it brings. However eros is not an emotion that ever requires specific action, other than the prohibition against vaginal sexual intercourse. The old doctrine that “marriage is the remedy for lust” is odious in the sight of today’s Evangelical who holds eros in such high regard. In the Evangelical doctrine of marriage it is assumed, along with the world, that a woman should have her college degree prior to being married. The man should also have his degree. In this way they are both financially protected in the event that they end up getting a divorce in the future. Therefore it becomes the case that it is generally accepted that no matter how much difficulty a couple is having with sexual immorality, they are foolish to get married before both of them have their college degrees (usually at age 22 or higher). Like the culture in which we live, Evangelicals believe that the longer marriage can be delayed, the better. If a little (or a lot) of sexual immorality is the price to pay, that price is less than the cost of a failed marriage brought out by youth and inexperience.

The Biblical Doctrine of Eros

Most Evangelicals are surprised to learn that there is a biblical doctrine of eros love. It is found in I Corinthians 7 and is universally ignored by Evangelicals. Paul is writing to the Corinthians and responding to a letter that he had received from them. Although we do not have a copy of their letter, it is possible to understand the nature of their questions by the responses that Paul gives to them. It seems to be the case that in their letter they had asked numerous questions about many practical issues that were troubling them. One of those issues had to do with sexual immorality (the Greek word is “porneia”) and “how far” people could “go” in their physical expression of eros prior to marriage. Although this question is on the mind of every Christian teenager in the universe, this passage of Scripture that speaks directly to the question is ignored. The reason this passage is ignored, indeed the reason Evangelicals ignore so many parts of the Bible, is due to the fact that Paul’s teaching on porneia and eros is clear, strict, and totally contrary to the ways of the world.

Paul’s statement is blunt and clear. He says (verse 1), “Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” It is amazing the measures Evangelicals will take to get around the clear statement that Paul has made here. The most common way to deal with this passage, if it is dealt with at all, is to say that it is too “obscure” to be interpreted so we must simply ignore it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Evangelicals like to say that Paul elsewhere instructed believers to “greet each other with a holy kiss”. Clearly kissing each other, both men and women, is an example of touching. Therefore, they say, Paul’s prohibition of touching here makes no sense and is incomprehensible. Nonsense.

The context of the passage is the discussion of sexual immorality brought about by the state of being in eros. Verses 2 and 3 say, “But because of immoralities (porneia), let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.” It is pretty obvious what Paul is writing about here. There is nothing here that is confusing or difficult to understand. Paul is clearly stating that people who are in eros have to deal with the sin of lust. They want to engage in sexually immoral behavior (porneia). The Corinthians had asked him “how far they could go” and his answer is “it is good for a man not to touch a woman”. In other words, the answer to the question, how far can we go in the physical expression of our mutual eros, is nowhere! Furthermore, he states the old doctrine, so despised by Evangelicals today, that marriage is the remedy for lust and the cure for porneia. People who are in eros and struggling with lust are to be married and have sex with one another in order to eliminate the sinful lust that is between them outside of marriage.

So, the biblical answer to the question about the physical expression of eros prior to marriage is simple. Every touch that is motivated by eros is forbidden. No holding hands. No kissing. No fondling. No touching of any kind if the touch is motivated by eros (more on this later). We can see why Evangelicals hate this doctrine. To practice this kind of physical austerity will expose the practitioners, and their parents, to all sorts of social derision and scorn. We can hear it now…. What are you, some kind of Puritan? Come on…. it is just a harmless peck on the cheek! What do you mean it isn’t cute for our five year olds to pose in a picture kissing one another? You must be some kind of religious fanatic! What a weirdo!

But, the biblical doctrine of eros goes further than this. We have only just begun to make ourselves stand out from the worldly crowd. Verses 8-9 contain an apostolic commandment that is binding upon all Christians in all places and in all times. He says, “But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self control, let (imperative tense) them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.” Do you see what Paul is instructing us? To the unmarried couple that is in love he says, if you are incapable of exercising self-control, I command you to get married. Also notice that his definition of exercising self-control, as we have proven, is their inability to stop touching each other, in any form or fashion. Therefore we can summarize the biblical teaching on eros as ordering the unmarried lovers to get married if they are incapable of resisting the temptation to engage in erotic touch.

It is not hard to see why Evangelicals have made the conscious decision to practice selective biblicism with this passage. The doctrines and implications of I Corinthians 7 go contrary to the entire doctrine of eros that Evangelicals believe and practice. Eros is not necessarily the most beautiful human emotion. In fact, it appears as if it is can be a rather dirty emotion that requires serious remedial action against it in order to avoid sin. Instead of being the basis for “soul oneness”, eros is reduced to the point of being an emotion that needs to be managed by the crude act of sexual intercourse. Where is the romance? Where is the love? Rather than being the basis for biblical marriage, eros becomes something that needs to be diminished, by having sex, so as to not interfere with the more important matters of life. Amazingly, Paul goes so far as to say that it would be better to not be married at all (verses 6-7). No wonder this doctrine is swept under the rug.

So it seems the old theologians were right. Marriage is the remedy for lust. Erotic love, rather than being the ultimate human emotional experience, is something that is to be managed in order to reduce its impact upon us. We need to consider the nature of eros in a bit more detail.

