Why Do I Love My Unbelieving Neighbor?
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The title of this post is a question that I asked myself after reading the title of a “Breakpoint” message by John Stonestreet—Our Muslim Neighbors: Christ died for them, we could at least love them. The title seems to suggest that Christians ought to love unbelievers (specifically Muslims) because God loves them. The Bible clearly teaches that God sent Jesus to die for sinners as an expression of his love for sinners. And the logic of Stonestreet’s argument seems to be that if God loves unbelievers in the cross of Jesus Christ then that love of God is the reason that Christians also must love unbelievers.
The issue here is not that God loves unbelievers and sent Christ to die for them. The Bible is very clear that in his love for his people who were yet sinners, hardened unbelievers, God sent Christ to die for them. The issue here is the extent of God’s love for unbelievers that was displayed in the death of Jesus Christ. Is Jesus’ death an expression of God’s love for all sinners or only for some?
Stonestreet’s title suggests that God’s love in the cross of Jesus Christ is universal in extent—it is a love for all sinners. Stonestreet does not explicitly say in the title or in the body of his article that Jesus died for everyone. This is the inference that I am drawing from his assertion that Christians should love people because Christ died for them. In the body of the article Stonestreet speaks of the calling of Christians to “love our enemies,” to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and to “reach out to all our neighbors (emphasis his).” If we are to love all of our neighbors, and Christ’s death for the neighbor is the basis of that love, then Christ must have died for all of our neighbors. So Stonestreet seems to find a love of God for all men in the cross of Jesus Christ as the ground that necessitates the love of Christians for their unbelieving neighbors.
The idea that Christians must love all men because God loves all men is quite prevalent in the church today. Even in many Reformed churches where the idea that Jesus died for all men is rejected, it is still popular to teach that God loves all men. In these churches they deny that God loves all men in the death of Jesus Christ, but they teach that God loves all men in the preaching of the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is a “well-meant” offer of salvation to all men in which God sincerely loves all men and desires the salvation of all men. It is commonly said this is what drives the church to do missions. Why does the church do the most loving thing it can do for sinners and preach the gospel to all men as it has opportunity? Because God loves all men. Therefore, the church must love all men and seek the salvation of all men too. So whether it is because God loves all men in Jesus’ death, or because he loves all men in the preaching of the gospel, the conclusion is the same, the reason that Christians must love the neighbor is because God also loves the neighbor.
There is no question that Christians must love their enemies, do good to all men (Matt. 5:43, Gal. 6:10). There is no question about the duty of the church to preach the gospel to all men as it has opportunity (Matt. 28:19). There is no question about the duty of the individual Christian to love and desire the salvation of his unbelieving neighbor whether he be an atheist or a Muslim.
But the calling of a Christian to love the neighbor cannot be grounded upon the love of God for all men. Christian love for the neighbor cannot be grounded upon the love of God for all men because God does not love all men. God did not love all men in the cross of Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches that Jesus died for His elect sheep alone (John 10:15). God loved only the elect in the cross of Jesus Christ. And God does not love all men in the preaching of the gospel. In the preaching of the gospel God also only loves and desires the salvation of his elect (Matt. 13:11-17, Matt. 22:14).
Scripture teaches that God’s love is powerful. It does not matter if one says that God’s love for all men is found in the cross of Christ or in the preaching, either way, if God loves everyone with his powerful love then everyone would be saved. But everyone is not saved. Which means that God’s love must be a weak love if his love is universal. There is no hint of a weak universal love of God that fails to save those who are the objects of that love in Scripture. God’s love is powerful and saving for those chosen by God in eternal election (Rom. 8:29-30).
Christ did not die for all men. God does not have love for all men. Christians then do not love their unbelieving neighbors because they know God loves them.
Oh yes, Christians must love Muslims and their other unbelieving neighbors. Why?
We will answer that question in the next post.