Synopsis: Cold love comes about because our God-given desire for righteousness tempts us to judge others like Satan does, accusing people of their sins before the throne of God. Human beings were not designed to judge good and evil in others. Instead, God wants us to be humble, to build others up with our words, and to flee from those who would speak condemnation on others (whether in person or through the media), stirring up feelings of anger, fear, or self-righteousness.
Toward the end of Jesus’ life, he gave warnings to his followers about many things. I have been pondering one of those warnings for many years, and think I have come to an understanding which might be helpful to many in the Body of Christ. Matthew 24:12-13 says, “‘Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved'” (ESV).
Jesus seems to be saying that some who are following him will fall into the trap of cold love, and that in some cases, this will cause those believers to lose their salvation. This is a very serious warning.
What is “cold love” and how do we avoid it? It appears to me that cold love is not really love, per se, but a type of hardness of heart that keeps the person from genuinely being able to love people. The passage gives a clue as to its cause — lawlessness will increase.
But what is it about lawlessness increasing that causes cold love? I think that inside all of us is a desire for justice and righteousness. This is a positive attribute God put in us, because we are made in the image of God, and God desires justice and righteousness. But as we see lawlessness increasing, we experience frustration from moving away from rather than toward the goal of seeing righteousness increase.
If our frustration grows, it then sets us up to judge the lawless (and everyone else) in our hearts. While we were created in God’s image, we were not endowed with every capability that God has. As an example, consider the story of the Fall that took place in the Garden of Eden.
Gen 2:8-9, 15-17; 3:4-7 (NLT) “Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man he had created. And the LORD God planted all sorts of trees in the garden—beautiful trees that produced delicious fruit. At the center of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it. But the LORD God gave him this warning: ‘You may freely eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die.'”
“‘You won’t die!’ the serpent hissed. ‘God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil. The woman was convinced. The fruit looked so fresh and delicious, and it would make her so wise! So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too. At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves.'”
God knew they were naked, but until they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they either did not know or did not care — and God did not seem to mind their nakedness. God created them without the knowledge of good and evil, perhaps because it was a bigger burden than people were designed to carry. Knowing good and evil caused spiritual death. And it is hinted in a number of New Testament verses that those who follow Jesus were to follow the Holy Spirit (relation) rather than the Law (knowledge of good and evil) — as if we were back in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.
In Psalm 73, we see where the Psalmist had a problem with seeing wicked people find success, and he was becoming embittered by it as he thought about it (Psalm 73:21-22). But then he entered the Lord’s sanctuary to worship, and God showed him that he [God] would make sure there was justice (Psalm 73:16-20), and as a result, the Psalmist learned to let God deal with unrighteousness in others, and he would instead focus on worshipping God.
As we judge others for their lawlessness, we start taking on the attributes of the devil, not those of God. Recall that in Rev 12:10-11, during John’s vision of heaven, he records
“‘Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.'”
The devil is the “accuser of the brethren”. In Zechariah 3:1-4, we actually see a similar scene with the devil accusing the high priest, Jeshua:
“Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD. Satan was there at the angel’s right hand, accusing Jeshua of many things. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘I, the LORD, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from a fire.’ Jeshua’s clothing was filthy as he stood there before the angel. So the angel said to the others standing there, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ And turning to Jeshua he said, ‘See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes'” (NLT).
Neither Jeshua nor the angel denied the accusations. Jeshua was sinful. But the angel (either the Lord or representing the Lord) took away Jeshua’s sins, just as our sins are taken away through faith in Jesus.
Jesus was adamant about us not falling into the trap of judging others. In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus said, “‘Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you'” (ESV). While there isn’t agreement among scholars on whether Jesus meant that this kind of judgment could lead to losing one’s salvation, it is similar to the warning that Jesus gave us in the “cold love” passage which we read at the beginning of this post, and may, of course, suggest that judging someone could lead to losing your own salvation.
One way to counteract the temptation to judge (condemn) someone is to walk in humility, which we do by valuing others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3). When we walk in humility, we are able to rescue people who are caught in darkness. Galatians 6:1 exhorts us: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (NIV).
Another way to counteract the temptation to judge is to avoid feeding ourselves upon the words of those who would speak about what sinful people do. In Ephesians 5:11-12, we are instructed to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (NIV). Because of the way media works, depending on sensational reporting to help keep followers, we have to be active to avoid exposure to those who would stir up fear or anger in us.
Finally, we need to be careful not to infect others with our words that can trap them. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (NIV).
Cold love occurs when you agree with the Accuser of the Brethren, rather than God. The Accuser of the Brethren wants to point out the faults and sins of others. God rejects those accusations, and instead relies on Jesus’ ability to wash us white as snow. God isn’t stupid — he certainly can see our sins — but he concentrates on his great love for us and for the redemptive purposes he has destined us for.