Love: Love and Evangelism

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

Practically every evangelical presentation of the Gospel begins with some version of this assertion: God loves you and has a wonder plan for your life. As should be obvious by now, nothing could be more false and more damaging to the cause of evangelism. Let’s review some of the harmful implications of this primary evangelistic assertion:

  1. If God does indeed have saving love for every individual human being, then it necessarily follows that everybody is saved or He is not sovereign. There are no other conclusions possible. If He savingly loves everybody and He is sovereign, then everybody is saved. Yet that is a patently false proposition, as all Evangelicals would acknowledge. On the other hand, if He savingly loves everybody but is not sovereign, then He is not the God of the Bible and incapable of saving anybody from their sins. Indeed, He would not even exist.
  2. This initial maxim is often put in terms like this, “God loves you just the way you are”. If that is true then there is no impetus for repentance. If there is no repentance there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness there is no salvation.
  3. This primary assertion categorically denies that God hates anybody. However, the Bible clearly states that there are many people whom God hates. Therefore, the God who allegedly loves everybody is not the biblical God and utterly incapable of saving anyone from their sins.
  4. It is possible that the love of God that is being referred to here is the sustaining, rather than the saving, love of God. In that situation this statement becomes a dangerous misrepresentation of the entire doctrine of salvation. God does have sustaining love for everybody in the universe. However, it does not follow from that fact that the plan that He has for the lives of the reprobate is “wonderful”. Indeed, just the opposite is true. To give this false confidence to the unbeliever is a tremendously hateful thing to do.

The most damaging impact of telling unbelievers that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives is that it creates a false confidence that their relationship with God is sound. Which is the worst sin: to give the unbeliever false confidence that he is saved or to give the believer false fear that he is not? It is a terrible thing to disturb the spiritual peace of a true believer by introducing doubts about his salvation into his mind. Regardless, he still remains saved. It is a far worse thing to encourage spiritual peace in the mind of the unbeliever by convincing him that his relationship with a loving God is fine and he is in no danger of condemnation. He now has no incentive to repent and when he dies, he goes to hell. If we must err on the one side or the other, does it not make the most sense to err on the side of spiritual insecurity?

Love or Repentance

We have just previously seen that the message of the Gospel is a message of repentance. While it is true that the love of God is the motivation for the presentation of the Gospel, it still remains the case that the love of God is incomprehensible without the prior understanding of the wrath of God upon sin and sinners. When Evangelicals begin their evangelistic presentations with the doctrine of the love of God (incorrectly understood), they ensure that the Gospel will be cloudy and difficult to understand. John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostles and the biblical writers did not make that mistake. The message of the Good News always began with the message of the bad news (human sinfulness) followed by the command to repent.

The law of love should constrain us to tell unbelievers the truth about themselves. I fear that we, as Christians, are so fearful of the rejection that we expect to get if we preach the bad news of human sin and misery, that we have modified the message in order to not be rejected by those to whom we are preaching. The law of love for our fellow man should forbid us to consider our own interests in the propagation of the Gospel. How we are personally received is irrelevant. Indeed, thoughts about ourselves, rather than thoughts about our audience, are entirely selfish and unloving. Yes, the message of total depravity is a message that the natural man does not want to hear. It is true that those who preach the doctrine of total depravity will have small audiences and even smaller churches. But without the knowledge of the doctrine of total depravity no man can be saved. If our goal is really to proclaim the saving love of God, it must begin with the doctrine of the total depravity and inability of man to save himself. Anything less than that is an unloving, even hateful, behavior towards the world.

A college student at my church has come up with a very good alternative to the “Four Spiritual Laws” presentation that so harms the souls of those who hear and use it. I draw upon his revised spiritual laws to suggest that this should be a template for our evangelistic presentations that is far more honoring to God and men. His laws are (with some slight modifications):

  1. God might love you, but it is more likely that He hates you. If you are one of the elect, then God loves you beyond any doubt. However, the number of the elect is a small percentage of all of humankind that will ever live (sorry about that you Postmillennialists) and it is therefore most likely that you will be subject to the wrath of God. You will prove whether God loves or hates you by the way you respond to His Gospel.
  2. All men are sinful and natural enemies of God who deserve the full and just wrath of God upon them. God has a moral standard of complete perfection and He holds man accountable to that perfect standard. No man, since the fall of Adam, is able to perfectly conform to His holy standard. If nothing is done to appease the wrath of God upon the sinner, the situation is utterly hopeless for all men. All men, if they are to be saved from their sins, must realize their utter hopelessness before God. Preaching and teaching unbelievers that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives practically guarantees that they will never come to this realization.
  3. The propitiatory death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, upon the cross is the only means by which a man may be made judicially right with God. If and when God grants an individual the gift of spiritual birth (regeneration, being “born again”), that man is inexorably drawn by the grace of God to express his faith in the Triune God of the Bible and trust in Him alone for his salvation. All men are to be called to repent of their sins and trust in the God of the Bible alone for salvation. This is the message of the love of God and it must never be delivered prior to the message of the wrath of God against sin and the need for human repentance from sin.
  4. The gift of eternal salvation is given to the man who genuinely repents of his sin and trusts in Jesus alone for his salvation. Salvation includes his justification from his sins, his sanctification in living a life of moral purity, and his ultimate glorification with God and his fellow believers in the eternal state.

The law of love demands that we tell men the truth about themselves and God. We may not, out of cowardice, a desire to be popular, a desire to grown a numerically large congregation, or out of our shame for the Gospel, modify the message of the Gospel in any way to allow unbelieving men to believe that they are the objects of the love of God. To do so certainly spells their eternal doom. Are you ready to be held responsible for giving unbelievers the false confidence that they are saved, just so you could feel good about yourself? We need to repent of our false doctrine of love as it applies to evangelism.

Love: God Requires Prior Repentance

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

When we speak of God’s forgiveness of His elect it is necessary to make a distinction between His eternal plan and the temporal working out of that plan. It is obvious that within the eternal plan of redemption God has for His elect, that He has made the decision to forgive the elect prior to the actual moment that each elect individual repents. As created beings, however, we are not privy to the internal ruminations of the Three Person God. We must deal with God as we discover Him and we discover Him in time. So, our attention must focus upon God’s dealings with us in time. The question then becomes, does God forgive us (in time) prior to our repentance? The answer to that question is a definitive NO.

I John 1: 8-9 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John makes it clear that we all continue to sin. Does God unilaterally forgive our sins? Does He forgive us prior to our repenting of those sins? John minces no words in telling us that “if we confess our sins” we may be forgiven. We must repent prior to being forgiven.

