Thomas Brooks’ book Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices talks about various ways the Christian is dissuaded from the life Christ wants him or her to live. One such idea is to present God as made up entirely of mercy, to the exclusion of other things which can be said about him.
One way the Christian can fight the urge of our time to view God this way is to consider that the people of God who have gone before didn’t consider God’s mercy as an excuse to sin. The psalmist wrote,
3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in your faithfulness.
4 I do not sit with men of falsehood,
nor do I consort with hypocrites.
5 I hate the assembly of evildoers,
and I will not sit with the wicked.
–Psalm 26:3-5, ESV
The Apostle Paul writes against using God’s mercy to continue in sin.
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
–Romans 6:15-19, ESV
Brooks’ sums up this idea with a warning:
There is nothing in the world that renders a man more unlike to a saint, and more like to Satan, than to argue from mercy to sinful liberty; from divine goodness to licentiousness. This is the devil’s logic, and in whomsoever you find it, you may write, ‘This soul is lost’ (pg. 55).
This sort of idea is really unpopular now, and I think with some good cause. The hell-fire preachers of yesteryear certainly in some cases abused their office (if not regularly) by focusing on God’s judgment to the exclusion of His good news in Christ.
But is the idea that ‘the opposite of an error is truth’ valid? If the answer were yes, we would live in a very binary world. Truth would be, in my estimation, defined in terms of error. But that’s not the way God begins the ten commandments. Sure, they’re a list of ‘don’ts,’ but they’re prefaced with “I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt.” All of the don’ts in Scripture are rooted in who God is in relationship to His chosen people.
This is one main reason that when Christians argue for or against things like no-fault divorce, extra-marital sexual activity between two consenting adults, or how money should be used to help the poor, we must tread very, very carefully. Freedom in the Gospel is not licentiousness, but neither is it legalism. Both licentiousness and legalism are the same token: rules put forth for one’s life.
But as Christians, our lives should be characterized by the freedom that comes from being slaves of Christ. The good news of Christ is that He has caused His people to be slaves of righteousness instead of slaves of legalism or licentiousness.
So if what we’re teaching, however well-intentioned, causes people to live lives which do not represent Christ, our teaching is deficient and could very well be against the God we claim to serve. Helping people feel good is not enough. (Though, I would say that the equal error is to tell people true things and do so without mercy.) We must be bold AND give comfort to those who need it.
Pastors, teachers, Christians, call others and yourselves to repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ. This is the best way to love each other well; if it weren’t, it would make for a very strange commission, no?