God's love for his creatures truly is amazing. And his love for his church, the redeemed people of God, is unfathomable! How he loves us! BUT, (and this is a potentially mind-blowing thought), the Apostles - the men who were trained by Jesus, filled with his Spirit, and unleashed on the world with the gospel - did not use the love of God as a reason to come to God through Christ. Think about that for a second. The Apostles did not use God's love to motivate people to come to Christ. In the entire book of Acts, which is the record of the early church and the expansion of the gospel, we do not find one example of God's love being preached about in evangelism. In fact, the word love (or 'loves,' 'loved' or 'loving') is not even used in the book of Acts one time!!!
This becomes truly interesting when we consider that today, almost ALL appeals for people to come to Jesus are connected with the idea of God's love. Makes you want to ask, 'So who is doing it wrong, the Apostles or us?' Interesting.
"But wait," you say, "The Apostles wrote a LOT about love in the epistles of the New Testament." Correct, and praise God for their teaching on God's love! But the epistles are not evangelistic sermons and appeals, they are letters. Letters to whom? Churches! People who have already come to Christ; who have experienced the forgiveness of sins and have entered into the love of God that was hindered by those sins and God's resulting wrath. God wants believers to be instructed about his great love for them. But to unbelievers? Rarely in Scripture is the love of God even brought up.
Jesus brought it up with Nicodemus (John 3:16); However, this was not an unlearned heathen, but a teacher of God's people, Israel. Not quite the perfect model for evangelism. What about the rich young ruler? Jesus didn't mention the concept. The woman at the well? Didn't even bring it up. Certainly and absolutely, Jesus himself was motivated by love, and God is love. This we cannot deny (and would never want to deny!!). But we cannot ignore the fact that the truth of God's love is not given to us in Scripture as the motivation for coming to Christ.
So what is the motivation that the Apostles use in Acts?
- "for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2:38)
- "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come...that he may send the Christ" (Acts 3:19-20)
- "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you...And there is salvation in no one else" (Acts 4:11-12)
- "to give repentance...and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31)
- "the intent of your heart may be forgiven you" (Acts 8:22)
- "And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43)
- "forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you" (Acts 13:38)
- "God commands all men to repent because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man he has appointed" (Acts 17:30-31)
So, what is the biblical motivation? It appears that the coming judgment and the forgiveness of sins is the motivating reason the Apostles gave for turning to God through Christ. This agrees with Jesus' teaching when he sent out the Apostles:
And said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luke 24:46-47, ESVGod wants men to understand the seriousness of sin and the glorious provision he has made to forgive us of our sins through the death and resurrection of Christ. Only then can we know and enjoy God's love! In fact, it is only in this context that we can truly understand God's love: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10, ESV). Scripture is here linking our knowledge of God's love with Christ's death for the forgiveness of our sins. If we don't emphasize God's love in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, but only speak of a generic love of God, we actually water down his love!
Is it possible that we have forgotten, or even rejected, the one motivation Scripture gives us for receiving Christ?