Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Van Gogh:The Prison Exercise Yard, 1890
Breaking the Bondage of Legalism:
When Trying Harder Isn't Enough
Neil T. Anderson, Rich Miller, and Paul Travis
Harvest House, 313 pages
In their book Breaking the Bondage of Legalism: When Trying Harder Isn't Enough, coauthors Neil T. Anderson, Rich Miller, and Paul Travis, all associated with Freedom in Christ Ministries, address a very real, and in some circles a very pressing problem. Many of us are familiar with churches with stringent rules of personal conduct, and for some in these churches, the psychological pressure can be crushing. Mssrs. Anderson, Miller and Travis describe the problem, examine the underlying causes, and prescribe a remedy. A book like this is certainly needed, but does it hit the mark?
The first problem in dealing with a subject like this is how to define the word itself. The term "legalism" is often used loosely to describe an oppressive system or mentality involving rules and regulations, but it is not always clear exactly who or what is in view. Much to their credit, our authors attempt a formal definition. "Christian legalism," they tell us, "is seeking to attain, gain, or maintain acceptance with God, or achieve spiritual growth, through keeping a written or unwritten code or standard of performance" (p. 37). The definition, it will be noted, is broad and sweeping. It could include justification, sanctification, and assurance. Sometimes the word appears to refer to an excessive attention to detail. Sometimes it seems to mean reliance on human effort. At other times it means having one's assurance of acceptance with God based on personal performance. Our authors would no doubt say that legalism means all of these things and even more.
The problem here is that the authors have defined "legalism" so broadly as to exclude from the Christian life any objective standards and any personal effort to meet them. They claim that at the heart of legalism is a pernicious falsehood, viz., the belief that "my Christian growth is primarily dependent upon my efforts to maintain Christian disciplines or practices rather than upon God's grace" (pp. 40-41). What they have done here is to place "Christian discipline and practices" in opposition to "God's grace." But it is a false dichotomy. Why does it have to be either / or? Doesn't the Bible present it as both / and? Did anyone grow spiritually without Christian disciplines and practices?
Some aspects of "legalism," thus defined, are clearly Biblical. Christians are required, in fact, to "keep commandments," and, to some extent, the quality of our relationship with God is conditioned on our obedience. Our Lord Himself said, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21). The Bible is filled with specific injunctions that govern all aspects of our lives. Does a truly spiritual Christian simply ignore what the Bible says about these things?
To their credit, at the end of their book the authors do maintain that to develop and maintain a relationship with Christ does require time spent in prayer, and this, in turn, will result in a Christ-like life. Their theory of sanctification is this: ". . . as you develop your intimate relationship with the Father in prayer, and as you learn to lean on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, you will begin to live like Jesus. You will find that it is not trying to keep laws, but trusting in the Lord, that keeps you from sin and enable you to walk in righteousness" (p. 229).
All of which brings us to a deeper concern we have about the authors' book. Modern day legalism, as they describe it, is mostly confined to certain groups, viz., conservative "Holiness" and Pentecostal churches, and so-called "Independent, Fundamental" Baptists. Once we move outside of these circles we are far more likely to encounter the exact opposite problem: lax moral standards and pervasive worldliness. For every professing Christian who is caught in a "legalistic" church there are probably at least ten (admittedly not a scientific estimate) who cannot seem to make the connection between their profession of faith in Christ and the way they live. Their personal lives are virtually indistinguishable from those of their unsaved neighbors. Their pastors rarely mention the word "sin," Christian ethics is never discussed in a systematic way, and church discipline is virtually non-existent. Some churches today don't even maintain formal membership rolls. The members of these churches may feel good about themselves, but their relatives, neighbors, and coworkers are likely to think that they are hypocrites. For the majority of Christians today the authors may be flogging a dead horse.
Nevertheless, our authors have much to say that is valuable and worthwhile. They point out that our salvation rests on the finished work of Christ on the cross, and not on our own merits. They note that God genuinely loves His children and desires their good. They point out that the key to success in the Christian life is union and communion with Christ. And they are largely correct in their assessment that these critical perspectives are often missing in legalistic churches, and that this, in turn, will tend to rob Christians of their sense of assurance. Some of these Christians are, in effect, back where Martin Luther was before he discovered the doctrine of justification by faith.
Our feeling is that it is not the presence of rules, but the absence of a relationship – a meaningful relationship with Christ -- that is the problem with legalism. What we need is a genuine revival.

