When is it Time to Push Back on Unconditional Love? A Lesson from the Riots in Minnesota

When is it Time to Push Back on Unconditional Love? A Lesson from the Riots in Minnesota May 31, 2020

As rioting, looting, burning, and mayhem are currently taking place in Minnesota and the streets of our other cities, I cannot help but point the finger back at ourselves for this mayhem. I’m ashamed to say that quite a number of churches have inadvertently contributed to the crisis. We failed and continue to fail an entire generation of young people, the same ones we see on our television screens and social media who are currently destroying buildings, stealing, and cheering as another bottle lands on top of a police officer’s head.

I heard one guest on a news show today say that the Minnesota police officer who kept pressing his knee on George Floyd’s neck, killing him, has no fear of God. The guest then said that the innumerable young people who are causing violence and looting across our cities also have no fear of God. He is exactly right in both cases. And that’s how many of the churches have failed this generation—they no longer dare to tell people about the fear of God.

Our preachers stress that God is love, but what many of our churches and youths need to hear is that God is also holy and requires holiness from humans. Some also need to hear that not only is racism and social injustice wrong, but also harboring hatred towards others, even if the others happen to be white male police officers. Without such messages, is it any wonder that quite a few young adults are prompting violence in the streets, and looting and destroying property, apparently thinking that it’s okay to do so as long as they don’t get caught, and forgetting that God knows everything they are doing?

I suspect that quite a number of the rioters used to attend churches and were once part of our youth groups. We failed them when we stopped teaching them that we will be held accountable for our sins before a holy God, unless we repent. But that’s another problem—we no longer teach that people need to repent of their sins. Remember that word? Let me say that it again since it almost sounds offensive these days, even though Jesus and the apostles were not ashamed to say it—Repent!

Instead of repentance, what I hear over and over ad nauseam are messages about God’s grace and God’s “unconditional” love. It is almost as though our ministers today think that the primary problem in the world is a lack of self-esteem. Apparently, they seem to be oblivious to the fact that God’s unconditional love for some folks registers as a license to sin. They could go ahead and sin whenever they want because God will always forgive them—after all, He loves them “unconditionally.”

Rather, humanity’s primary problem is sin, and without repentance, forgiveness, and faith in Christ, sin will be punished. When is the last time we have taught these things in our churches and to our youths? When is the last time, Christian parent, that you have taught such things to your kids? When is the last time we taught them that we will all stand before the Lord on judgment day to give an account for the things we have done in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10)? Is it any wonder, then, that a generation of young people apparently feel no remorse, no conviction, no guilt for stealing, destroying small businesses, and injuring other human beings? There is no fear of God before their eyes, and we made sure that they never heard of such a thing.

Ministers, may I recommend that the next time you teach on love and the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, that you also teach about the works of the flesh from Galatians 5:19-21? The passage says, “Now the works of the flesh are clearly visible, which are fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, use of drugs, enmities, strife, jealousies, outbursts of rage, covert rivalries, dissensions, factional teachings, envious malice, murders, drunkenness, carousing and such things as these, which I am warning you, just as also I warned before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Italics and translation mine). Yes, social justice matters to God, and so does personal holiness, as this passage teaches. The “you” is addressed to Christ followers in Galatia. We are preaching the wrong message, then, if we think that because God loves us unconditionally, He will never punish us if we continue to do wrong and live in a sinful way.

I close with Paul’s words in Romans 6:1-2a, “Shall we continue to sin because we are not under the law but under grace? May it never be so!” In other words, if I could paraphrase Paul, “You’re out of mind if you think this way!” Little could our apostle imagine that this way of thinking would actually be turning into the norm for westernized Christians in the 21st century! The interlocutor’s questions in Romans 6:1 and 15 typify a misunderstanding of grace that is relevant back then and throughout history. When human sin has a tendency to be played down in the name of God’s surpassing grace and so-called “unconditional love,” this passage helps set the record straight.

As  Martin Franzmann suggests, the question in Rom 6:1 can be interpreted as “cool, Satanic logic: there is in it the Satanic suggestion that we should exploit God, make His grace serve our selfish will, use His gifts to support us in our rebellion against God.”*

In Romans 6, Paul is not speaking about an altruistic gift of grace (χάρις) that expects nothing in return. Such misconception has more to do with Immanuel Kant’s philosophy than Paul. Rather, divine χάρις is a gift that assumes believers are now obligated to show reciprocity by gratitude and loyalty, and this manifests in their continuing in faith and obedience to God and Christ (Romans 1:5; 8:12-13). It also means that allegiance to the Gift-Giver compels the believers to break from other allegiances, especially sin, since this force is diametrically opposed to God. Hence, the Christ-gift comes with an expectation and obligation in Romans 6:1-23 that believers should not lapse into their former sinful ways prior to conversion but persevere in obedience.

So then, when is it time to push back on messages about God’s unconditional love? When such messages fail to teach others about the holiness of God and neglect to warn the next generation about sin and its consequences. May Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous words about cheap grace continue to be heard in all the churches:

Cheap grace is “the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom it departs….Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”**


* Martin H. Franzmann, Romans: A Commentary (Concordia House Publishing, 1968), 108. Franzmann’s book, incidentally, was published in 1968, the same year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, multiple riots in our cities, and the Hong Kong flu that eventually claimed the lives of about 100,000 Americans and as much as 4 million worldwide.

** Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1977), 47; cited from R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), 133.


Aftermath Riot Protest via Pixabay

Riot Mask Slingshot via Pixabay

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