Is God a Law-Breaker?
April 6, 2016
Steven Furtick, pastor of the Southern Baptist Mega-Church Elevation Church is no stranger to controversy. His image features prominently in his church beginning with coloring pages provided to the children. The members of Elevation Church are told to “follow the visionary.” Furtick is also a well-known fan of false teacher T.D. Jakes (Elevation has hosted Bishop Jakes and Furtick has preached at Jakes’ church). Last year Pastor Steven, as he is known around Elevation, got into a bit of hot water when it was revealed that he was building a 16,000 square foot mansion in an exclusive gated enclave. Furtick’s fusion of revivalistic, soft-prosperity, self-help preaching is regularly punctuated by the slap of drums and grind of the Hammond Organ. All of this along with his seemingly constant experimentation with his personal appearance has made Elevation Church one of the largest churches in the Southern Baptist stable.
Pastor Steven made a bold statement in a recent sermon entitled “It Works Both Ways.” Specifically, Furtick said, “God broke the law for love.” The point he seemed intent on making is that in order to love us God had to break his own law. It’s just the sort of thing that broadly evangelical Americans love; the sort of statement that portrays me as so irresistible, so awesome, so valuable that God would break his own law just to have me.
Furtick’s claim that “God broke the law for love” is laden with at least 9 serious errors:
1. It declares God to be a sinner.
Let’s keep this simple. Sin is fundamentally lawlessness. It is breaking God’s law. Declaring that God broke the law is to declare that he is a sinner. But so great is God’s hatred for sin (law breaking) that it required the death of his Son for sinners to be saved. So, to say that “God broke the law” in order to be edgy or creative or pithy does not change the fact that the statement is the basest sort of blasphemy. That Pastor Stephen did not intend to blaspheme (and I believe he did not intend it) does not change the fact that his statement is blasphemous. What makes a statement blasphemous is not the intent of the speaker but the content of the words.
2. It diminishes the righteousness of God.
In the most general sense, righteousness means conformity to a given standard. As sovereign creator, God is the author and upholder of the right. That is, God has determined what is right and what is wrong. His standard of righteousness is impeccable in its morality and goodness. And as a righteous God he will not act in a way that is inconsistent with his own righteous standard. This is not because the standard holds sway over God but because that standard of righteousness is a reflection of the moral perfections. God’s law is the expression of his righteousness. Sin, therefore, is a transgression of the law of God. God is without sin. This is fundamental to God’s own nature. Therefore, if God is a sinner, if God transgresses the law then he becomes what his fallen creatures are. A law-breaking God is by definition an unrighteous God. (Gen 18:25; Ex 9:27; 1 Sam 12:7; 2 Chron 12:6; Neh 9:33; Job 37:23; Ps 7:11; 9:4; 11:7; 119:62, 106, 137-138; Hos 14:9; Rom 1:16-17, 33; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 2:1; Rev 15:4)
3. It diminishes the justice of God.
God’s justice and righteousness are closely related. In fact the basic words for righteousness and justice come from the same word group in Hebrew. That God is just means that he never does the wrong thing. God has established his own moral code within the universe. Among other things, that means that it is always wrong to break the law of God. So, when God exercises mercy it is never the result of his doing what is unjust. That is God never breaks the law in order to love any of his human creatures. Insisting that in order to love his people God had to break his own law is to pit his mercy against his justice. This is to introduce confusion and conflict within the very mind of God. (Exodus 9:27; Ezra 9:15; Neh 9:8; Job 4:17; 35:2; Ps 5:8; 31:1; 33:5; 40:10; 45:4; 69:27; 71:2, 19; 89:16; 111:3; 143:1; Prov 2:9; 15:9; Isa 46:13; 51:6; 53:11; 54:17; 59:16-17; Jer 23:5; Dan 9:7; Hos 2:19)
4. It diminishes the goodness of God.
The goodness of God is a theme that runs throughout all of Scripture beginning with creation and extending to the new creation. God’s goodness is multifaceted in that his goodness extends both to his character and all of his works. Obviously, that God is good means that all he does is good. Breaking God’s law is never good in any sense. Indeed God’s law is a reflection of his goodness. The Bible repeatedly confesses the goodness of God’s law. So to break the law of God is, by definition to do what is wrong. (Gen 1:31; Ex 33:19; 34:6; 1 Chron 16:34; 2 Chron 5:13; 7:3; Ps 25:8; 31:19; 33:5; 52:1; 100:5; Matt 7:11; Rom 2:4; 3:12; 11:22; Tit 3:4ff; James 1:17)
5. It diminishes the sovereignty of God.
To say that God had to break his law in order to save sinners inevitably leads to the conclusion that God had not made the best plans. It suggests that God’s plans for his people’s salvation had not anticipated the depth of human sin; that God had to break his own law in order to fix what humanity had done. (Acts 4:24; Eph 1:11; Rom 9; 1 Tim 6:15; Rev 6:10)
6. It diminishes the goodness of God’s law.
The Scriptures never assert that the law is the means by which sinners are justified before God. However, the Scriptures are equally univocal that the law of God is good and a means by which God’s people may glorify Him. While believers are justified by grace alone, they are also being sanctified. That is, God is graciously conforming them to his own righteous standard. If God is a law-breaker then he undermines one of the very purposes for which he has saved his people.
(Ex 13:9; Deut 33:10; Josh 1:7-8; Ezra 7:10; Neh 9:29; Psalm 40:8; 94:12; 119:18, 29, 39, 44, 55, 66, 68, 77, 92, 97; Matt 5:17; Rom 7:12, 14, 16, 22; 8:4)
7. It undermines Jesus’ relationship with the law.
Furtick’s statement reveals that he does not understand Jesus’ relationship with the law of God. Jesus loved the law of God. He was not the undoing of the law but the law’s fulfillment. Jesus met all of the demands of God’s law.
(Matt 5:17-18; 7:12; 22:40; Lk 2:39; 10:26; 16:17; 24:44)
8. It suggests that God is in conflict with himself.
Furtick makes enemies out of God’s complementary qualities of justice and mercy. He portrays a God who had to choose either to be just or merciful. And, true to the demands of human sentimentality God chose mercy. Of course this empties the cross of its power. For on the cross God’s perfect justice and mercy meet, not to do battle, but to make sinners just. The justification of sinners cannot be accomplished by a God who abandons his justice to indulge mercy or vice versa.
9. It undermines Christ’s work on the cross.
The cross is the ultimate vindication of the righteousness of God. It is the place where grace and justice meet. To say that God broke the law in order to love is undermine the most essential elements of Christ’s cross work.
Doctrines at the heart of the cross all assume the fulfillment of God’s law, the vindication of his righteousness:
To make Christ’s work on the cross a mere expression of love would leave sinners in their sin for it would ignore their fundamental problem. A good God cannot overlook man’s sin. He cannot be indifferent toward the lawbreaker. And this is why the cross was the perfect union of God’s justice and love. As Paul tells us in Romans 3, the cross was the vindication of the righteousness of God. No attribute of God can be abstracted from his holiness. That includes his love. So, God’s love would be corrupted and something less than divine were it the product of law-breaking. The cross is the cosmic and eternal testimony that on the cross God’s law was upheld even as he poured out his love.
Now, if any of this seems serious to my brothers and sisters in the North Carolina Convention of Southern Baptists then perhaps they can press for a meeting with Pastor Steven. Certainly they do not want to be associated with such serious error. Certainly.