Related articles:
Religion or Christ 
What is the Church Supposed to be Like 



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Unsaved Christians

Parmigianino:The Conversion of Paul
There is no question but that the church today is but a pale shadow of its former self. Long gone are the days of revival, when preaching was powerful, when worship was lively and heartfelt, and multitudes pressed into the kingdom of heaven with tears of repentance. Today the sermons are dull and flat, the congregations half-asleep. We are smug, complacent, and spiritually sound asleep. And worst of all, we are so used to this dull routine that we can scarcely imagine that there was ever anything else. In the words of the apostle, we have a "form of godliness" but deny "its power" (II Tim. 3:5). What has gone wrong?

    There are several causes of our predicament. First of all we have a professional clergy that tends to look at ministry as a career. Pastors tend to measure their success in terms of attendance and budgets. Their aim tends to be making the organization as a whole appear successful, and they focus on numerical growth instead of spiritual growth.
    Compounding the problem is the fact that many churches are working with a type of theology (certain forms of Dispensationalism) that downplays the moral law and holds that it is possible to accept Jesus as Savior and not as Lord. This, coupled with the natural reluctance of most pastors to cause offence, means that we rarely hear sermons about the law of God, about sin and repentance, or about heaven and hell.

    What typically passes for "evangelism," then, is this: the evangelist is anxious to press people to make "decisions" on the spot. Seekers are asked to repeat a "sinner's prayer," and then they are declared to be "saved." Theoretically, if the prayer is said sincerely the person really would be saved. But what happens all too often in this scenario is that there is very little real conviction of sin. The person merely gives mental assent to the idea that "I am a sinner," but often there is a kind of mental reservation. In reality the person being "saved" is comparing himself to everyone else he knows, and really does not think that he is such a bad person. Thus when he says "I acknowledge that I am a sinner" what he is acknowledging is that as a human being he has his share of faults, but to his way of thinking this is more or less normal, and the offenses are fairly trivial. He really does not see himself as a guilty sinner under the wrath of God. He says the prayer, then, as a kind of ritualistic formula to take care of a technical difficulty. There is no real conviction of sin and hence little real repentance.
    Our new "convert" is then baptized and joins the church. But he tends to think of the church primarily as a social organization with its own standards and entrance requirements. The chief function of the church is to put on a program on Sunday morning. The pastor carefully organizes the whole thing; the members contribute financially, and hopefully everything is pulled off without a hitch. The members sits quietly in the pews, listening passively to the "special music" and the "message," which is usually a comforting homily that is neither especially profound nor inspiring. At the end of the "service" the congregation leaves the building self-satisfied. They return to their houses and live out their lives during the rest of the week engaged in a variety secular pursuits. They go through life making pragmatic decisions based on their own sense of self-interest.
    What is missing in this whole exercise is any real sense of the divine or eternal. The whole thing consists in externals. During the week the "Christian" is likely to give scarcely any thought at all to God, to prayer, or to holiness.
    If the church is fairly conservative and tries to maintain some standards of conduct, the "Christian" will likely begin to chafe under the restrictions. Deep inside he wants to be free to just be himself; he wants to be free from external constraint. He begins to resent the idea of having to meet someone else's expectations. He begins complaining about "legalism" and "judgmental church members" – "Fundies" who take the Bible literally. He may eventually become weary of the whole thing and just walk away, never to return.
    In most cases the underlying cause of all of this is that the person was never really converted in the first place. If we may use a paradoxical form of expression, he is an "unsaved Christian," which is to say that he is not a real Christian at all. He never really repented, and he was never really born again. Inwardly he is still very much the same as people outside of the church, and he has the psychology of an unconverted person. His affections are on the things of this world. He mostly pursues his own self-interest. There is no interest in spiritual matters, no real desire to please God. If he has any inkling of what the Bible actually says he will try to find a way either to discredit it or at least a reason not to take it seriously. Church, to him, was never anything more than a sociological phenomenon, but it is a phenomenon that is increasingly making him feel uncomfortable.
    What is easy for us to forget in our spiritual stupor is what is at stake in all of this, viz., eternity itself. We were created by God – we would not even exist at all if it were not for Him. Thus every day we refuse to acknowledge Him and refuse to submit to His will is a day lived in open defiance of His authority. Someday we will have to stand before Him and receive His just sentence on our lives. Our church membership will do us no good if in fact we are not really saved. God looks at our hearts, not the church membership rolls.
    It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to examine himself. "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified" (II Cor. 13:5; NKJV). We cannot afford to deceive ourselves on this point. God will be the final Judge. Be sure that you are right with Him!

