Throwback Theology … The “Balance” between Preaching God’s Love and Grace vs Hellfire & BrimstoneAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Grace, Love, Salvation, Sectarianism
Throwback Thursday Theology focuses upon the notion of “balance” and letting the Scripture set your agenda. We often hear from critics when we preach a sermon on God’s grace or love. It has happened this very week. They say we have to “hold everything in biblical balance. We must talk about responsibility and hell to be true to the Bible” (quoting my critic).
I have heard this, as I said, MANY times. But I have learned over the years that these critics have a made up definition of “balance.” Surely the Scripture itself tells us what God himself thinks is “balanced.” I think so anyway.
So I did a little experiment today. I asked the following questions and got some startling answers from the New Testament.
+ How many times does Paul preach about hell?
+ How many times does Luke in Acts mention hell?
+ How many times does the New Testament as a whole talk about hell?
+ How many times does Paul/NT talk about grace?
+ How many times does Paul/NT talk about love?
If you have never done this experiment you will be shocked by the answers. My critics would have you to believe that “hell” occupies a significant amount of biblical teaching. The critics would have you believe that ‘balance’ means devoting nearly, if not actually, a one to one emphasis on grace/love to hell/lost/etc. My friends that is a complete made up believe with not a shred of biblical support.
So if you ask “how often did Paul mention hell in his epistles from Romans to Philemon?” The answer is a big 0!! Yes that is ZERO! There is not a single verse in Paul that has the word “hell” in it.
So if you ask “how often does Acts, with the only sermons in the NT in it, mention hell?” The answer is a big 0!! Yes that is ZERO!!
In fact the entire NT uses the word “hell” a grand total of 14x. That is from Matthew to Revelation, 14x. All but two of those are in the Gospels and several of those are parallel passages themselves and not independent occurrences. James 3.6 and 2 Peter 2.4 are the only texts in the NT outside the Gospels with the word “hell.” I believe in the reality of hell. But it does not look like the NT used it very often to frighten anyone or for any other purpose.
Now are you ready for the biblical balance on grace and love?? Be prepared for some amazement.
If I asked, “I see that the NT uses hell 14x, so how often do the writers speak of grace?” The answer to this is an astounding 123x!! That is one hundred and twenty-three times.
If I asked, “I see the NT uses hell 14x, so how often do the Spirit guided writers speak of love?” The answer is a whopping 232x!! Yes that is two hundred and thirty-two times the NT writers speak of love. By the way if we expand that to the whole Bible the number climbs up to 551 times the Scriptures speak of love.
The Bible exalts, from Genesis to Revelation, the themes of grace and especially love. We cannot be true to the God of the Bible, the Holy Spirit or Word if grace and love are not the foundation of every sermon we preach.
The Pauline notion of balance is Titus 3.3-8. All the action, all the verbs, all the doing is the Triune God’s (Father, Spirit, Son). Baptism in v.5, is not an instrument of Precision Obedience but the glorious work of the Holy Spirit. Goodness, loving kindness, mercy, justified by grace. Paul says in v.8 “I want you to STRESS these things.” Why Paul? “so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.”
Love. Grace. Mercy. are the basis and ground for obedience. Healthy Christians are planted in the love of God. Obedient Christians are immersed in the grace of God. Faithful Christians are ever conscious of the mercy of God.
We can never scare people into faithfulness. We may frighten them into pathological legalism but we will never scare them into devotion and love for God. Fear is not the offspring of genuine biblical teaching. John says that love casts out all fear in fact.
So to my critics. I am thankful you have been my critic. I have learned that I have not stressed, as Paul directed, God’s love and grace nearly according to the biblical balance. Love saturates the NT 232x. Grace flows from the apostles 123x. Never once did a biblical writer apologize or qualify God’s gracious love rather they exalted it.