Having Jesus Fit Our Expectations

Once again, there’s another “evangelistic” campaign floating around which emphasizes God’s love at the expense of mentioning topics like sin, wrath and judgment. I choose not to name this latest movement primarily because it will most likely fade away quickly and be replaced by a repackaged version of the same basic error. Frankly, this emphasis is nothing new; in my over 50 years as a Christian, I’ve seen it crop up numberless times. (I also prefer not to give this campaign publicity.)

Scripture gives us good reason to trust that Jesus understands everything we experience as human beings, and therefore sympathizes with our struggles. A wonderful passage in Hebrews assures us of His ability to empathize with our suffering.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~~Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB95)

This passage fills us with comfort, as well it should! We all have times — often protracted times, actually — when troubles lead us into the temptations of anxiety, self-pity and despair. In such times, we crave assurance that Jesus stands beside us, giving us far more empathy than our friends and family ever could. So we rejoice that we have such a faithful and understanding Friend Who willingly goes through our trials with us. And if we don’t rejoice in His empathy, we should! Dear sisters in Christ, please never forget how deeply He cares, even when it seems as if nothing will ever be right again.

At the same time, focusing too much on the Lord’s compassion has a serious drawback that causes a skewed perception of Him. Speaking from both personal experience and observations of some of the ways my friends have dealt with struggles, I firmly believe that we often emphasize His compassion so much that we forget His holiness.

Certainly, we can err in the opposite direction, portraying God as a heartless ogre Who hasn’t the slightest concern about our feelings. Popular media likes to perpetuate that image by creating “Christian” characters devoid of any tenderness. Sadly, some of us in Reformed circles unintentionally reinforce those false caricatures in our efforts to counterbalance the overly emotional emphasis on His understanding. We must avoid presenting our loving Heavenly Father in such a grim light.

As usual in Christian theology, the character of God can’t be flattened into whatever fits our preferred narrative. Currently, the renewed push to “evangelize” the lost by telling them how deeply Jesus relates to their individual situations makes it a point to highlight His acceptance of everyone. Conspicuously absent, as you might expect, are any references to sin, repentance or judgment. If some Reformed Christians have inadvertently neglected to show God’s love, the people behind this new campaign deliberately fail to mention His holiness. As a result, the Lord doesn’t get presented in His fullness.

The thing is: we don’t have authority to distort anything about the Lord. Romans 11:33-36 cautions us against presuming to conform Him to our human expectations of how He should relate to us. In truth, His righteous indignation against our sin really serves to accentuate the wonder of His mercy and compassion toward wretched sinners like us! So when we minimize (or totally eliminate) references to sin. repentance or judgment, we essentially manipulate His nature into what we demand Him to be. And He hasn’t given us permission to reshape Him according to our specifications.

I praise God for His compassion in forgiving my sins, as well as for His faithfulness to care for my daily needs. I can testify that He very much understands my struggles, and that He carries me through immense trials. Hebrews 4:14-16 has proven true many times our throughout the years, and I depend on His love.

But the sweetest part of His love comes as I understand His wrath regarding my sins. The fact that a holy God like Him cares for a wretch like me fills me with adoration. Without His righteousness, I don’t think His love would be nearly as precious.

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