I recognize the problem that exists at this point. Because of our sin we do not recognize all of our sin. Because we do not recognize all of our sin, we do not repent of all of our sin. If we do not repent of all of our sin and God requires prior repentance in order to forgive, we have sins that remain unforgiven. Nevertheless, I confess (along with the rest of orthodox Christianity throughout history) that the atonement of Christ is applied to all of the sins of the elect, past, present, and future. There is no sin that is left out. I believe that this apparent contradiction may be resolved by recognizing that there is a difference between the principles that we are to follow and the working out of those principles in a sinful world. The fact that we are incapable of repenting of all our sins is the result of living in a sinful world. It does not negate the fact that God has established, in His word, the principle that forgiveness requires prior repentance. We must operate in the world according to the principles that God has given us in the Bible.

Psalm 32:5 says, “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.” Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” These passages, and many more, all teach the common principle that repentance is required of man prior to the granting of forgiveness.

The “order of salvation” is something that theologians like to talk about. It is their attempt to put each event in the process of salvation in its proper place in time. It is recognized that the order is a logical construct that is designed to help us understand all of the elements of our salvation and that it does not limit God in any way. In the order of salvation that is universally agreed upon by orthodox theologians, repentance is always prior to forgiveness. Although God regenerates us and gives us the gift of repentance, He does not (in time) forgive us until after we have exercised that gift and actually repented.

None of this should come as a surprise to us. The authors of the Gospels record that their Gospel is known as the Gospel of repentance. Jesus did not walk from town to town telling people that they were forgiven. Rather, He walked from town to town calling them to repent. Then, when Jesus was prepared to send His disciples out to preach the Gospel, Mark records that they “went out and preached that men should repent (Mark 6:12)”. Notice that Mark does not record that they went out and told people that they were forgiven. Luke records the occasion when some of Jesus’ disciples came to him and reported that Pilate had murdered some innocent Galileans (Luke 13:3). In response to their report Jesus did not try to comfort them with words that they were all forgiven, and now in heaven with the Father. No, He said, “I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Furthermore, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the apostles carried on the ministry of the proclamation of the Gospel. Acts 2:38 records the first sermon of Peter. When, after preaching his sermon, the people had asked him what they should do, he responded, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;…” Peter concludes his second sermon (Acts 3:19) with these words, “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

It is impossible to conclude that the Bible anywhere teaches the principle of unilateral forgiveness. It is equally impossible to conclude that the Bible anywhere teaches that the law of love requires unilateral forgiveness. On the contrary, we can see that the law of love requires that a sinner repent prior to being granted forgiveness. We have also seen that, if a man repents, he is to be forgiven every single time he sins. Does that mean that all a sinner has to do is utter the magic words “I am sorry, please forgive me” and the victim of the sin is morally required to forgive him? No, the law of love has a higher standard for repentance.

Repentance Requires Proof

When John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness, many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to him for baptism. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He had declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When a person submitted to the baptism of John he was making a clear public statement about his personal repentance from his sins. Did John take everyone at their word? Was he constrained to baptize everyone who came to him and said, “I repent”?

Matthew 3: 7-9 records the response of John to the Pharisees who presented themselves for baptism without having truly repented in their hearts. “…You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance;…” for John, merely saying the words “I’m sorry, forgive me” was not enough. John, when he had occasion to believe that those words were uttered falsely, required “fruit” that would prove the repentance was genuine. We should do no less. We are not held captive to magic words that compel us to grant forgiveness to one whom we believe has not truly repented. We have the right and the responsibility to ensure that our debtor has really repented prior to granting our forgiveness to him.

II Corinthians 7: 8-10 records an example of requiring the “fruits of repentance” prior to granting forgiveness. Paul is writing about a letter that he had previously written to the Corinthians. In that prior letter he had rebuked specific individuals for serious sins. He threatened to come to the church and bring the judgment of God with him. As a result of that letter at least one of the sinners had repented. Paul says, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance”. One of the fruits of biblical repentance is godly sorrow.

Paul recognized that there are two types of sorrow. There is the sorrow of the world, that is sorrowful about having been caught and the necessary consequences of that exposure, and there is the sorrow that is according to the will of God. Paul says, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Paul was looking for godly sorrow before he would grant forgiveness. The mere presence of many tears and emotional anguish about having been caught was not enough for him. He needed to be convinced that the repentance was genuine before he would grant his forgiveness. We should do the same.

We Need to Repent of our Doctrine of Forgiveness

When we grant unilateral forgiveness against our enemy we are making a statement about the nature of God that is false. When we believe that we are constrained by the law of love to grant unilateral forgiveness to our enemies we place ourselves in an emotionally and biblically untenable position for which there can be no resolve. When we grant unilateral forgiveness to our enemies we encourage them to continue to sin against God and us by telling them that their sin has no consequences, neither now or in eternity. As such, we commit serious acts of immoral hatred towards those who have sinned against us when we forgive them unilaterally. As a result, the Church of God around the world suffers much persecution needlessly. As a result, the name of God is blasphemed daily among the unbelievers. As a result, God’s people suffer psychic torment about their own forgiveness for no good reason. We need to repent of this despicable doctrine of forgiveness.

Let me suggest that, in place of requiring forgiveness for those who persecute us, we begin to practice the use of the imprecatory prayers. The practice of praying imprecatory prayers against the enemies of the Church is far more biblical and consistent with the law of love. Who knows, maybe God would honor our prayers and reduce the needless slaughter of His children. Maybe, just maybe, we would actually see His arm of justice in providential judgment against the enemies of the Church who are now torturing us without mercy.

Love: Forgive Us Our Debts

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

The Lord’s Prayer, recorded in Matthew 6, has also been used to justify the doctrine of unilateral forgiveness. Verse 12 says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This passage seems straightforward enough. Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray and He instructs them that they need to ask for daily forgiveness for their sins. But then He adds the phrase “as we have forgiven our debtors”. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that we will not be forgiven of our sins if we refuse to forgive others of their sins against us. In fact, Jesus returns to this theme in Matthew 18:21-35 where He specifically teaches on the doctrine of forgiveness. It is worth a detailed look.

