A few years ago an article in the Los Angeles Ti
mes (back on April 2, 2006) told the story of xxxChurch.com, a ministry outreach to those caught up by pornography. They wanted to have so me Bibles printed up that had this on the cover: "Jesus Loves Porn Stars". The Bible publisher they tried contracting with wouldn't go along. According to the article, "The publisher said that while it applauded the outreach to those who make a living off pornography, 'the wording is misleading and inappropriate for a New Testa ment,' according to a letter the pastors received from the executive in charge of standards at the nonprofit Bible publishing company."
You see, at just the right ti
me, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man so meone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:7-10)
"Misleading and inappropriate?"
The Bible publisher would doubtless have had NO trouble with this phrase: "Jesus loves sinners."
But they, like many
Christians, seem to lose their minds if you insert a specific sort of sinner that is loved in place of the generic word. "Jesus loves rapists" or "Jesus loves murderers" or "Jesus loves the self-righteous" doesn't seem as reasonable so mehow.
Why is that?
Because the radical nature of what Jesus did for us isn't reasonable. Paul wrote:
You see, at just the right ti
Jesus loved us and gave his life for us when we were his enemies. He died for all the people that give us the creeps. He died for those of us who give others the creeps. We can do nothing to contribute to our salvation. But he loves us anyhow. He doesn’t just love people who repent and turn from their sins. He doesn’t just love those who are perfect. He loves those who are really bad and kind of stay that way.
Or haven’t you bothered reading about what the Bible has to tell us about the great people of the faith?
Huh? You ask.
Consider chapter 11 of the anonymous New Testament book of Hebrews which gives the reader a list of people who stand out because of their great faith. If you actually read their stories in the Bible, you’ll discover that most of them are not particularly nice people. Let’s look at one of them: Jephthah, one of the Judges, who appears in the list in Hebrews 11:32-33:
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
If we look back and read about him in Judges 11, we discover that he wasn’t a firm monotheist—that is, he seems to have accepted the existence of other gods in his letter to the Ammonite king:
Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess. (Judges 11:24)
Then, when the Spirit of God came upon him and empowered him, he made a vow to God, promising to sacrifice the first thing that came out to meet him if God made him victorious in battle. So when he came back, triumphant, his only daughter came dancing out to greet him—and he fulfilled his vow and sacrificed his only daughter as a burnt offering to God. (see Judges 11:29-39)
Or let’s look at another person: Lot—Abraham’s nephew. The apostle Peter has this to say about him:
…and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)… (2 Peter 2:7-8)
But if we take a look back at Lot’s story in Genesis 13-14, and 19, we’d be really hard pressed to find even one deed of righteousness that he ever performed: he didn’t want to leave Sodom when the angels came to get him, most of his children refused to join him in leaving, his wife was reluctant and she ended up as a pillar of salt. Then the two daughters who did leave with him—well, they got him drunk, had sex with him, and gave birth to his children for whom he was then both father and grandfather (Genesis 19:30-38). Yes, a wonderful, righteous man, Lot: the Apostle Peter himself says so!
How can that possibly be?
Christians believe—or at least claim to believe—that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross cleanses us from sin—that we made righteous not by what we do, but instead by what Jesus did: his righteousness is attributed to us.
Paul, among other New Testament authors, makes that very clear. Consider for example this from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesis:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Or from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Galatians 3:1-6)
The good news is that it does not matter what we do. It matters what Jesus did. A surprisingly large number of Christians don’t take this particularly seriously. A lot of people don’t think it’s fair.
And they are right. It isn’t fair. It’s unjust, even.
But think about it: when someone does something bad to you, you probably want justice. But when you do something bad to someone—is justice what you want? No. You want mercy.
And mercy, by its very nature, is unjust. God is merciful, and he errs on the side of mercy. He offers us compassion. He offers us grace. He is a loving Father.
It is amazing the number of
Christians, even publishers of Bibles, who apparently don't really believe the Gospel message or understand just how uncomfortably radical it really is.
Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of
has made himself notorious by picketing the funerals of gay people with signs announcing that the recently deceased is burning in Hell. He also maintains a website which proclaims that God hates homosexuals. Jimmy Swaggart was preaching once and com Topeka, Kansas mented, “I'm trying to find the correct na me for it . . . this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. . . . I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died.” His audience laughed and cheered.
People like Phelps or Swaggart will trot out a collection of biblical passages to try to prove that God hates certain people who sin in ways that they find particularly reprehensible. But they never seem to have much trouble with other sins that they can’t use for fundraising purposes: gluttony, lying, gossip, and the like. And I’m sure they never, ever, do anything wrong themselves, ever, and if they aren’t grinding the faces of those who sin in the ways they don’t like, then they just aren’t preaching righteousness.
Odd. I don’t see any examples of “hell-fire and brimstone” preaching in the New Testament—except maybe some of the things Jesus had to say to the self-righteous religious leaders of his day.
In fact, Jesus told his disciples to preach “good news.” He left it to the Holy Spirit to handle making people aware of sin: “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). I seem to recall that Jesus also said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17). God is more about mercy than he is about justice, and mercy, by definition, is unjust.