I know. It sounds like a terrible thing to say. But I really believe that nothing is gained by declaring this message on billboards and church signs. The reason I say this is that each of these words has been so redefined by our culture as to render this sentence so meaningless that when people hear these words they understand them not in a biblical sense but according to their own fancies. Allow me to explain.
We begin with the word, “God.” In ancient times, matters were much simpler. There were a plethora of gods and lords (1 Corinthians 8:5) which Scripture identifies as demons (10:20-21). So the Canaanites worshiped Baal; the Egyptians, Ra; the Moabites, Chemosh; the Philistines, Dagon; the Babylonians, Marduk; the Greeks, the Olympians; and the Romans, likewise; many of which we meet in the Bible. I forbear to mention others of that time, but only add that their myths all report a veritable bunch of misfits who were as immoral as they were impotent. Of course, it is to be lamented that so many tribes and nations could be so misled, but that is what man does when he creates gods after his own image. The true God, however, makes man after His own image, and the Church has ever known this God as “The God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” who is rendered in the Old Testament as “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Pagans clearly understood that Jews and Christians worshiped Someone other than their gods and persecuted them for doing so.
That was then. But Satan has grown more crafty in his old age and understands that by employing the generic, “god,” for the multiplicity of today’s gods, he is able to confuse the more. So today, behind this amorphous word, “god,” people do what they have always done: create a god after their own image and to their own liking, who will then allow them to gratify their passions. And so, when they see, “God loves you,” they think of the god they have invented, which has more in common with Baal or Ishtar than with the true God. We were better off centuries ago when we could tell all these gods apart. But to be clear: the singular word, “god” is an empty and meaningless word and should be abandoned, at least as that concerns billboards and church signs.
Our second word is “love.” Oh my, how that word has been debased in our time! In the New Testament, obedience is the measure of love (John 14:15). Love is the expression of saving faith, for faith works through love (Galatians 5:6). But today’s “love” is a sentiment proven by feelings, and most often associated with sex. So when someone hears, “God loves you,” he is thinking of the warm feelings God has towards him. It does not occur to him that God might condemn his actions, for such love does not condemn but only approves, affirms, and receives, lest one’s feelings be hurt. This “love” knows nothing of blood sacrifice from either God’s side or one’s own.
Evangelicals draw dangerously close to this conception of love when they speak of salvation solely in terms of a “personal relationship” with God who “lives within my heart.” I do not reject these terms but only caution that such thinking can become warped when divorced from Scripture and the local church such that Jesus becomes one’s own personal property—her divine boyfriend or his homey. God’s love is a holy love whereby He burns away that within us of which He disapproves. It just goes to show how much the contemporary understanding of love as feeling has infected the theology of those who think they’ve otherwise got things right.
And finally, we have the word, “you.” One wouldn’t think this word subject to misunderstanding but welcome to the twenty-first century. Whereas Western philosophy derived from the ancient Greeks and Romans defined “man” as “rational animal” and relatively static in nature, we must now contend with those who would tell us that human beings are forever in a state of fluidity, especially as that concerns gender. “Girls will be boys and boys will be girls,” the Kinks told us (they chose their name well), and the upshot is that the human person is constantly changing shape. There is no nature of which to speak, only an indefinite something or other which is here today and gone tomorrow. So yes, even, “you,” and all other pronouns are now rendered superfluous while the human being is exchanged for endless permutations of “identities.”
“So what should we say, Stephen?” Well, I’m opposed to marketing the Christian faith, so I don’t rightly know. How ‘bout Jesus’ own words: “Repent! For the Kingdom of heaven is at stake!” At least there is a sense of urgency in that statement. If they are unfamiliar with the word, “Repent,” perhaps they can figure it out from the sentence. Or how ‘bout: “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” It names the true God and states the terms of salvation. There’s no fluff and nothing sentimental. “But some might not like such bold expressions.” That’s true. Most won’t. And it is to weep. But let us rejoice over the few who experience conviction, confess their sins, and come to saving faith in the true God.
But if all that churches can say is that vague, subject-to-anyone’s-interpretation, slogan-ish “God loves you,” I prefer they ditch their signs. But unfortunately, it’s the very indefiniteness of the message that many churches relish and wish to display.