Thanks Todd Pruitt! Thanks for "sharing" this on Facebook last week! You ruined my weekend. Okay, that's a bit hyperbolic, but after watching this clip (in the complete sermon it's at 22:53–24:53) where Steven Furtick says, “God broke the law for love,” I felt I had to respond.
So I consulted with the great Miles Finch and asked him, "Should I respond?" Here was his answer:
And away we go.
There are so many things about this that make me want to SCREAM! How could anyone give an "Amen" to this? Beware of analogies from our lives in trying to explain the character of the incomprehensible God! Has this guy ever picked up a basic book of Christan theology and worked through it thoughtfully? But I digress. What is really so bad about this is what it says about the character of God and the cross of Christ.
"God Broke the Law": The Character of God
To say, "God broke the law for love," confuses people at best about the character of God and destroys the character of God found in Scripture at worst.
The Law & God's Righteousness
The way Furtick speaks of the "law" makes it sound like it's just some verbal predication and convention that God can set up, take down, use, or ignore at his whim. It's not! The law is a manifestation of the righteous character of God himself, in which we hear, "And God spoke all these words" (Ex. 20:1). For example, all throughout Romans 1-3 the inspired apostle speaks of the "righteousness of God," meaning, that God "will render to each one according to his works" (Rom. 2:6). If you do good, God will righteously give you eternal life; if you do evil, God will righteously give you eternal death (Rom. 2:6-11). And then right after saying this, Paul speaks of the concrete way in which we know God's righteousness to render according to works: the law. The law is "the embodiment of knowledge and truth" (Rom. 2:20) of God himself. This is why the law is like a mirror, reflecting the righteousness of God and our sins (Rom. 3:20). The law is God's righteousness revealed. (On the justice of God, see also Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, pp. 87-93)
Is the Law Breakable by God?
Can God break his own law, therefore, that reflects himself to humanity? Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635–1711), a Dutch pastor and theologian of the nadere reformatie (Dutch "puritanism"), put the question like this:
In reference to the avenging justice of God, does God punish sin because it pleases Him, since He could refrain from doing so if He so desired, or is the punishment of sin a necessary consequence of the righteous character of God, so that He cannot but punish sin, that is, He cannot let sin remain unpunished? (The Christian's Reasonable Service, p. 128)
Note that first part: "does God punish sin because it pleases Him, since He could refrain from doing so if He so desired?" Since God is God, he is free and unconstrained. Yet, as à Brakel went on to say, "The freeness with which God exercises His will should not be construed to mean that it is a matter of indifference to Him whether or not He punishes sin" (p. 128). Is God free? Yes. Is he free to break his own law? No. Furtick sounds as if God can change when he says, "God broke the law."
The Necessity of God's Righteousness
God's righteousness is neither a constraint nor indifference; instead, it is what we call a "necessary consequence." à Brakel explained this to mean that "God by virtue of His perfect, holy, and righteous character is inclined as the only wise God to punish sin at a time and in a manner suitable to Him" (p. 128). God as the superlatively righteous God must punish sin; he cannot avoid doing this and we cannot avoid experiencing this. For God to withhold righteousness would actually be unjust and completely contrary to who he is. God is righteous; God must punish the unrighteousness of the unrighteous. He cannot set his righteousness aside, as Furtick's words lead one to believe. As Scripture says:
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25)
"...keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty." (Ex. 34:7)
“...you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (Ps. 5:5-6)
"The Lord judge the peoples...you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God." (Ps. 7:9)
“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.” (Nah. 1:2-3)
"...For Love": The Cross of Christ
To say, "God broke the law...for love," again confuses people at best about the cross of Christ and destroys the character of the cross found in Scripture at worst.
The illustration Furtick gives pits law versus love, God's righteousness versus his grace. To this à Brakel once wrote, "You are guilty, however, of distorting the essential meaning of the grace of God by interpreting it to refer to remission of sin and absolution from punishment apart from satisfaction" (p. 129; emphasis mine). Furtick comes off as such as "grace-saturated" preacher and his people are left thinking of God as so, so gracous. But love apart from law is not grace. Again, à Brakel is so good here: "Grace is not incompatible with justice, but confirms it" (p. 129).
Why is God's character as righteous so important to empahsize in light of this sermon clip? Because it directly affects the nature of the cross of Christ. God has so loved the world—a world that has done nothing to deserve anything and in fact everything to forfeit!—in giving his Son (John 3:16). And all God people said, "Amen!" But you have to ask what did God give his to do? To die. Jesus was born to die. Why? To demonstrate that God has loved us sinners so much that he would provide the very way his character demands that sin be dealt with. As Paul says, the cross was meant "to show [God's] righteousness" (Rom. 3:25). How? That he might show his justice in punishing our sins and satisfying the righteous demands of God that he might show his grace and love in being the justifier of the one who simply believes (Rom. 3:26). And so on the cross Jesus, who had no sin, became sin for us as our sins were imputed to him, so that we, who were nothing but sin, might become the righteousness of God through Christ's righteousness being imputed to us (2 Cor. 5:21).
In response to the sentiment of this sermon, I say this to you, brothers and sisters in Christ: apart from the never-compromising righteousess of God punishing his Son and being satisfied by his Son on the cross there is no salvation for a world of sinners like you, me, and our unsaved friends. This is love. This is grace. As John Newton said so many centuries ago:
Let us love, and sing, and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior's name!
He has hushed the law's loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai's flame.
Let us wonder, grace and justice
Join and point to mercy's store;
When we trust in Christ our fortress,
Justice smiles, and asks no more.