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Can A Loving God Clear The Guilty? | God Is Love #5

God’s attributes work together in harmony, but we don’t always understand His complexity. There is a tension between how God’s love is to be applied without justifying evil. Pastor Lutzer explores the tension in Exodus 34 between love, guilt, and forgiveness. What does extravagant love look like for a guilty party? This episode was originally published April 29, 2019 as “The Attributes of God | Week 17: Love.”

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’
- Exodus 34:6

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Transcript: Welcome to Five Minutes With Pastor Lutzer. Thank you so much for joining us, as we discuss the attributes of God; the wonderful, complex, mysterious attributes of God. And whenever we contemplate God, we should end up in worship. There is no subject as challenging as thinking about God. 

Now, if you’ve been with us, you know that in previous sessions we pointed out that God does not love everyone unconditionally. John 3:16, God loves the world. We can tell people that God loves them, but He also judges those who are not in Christ. But if you are in Christ, Jesus taught us that we are loved as if we were Jesus. We are loved even as He is loved. That comes to us from John 17. 

Today’s text actually comes to us from the book of Exodus. And I love to read this, because many people think that in the Old Testament, God wasn’t loving. In the New Testament He is, but in the Old Testament He was harsh. Well, it is the same God. And listen to this from Exodus chapter 34. We read, “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’” And by the way, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquities. But you know what the next verse says: “But he will not clear the guilty.” That’s the next verse. 

What I want us to understand today is that there is tension in God from our standpoint. Now of course God’s attributes are totally harmonious in Him. But when we study the attributes of God, we study them one by one and we tend to pick one over the other. But actually we have to understand that, from our view point, God is a very complex being. You’ll notice that He has steadfast love, but He will not clear the guilty. That’s what the next verse says. In God, humanly speaking, looking at it from our standpoint, there is tension—tension between love, tension between love and evil and forgiveness. And the only way in which He will clear the guilty, by the way, is if their debt is paid. And that of course happened for us when Jesus died on the cross.

But I want to talk you very candidly, and hopefully give some insight into some of the tensions that we ourselves face when it comes to the love of God. For example, I’ve received letters from people who say, “Should I attend my daughter’s same-sex wedding?” Now there you have a tension between love. You love your child, and you may even love that child unconditionally. But on the other hand, do you want to be a participant in evil? And the answer, of course, I think should be no. Affirm the love to your child, most assuredly; but don’t attend the wedding so that you become a participant. But I’m not judging this particular issue, because everyone has a conscience that they need to answer to. 

My point is simply this, that the minute you and I talk about love, we immediately have a tension between how that love is to be applied. Isn’t it Interesting that the early church felt this? The Bible says that people were drawn to the early church because they loved one another: “Behold how they loved one another.” But the holiness of the church also repelled people. In fact, it says in the book of Acts that there were those who did not want to join themselves to the church because of fear and because of holiness. And you and I have to be able to navigate this tension, and to recognize that God in His goodness has given us the opportunity to love, but that does not justify evil. We need to live with that tension. 

Can I give you an assignment today? Why don’t you love extravagantly? Choose someone who is difficult to love and show them love. And when you show them love, there is no conflict with justice in most of those situations. Just love even though there’s no reason to love, and you will be like God, who loved the world even when we were His enemies. Let me give you one story. I remember reading about a wife whose husband left her, married another woman. He had children with this other woman. But his wife died—his second wife died, and he himself was very sickly. And he asked his first wife, “Would you take care of our children?” And she said yes, and she cared for them as if they were her own. That’s extravagant love. And let us because God is love. God loves us, and we love others even to the point of extravagance. 

Find someone today to love, maybe a family member, and show them the love of God, which the Bible says is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Today, go with God. I look forward to seeing you once again next time.

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