Monday, January 23, 2017

Understanding God's Love

     There seems to be a widespread false doctrine that God's love nullifies His justice. Those who will not condone the homosexual lifestyle and gay marriage, oppose abortion, or that worry about allowing a violent and alien religious creed flourish in the West, are berated for not being sufficiently loving, tolerant or inclusive. Many Christians are confused as to how to react to the growing wickedness in the world, as well as the attacks on basic morality, because they have been taught, and strongly believe in, the concept of "love the sinner, but not the sin," and therefore question doctrine that would thrust some sinners out of Church. This confusion comes from misunderstanding God's love and the proper relationship between the flock and certain types of sinners.

     Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave an excellent talk that briefly addressed this topic at the October 2016 General Conference, entitled “Abide in My Love”. Some excerpts:
     There are many ways to describe and speak of divine love. One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is “unconditional.” While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture. Rather, His love is described in scripture as “great and wonderful love,” “perfect love,” “redeeming love,” and “everlasting love.” These are better terms because the word unconditional can convey mistaken impressions about divine love, such as, God tolerates and excuses anything we do because His love is unconditional, or God makes no demands upon us because His love is unconditional, or all are saved in the heavenly kingdom of God because His love is unconditional. God’s love is infinite and it will endure forever, but what it means for each of us depends on how we respond to His love. 
     Jesus said: 
     “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 
     “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” 
     To “continue in” or “abide in” the Savior’s love means to receive His grace and be perfected by it. To receive His grace, we must have faith in Jesus Christ and keep His commandments, including repenting of our sins, being baptized for the remission of sins, receiving the Holy Ghost, and continuing in the path of obedience. 
     God will always love us, but He cannot save us in our sins. Remember the words of Amulek to Zeezrom that the Savior would not save His people in their sins but from their sins, the reason being that with sin we are unclean and “no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven” or dwell in God’s presence. “And [Christ] hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem [His people] from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.” 
     From the Book of Mormon we learn that the intent of Christ’s suffering—the ultimate manifestation of His love—was “to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. 
     “And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.” 
     Repentance, then, is His gift to us, purchased at a very dear price. 
     Some will argue that God blesses everyone without distinction—citing, for example, Jesus’s statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “[God] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Indeed, God does rain down upon all His children all the blessings He can—all the blessings that love and law and justice and mercy will permit. And He commands us to be likewise generous: 
     “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 
     “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” 
     Nevertheless, God’s greater blessings are conditioned on obedience. President Russell M. Nelson explained: “The resplendent bouquet of God’s love—including eternal life—includes blessings for which we must qualify, not entitlements to be expected unworthily. Sinners cannot bend His will to theirs and require Him to bless them in sin. If they desire to enjoy every bloom in His beautiful bouquet, they must repent.”
     We must also understand that those who complain most loudly about a lack of love and inclusivity or acceptance are not doing so out of a sense of Christianity or compassion, but out of selfishness and, in some cases, a desire to lead others astray. The mother who has been a member for her whole life, and suddenly turns on the Church because it is insufficiently accepting of her gay son is not acting out of concern for those in the Church, but because she is suddenly faced with a religious stance that is personally uncomfortable and, perhaps, leaves her feeling guilty. It is easier for her to accept that the relative strangers in her congregation are wrong than to acknowledge that her own son is living in sin. The young woman that attacks the church because she has determined she is a lesbian and wants to live the lesbian lifestyle does not make her attacks because she is concerned for the salvation of those in the Church, but angry because she is not being praised for wallowing in her sin.

    The scriptures warn of these types of people. For instance, in 2 Nephi 28:
     7 Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. 
      8 And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. 
      9 Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.
From Ezekiel 22:
       25 There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. 
        26 Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. 
        27 Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.
Christ, Himself, warned: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." (Matthew 7:15).

     We are in the last days, and I fear that the time that Christ pours out his judgment on a wicked world is fast approaching. This is not the time to be distracted by worldly philosophies or to distance yourself from the Gospel because it is not popular or comfortable; or feel guilt or shame for your faith. The Gospel was never meant to be comfortable and inoffensive, but was intended to act as a refiner's fire. Don't be deceived in these most dangerous of times.

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