Jesus had just finished teaching the disciples how they were to go about resolving conflicts between themselves that involve sin (verses 15-20). We will look at that section in more detail momentarily. As a result of His teaching Peter came up with a question about how often the victim of a sin of another is duty bound to forgive his oppressor. We must recognize that this question did not arise in a vacuum. The rabbis of the time had various answers to the question about the absolute number of times forgiveness was required to be granted. Peter, in asking Jesus, was in many ways just seeking the opinion of another rabbi on the subject. Peter must have been familiar with some school or rabbinic thought that taught that seven was the maximum number of times that the victim of a particular sin had to forgive his oppressor. Therefore, he asked Jesus if seven was indeed the maximum number of times forgiveness was required.

Jesus’ answer was shocking. He informed Peter and the rest of the disciples that the proper number of times they were to forgive those who had sinned against them was “seventy times seven” times. They were not literalists enough to believe that He was teaching them that the proper number was four hundred and ninety. They recognized that He was telling them there is no limit to the number of times they were required to forgive their debtors.

Jesus then goes on to tell them a parable about two men who owed other men money. The point of the parable is given in verse 33 where Jesus says, “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?” The disciples had fallen into the pharisaical trap of believing that their duty to love others could be limited by a specific number of times they had to grant forgiveness to a debtor. They were wrong. Jesus illustrates the hardness of their hearts by showing them how much God had forgiven them. If God had forgiven them of such a tremendous burden of sin, how could they do less with their fellow men? They were expected to show mercy upon their debtors just as God had upon His.

Jesus concludes the parable with this statement, “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” The “do to you” reference is to the previous verse where the unmerciful slave had been handed over to the torturers until he had repaid all that he owed. The conclusion in verse 35 seems to be a restatement of the sentence in the Lord’s prayer and does seem to reinforce the belief that if we do not forgive our debtors God will not forgive us. I believe that this teaching is correct. We are required to forgive our debtors an infinite number of times. Our refusal to forgive those who have sinned against us is a strong indicator that we have not been born again ourselves and that God is holding our sins against us. There is, however, one huge factor that is being ignored. That factor is the key ingredient of repentance.

Forgiveness Always Requires Prior Repentance

Look at the parable of the unmerciful slave once again. In both cases, the individual who had sinned against the innocent one had come to him and repented of his sin. Verse 26 records the unmerciful slave falling down before the one to whom he owed ten thousand talents (about ten million dollars in silver) and saying, “Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.” Verse 29 records the fellow slave who owed the unmerciful slave one hundred denarii (about eighteen cents) as falling down before him and saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you”. In both cases the one who had sinned against the other had come before him and asked for his forgiveness. In both cases the sinner had repented. In neither case do we find an example where the injured victim simply pronounced his forgiveness of the debt without even talking to the one who owned him money. Forgiveness always requires a prior repentance.

This parable of the unmerciful slave is found in the context of Jesus teaching the disciples how to resolve conflicts between themselves and others that involved sinful behavior and injury. Verse 15 begins the dissertation with the statement, “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Notice that Jesus did not say, “And if your brother sins against you, immediately forgive him from your heart so that your sins may be forgiven.” If Jesus was really teaching that forgiveness is to be unilateral, this is where He could and should have made that clear. What He does say is exactly the opposite. Rather than granting unilateral forgiveness, the injured brother is to go to the sinner and confront him about his sin. If he repents (“listens to you”) he is to be forgiven and the injured brother has “won his brother”. Their relationship has been properly restored by means of confrontation, repentance, and forgiveness.

What should the injured brother do if the sinner refuses to repent? Jesus instructs them from the law. Deuteronomy 19:15 says that a victim may continue the prosecution of his case if he can produce two of three witnesses to the sin that he has suffered. Jesus quotes that passage, affirms it in it’s entirety, and instructs the disciples to follow the law of witnesses should they decide to continue their prosecution. Verse 17 records “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuse to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax gatherer.” Notice Jesus never instructs them to grant unilateral forgiveness. He does just the opposite. If the sinner refuses to repent in the presence of the witnesses who bring the same charge against him, he is to be taken before the elders of the church and prosecuted there. If he refuses to repent before the elders, he is to be excommunicated. In no case is this man ever granted forgiveness for his sin.

Matthew 18: 15-17 is the most explicit teaching passage we have in the Bible that deals with the question of how to resolve conflicts that are the result of sinful behavior. At no point in the teaching do we find any statement about unilateral forgiveness. We are driven to the conclusion that the law of love requires an individual to behave lawfully towards his opponent at law. The law of love gives at least three opportunities to the sinner to repent of his sin prior to the sentence of excommunication. To grant forgiveness without having first obtained repentance is not an option. It is against the law of love to grant unilateral forgiveness to one who has sinned against you. (For a detailed exposition of the biblical principles of conflict resolution, see my essay entitled “Unity”.)

Love: Father Forgive Them

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

Like John 3:16, Luke 23:34 is ripped from the context in which it was delivered. Like John 3:16 the statement taken at face value and apart from the context is universalized and established as normative for all Christian behavior in the face of persecution. Like John 3:16, a tremendous disservice has been done to the Church by this corrupt interpretation.

Luke 23: 33-34 says, “And when they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying ‘Father forgive then; for they do not know what they are doing.’” There is great emotional impact in preaching and teaching that all believers ought to bear the cross and respond to their persecutors with the unilateral proclamation of forgiveness. There is great emotional impact in seeking to raise a spirit of martyrdom among believers so that they will willingly march off to their deaths. Certainly we should take great interest in walking in Jesus’ steps and seeking martyrdom for ourselves. Then, at the moment of impact, we too can ask the Father to forgive our persecutors. After all, did not Jesus himself ask that His Father forgive His executioners of their terrible sin? Actually, He did not.

Evangelicals do not have the understanding of systematic theology necessary to avoid the pitfalls in interpreting this verse (see Evangelical Heresies). Evangelicals do not have a doctrine of love that allows them to understand what was actually taking place on the cross when Jesus uttered these famous words. We, therefore, have to eliminate the errors before we can see the truth in this passage.

