We equate love with indifference to sin when the Bible’s logic is exactly the opposite. The cross is the fullest expression of God’s love not because it shows God’s indifference to sin, but because it shows God’s holy hatred toward sin and his willingness to pay for it himself. That’s love.

At the end of Acts 7, we see Stephen praying for the angry mob stoning him to death. He says with his dying breath, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Surely this is love: Stephen wanted them to receive a mercy they did not show him. He had done nothing wrong. Stephen was not deserving of death. Their actions were a profound instance of criminal injustice. And yet in a final gasp, on his knees, he cries out on their behalf,  “Lord have mercy.”

How did he do that? How could Stephen love like that? How do we love like that? Pray like that? Forgive like that? Lots of people in the world want to love and forgive. We like those virtues in our culture. But few people are interested in the principles which makes these virtues possible.People want to love like Stephen without bothering to understand or embrace the mile of theology that made his love possible. They don’t want to see the Jesus he saw, or believe in the vindication he knew was coming, or entrust their offense to the God of justice who will one day make all things right.

In the world, they want to be good people. But they don’t realize they have to be God people first. I hope you aren’t going to church just to become a better you or just for the morality your kids might pick up. That’s not how Christianity works. Becoming a Christian is not simply about self-improvement. It’s about a hundred particular truths that teach our minds and touch our hearts–truths about God and Christ and sin and salvation. And yes, later, and only in connection with all the rest, is it about being a good person. When you embrace the biblical worldview of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; creation, fall, redemption, and consummation; redemption accomplished and applied–when your heart thrills to all of that, then you’ll bear fruit. But don’t expect to ever look like Stephen if you grasp for the fruit without the tree.