The fifth device of Satan Thomas Brooks wants to warn us about: convince us that God is “all mercy” because he has shown mercy in the past. That “love wins” is more than a marketing phrase; it’s God’s “campaign slogan.”
Oh! says Satan, you need not make such a matter of sin, you need not be so fearful of sin, not so unwilling to sin; for God is a God of mercy, a God full of mercy, a God that delights in mercy, a God that is ready to show mercy, a God that is never weary of showing mercy, a God more prone to pardon his people than to punish his people; and therefore he will not take advantage against the soul; and why then, says Satan, should you make such a matter of sin?
“I believe in a God of love, not anger.”
“That God in the Old Testament? The one who’s always judging and executing people? I can’t believe in a God like that. I believe in Jesus. Jesus loved people. He didn’t judge them.”
“Why would God allow his own son to die on a cross? That doesn’t sound very loving to me. I think Jesus died to set an example for all of us.”
“I believe love wins.”
How love wins through justice
There is a movement today to abandon what is known theologically as penal substitutionary atonement. That’s a big phrase, so let’s break it down.
- Penal – punitive; having to do with punishment. There was a transaction involving guilt and consequences over breaking a law.
- Substitutionary – in one’s place. There was an exchange of persons, one for another.
- Atonement – expiation; making amends for a wrongdoing. Setting things right.
That God requires shedding of blood for atonement to take place could not be more clear in Scripture. From the beginning, He has mandated that death must take place in order for a sinner to live.
God first clothed fallen Adam and Eve in animal skins, which required the death of that animal. Then God demonstrated substitutionary atonement to Abraham by providing a ram in place of his son, Isaac, at Moriah.
Under the Mosaic covenant, God established the slaughter of turtledoves, lambs, rams, goats, and other animals at the hands of his Levitical priests to make payment for the sins of His people Israel.
The prophet Isaiah announced to Israel the coming “suffering servant” who would die in the place of all repentant sinners.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6, ESV, emphasis mine)
This is the Lord Jesus of whom Isaiah speaks. The Church has always believed so. But that has not stopped skeptics from questioning or denying it.
The apostle Paul, Himself a Jew – a Pharisee among Pharisees – emphatically stated Jesus’ death was a penal substitutionary atonement.
“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20b-21, ESV)
“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:22b-25, ESV).
The attack on penal substitutionary atonement is an attack against God’s justice, itself. It asserts that “love wins” because God has applied mercy to all people everywhere. Repentance, faith, and even the desire to have mercy are irrelevant. Salvation, or something like it, is merely a matter of acknowledgement.
But there are enough warnings in the New Testament for the saints to “continue” in the faith that it is apparent there is more to redemption than mere knowledge.
Let’s hear what Thomas Brooks has to say on the matter.
Remedy 1: Remaining in sin IS judgment
To have lost the desire to be free from sin is a dangerous place for the believer. And to know that God has allowed you to remain there as a consequence of your stubbornness is the greatest judgment in this life.
What’s the saddest thing a parent can say of a child? “I give up. I’ve tried everything. I can’t try anymore. He has to choose his own path now. She has to learn her own lessons.”
What’s the saddest thing the New Testament says about those who insist on remaining in their sin? “God gave them up.”
We should pray as did Brooks, as did Augustine, as have all the true saints that we never stray so far into sin that God would remove His loving hand from us.
Remedy 2: The Bible teaches that God is both merciful and just
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
Blessed are all those who wait for him. (Isaiah 30:18 ESV)
That verse perfectly sums up Thomas Brooks’ point. It comes from the same chapter of Isaiah Brooks quotes regarding “Tophet.” A bit of context will help.
In Isaiah 30, God speaks to the prophet of his great disappointment about Israel’s turning back to Egypt for help against their enemies. He insists Egypt is Israel’s dead end.
Tophet is the “burning place” mentioned in the ESV translation, in verse 33. Scripture elsewhere identifies it as the valley of Gehenna, the place where the Canaanites sacrificed their own people to their god Molech. It is not the only place in the Old Testament where that exchanges this wicked for “hell.”
Tophet is clearly a place of judgment, of the fierce fire and wrath of God poured out on sin.
But wrath and judgment are not the only facets of God’s nature, any more than grace is. God pleads with Israel in this chapter that his mercy awaits them if they will return to him. The same is true for us.
Read verse 15. You’ll likely find its tone familiar: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you were unwilling.”
Remember the words of Jesus to the same Israel: “How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34b, ESV)
As with Israel, so it is with us. One word separates us from God’s judgment and delivers us into his mercy: willingness. Are you willing to leave your sin behind and repent, find strength in quietness and trust, and let him receive you with love?
Remedy 3: Choose mercy over misery
We cannot see God’s dual nature of love and justice more plainly than in how he first offers love before justice.
I have heard many parents say a similar thing: If my child admits wrongdoing, I’ll give a lesser punishment than if I find out later he lied to me.
God’s judgment against the Jews in 70 A.D. is difficult to speak of. But the historical evidence is plain. Jerusalem had the Son of God in their very midst. The Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Door to God’s sheepfold was right there before them. And yet they rejected him, cursed him by hanging him on a tree, and crucified the Lord of glory.
But the bloodguilt of Christ’s death is not on the Jews only. We have all gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. But God has laid on him the iniquity of us all. The Father has meted out justice for sin to his son, so that we the truly guilty may receive mercy.
To live in ignorance of God’s mercy is terrible. To know of God’s mercy and reject it is unthinkable.
Remedy 4: How great a salvation!
If you are a Christian, when is the last time you stopped to consider the immensity of God’s mercy? When did you last pause in awe of his work for you, the extent to which he has gone to redeem you?
Read Jesus’ three parables in Luke 15.
- The widow swept her whole house to find a missing coin.
- The Good Shepherd left his flock to chase after a wayward sheep.
- The father wrapped his wayward son in his cloak of righteousness, not even allowing the boy to finish his apology.
All three picture God’s demonstrated love for you.
Don’t now make the grave error of becoming the older son. Living in his father’s protection, working hard every day to please him, he nevertheless lost sight of love and wanted only justice for his brother.
Your salvation is the most precious thing on earth. It’s the pearl worth selling all to possess. It’s the treasure buried in the field worth renouncing everything to own. It is proof of God’s mercy toward you and a reminder of the justice Jesus bore for you.
Yes, “love wins.” Jesus won love for you.
Remedy 5: ‘Love wins’ so you can win others with love
Galatians 5:1 sums up Brooks’ final argument: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
We also see this summary in the outline of Ephesians. The first three chapters announce God’s great love and mercy toward us in Christ when we were “dead in trespasses and sins.” The last three then explain how we should live in light of this grace.
We even find this truth in the Old Testament. God first rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt apart from their merit or effort. Only afterward did he announce, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt,” and then gave them the law of his covenant.
God’s gives grace, and so you can be gracious. He extends mercy, and so he creates merciful saints. He demonstrates his love, and then our love abounds.
God does not save so that we may sin. He does not withhold justice so that we may become judgmental. He does not redirect his wrath toward Christ that we may stir up his anger by sinning. God loved us first through justice, and so we can demonstrate justice with love.