First and foremost it must be asserted that Jesus could not have been asking the Father to grant unilateral forgiveness for all mankind. It is theologically and rationally impossible to interpret this verse in that fashion. It is a theological fact that Jesus always prayed according to His Father’s will. It is a theological fact that the Father always granted the prayers of His perfect Son. (Jesus’ prayer in the garden is not an example of a prayer that God did not answer. Jesus carefully worded the prayer with “If it be Thy will…”) It is a necessary conclusion that if Jesus had prayed to the Father to grant forgiveness of sins to all mankind, then all mankind would necessarily be forgiven. Since the myth of the freedom of the will has been exposed as a myth, we are driven to the conclusion that if God has granted forgiveness to all mankind, then all mankind is necessarily saved. There is no other option. Clearly, however, all mankind is not saved. The Bible unmistakably teaches that there are men that God hates and will condemn. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus could not have been praying that the Father grant the gift of forgiveness of sins to all mankind. (If you are continuing to persist in the erroneous belief that Jesus’ statement simply made it possible for all mankind to exercise their free will and receive His universal offer of it, go back and read Evangelical Heresies.) I realize that this takes away the emotional impact of His statement and removes the impetus for granting unilateral forgiveness to those who persecute us. I also realize that this interpretation establishes a completely new emotional impact in the hearts and minds of those who truly were the object of His forgiveness.

Having eliminated the most common misunderstanding of what Jesus said, we are faced with the question, who was the focus of His prayer for the Father’s forgiveness (and by necessary deduction, salvation)? There are several possibilities offered here by those who understand that it is not possible to interpret His prayer as applying to all of mankind. The two most commonly alleged beneficiaries of His prayer for forgiveness are His crucifiers and those who were crucified with Him. Neither of these two options makes sense in light of the reason given by Jesus for why the objects of His compassion should be forgiven. Remember He said, “…because they know not what they are doing.” This statement is not true for either of the two groups.

Those who crucified Jesus knew exactly what they were doing. They had erected a sign over Him, written in several languages, languages that proclaimed Him to be King of the Jews. They had bowed down to Him in mock respect for Him as King. During the crucifixion itself one of the Roman guards flatly stated that Jesus was certainly the Son of God. They knew exactly what they were doing. It is not possible that Jesus could have asked for them to be forgiven because they did not.

Those who were crucified with Jesus also knew exactly what was going on. Recall that one of the two actually turned to Jesus and asked Him to “remember me when You come into your Kingdom.” There is no doubt that he understood something about the Kingship of Jesus and he acknowledged that on the cross. The other thief refused to repent and continued to mock Jesus until His death. There is no indication in Scripture that this thief was not fully aware of what he was doing as he mocked the Messiah. Once again, it is not possible to assert that the thieves crucified with Jesus were the objects of His prayer for forgiveness.

There was one group, however, that can be characterized as continually not understanding who Jesus was. That group was His disciples. Even at this point in time, they had no clue what was going on or why the crucifixion had to happen. All they knew was that their dreams of the conquering political Messiah had been dashed and their personal futures looked very bleak. All but John were so afraid that they had deserted Jesus in His most desperate hour in order to hide from the authorities. Peter, the spokesman for the cowardly group, had specifically denied that he even knew Jesus, just the night before. Those who had pledged their very lives to Jesus had actually deserted Him the moment things got tough. However, it is true that “they did not know what they were doing”. Indeed, until Pentecost and the baptism of the Holy Spirit came upon them, they had little to no idea what they were to be about as ministers of the Gospel. Nevertheless, they were Jesus’ chosen ones and they were in desperate need of forgiveness for the sin of deserting their Savior.

I suggest that the famous statement of Jesus should be interpreted as applying particularly to the disciples and generally to all of the elect throughout time. In other words, His prayer that the Father would forgive a particular group of people had specific application to His Church universal, in all times and all places. This belief is soundly grounded in the fact that Jesus was the federal head of His people, the Church. This belief is also based upon the theological truth that the death and resurrection of Christ transferred His people from the federal headship of Adam to His own federal headship. It is theologically correct to assert, as all orthodox theologians have always said, that each of us was responsible for the crucifixion of Christ because each of us was a son of Adam. Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to request from the Father, on behalf of His people, the gift of forgiveness of sins. Lastly, this belief is grounded in the orthodox theological belief that Jesus did not ask the Father to forgive anyone that the Father did not, in fact, actually forgive. This statement is true only of His elect. There is therefore no way to interpret this passage other than as applying exclusively to the Church.

The apostle Paul supports this interpretation as well. In his first letter to Timothy (verse 1:13), Paul describes himself as an elect sinner who did not know what he was doing when he persecuted the Church. He says, “…even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.” When Jesus prayed to the Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do”, one of the “them” He was praying for was the apostle Paul.

The Father granted the prayer of His Son. Father, Son and Holy Spirit were in agreement to purchase the salvation of the Church and to apply the forgiveness of sins purchased and paid for by the Son to the Church. When Jesus prayed that God forgive them, for they know now what they do, he was not making some emotional statement about how He felt towards His executioners. In fact, He wasn’t thinking about them at all (unless some of them later ended up repenting, thus proving they were members of the elect). Jesus was thinking, as He always did, about His people and His sacrificial love for them. I hope you, Mr. Evangelical, can see that the emotional impact of that statement makes the emotional impact of your erroneous interpretation look like chicken feed.

The biblical doctrine of love is perfectly consistent with this interpretation of Jesus’ statement from the cross. His people, the Church, were guilty before God and their guilt was made evident by the moral claims of the law upon them. But, Jesus came to be the sacrifice of love for His people. He came to be the propitiation for the sins of His people. He came to suffer the just wrath of God upon sin as the representative of His people. Therefore, on the cross, He prays to the Father to forgive the sins of His people. Nothing could be simpler or more beautiful. Nothing could be more of a motivation for us to love each other, just as He has loved us.