Related articles:
What Must I Do to Be Saved? 
What is Saving Faith? 
Born Again! 
Misunderstanding the New Birth 
What Is "A Personal Relationship with Jesus"? 

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!"

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Attitude of Jesus Toward the Lost

The Prodigal Son
With the Old Testament background in mind we are now in a position to turn to the teachings of Christ. What was noteworthy, and controversial, about His earthly ministry was His willingness to associate with the notorious outcasts of society. He was frequently criticized for mingling with hated tax-collectors, women of ill-repute, and on at least one occasion with a Samaritan woman. On the other hand He wept over Jerusalem which He knew was under God's judgment. His explanation for His concern for the lost was simple and to the point: "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10; NKJV).

    Jesus had several parables to illustrate the point, some of them recorded in Luke 15. These parables were prompted by a complaint from the Pharisees and scribes to the effect that "This Man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). In reply Jesus began first with the Parable of the Lost Sheep (vv. 3-7). The owner of the sheep leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the one that is lost. In the story his reaction to finding the sheep is significant: "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'" (v.6). Then Jesus tells the moral of the story: "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance" (v. 7).
    The next parable was that of the Lost Coin (vv. 8-10). Once again the main character in the story has lost something, this time a coin. Again an effort is made to find the lost item until it is found. Again the friends and neighbors are called to celebrate, and once again the point is this: "Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (v. 10).
    The imagery of these two parables is vivid: the frantic search, the joyful celebration. And in each case the point is the same: the repentance of a sinner is greeted with joy in heaven. But all rights a sinner deserves punishment; but what God really want to see is repentance, and He wants to see repentance because He genuinely cares about the sinner.
    The most dramatic story of all is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lu. 15:11-32). The youngest son has utterly disgraced himself. At length he recognizes his desperate condition and realizes that he must return to his father, but he is afraid of what his father's reaction might be. He prepares a speech full of humble contrition, and then goes on his way. His father's reaction, however, was not what he had expected. ""But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (v. 20). The son tried to deliver his prepared speech, but the father would have none of it. "Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry" (vv. 22,23). And the reason for the big celebration? " . . . for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found" (v. 24).
    There was, however, one other person in the story, an older son who was put off by the patent injustice of the situation. He had always been the "good boy," the one who always tried to please his father. Why throw a party for the son who was rebellious and irresponsible? But the father told him the same thing that he had told the others: "It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found" (v. 32).
    The younger son was a sinner; he had done much to provoke his father to anger. And yet his father agreed to see him. Why? Because he love him and longed to see him restored to the family. The point of all these parables is that God desires the repentance of sinners, not just their condemnation.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Is Love?

