Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
What is love? Love is reflecting God’s character, his attributes, in its totality, in a certain way. It is a certain spirit, or disposition with which we glorify God. It is glorifying God with a desire to glorify God, a passion, a delight in glorifying God. It is taking satisfaction in, joy from, glorifying God. 1 Corinthians further goes on to explain that love is patient, love is kind, is selfless, is not puffed up, etc. So love is a sort of way in which we obey God’s law for His glory. And according to 1 Corinthians 13, it profits us nothing and is still sin if we attempt to obey God’s law for His glory without love.
That is what I said towards the end of part 2 of this blog series. Now, I would like to give some biblical references that support my above statements and go a bit deeper into the meaning of Christian love.
Firstly, we need to realize that Christ is the embodiment of God’s love for us. Romans 5:5-8 says:
5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."Now let's join that with 1 John 4:9-10
9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
From these verses alone, we see that 1.) God's love is shown to us through sending His Son into the world, that 2.) God sent Jesus to die for us while we were still ungodly and had no love for Him, that 3.) Jesus was the propitation for our sins, meaning he paid the penalty for our sins, which is God's holy and righteous wrath.
God's love is not poured out on good people, as the above passage from Romans confirms. God's love has been poured out on ungodly sinners who do not love Him, and the expression of that love is in Jesus Christ, living sinlessly for us and dying on the cross bearing our sins. Now we have a launching point to know what love is. That launching point is Jesus Christ. Everything Christ did was out of love and obedience to His Father, and love for us. And God sent Jesus to do everything that Jesus did out of love for His Son, and love for us. So the love of God, and the love of Jesus, and hence true love, is everything that God did for us through Christ. Whatever benefits we gain through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that is love. And not only the benefits we gain, but also the motivation and spirit and reason for which Jesus died for us.
Now it goes without saying that for someone to die for someone who is unworthy, evil, sinful, that such a person who would die on behalf of such an evil being, would have to either be either insane or totally selfless (and along with being selfless, needs to have a good ulterior motive, as we shall see later). And Jesus was wholly selfless, and not insane at all, although by the unbelieving world's standards, and even the standard of our sinful hearts, what Christ did is insane. Think about it, how much sense does it make for God to love us when we hate Him, for God to send Jesus, who died for us while we still hated Him and had no love for Him? Why did Jesus die for us, the unholy, to satisfy the wrath of God, the Holy One?
The answer to that, fundamentally, is that Jesus Christ died to redeem those whom He has saved from sin and to cause them to love Him and love righteousness, demonstrating His glory. It was a demonstration of His power, and the power of God- that His grace and love can overturn the wicked, stony hearts of man and make them lovers of God and righteousness. Romans tells us that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. God's goodness- His powerful grace and love, is what transforms the unbeliever who has been regenerated, given eyes to see and ears to hear. And the gospel is the message of God's love, and tells us of who Jesus Christ is, and what he has done for us.
I should point out that God did not save us because of any forseen faith that we might would have. Romans 3 tells us that no one seeks God, no one does good, and no one is righteous. And as we saw above in 1 John 1:10, God's love is not motivated or poured out on us because we first loved Him, but rather, our love for God is motivated because He first loved us and saved us through the blood of His Son. We love Him because He first loved us.
Jesus says in John 14:5 that "If you love me, you will keep My commandments." Now we know that since no one loves God unless God loves Him first (1 John 1:10), and that God's love for us is Christ dying to save us, then the truth is, God did not send Jesus to save us because He foresaw us having faith or love for Christ. No, it is the very message of love, of Jesus' death, accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit and supernatural work of regeneration/being born again that Titus 2:11-15 and John 3 speaks of that transforms a God hating sinner into a God loving saint who hates sin. God's love, grace, mercy, and power is most clearly seen and most beautifully highlighted in changing the will of the rebellious unbeliever and making the unbeliever willing to believe. Thus, God's greatest glory in salvation, the capstone of it all, is that He actually saves, He actually makes God hating sinners into believers in Christ and lovers of Christ and His righteousness- by His will and power and sovereign grace, not our will or power or love or goodness.
Now many people reject this. Non-Calvinists disagree with Scripture here, and say that God sent Jesus to die for everyone and then chose to save those who He foresaw as creating saving faith and repentance on their own, out of their own willpower. The Bible however, as we have seen, is clear that unless God makes a person willing to believe, willing to repent and have faith, no one will have faith, and thus, no one will be saved. We cannot ignore Scripture, we cannot ignore Romans 3, which says that no one is neither good nor righteous, no one loves God and no one seeks after Him. That is what it truly means to be a sinner, but non-Calvinists wish to lessen what it means to be a sinner, and in the process, they lessen the glory and value of what it means for Christ to be our Savior. If we are not so sinful, if we can incline ourselves to faith in Christ by our own willpower, then Christ did not die for as much, and He did not secure salvation for anyone. Rather He simply made salvation a possibility for everyone, and then the ultimate decision of who would be saved would be up to each person's own willpower, making man the center and deciding factor of their salvation, rather than Christ the center and deciding factor of salvation.
However, God chooses who will be saved by graciously melting hearts of stone and changing wills through the message of His love in sending Jesus to die for sinners (the gospel) and by giving spiritual life to sinners so that they can receive the gospel and have eyes to see and ears to hear the good news.
So God's love for us was sending Christ to save us. And the good news, no, the great news, is that God and Jesus Christ did not fail in giving Their love to anyone whom they intended to give Their love to. In other words, Christ actually saved every single person He died for. Does this mean that everyone will be saved? No, what this means is that Christ paid for the sins of those whom God intended to save, and those alone. And those whom God intended to save, and all those whom Christ died for, will be saved, because it is God who does the saving, by His grace, through the message of the gospel and the gift of faith and regeneration. Man's will comes into play only to show that we indeed need a Savior, for we cannot even trust in Christ as Savior, because our sin loving hearts don't want to be saved from sin!
