Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

The deep, deep love of Jesus for his elect makes all earthly sorrow and hatred nothing—yea, less than nothing. There has never been any point within the existence of the triune God when the Son of God was not committed to a love relationship with a redeemed humanity–a humanity that would be rescued from the unspeakable sin of God-murder. He loved his elect before the foundation of the world in the eternal covenant of redemption. “In love he predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4). He loved us while he was in the world and, having loved them “he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). He loved us when he laid down his life, spilling his true human blood from a bruised and punctured true human body while experiencing exceeding sorrow in a true human soul.  He loved us in his resurrection so that eternal life would be the sure gift to the elect who were dead in trespasses and sin, for “out of the great love with which he loved us,” we were raised up with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-6). He loves us now in interceding for us, seated at the right hand of the Father, so that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:34-39).  This love was demonstrated in indelible power for it was displayed in its fullest when we were at our worst. When we were “without strength” and therefore helpless, his love made effectual overtures to give life to our dead affections; when we were ungodly, the God/man died for us; while we were still sinners the righteous one died the just for the unjust; we are saved from wrath because Jesus took our wrath as a propitiatory sacrifice; while we were enemies we were reconciled by his death; he lives, so much more shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:6-10).

No human relationship can oppress those whom Jesus has loved, for none can hate us or offend us more greatly than we hated and offended Christ. When I recall that Jesus has loved me, loves me, and will love me—when I recall that he saved me from sin, shame, death, wrath, and hell all human opposition and offense and even hatred and scheming against me is less than nothing. “And I say to you my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear; Fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4, 5). If God has forgiven me, justified me, through Christ and presently and unendingly intercedes for me then none can look at me and say, “You are not forgiven, you are not justified, there still is something against you.” Neither Satan the accuser of the saints, nor even other saints can say that. Each of us must resist living under the shadow of the past nursing resentment that obtrudes on our sense of blessedness in the grace of forgiveness.

Only when we consider how infinitely more grotesque are our sins against God than any wrong we commit against our neighbor [Note David’s confession, “Against you and you only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4)] can we sense the depth of the plea, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We find fall out from that idea throughout the words and arguments of Scripture as intrinsically connected with our sense of personal forgiveness: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32); bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse; repay no one evil for evil… Beloved do not avenge yourselves” (Romans 12:14ff).

No human relationship can oppress those whom Jesus has loved, for none can hate us or offend us more greatly than we hated and offended Christ.

From the standpoint of the Bible, it seems that any person or group of persons that accuse another group of persons of sins that they have not committed, and perhaps have no ability even to know, and holds them hostage to a penance that they do not owe comes from an attempt to explain behaviors and conditions apart from the common human ugliness that theologians call Total Depravity. I am intrigued, and at times bewildered, by the dizzying wave of new insights as to what constitutes Christian repentance and reconciliation. Now that we have Post-Traumatic Slavery Syndrome verified as a truly debilitating condition and given Christian imprimatur by a psychologist of the American Bible Society, we probably never will come to the end of a list of what is necessary for repentance. This explanation of human behavior is based on a critically acclaimed book by Joy DeGruy, entitled, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. It attempts to explain enduring aggravations in some African-American communities in terms of the generational effects of the trauma of slavery and points to such supposed particularities as infighting, materialism, poor parenting, jealousy, colorism, defeatism, frustration, and rage. To me, that does not seem like a list isolated to the descendants of former slaves but of all fallen individuals from all the descendants of Adam and from the all nations resulting from the scattering at Babel.

Isolating these problems as peculiarly characteristic of one community seems, not to obviate racism, but to enforce it. Such attempts to identify and explain behaviors supposedly more characteristic of one community than another implies some culturally- or psychologically-embedded flaw.  If we identify our problems in terms of psychological determinism generationally enforced, to be healed only by some kind of transformative conciliatory empathy from other fallen persons, we have committed two errors biblically and have made our case virtually hopeless. One error is that we have minimized the effects of sin in all of us and have turned us into a bundle of responses to a variety of personal traumas that each person experiences. Our problem is not primarily the oppression of an environment (though we should work for environments in which humans can flourish), but the spiritually putrid effects of sin. Second, we make our healing dependent on a human response commensurate to the depth of our sense of trauma. Nothing human can ever remove the stain of sin, reconcile us to God, or replace Jesus as the only one who can “sympathize with our weaknesses… that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). We have no powers to plumb the depths of human sin or heal the breach that causes all other breaches. If healing is dependent on that, then we will not be healed.

Public manifestations of injustice, real and imagined, and immorality, consensual and predatory, are set before both the public and the church community regularly. Justified bewilderment and alarm concerning these realities drives some to imply that “preaching the gospel itself” is not enough to counter these assaults on human dignity. There might be some who identify themselves as Christians, but do not share the idea of forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Christ, justification by his righteous life now and forever enthroned at the right hand of the Father, and see their main Christian ministry as seeking final resolution of earthly inequalities. Others may preach salvation, but so minimize the real effects of sin that even salvation itself becomes a matter of a human transaction, fatally ignoring the depth of work that must be done only by the Holy Spirit in bringing us to deep and sincere repentance from sin and loving faith in Christ. While Christians must work as salt and light in the world, and work for purity and holiness in our churches, and ministers must not forsake their calling to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort,” and to “rebuke sharply” idle and malicious people who “turn the grace of God into lewdness,” and thus deny the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:13; Jude 4), we must affirm that all of this work for righteousness and justice arises from the gospel. We do not minimize gospel preaching in the face of rampant social ills; we maximize it for it announces the only remedy for the sin that is the source of all human evils and also the undeniable charge to be brought against us at the day of assignment to heaven or hell.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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