We commit a great injustice against the nature and character of God when we utter these words to those who are persecuting us when they have not asked for our forgiveness. We teach the enemies of the cross that God is a doormat, just like us. We teach the enemies of the Church that God really does not care about sin and that they are free to kick us around just like they did Him and everything will be OK. When we grant unilateral forgiveness, and base our behavior upon this passage, we do great harm to the Church. We need to repent.

Love: Love and Forgiveness

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

The evangelical doctrine of forgiveness is responsible for causing psychological torment in the souls of thousands of Christians around the world. Even worse, this horrible doctrine is also the cause of thousands of senseless deaths of believers at the hands of the enemies of the Church. The primary element in this odious doctrine is the belief that love requires us to grant unilateral forgiveness in order to obtain the forgiveness of our own sins. We must repent of this superstitious belief that God requires unilateral forgiveness on the part of His followers for their and His enemies.

Evangelicals do not have a doctrine of love that permits them to develop a biblically sound doctrine of forgiveness. Since they begin and end with their own emotional experience, they are incapable of deriving a doctrine of forgiveness that is based upon the clear teachings of Scripture. Several statements can summarize the evangelical doctrine of forgiveness:

  1. God forgives every human being who has ever lived, or ever will live, unilaterally. The ultimate statement of God’s forgiveness for all mankind was the death of Christ for all men. God desires all men to repent and will only reluctantly damn a person for refusing to exercise his free will and accept the forgiveness that He has freely offered.
  2. To be like God we must unilaterally forgive every human being who ever sins against us. By “unilaterally” I mean that we are not to wait until that person repents before we grant forgiveness.
  3. If we do not forgive those who sin against us, God will hold our sins against us. (I realize that this statement contradicts the first principle. I do not expect logical consistency in Evangelicals.)
  4. Forgiveness is not defined in the context of the perfect law of God. Rather forgiveness is defined as some sort of emotional contentment that is conjured up by the individual after becoming the victim of another’s sinful behavior.

Many will think that I am exaggerating and misrepresenting the doctrine as most Evangelicals hold it. To prove that I am not, I will quote from several statements made by people who have been victims of the most heinous crimes. All of the following quotations come from various editions of the monthly publication of the “Voice of the Martyrs”. I do not pick this magazine because I disagree with the efforts of this group as they support persecuted Christians around the world. Quite the opposite. I would encourage you, if you are not already familiar with this group, to contact them and find out what they are doing to help persecuted believers and how you can become a part of the effort. Nevertheless, they provide instances of this horrible doctrine on a regular basis as they describe the circumstances surrounding believers who have been martyred.

1. “Persecution against Sri Lanka’s Christian minority intensified in 2004. An increasing number of attacks were reported against evangelists and churches. We told you about one such church–the Christian Fellowship Church in Wadduwa village…. Pastor Sunil told a VOM representative his congregation has forgiven their attackers and prays regularly for their persecutors. They take Jesus’ command to love their enemies seriously and pray for those who persecute them.”

Here is a perfect example of how a corrupt doctrine of love leads to corrupt behavior. The evil God-hating persecutors of His church in Wadduwa village did not ask their victims for forgiveness. Regardless, the pastor and members of the congregation believed it was necessary, because of a huge misunderstanding of what it means for them to love their enemies, to grant unilateral forgiveness. What a dreadful error.

2. “Pastor Stephen Sudip Mir is very poor by the world’s standards but is sharing his eternal riches in the Bangladeshi village where God called him to work…. Last New Year’s Eve…a group of six unidentified men on two motorbikes stopped him about 200 meters from his church and home…. The unknown assailants stabbed the pastor in the stomach and all over his body. A bullet hit the left side of his face, causing extensive damage to his jawbone, mouth and tongue…. Mir told us that he has forgiven the men who attacked, beat and stabbed him within an inch of his life.”

The evil God-hating men who viciously attacked this pastor did not ask for his forgiveness for their actions. Indeed, he does not even know who they are. Yet, somehow, he is able to pronounce unilateral forgiveness for them. How is this possible?

3. On Sulawesi Island (Indonesia) there is a Christian by the name of Rizal. One night, while playing the guitar and singing songs of worship to God, a gang of murderous thugs attacked the small group that he was leading. Rizal was struck by several bullets but survived. Rizal’s mother, who was also present at the meeting, had this to say after the attack, “I ran to the parsonage. Inside the parsonage my heart was so full of fear, like a heavy burden pressuring me. Spontaneously I said many times: Lord, forgive them…. At that time I felt something change in my heart. I was wrapped with peace and calm. I gained strength. I realized that the Lord had placed a peaceful spirit into my heart when I prayed this prayer of forgiveness.”

The connection between subjective feelings of peace and contentment and the granting of unilateral forgiveness is clearly seen in this example. The evil God-hating people who attacked and tried to murder this small group of Christians did not ask their forgiveness for their vengeful deeds. Yet this poor believer was under the conviction that the only way to have peace with God was to grant unilateral forgiveness to people that should have been brought to justice and punished for attempted murder by God‘s ordained instrument of vengeance–the State.

4. Other quotations abound. “Today Damare is 15 and lives in Mario Kong (Africa). He is sad that he cannot run fast like the other boys, but he says he has forgiven the man who nailed his legs to the board.” To a woman who was attacked with a bomb while riding a church bus, “The VOM representative asked her if she had been able to forgive the people who placed the bomb in the bus, and she replied softly, ‘Yes’.” (It was important for her to summon unilateral forgiveness lest her own sins not be forgiven. The evangelical doctrine of forgiveness, as we shall see, interprets the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” as a call to unilateral forgiveness.) The examples go on and on. Each issue of the VOM usually contains at least one reference to this abominable doctrine of forgiveness.

