“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

A lot of people fight about the Bible, and many of them do so with the best intentions, but I’m thankful we don’t have to fight about this verse.

God is love.

Whether you’re a Calvinist or an Arminian, a Presbyterian or a Baptist, for or against same-sex marriage, we can all agree and rest in this: God. Is. Love.

But what does “love” really mean anyway? This is a key question isn’t it? Further, how does God’s love interact with his holiness? And even further down the road from there: if God and is love and and he is = holy, where’s his justice come into play?

I think Millennials misunderstand three key attributes of God: his love, his holiness, and his justice, and I think the misunderstandings of each one fuel the misunderstandings of the others.

The love of God without the holiness and justice of God is a hollow love that tolerates what is wrong for fear of sacrificing comfort and demanding change.

1. The Love of God

“I love you just the way you are,” parents say as they lovingly comfort their children through times of loneliness, self-consciousness, and other periods of discontentment. Praise God for loving parents.

God loves us in the same way, doesn’t he? God says of his bride, Israel, and by extension, the Church, in Ezekiel 16:6-7:

“And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.”

We are sinners, unfaithful to God, wallowing in our own self-pity and self-imposed death, but God rescues us just the way we are.

Young people today get this. We get the grace of God. We get that God saves us and that we don’t save ourselves.

We get it. Here’s the problem:

We know that God rescues us just as we are, but we forget that he loves us too much to leave us there.

Both in- and outside of the Church today, love is being equated with tolerance. What a tragedy.

Tolerance is not love any more than a Ring Pop is a diamond ring. Both tolerance and Ring Pops are poor imitations of a fuller, richer experience.

You don’t propose to tolerate your significant other for the rest of your days, and you don’t propose with a Ring Pop! Both are equally ridiculous.

Loving parents don’t let their toddlers tote 12-gauges, and a loving God doesn’t turn a blind eye to brokenness. J. I. Packer writes of God’s love in Knowing God:

“The God whom Jesus made known is not a God indifferent to moral distinctions, but a God who loves righteousness and hates iniquity, a God whose ideal for his children is that they should “be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48).”

2. The Holiness of God

A lot of young people are scared of God’s holiness—it reeks of intolerance and judgmentalism. Gross.

God is set apart in every way, but especially in his standards of morality and right-living. The premise of our desperation is our sinful separation of God we created by divorcing ourselves from his righteousness and wisdom.

We reduce the vastness of the love of God to tolerance because we misunderstand holiness.

1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

Packer explains again,

“Light means holiness and purity, as measured by God’s law; darkness means moral perversity and unrighteousness, as measured by the same law (see 1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:10).”

We’re afraid of holiness because it doesn’t allow us to define our morality. We’re afraid of holiness because it means we have to answer to someone other than ourselves.

Ultimately, we’re afraid of holiness because it requires us to not be our own gods.

For many, it seems as though the holiness of God, specifically his moral purity, cannot be compatible with his love.

“A loving God wouldn’t have standards or rules. Why would he restrict our freedom to do as we please?”

When it comes to our own brokenness, we willingly misunderstand the holiness of God because it requires us to change. This is problematic, though, isn’t it?

We wield the holiness of God as a flashlight revealing the sins of the world without hesitation, but when we come across a mirror, we turn the flashlight off for fear of revealing our own blemishes.

Millennials can’t get out from in front of the mirror until the light of God’s holiness shines in it and reveals our weakness. Then we jump out from in front of the mirror as if we’ve seen a monster—because we sorta have.

This warped view of the holiness of God reduces our love to cheap tolerance and threatens our understanding of God’s justice.

3. The Justice of God

We’re willing to ignore the holiness of God when it comes to our own screw-ups, but when others screw up, we demand the justice of God rain down on them in a vengeful fury.

We know that God rescues us just as we are, but we forget that he loves us too much to leave us there.

God is a just God.

Rarely is a foundational truth so polarizing within our own hearts. Think about it.

You did your taxes yesterday and you fudged on the numbers a bit. You cheated on your taxes. You get to church on Sunday, and the pastor preaches that “God is a just God.” You cringe in conviction and feel discouraged at the justice of God. “I hope I don’t get caught. I hope God’s mercy outweighs his justice this time.”

On the other hand…

You get home from work one day, and you see that your house has been ransacked and your car has been stolen. You’re distraught, but you get to church on Sunday and the pastor preaches, “God is a just God,” and you’re like, “Darn right he is! God will take care of the punks that took my stuff!”

See what I mean? We conditionally love the justice of God in the same way we conditionally love the holiness of God. Without the holiness of God there is no justice of God, and without either of those, the love of God is nothing more than cheap tolerance.

The love of God without the holiness and justice of God is a hollow love that tolerates what is wrong for fear of sacrificing comfort and demanding change.

God loves us enough to rescues as we are, and he loves us too much to leave us there.

This post was originally published on millennialevangelical.com