"God loves you," is a statement that's often-used in modern American evangelism when we speak to the yet-unconverted. Yet In every instance in the New Testament regarding Gospel preaching, there's no record of any of the apostles or evangelists ever using such a statement when speaking to the yet-unconverted. You have to wonder why. They spoke of the broken moral law, they spoke of impending judgment, they spoke of the sin of man, but the statement "God loves you"? There's no record of their using that.
Here's how the apostles shared the Gospel with people:
Acts 2: 22-24 and 29-38
Peter confronts the men of Judaea with their sin against Christ, declares that God raised him from the dead, tells them that He fulfilled prophesy and that God made Him the Messiah. They respond by being "pricked in their heart" and asking "What shall we do?" Peter tells them to repent and be baptized in His name. No mention made that "God loves you."
Acts 3: 12-26
Peter speaks to the elders of Israel, mentions their sins against Christ, states that God raised Him from the dead, refers to Scriptural prophesy about Him, and enjoins them to repent so that God will forgive their sins. Peter states that God sent Jesus to bless them. No mention made that "God loves you."
Acts 10: 34-43
Peter declares that he witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, that Christ is the coming Judge of the living and the dead, that He was prophesied to come by the prophets, and that whoever believes in him shall receive forgiveness of their sins. No mention made that "God loves you."
God puts the "fear of God" into a Roman jailer through a frightening act of providence. He asks Paul and Silas "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Their answer is well-known, and "God loves you" is not mentioned at all in the text.
Paul witnesses to the pagan Greeks on Mars Hill. The whole evangelistic thrust of Paul's message is that God commands repentance, that He does not excuse an ignorance of Him any longer, that He has appointed a day when Christ will judge the world, and that this same Christ rose from the dead. No mention is made that "God loves you."
The Roman governor Felix hears the gospel from Paul. Notice the way Paul reasoned with him: " ... and he reasoned of righteousness, temperance [self-control], and judgment to come, [and] Felix trembled ..." No mention is made that "God loves you."
One problem with the way evangelism is done in the United States is that it's so very influenced by the way we're used to having products sold to us. People hear the Gospel the way they hear advertising pitched to them.
Now in all fairness, God "loves" people whether they come to Him through Christ or not, IF we understand that love as His general kindness and mercy for his Creation, even in their rebellion. For example, consider Matthew 5:44,48:
In this passage we are told that we as Christians are to love our enemies. And then we're told why: " ... THAT you may be sons of your Father which is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." Here, the word "THAT" means "SO that"/"in ORDER that" you may be like God. In other words, because GOD loves His enemies, so must you. And the proof of that love? He provides for them by gracious acts of providence: sunshine and rain, which, according to this text, is a testimony of His love. The same truth is also expressed in Acts 14:17. Also, when God's ministers present the Gospel to people, that offer of mercy is an act of love, whether they receive it or not.
But as we share the Gospel with others, we really must qualify what kind of "love" this is, lest the practicing sinner get the idea that he's not in serious trouble with a God who is equally one of vengeance as He is of love.
The Bible speaks of God's love in more than one way. God's redemptive and saving love that He has for his covenant children is not the kind of love that we're to assure the unconverted sinner with. If we leave the unconverted with a false assurance and a false notion of his present spiritual condition; that of a natural enemy of God, we do him wrong, and misrepresent the Gospel. The way we share the Gospel to the unconverted must reflect this reality.
Scripture calls the unconverted sinner God's "enemy" [Romans 5:10, Ephesians 2:3].
John 3:36 says: "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Romans 5:9 says: "Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him."
Ephesians 2:3 calls the unconverted "children of wrath". The question has to be asked: "who's wrath"? It's God's wrath. God is angry at people who continue to live in sin. His love has to be explained to them in terms of offering them terms of peace, but that He is angry with them otherwise. No amount of modern, "altar call", "feel good" evangelism can erase the reality of this. If we leave the unconverted with "God loves you" without the warning of the Judgment to come, we do him wrong.
I have a Gospel tract from a reputable missionary organization that assures the yet-unconverted sinner that God loves him, by quoting Jeremiah 31:3 out of context, which says "I have loved thee with an everlasting love.". The tract's intent seems to be that of assuring the yet- unconverted sinner (who may very well reject Christ) that God has loved him from all eternity, in just the same way as He did with Jeremiah. It's simply not true for anyone and everyone. God loved Jeremiah with a special electing love, and He doesn't have that love for every person who comes into the world.
This is an example of what's wrong with modern American evangelism: an over-emphasis on the love of God at the expense of His wrath towards uncoverted sinners. In essence: telling people the "Good News", when they're either ignorant or unconcerned about the bad news. The "Good News" is only good, if we pre-suppose that they're aware of the Bad News.
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