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Don’t Tell Unbelievers, ‘God Loves You’: Tweet by Texas Pastor Sparks Online Debate

god loves you
Crop of "The Last Judgment." Hans Memling, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When Pastor Gabriel Hughes tweeted yesterday, “You should not tell an unbeliever, ‘God loves you,'” social media took note. He continued, “The apostles never shared the gospel this way. The Bible says God’s wrath is upon unbelievers (John 3:36, Romans 1:18). Help them see their sin, warn them of the judgment of God, and give them the gospel.”

The post has received more than 1,000 likes and dozens of replies. Hughes is associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas, the congregation led by Southern Baptist Convention pastor Tom Buck. Last year, Hughes had a role in the Ed Litton plagiarism scandal, sharing a sermon clip that someone recognized as similar to the words of J.D. Greear.

God Loves You? What To Say to an Unsaved Person

Several people agree with Hughes. “One of the absolute worst things we can say to an unsaved person,” notes one. Another comment reads, “[A]men brother. We are a young church plant and had a family leave our church over this very truth being preached.” One reply states, “The jailer ask Paul and Silas ‘what must I do to be saved.’ ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved—you and your household.’ Don’t add to or take away.”

Others, however, point to apparent scriptural contradictions in Hughes’ words. Several people mention John 3:16. “Yikes,” reads one comment. “For God so loved THE WORLD. I’m so sorry if you’ve been shown otherwise. So very sorry. Truly.” Another person says John 3:16 reveals that “God’s LOVE was his MOTIVATION for sending Jesus to die for our sin. There would not be any Good news (Gospel) without God’s love.”

Also pointing to John 3:16, someone writes, “I know it might be outside your paradigm to understand the concept of God literally being the embodiment of love, but please try. The fact that God loves everyone doesn’t guarantee a great outcome for everybody, that’s clear; but let’s not pretend it’s not there for the taking.”

“We can’t stop at love but we surely are no effective witness without it,” someone writes. “Just love them,” says another. “That’s really all you need to do to share God.”

“This seems like love to me,” a reply states, quoting Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

One comment calls Hughes’ tweet “a direct denial of Matt. 5:43-48,” noting: “Why would God call us to be like him by loving our enemies if he didn’t love his? You do not have authority to deny the love of common grace when Jesus himself calls it love with no ambiguity.”

In defense of Hughes, someone writes, “[Gabe’s] point, I believe, is that we need to not coddle people to Hell. We have to let them know that God is wrathful, and they will experience that wrath if they do not believe. I’m sure he understands common grace just fine.”

God Loves You: People Share Their Own Evangelism Experiences

In the conversation, some people point to their own experiences. “I shared Christ with three young men last week and in each occasion I told them God loved them enough to send His Son to pay for their sin against God,” one writes. “Each man received Christ with utmost joy. I’ll stick with that method while everyone else sits around and argues.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance writer and editor in Denver, has spent her entire 30-year journalism career in Christian publishing. She loves the Word and words, is a binge reader and grammar nut, and is fanatic (as her family can attest) about Jeopardy! and pro football.