Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Law and Love: They Work Both Ways

I have found a few responses on Facebook over the last week or so, mainly from The Gospel Coalition, to a recent sermon sample posted by Steven Furtick. It is taken from a message he preached mid last year called ‘It Works Both Ways’, and in this portion of his sermon he makes the claim: ‘God broke the law for love’. So I thought I would check it out for myself, and after watching the clip, I was a bit surprised and concerned. Because at face value, if true, this teaching has a number of significant implications that I will cover later. I have a lot of respect for Steven. I enjoy listening to his messages, I love his passion for the Gospel and mission, and I know he honours the Word. So after watching this, I thought I would check it out because I really don’t like judging someone because of a sound-bite. It is really easy to misunderstand what someone is trying to say if you don’t have the context in which they are saying it. Maybe he meant something slightly different, but he just didn't explain it very well. And so I went and watched the whole message (here) to get a better idea of what he was trying to say. After doing so, I could see what he was getting at, but it was still problematic. What I want to do is provide a summary of that context and evaluate the statement ‘God broke the law for love.’

Steven’s message was based on 1Jn 4:7-12:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

Steven's message was about the importance of reciprocation in relationships, and how this is true of love in our relationship with God. Although, as John points out here, it is quite asymmetrical with God as He gives much more love than we do or could. Steven went on to talk about the importance of love in that relationship saying that while some might emphasise the instructions to ‘be holy, be better, be pure’, he suggests that John is putting the primary emphasis on the command ‘be loved’ (a play on the word beloved), because you cannot give what you have not got. In other words, unless we believe God loves us; we cannot love others. This is what Steven considered to be God’s leverage to move us to follow Him. He explained that God had all the leverage in the Law that ‘we couldn't keep’, but He walked away from that leverage when He sent Jesus into the world and instead used the leverage of love. Therefore, by giving grace instead of law, ‘God broke the law for love’. And because God loved us, we need to make that complete by loving others.

What I really appreciated about this message is how Steven explained that God seeks to primarily influence and motivate and move His people by His love rather than bullying them into obedience. But what he had to say beyond that reveals a misunderstanding about the nature of the Law and the Old Covenant, and the grace and love of God. You see, he seems to separate the former from the latter. He sees the Law and Old Covenant as being divorced from the grace and love of God.
Grace existed in the Old Covenant as it was according to His love, grace, and mercy that he redeemed the people out of Egypt. And it was this act of redemption that was to be the motivation of the people’s obedience to the Law, as we see in the prologue to the Ten Commandments. So, while the love of God demonstrated in the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross was unique in its degree, significance, and effect, what John wrote is not a radically new concept. Moreover, to give the Law is a demonstration of grace and love as it allowed a Holy God to dwell among His people. Moreover, if God is loving and gracious, and all that he does is an expression of that, and if the Law is a reflection of God's character, then how can we say the Law is contrary to love and grace? In fact, the whole Law hangs, as Jesus tells us, on the two commandments to love God, and love your neighbour (Matt 22:36-40). Every single commandment is an expression of either one of those. As John elsewhere writes, to obey God’s commandments is how we love Him (1Jn 5:2-3). 

And so, it is this belief that the law is opposed to grace that shaped Steven’s sermon, and I belief inherited to many protestant Christians. In his thinking, since the law is contrary to grace, then obviously God had to get rid of the law to give grace. But as we saw, the law is not contradictory to grace, nor was the Law the primary basis of covenant with His people in the Old Covenant either. It was a consequence and demonstration of that covenant. Also note that Jesus said he didn't come to do away with the Law, rather He came to make it fully known and anyone who teaches otherwise will be considered least in the Kingdom (Matt 5:17,19). If Jesus, and God, did away with the law and broke it in order to bring about grace, as Steven seems to imply, then we have a problem. Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32, it says that no one is to add or subtract from the Law. If Jesus did this, then effectively He sinned and disqualified himself as our perfect sacrifice, and we are still dead in our sins. But we know that Jesus was without sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21).

Paul tells us in Romans that rather than God turning a blind eye to sin and ignoring the law, which would be a corrupt injustice, He punished our disobedience to the Law in Jesus. It was at the cross that God “showed his righteousness… so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). This is possible because the righteous requirement for dealing with our sin would be satisfied in Christ as the debt for our transgressions (Col 2:14) was paid in full by Jesus. So rather than God breaking the law for love, “He has broken antinomianism [lawlessness] for love” (Wilson). If God could simply take away or overlook the law, then not only is there no longer any sin to give grace for, but also Christ would have died for nothing.

I think that Steven’s sermon was an encouraging and empowering one as his listeners were told to embrace the love God has for them, and reflect it to others. And while getting caught up on six words from this message might sound like a distraction from a great message and petty, they were a pretty significant six words.  I hope that we have misunderstood Steven. I hope that he made a poor choice of words. Because to misrepresent what God has called perfect and holy is a pretty big deal. To effectively accuse Him of being a sinner is a pretty big deal. But I don't think Steven intentionally did that. Having listened to him preach a number of Sermons, I know he wouldn't believe that. I think that his low view of the Law has simply lead him to make a mistake. Nonetheless, this serves as a reminder to us who are recipients of the ministry of the Word to not simply swallow everything proclaimed from the pulpit on Sunday. Rather, as good Berean Baptists, we must test everything we hear, no matter how ‘cool’ they seem or how inspirational they sound.

Wilson, J. "God Broke Antinomianism for Love", thegospelcoalition.org. 


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