Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Christian’s Attitude Toward Unbelievers

Pieter Claesz: A Vanitas Still Life, 1645

    We have seen how Jesus viewed the lost. We are now in a position to understand John 3:16. As with any verse of scripture it is important to pay attention to the context. And so here. John chapter 3 begins with Jesus' interview with Nicodemus, one of the rulers of the Jews who was interested in what Jesus had to say. Jesus tells Nicodemus that " . . . as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:14,15; NKJV). Then, to explain this last statement, we are told that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (v. 16). What does the word "world" mean in this context? In verse 19 we are told that "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." The word "word," in other words, is the place where fallen humanity lives. It is human society in general. The light comes "into the world," and the world rejects the light. The "world," in this context, obvious includes the non-elect.
    So, then, what motivated God to "give" His only begotten Son was the love that He had for the human race in general. He made salvation available to everyone contingent on their faith in Christ. In other words, the passage underscores God's love for all mankind and the free offer of the gospel.
    There are other passages in the New Testament that make the same point. It may come as a surprise to Mr. Phelps that John 3:16 is not the only verse in the Bible that indicates that God loves the entire human race. In Titus 3:4 we are told "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared . . .He saved us." The Greek word translated "love toward man" is philanthropia. Here God's love for men evidently appeared when Christ came into the world to die on the cross.
    We are told that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Tim. 2:4). In the context this has to refer to the human race in general, for in the next verse we are told that Christ is the "one Mediator between God and men." Moreover God is said to be "the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe" (I Tim. 4:10), implying that there is some sense in which God is the Savior even of those who do not believe. We see the same kind of language in I John 2:2 where Christ is said to be "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." Likewise in I John 4:14 that Jesus is "the Savior of the world." John usually uses the word "world" in the negative sense of mankind in its depravity and rebellion against God. There is no question but that God feels compassion toward lost sinners.
Paul's Arrival in Rome
 The real question, then, is what should our attitude toward unbelievers be? Should we march around with signs that say "God hates fags" and "God hates America"? It is striking that the apostle Paul could write "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh . . ." (Rom. 9:1-3). Paul goes on to explain that the reason that most of his fellow Israelites rejected the gospel is because they were not elect. He himself had been physically abused by them on more than one occasion. Yet so great was his love for his countrymen that he could wish that he could be accursed in their place! Thus it is fitting that this same apostle could write to his young colleague Timothy and instruct him that "a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth . . . " (II Tim. 2:24,25).

    And so must our attitude be. We do not know who are the elect and who are non-elect. We are to preach the gospel to them all. And in our own personal conduct we are to exemplify the life of Christ – His love, His patience, and His humility. We are no more than redeemed sinners preaching to fellow sinners. Let our attitude always be, "There, but for the grace of God, go I!"

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