Both the founder of VOM, Richard Wurmbrand, and the current President, Tom White, teach that unilateral forgiveness is a biblical requirement. I hasten to point out once again that I am not picking on these men because I do not believe them to be true Christians. I do believe that they are perfect examples of the doctrine of forgiveness, as most Evangelicals believe it today. Mr. Wurmbrand has said, “If Jesus’ murderers did not know what they were doing, they still needed forgiveness, and that is why He prayed for them. Sins of ignorance are still sins, and forgiveness is necessary…. Christ’s love surpasses every human imagination. He not only prays for His murderers but, even more, He tries hard to get them to receive this forgiveness.”

A better example of the absurd belief that Jesus has forgiven every man on earth and is desperately pleading with them to exercise their free will and receive that forgiveness could not be found. In this appalling doctrine we are told that Jesus was able to die to purchase the forgiveness of His enemies but He is too weak to apply it to them, lest he override their sovereign free will. How repulsive.

Tom White has said, “As an adult, the story (Johan) stood out as God’s unique way to reach the disgusting Ninevites. In my later years, I now realize that this story is a passionate picture of God’s heart, His forgiving love for the world. God was willing to do whatever it took to reach Nineveh.” Mr. White continues the doctrine taught by Wurmbrand by arguing that God reaches out in forgiveness to all mankind, passionately waiting for some to exercise their free will and accept his gift. You might want to go back to the essay on Selective Biblicism and read about “the rest of the story” with respect to the Ninevites. It is contained in the book of Nahum and it describes how God came in massive judgment against those God-hating reprobates.

Why are Christians, and their survivors, who are tortured and killed by God-hating reprobates required to produce some feelings of kindness towards their enemies? Why are their psyches tortured as they desperately seek to conjure up some feelings that can be described as forgiveness? Why are the enemies of the Church instructed, by our behavior, that they are free to kill and maim as many of us as they please and we will never cease to forgive them? Why are we surprised when the response of God-hating men to the statements of unilateral forgiveness is generally to redouble their efforts to stamp out the Church? Why can’t we figure out that laying ourselves before the world as physical doormats will result in our being repeatedly stepped upon? Why is the sanctified and God honoring desire for justice in the face of oppression expected to be suppressed in the hearts and minds of believers who have suffered horribly at the hands of their persecutors, all in the name of unilateral forgiveness? Why do we choose to ignore the fact that we are sons of the King and subject to His providential protection, all motivated by His passionate and intense jealousy to preserve us from evil? Why do we persist in the pestilent belief that God the Father is somehow honored to have His people cheerfully suffer at the hands of reprobate God-haters that He will ultimately destroy? I suggest that the roots of this foul doctrine can be found in the misinterpretation of three verses of Scripture: Luke 23:34, Matthew 6:12, and Matthew 18:21. We will look at each passage.

Love: Does God Love Everybody?

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

Romans 9:13 is a verse that is rarely preached. Quoting the Old Testament (Malachi 1:2), Paul writes, “Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” Evangelicals have no theology that allows them to interpret this verse so they simply ignore it. This verse does not fit into their presuppositions about the nature of God and His dealings with mankind so it is skipped. In fact, the entirety of Romans 9: 6-29 is disregarded because it is the most straightforward biblical statement about the doctrine of the sovereign election of God to be found in the Scriptures. Since the doctrine of election is generally despised, this passage is generally overlooked. I examined this passage in detail in Evangelical Heresies and do not plan on exegeting it again here. However, it does have something to say about the doctrine of love.

We have already seen that the answer to the question, Does God love everybody,? Is both yes and no. God loves everybody by virtue of the fact that He does not immediately wipe mankind off the face of the earth. We can also see His love for all mankind in His daily sustenance of our lives. However, we should not confuse His sustaining love with His electing love. When the question is in regard to His electing love the clear answer of Scripture is that God does not love everyone.

When God declared that He loved Jacob and hated Esau, He was unmistakably asserting that not all men are members of His elect people. When men complain that it is unfair for God to save some and not others, Paul informs them that God “has mercy on whom He desire, and He hardens whom He desires” (verse 18). When men complain that it is not fair for God to hold men accountable for their unbelief when they had no ability to believe, Paul informs them that God, as creator, has the right to do whatever He wants to do and man has no right to complain about it. When men try to argue that God is not really electing people to salvation but is simply looking down the corridors of history and “electing” those whom He foresees using their free will to make a decision to “accept Him”, Paul informs them that with respect to Jacob and Esau, “for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who call, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’”

There is no way to escape the plain teaching of Romans 9. God does not love everybody. Indeed, there are people whom God hates. Every human being, even before he is born, belongs to either the elect, and subject to the saving love of God, or to the reprobate, and subject to the sustaining love of God as well as His eternal hate. As we discovered earlier, we do not know who is in which group. We have to behave as if everyone we meet is potentially in the elect. That, of course, is the reason for evangelism. The standard evangelical argument that this doctrine destroys the motivation for evangelism is absurd. Rather than destroying the impetus for evangelism, it establishes it. Those who believe this doctrine understand, better than anybody else, that God has elect people all over the world who are waiting for a preacher to come and preach to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The preachers who are sent out all over the world go out in the strong confidence that God has elect all over the world who will respond to the faithful preaching of His gospel. These are beautiful realities that should strike us to the core of our being. We must conclude that God does not love everyone and that we are in gross error when we declare to a sinful world that He does. We need to repent of this flagrant lie that allows unbelievers to bask in the false confidence that they are objects of God’s saving love. The most hateful thing we can do to an unbeliever is convince him that God loves him.

A New Standard For Christian Hate

We have seen that although the doctrine of love is amazingly consistent between the testaments, there are significant differences as well. The major differences are related to the abolition of the principle of God’s chosen people being the instrument of His wrath in temporal judgment, that duty being transferred to the State. We have also seen that the standard for love between believers has been elevated. That is the new commandment that Jesus delivered to us, His disciples, to love each other more than the law requires. Indeed, we are to love each other sacrificially. Another passage of Scripture is important for our purposes here before moving on to practical considerations about the law of love.

