Jesus Warns Us Because He Loves Us

Note from Randy: There are a lot of people who think that warnings and commands of Scripture are restrictive, hampering our freedom. We want to be free to do whatever feels best to us (regardless of how wrong we may be about what’s best for us).

But as a loving father, God builds boundaries to protect us from sin and from our lack of wisdom. In my book The Purity Principle, I write about how God’s guardrails are His moral laws. They stand between us and destruction. They are there not to punish or deprive us, but to protect us. And if we stay within the boundaries He has put up for us, we experience not frustration, but joy. Not bondage, but freedom.

A smart traveler doesn’t curse the guardrails. He doesn’t whine, “That guardrail dented my fender!” He looks over the cliff, sees demolished autos down below, and thanks God for guardrails!

I can’t express how much I love this article about how the warnings of Jesus are an expression of His love. It’s a message that we all, young or old, need to hear (I sent it to my grandsons and some young men on the tennis team I help coach). My thanks to Pastor Ben Cunningham for writing and sharing these insights. 

Jesus’s Love Warns

By Ben Cunningham

When I was in my early 20s, my family took a trip to Yellowstone National Park. One afternoon, we saw the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, the largest waterfall in the Rockies, twice as high as Niagara Falls. As we walked out to the main overlook—a steel platform girded with four-foot rails and crowded with camera-toting tourists—I saw another overlook that seemed to have a better view.

The trouble was, this second overlook was blocked by a fence with signs warning, “Extreme Danger. Do Not Climb.” My immediate thought: How bad can it be? Surely some despotic safety committee put this up. Repressive signs just steal the excitement. So, I climbed the fence, walked out to the ledge . . . and the ground gave way beneath my feet.

The warning on that fence had a purpose. Jesus’s warnings do too.

Two caricatures of Jesus rule the modern imagination. A stern, moralizing Jesus who speaks mostly in criticism and critique, and a mild, permissive, and therapeutic Jesus who prefers to console no matter the occasion. One too harsh to be heard, the other with little to say. Many are caught in the whiplash between these two representations, fully enthralled with neither, stuck trying to discern who the true Jesus is.

But warning isn’t the opposite of love; it’s an expression of love. Just consider how Jesus ends his famous sermon in Matthew 7.

Warnings on the Mount

Why did Jesus end the Sermon on the Mount with a warning? We can imagine a more appealing conclusion. Why not close with the end of Matthew 6, heralding God’s generous provision as the cure for anxiety? Yet Jesus wraps the greatest address ever recorded with a series of signs that read, “Extreme Danger. Do Not Climb.” The final two warnings are to beware of false prophets (7:15–23) and to not build your house on sand (vv. 24–27).

Here and elsewhere, Jesus differentiates himself from false prophets, the kind condemned in Jeremiah 6 who “healed the wounds of [God’s] people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace, where there is no peace.’” When Jeremiah spoke this message, Jerusalem was under siege. He tells us the mark of a true prophet is to name the threats, to reinforce the urgency of trust and obedience, and to raise the stakes on the imperative of undivided love for God and neighbor.

False prophets won’t take such risks. They offer what John Stott calls an “amoral optimism,” a “denial that God was the God of judgment as well as of steadfast love and mercy.” They offer a false sense of security propped up by a refusal to name the weight of sins and sorrows.

True prophets, by contrast, warn. They preach for a decision. Far from dissolving the dividing lines between good and evil, justice and injustice, holiness and sin, they reinforce them. This is what Jesus does when he climbs the mountain and begins to preach. He reveals a God more gracious and compassionate than the false prophets dared dream, yet his message includes warnings. Jesus warns with severity and frequency. He warns as the conclusion to his greatest sermon of all.

Warnings Rooted in Love

Why does Jesus warn? Because he loves us. In the face of real danger, warning is the definition of love. Not to warn is indifference. Only an unloving God wouldn’t warn. Jesus warns because he knows both the true depths of sin’s destruction and the true heights of God’s mercy. He knows the threats that lay siege to our lives are profound and that their defeat necessitated his death. So Jesus speaks with warnings of perfect love.

Immediately after his warning against listening to false prophets, Jesus gives the sermon’s final words in the parable of the two houses (Matt. 7:24–27). He doesn’t mention differences between the two houses in themselves. Jesus assumes perfect symmetry in the blueprints. Both houses are built for shelter, and both are threatened by the storm. One thing makes the difference between endurance and destruction: the foundation. It’s listening to Jesus or not. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (v. 24). This house stands when it’s sieged. The other was built on a lesser foundation, and “great was the fall of it” (v. 27).

If we want to enjoy a lifetime of faith, where the trajectory isn’t a fall from early euphoria into apathy or malaise but rather a rise into godly character and joy, then we must heed Jesus’s warnings. And not only heed them—love them. For they’re warnings rooted in love.

Signposts of Life

Back at Yellowstone, high above the waterfall, as the earth underneath my feet plummeted into the river below, I turned and slammed my hands into the dirt. By God’s grace, I was able to hang on. Trembling, I stumbled back to the fence and climbed over. I was shaken to my core. When I got back on the path, my perception of the warning signs had been transformed. I no longer thought, What a repressive fence, but rather, Thank God this is here.

We should respond similarly to Jesus’s warnings. They aren’t fences of repression; they’re fences of joy. Signposts of life, not death. The ground will give way beneath a life built on anything else. Thank God, our Rock is immovable, and when his warnings are heeded, no sieging storm will overcome us.

This article originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition, and is used with permission of the author.

Ben Cunningham (MDiv, Princeton Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor of Church of the Resurrection in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he and his wife, Jenny, live with their three children.