COMMITMENT ISSUES: LOVE AND JUDGMENT,
JUSTICE AND MERCY
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
SEPTEMBER 3, 2016
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“We love, because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19, RSV)
Though the title of this blog came to me from the Lord, I soon realized that pulling all these weighty topics together into one cohesive essay requires some heavy lifting. After reading my last blog article entitled, “Ending with the Flesh,” a friend asked me my personal views on judgment. He comes from a different background than I do, but with many of the same rules. I had said in that paper that love and judgment don’t mix, just like law and grace don’t mix. My meaning wasn’t clear, so with the Spirit’s help, I’ll give it another shot. Jackie DeShannon’s song says it:
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
No, not just for some but for everyone.”
Probably everyone could agree with these words on some level, because we are not only commanded to love one another; love is part of our DNA. Paul said that love never fails, but if that’s true, why are there so many divorces, so many Christians who have given up on God? And while I’m on the subject of commitment issues, why do some find it hard to commit to a relationship in the first place?
Another friend sent the question, “Can God be infinitely Just and Merciful…AT THE SAME TIME?” While these all look like separate issues, they are in fact all connected, all related to why we can’t commit. Some people can’t commit to a relationship. Others can’t commit to God, to a church, a career, a project or a good cause. I’m convinced that Commitment Issues are the basis of our misunderstandings about God’s judgment, love, justice and mercy. It also explains our knee-jerk tendency to judge others by our own standards.
I believe many of our problems in human relationships stem from our failure to fully understand God’s Unconditional Commitment to us. Harry Fox wrote his final paper this side of glory on this topic. I sent it around, but if you didn’t get it, let me know and I’ll send it to you. Basically, we can’t commit to God, a person, a religion, a cause, or a job until the Spirit reveals to us at a cellular level that God is UNCONDITIONALLY COMMITTED TO US. He always has been, though it isn’t spelled out quite as clearly in the Old Testament as it is in the New.
The Psalmist knew it, prompting him to write, “Great is thy mercy, O LORD; give me life according to thy justice.” (Psalm 119:156, RSV). If you do not know that God is unconditionally committed to you, you most certainly could not ask for life according to His justice. Why? Because most of us have been brought up to fear His judgment. We were scared spitless by well meaning Bible teachers and church leaders who warned us constantly about Judgment Day, lest our judgment, God’s justice for us, be an eternal flame. Horrors. Would to God we all knew God as Isaiah knew Him: “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18, NIV) God’s justice is always constrained by His mercy! (James 2:13)
The Bible is written on many levels so that anyone from the least to the greatest, from the most naive to the wisest person can find God in a way he or she is best equipped to understand. Waiting on the Lord is difficult for babes in Christ. It can also be difficult for those of us who have been walking with him for a long time as well. Providentially, He who sheds His love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, encourages us to wait for His blessing, rather than trying to get it by the strength of our own self effort.
Jesus warned us not to judge each other, but to get the beam out of our own eye before trying to get the speck out of our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5). In spite of Jesus’ clear teaching about this, the church world has sometimes encouraged us to judge and condemn other people’s behavior, their life style, their politics, or their religious affiliation, even though we’re not qualified to do so. Why aren’t we? Because as the Lord said to the prophet Samuel about choosing a man to be king over Israel, “The LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7. RSV) Only Christ is authorized to judge (John 5:22, II Timothy 4:8).
Paul explained why Christ is qualified to judge us: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8, NIV)
This passage is such good news from two standpoints: first, we didn’t have to clean ourselves up before God loved us and Christ died for us, which we sometimes expect of those whom we’re trying to love. In fact, Paul affirms that we were chosen in Christ BEFORE the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Further, “We who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:12) In the second place, we see that God’s judgment flows out of His love for us, NOT His anger or desire to punish us.
In fact, the Apostle John has very good news indeed for those of us who grew up fearing the Judgment of God: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24, RSV) Let that sink into your spirit and cause you to soar in the heavenlies, far above all fear of judgment and punishment, into the unconditional love and mercy and grace of God, which seals our eternal destiny and has done so since we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.
The passage goes on to say, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:26, NIV)
My thanks to John Gavazzoni for pointing out Jonathan Mitchell’s translation of Jesus’ commandment for us to love one another. The word commandment always implies there’s something we have to do on our own to be pleasing to God. That has caused many God fearing people to fall into the ditch of despair as they tried to trudge along, struggling in vain to love others. Like many of Jesus’ commandments, this one is not in the imperative mood, something we have to do or else, but is rather in the indicative mood, speaking of what God is going to do through us. Jonathan Mitchell’s New Testament translation of John 13:34:
“I am giving to you men a new implanted goal (an inward directive different from that which had been formerly; an impartation of a finished product that is new in kind and character): that you folks are to be continuously and progressively loving (or: should constantly love) one another, just as (correspondingly as; to the same level as; in the sphere as) I love you folks so that you also may constantly (or: would habitually) love one another.”
“I repeatedly give you these goal-oriented inner directions (impartations of the end in view) so that you can and would habitually be loving one another.” (John 15:17, Jonathan Mitchell)
I believe we fail at commitment to whatever it might be, because we don’t know that God Himself is doing through us that which He requires. This is what impartation means. When we try hard to love someone, but fail in the attempt, it is our efforts which fail, not God’s. We can trust Him. He is our Abba, our Daddy. By His Spirit, the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead, we are “PREDESTINED to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29, NIV) My friends, the Good News does not get any better than that. Wouldn’t you agree?
Why do we fear the justice or judgment of God when we are surrounded by His unconditional love, His mercy, and His grace? If this is true of us, it is because we have not FELT His presence. When someone we know is misbehaving, our judgment of them will not help, but will drive them further into the ditch of despair. It is only God’s love which lifts us out of ourselves and into His arms and it is His love flowing through us that uplifts and encourages others.
If God be for us, Paul asks, who can be against us? It is God who justifies so who is it that condemns us? (Romans 8:31-34). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39, RSV) Hallelujah!
Father, we thank You that You are Unconditionally Committed to us, and will finish the good work You have begun in us, no matter what it looks like now. Standing on Your promises, giving You all praise and glory, honor and blessing, now and forever, we join our voices, “with the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Amen.
COMMITMENT ISSUES: LOVE and JUDGMENT – JUSTICE and MERCY [Jan A. Antonsson] 09-03-16 1