If the law of love has been elevated in our relationships with each other, does it not also follow that the definition of hate must also be elevated? In other words, if we are now required to love one another sacrificially, does it not follow that we are guilty of the sin of hate towards our brother if we do not do so? Previously we could be found “not guilty” of hate simply by behaving lawfully. But that standard has been raised. Must we now behave sacrificially towards our brethren in order to avoid being guilty of hate? I believe that is a necessary conclusion that we must make and I believe that the consequences of hate towards our brother in the new covenant are very grave.

I John 3:15-16 says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This is an astounding statement. It does indeed appear as if the standard for hate has changed. If we do not live in such a way as to “lay down our lives” for our fellow believers, we are guilty of hate, and therefore murder, and our own salvation is in danger! Earlier John had said, “But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” Now he concludes that such a one is potentially not even a member of the kingdom of God at all.

What is the standard by which we can determine if we have laid down our lives for our brothers? It is rarely the case, for western Christians, that we are required to engage in a life threatening activity with our fellow believers. It is therefore most likely that we will never be called to lay down our lives for one another. Does it follow then, that there is nothing we have to do? I don’t think so. John follows up his statement in verse 16 with this example of one brother hating another. He says, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him how does the love of God abide in him?” Living sacrificially, in the mind of John, means sacrificing financially for a brother in need. I believe we can extrapolate that to include other types of sacrifice as well. In fact, I believe that we are called to sacrifice our money, our time, our interests, and, frequently, our wills, in service to our brother.

(Some might wonder what I mean when I say that we should be prepared to sacrifice our “wills” for one another. All that I am saying here is that love is not self-willed. When the opportunity comes up, we should defer to the will of our brother rather than insist upon our own. Simply put, whenever there is a decision to be made, the law of sacrificial love requires that I ignore my own desire and pursue the desire of my brother.)

This really should not be a strange concept for believers. There is scarcely a believer alive today who does not do this on a regular basis for his minor children. Just about every Christian parent knows exactly what it means to sacrifice his money, time, interests, and will for the benefit of his children. This concept is not difficult to grasp. What is difficult to grasp is the idea that this is our moral and loving duty to our fellow believers as well. I believe it is fair to say that if we are not willing to sacrifice our time, money, and interests for our fellow believers at least as much as we are willing to sacrifice for our children, we are disobeying the new commandment of love that Jesus delivered to us. John said, “Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (verse 3:18)”

The petty wars that go on between believers on a regular basis are a travesty and a gross violation of the new law of love. The outright hate that is so often seen being expressed between people who have a common profession of faith in the Lord Jesus is a travesty and a heartbreak. The stultifying emotional and relational indifference that exists between members of most churches is a flagrant desecration of the law of sacrificial love. The theological squabbles that have resulted in the creation of hundreds of sectarian denominations are a prime example of hate. The track record of the Church, both universal and local, is abysmal in light of the new law of love. Even good churches, where people restrain their pride and seriously endeavor to live by considering their fellow believers to be more important than themselves, struggle mightily in applying the terms of this new law of love to their day-to-day lives. Test yourself. Compare the sacrifices you have made on behalf of your temporal family over the past several months (a relationship that will perish with this life) with the sacrifices you have made on behalf of your church family during that same period of time (a relationship that will continue into eternity). How have you done?

Most Evangelicals today do not even know the names of their fellow believers in the congregation in which they worship. To expect that a person would know enough about the life and times of his fellow believer to actually engage him with loving sacrificial behavior is almost impossible to imagine. That type of love would require a level of effort to engage in fellowship that is rarely seen in any Christian church in this country today. Indeed, many people seek out local churches where they can be anonymous. The local church has become a place where individuals can go on a Sunday morning (or more often, so as to not interfere with the important recreational pursuits of Sunday morning, on Saturday night) and receive a dose of soft serve spirituality that allows them to feel good about themselves but in no way causes them to engage their fellow worshippers in acts of sacrificial love. This is a despicable and hateful situation that we are in. Indeed, according to John it indicates that we are probably not true believers at all. We need to repent.

God’s Love and Ours

We can now see the relationship between the loves of God and the loves we are required to display towards each other. God loves all of His creation with His sustaining love. We are required to love all men with agape love. God’s sustaining love and our agape love are both examples of behaviors towards others that are consistent with the morally perfect law of God. God’s sustaining love and our agape love are both examples of attitudes and behaviors towards the unrighteous that will result in one of two things: their repentance or an increase in judgment upon them. The sustaining love of God and agape are directly connected. Jesus ordered us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Although none of us, due to the presence of indwelling sin, will attain to the level of perfect obedience to the law of God, it is our moral duty to live lives of purposeful obedience to the perfect law of God with respect to our friends, neighbors and the entire world. In doing that we are fulfilling the requirement to love our enemies in exactly the same way that God loves His.

Just as God’s sustaining love and agape are directly related, so are His saving love and the new commandment requiring sacrificial love between fellow believers. When the Father sent the Son to be a propitiation for the sins of His elect, He made the ultimate sacrifice of love on behalf of others. Jesus then elevated the law of love between believers by giving us a new commandment. Our new standard for love is no less than His. We are expected to love fellow believers sacrificially. To do anything less is to be full of hate. The sacrificial love of God and the new law of love given to us by Jesus are directly connected. We are to love our fellow members in the Church universal even if that requires the sacrifice of our own lives. We are to view our fellow members in the Church universal as at least equal to (and preferably greater than) the members of our own families with respect to our sacrificial love. This doctrine of love should find expression in the way we treat the members of our local congregation with whom we are linked by oath and covenant. In sacrificing for the fellow members of our congregation we can fulfill the righteous requirements of the new law of love.

At this point we have a well developed doctrine of love. It is now time to apply this doctrine to some of the day-to-day situations in which we find ourselves. It should not surprise us to discover that most Evangelicals flounder horribly when engaged in interpersonal relationships that are difficult. With no conception of the requirements of the doctrine of love they are like ships without a rudder. We, however, have a solid rock on which to build our relationships. In what follows we will examine the doctrine of love in light of forgiveness, evangelism and marriage.