    As we have seen, Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, maintains that God hates most of mankind, and challenges the common interpretation of John 3:16 that "God so loved the world." As we have also seen, God very definitely hates sin and is angry with the wicked. But does that necessarily mean that He does not love them?
    Part of the problem with Mr. Phelps' thesis is the ambiguity involved in the English word "love." We love ice cream because it tastes good. We might show love to a homeless man because his condition is pitiful. The former kind of love is called by theologians a "love of complacency," i.e., we love something because we are pleased with it (Latin, "complaceo"). This kind of love is basically conditional – it depends on some sort of good found in the object of our love. This is the kind of love God has for His obedient children: "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him . . . If anyone loves Me , he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:21,23; NKJV). Obviously God does not have this kind of love for the wicked!
    But there is another kind of love as well, a kind of pity or compassion that one has for those who are in need. We show love to others, not because there is anything lovable in them, but simply because we are loving – we freely respond to the needs of others. This kind of love is sometimes called l "love of benevolence," a desire to do good to others (Latin, "benevolentia," from "bene volo," to want to do well).
    One of the key passages describing God's attributes is Exodus 34:6,7. Moses is at Mt. Sinai, and God reveals Himself to him. Passing by He proclaims "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation." The Hebrew word translated "merciful" (rachum) often refers to the deep love that a superior has for an inferior because of some natural bond. The word "gracious" (chanun) signifies the heartfelt response to someone in need. "Goodness" (v.6) or "mercy" (v. 7 – both words translate the same Hebrew word, "chesed") is a kind of love that shows kindness to someone who is in a pitiful state. This benevolent love is the kind of love that God has for mankind in general.
    The classic description of this kind of love is found in Psalm 103:13:
        "As a father pities his children,
         So the Lord pities those who fear Him."
It is the very weakness and helplessness of the son that elicits that response from the father.
    It should be noted, however, that this kind of love does not lead God to overlook or excuse sin – far from it. We are warned in the passage in Exodus that God is"by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children." Rather, God's compassion expresses itself in a readiness to forgive those who repent and ask for forgiveness. He is "longsuffering" (lit., "slow to anger") and "does not afflict willingly" (Lam. 3:33), and is ready to forgive (Mic. 7:18-20).
    God's mercy and compassion extends even to those who are not His chosen covenant people. When God sent the prophet Jonah to pagan Nineveh, and Nineveh repented as a result, Jonah actually became angry. His prayer on the occasion was revealing:
    "Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore
     I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful
     God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing
     harm" (Jonah 4:2)
Jonah here repeats, practically verbatim, the declaration that God had made to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Only Jonah did not interpret these words to mean that God's mercy and love were restricted to His chosen covenant people. Jonah understood that God was compassionate by nature, and that His mercy extends to every human being who repents. Since love is an essential attribute of God, it is antecedent to, and not restricted by, any decree of election or any formal covenant relationship. Jonah knew what God would do if Nineveh repented, and he was right!


Next: The attitude of Jesus toward the lost.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Some Thoughts on Obamacare

    As surely as the whole world must know by now Washington is currently roiled in controversy over President Obama's signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act. A bill to fund the operations of the federal government is stalled in Congress as conservative Republicans seek to derail implementation of the act. As we write the federal government is partially shut down.
    For those who live elsewhere and have not experienced the American healthcare system firsthand, traditionally most Americans have received health coverage through their employers. The government provided tax incentives, and the employers would purchase coverage through private insurance companies, which would then pay claims on a fee for service basis.
    The system, however, had serious weaknesses. One of them is that it left some persons completely without health coverage, for not everyone worked for a company that provided health benefits. To remedy this hospitals were legally required to treat everyone regardless of ability to pay. The poor would show up in emergency with minor ailments because that was the only place where they could receive care. The hospitals, in turn, would engage in cost shifting, overcharging patients with insurance to cover the costs of treating those without it. But probably the worst feature of the system was its inability to control costs. The inflation rate in the health care field ran into double digits year after year, in good times and bad, for decades. Insurance companies tried every means possible to rein in costs, but to no avail. The health care industry simply had no incentive to economize.
    What is ironic about the current impasse is that the health care plan so detested by conservative Republicans originally began as a conservative alternative to socialized medicine. In 1989 the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, produced a plan called A National Health System for America. In October of that year Dr. Stuart M. Butler gave a speech at a medical college in Tennessee explaining the plan. He reviewed the problems with the healthcare system at that time, dismissed several alternatives, including government-funded systems, and then outlined the Heritage Foundation's plan. Among other things he said that one of the aims of the plan was that "All citizens should be guaranteed universal access to affordable health care." In order to make it work the plan required an individual mandate to buy insurance. "Society does feel a moral obligation to insure that its citizens do not suffer from the unavailability of health care. But on the other hand, each household has the obligation, to the extent that is able, to avoid placing demands on society by protecting itself." ("Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans"). Four years later, in November, 1993, Republicans in Congress introduced two bills in Congress to reform the healthcare system along the lines suggested by the Heritage Foundation. Massachusetts finally enacted such a plan in 2006, signed into law by Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican.
    Significantly, during the Democratic primaries in 2008 Barack Obama opposed the idea of an individual mandate. It was included in the federal law when it was finally enacted, however, and survived a Supreme Court challenge (on the lame pretense that the fine for not purchasing coverage was really a "tax").
    The plan is a bureaucratic monstrosity, and has several serious flaws. It attempts to add additional participants to the existing system, but it is hard to see how it will manage to finance this. It is also hard to see how it will hold down costs. In order to work it must have maximum participation from those who are young and healthy, but it is not at all certain that they will sign up. The plan as the potential to become a fiscal disaster.
    We think that it would have made more sense to have gone with a single-payer national health insurance plan. Coverage would be extended to everyone, and it could be financed through a combination payroll / self-employment tax, at a flat percentage of income. It would be simpler to administer, and have a more stable financial base. There would be no controversial "mandates," and yet everyone would pay into the system and everyone would be covered.
    Let's repeal "Obamacare" – replace it with a single-payer national health insurance plan!

