Remember Juliet? We left her sitting in a coffee shop gazing into the eyes of Romeo. So, a few days later, you meet up with Juliet for coffee and you broach the subject: “So who’s the guy?” She tells you that they met at work, they really like each other and have been on one or two dates. No, he isn’t a Christian yet, but she’s hopeful. He did go on an Alpha course a few years back. He didn’t complete it because it didn’t really click with him at the time. He found the leader a bit dull and no-one really talked to him. Juliet thinks it would have been a different story if he had come and done Christianity Explored with us. Anyway, he’s going to come and see her play in the worship group sometime soon. Maybe something in the sermon will speak to him, providing the pastor doesn’t get too moralistic!
So you begin to talk to her. “Is this wise?” you ask. And you go through the usual stuff. You warn her that they will find that you don’t share the essential things in common. He may tolerate her Christian faith now, but what about when other pressures come up? Which priorities will win out? If they do get married and have kids, then by what principles will they bring them up?
She says that she hopes by then that by then he will be a believer. She’s heard of people that came to faith that way. You tell her that sadly this is so rare. You use the illustration “If I stand on a table and grab your hand and I try to pull you up and you try to pull me down, who will win?” and she says “I will of coursel” “It’s the same with relationships,” you explain. “He’s more likely to lead you away from Christ than you are to lead him to Christ.”
Then something strikes you. You remember something you’ve read recently about the Trinity. So you begin to talk about the oneness of God and how this means that He has no rivals. This isn’t simply about good advice and what is best for a Christian; she has a stark choice in front of her.
As a Christian she has made a commitment to worship the one true and living God; this is a covenant relationship. You use the imagery of marriage and baptism here. When you get married, you make a public commitment in front of witnesses to love and honour your spouse. This is an exclusive relationship. The Bible talks about wives submitting to husbands and husbands sacrificially loving their wives. In other words, they are meant to put each other’s needs first. We sometimes say that we would do anything for them: even die for them.
When she got baptised, Juliet made a similar public and exclusive commitment to Christ, to worship and honour him as Lord and Saviour – without rivals. She submitted to him because he had sacrificially loved her, laying down his life for her. Now she is about to make similar vows to someone who does not share this all-encompassing, exclusive commitment. In other words, she is setting up her boyfriend as a person and her relationship as an ideal as rivals to God for her loyalty and affection.
This means that we are dealing with serious sin and rebellion. She is choosing to unite with someone who is dead in their sins, an enemy of Christ, a stranger to grace. Does that sound extreme? Well, this is really what the Bible says isn’t it? Sin is serious, sex matters, our relationship to Christ is total and exclusive. We should not water these things down.
This makes her sit up and not in a good way. How dare you say these things? She has had different advice from others. Christians take different views on such things, so who are you to tell her what to do? Then come the two killer responses. First of all, she tells you, “I’ve prayed so much about this” (we’ll need to come back to that one later) and then the follow up punch: “If God is a loving God, then he wouldn’t want me to be unhappy and alone. I love Romeo and that’s what matters.”
Do you see what she has done here? She’s created her own definition of love and tried to apply it to God. You might say that she’s reversed the phrase “God is love” in order to say “Love is God.” Yet as we have seen, that’s now how it works. Our understanding of love is incomplete and often faulty. We don’t work out what love is and from there work out what God is like. Rather, God reveals what he is like and who he is and because he is love what he is like shows us what love is. Love is defined not in terms of sentiment not in us having our emotional needs met, but in terms of the sacrificial love which saw the Father send his only son into the wold as an atoning sacrifice.
What is more, if this is God’s love, then this must dictate how she loves Romeo. Is she happy to put her needs first, he need for Romeo’s affection before Romeo’s need to hear the Gospel clearly proclaimed without distraction?
Well, as with Albert, we will have to leave Juliet there for the time being. We’ve got much more to talk about with her if she’s willing to come back again, but that will mean thinking more about who God is first.