Related blog posts:
The Social Agenda of the Tea Party 
Capitalism and Christianity - I 
Capitalism and Christianity - II 
Wealth Management 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Does God Love Everyone?

Reply to Fred Phelps
Fred Phelps
 Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas has won international notoriety because of his aggressive campaign against homosexuals. He and other members of his church often picket military funerals with protest signs that read "God hates fags," his point being that America is under the judgment of God because of its growing toleration of homosexuality, and that God's judgment is seen in the war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. One outrage family sued Mr. Phelps, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Court ruled in favor of Mr. Phelps, treating it as a free speech issue.

    Virtually all of Mr. Phelps' program is built around the proposition that "God hates fags." Mr. Phelps has posted on his website a 94 page document entitled "'God Loves Everyone' the Greatest Lie Ever Told." In it he insists that the Bible never says that "God loves everyone," and he cites as proof 701 passages "proving God's hate and wrath for most of mankind." One might suppose that John 3:16 states the love of God for mankind in general, but Mr. Phelps denies that it means any such thing. He points out that John 3:18,19 speaks of certain individuals as "condemned," and to his mind this is proof that God "hates" them. According to Mr. Phelps' interpretation, the word "world" ("For God so loved the world . . .") simply means "Gentiles as well as Jews," and not necessarily every single human being.
    Mr. Phelps considers himself to be a Calvinist, a Primitive or "Old School" Baptist, and one detects a note of Hyper-Calvinism in his reasoning. Many Calvinist theologians have, in fact, argued that God has no desire to save the non-elect, and have interpreted John 3:16 much the same way as Mr. Phelps does. Significantly, though, Calvin himself did not interpret it this way. The verse, he says, clearly tells us that "Christ brought life because the heavenly Father does not wish the human race that He loves to perish" (Comm. ad loc.).
    But what does the Bible itself actually say about the matter? It must be noted at the outset that God certainly does hate sin and punishes sinners. It is sometimes stated that "God hates the sin but hates the sinner," but even this is not quite true. Sin does not exist by itself, in abstraction from the human being who commits it. Ultimately sin is the act of human will, and it is the person that God holds accountable for his actions. And so we have a passage such as this one:
     "For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
        Nor shall evil dwell with You.
        The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;
        You hate all workers of iniquity.
        You shall destroy those who speak falsehood;
        The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man."
                        Psalm 5:4-6; NKJV
Here it will be noted that sin is contrary to God's very being ("nor shall evil dwell with You" – v. 4). Moreover God holds sinners accountable for their actions: He "hates" them, "destroys" them, and "abhors" them. On this point Mr. Phelps is surely right.
    But does this mean that God simply "hates" the non-elect? That He feels no compassion for them at all? First of all, even the staunchest of Calvinists will admit that there is at least a general love which God has for all mankind. They would cite such passages as Psalm 36:6,7:
        " . . . O Lord, You preserve man and beast.
         How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
         therefore the children of men put their trust under
            The shadow of Your wings."    
Or Psalm 145:8,9:
        "The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
         Slow to anger and great in mercy.
         The Lord is good to all,
         And His tender mercies are over all His works."
And then there is Acts 14:16,17, where the apostle Paul tells a crowd at Lystra that God
        "in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own
        ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness,
         in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons,
         filling our hearts with food and gladness."
The very care that God exercises over all His creation through His providence is evidence of the love that He has for even the least of His creatures.


Next: What is love?