Salvation is not dependent upon man, but upon God, as Romans 9 teaches us. And saving faith, as Ephesians 2:8-10 explains, is a gift of God, not a work of man, so that we may not boast. In other words, the wonderful news is, God is so loving that He gave us the faith we needed to be saved by changing our wills from loving sin to loving the Savior.
God chose that we would repent, have faith in Christ, and be saved. Consider 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14:
13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, 14 to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These two verses explicitly state that God chose from the beginning chose that we would be saved through sanctification byt he Spirit and belief in the truth. God chose that we would believe, and He calls us to that belief through the gospel, which demonstrates God's love for us in dying for us, and thus, brings Him all the glory. Remember from the last entry in this blog series- when Jesus called Lazarus to rise up from the dead and walk, Lazarus did so, but not by his own power. Rather, Lazarus was first given physical life, without which he could not even hear the command from Jesus, let alone obey it. Likewise, we sinners, dead in our trespasses and sins, must first be given spiritual life, which is the new birth/being born again/regenerated, whatever you wish to call it, before we can respond to the gospel with saving faith in Christ Jesus. To say that man doesn't need spiritual life first in order to respond with saving faith in Christ and repentance is illogical, but what's worse is that it robs God of all His glory in salvation. If Lazarus rised up and walked to Christ without God first giving Lazarus physical life, then we would be praising Lazarus as if he were a God. For only God can create life out of death. Likewise, when non-Calvinists deny that we need spiritual life/regeneration before we can have faith, they are saying that man has the ability to create spiritual life out of himself by his own power, and thus incline himself by his own power to the will of God.
Clearly, that makes man at least co-Savior with Christ. To be more accurate, it makes Christ a passive, weepy-eyed cheerleader that urges you on to do your part in repenting and "choosing Him," and then He will forgive you of your sins if you make this all important, humble, supernatural life changing decision to leave all your sins behind and follow Christ. How can one do that when the Bible says every intention of our heart is only evil continually, and that nobody does good, nobody is righteous, and nobody seeks God? The truth is we can't, that's why we must first be born again, given new, repentant hearts by God's sovereign grace in order to have faith and trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. And only those who understand that God truly saved them by giving them the faith to believe in Christ's work for them can fully give God the glory for their salvation. Those who believe they chose to believe by changing their own wills keep some of the glory for themselves, or at least neglect to see and give God the praise and glory for their faith.
And that brings us full circle. Remember, We were made to glorify God, and our joy, if we are Christians, is His glory. This is because, as I shall explain more fully in another post, the Holy Spirit is given to all those whom God has chosen to save, once He gives them the gift of faith. And remember, from both last post and the beginning of this post, love is reflecting God’s character, his attributes, in its totality, in a certain way. It is a certain spirit, or disposition with which we glorify God. It is glorifying God with a desire to glorify God, a passion, a delight in glorifying God. It is taking satisfaction in, joy from, glorifying God.
But how, we should be asking, can we possibly have this love for God and His glory, this spirit, this disposition, this affection for all that is God, and this hatred for all that is wicked? We can't, by our own power. This is why another gift of God, another expression of His love for us, is giving us the love that He had for us, and that Christ had for us. And how does God give us this love? Through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, which is given to us at salvation, when we have also been given the gift of faith (Romans 5:5).
So we are given forgiveness of sins by the blood of Christ, faith to receive forgiveness of sins by the blood of Christ, and strength to love God and hate sin by the Holy Spirit living within us, sanctifying us, drawing us closer to Him. That is what 1 Thess. 2:13-14 told us, remember? God chose us for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Ephesians 1:3-6 says this as well:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Some translations place the phrase "in love" at the beginning of verse 5. Either way, we understand that God's electing purposes and the purpose to make us holy flow out of His love for us (and love for His Son), and for the praise of the glory of His grace. Ephesians 2:4-5 also tell us that God "made us alive together with Christ" because of "the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our sins."
So the essence of God and Christ's love for us is this- that They saved us from hell, turned our hearts from love for sin, and replaced it by giving us the Holy Spirit and a hatred for sin, enabling us to now do all that we were created to do with God working in us, both to will and to do according to His pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Phil. 2:12-13 tells us that we are to work out our salvation, for it is indeed God working in us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Titus 2:11-15 tells us that God's grace and love and the salvation He has provided for us transforms us into those who love Him and want to live for Him, and want to stop sinning. It even says that Christ died for us to "redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works."
1 John 3:1 says "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him." God adopted us into His family, and made us His children. Contrast that with the same chapter a bit further down in 3:10, where John tells us that whoever does not practice righteousness is a child of the devil. So God, out of His love for us, saved us from being children of the devil and made us His children.
Now we were made the children of God through the blood of Christ. In other words, if Christ didn't die for us, and if we didn't have Christ living in us, then we never could have been children of God. Adam and Eve enjoyed fellowship with God before the fall, but not as children of God, not as those who had been covered by the blood of Jesus and adopted, through Christ's blood, into His family. Christ is in us, God is in us, if we are His. But this is only possible because Christ, out of His love for us, died for us. If man never fell into sin, Christ never could have died for our sins, and thus, we never could have been adopted into God's family and been called the children of God, and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. We are the body of Christ because Christ died for us! We are the bride of Christ because Christ died for His bride!
All of these lavish blessings, all of these love gifts to us, for us, are due to the blood of Christ alone. Therefore, we can conclude, that by God allowing man to fall into sin, He was actually blessing us. In short, the good news is that God's love is so great that even though we were God hating sinners and never would have trusted in Him for salvation, He sent Jesus to love us and die for us and give us the faith to believe anyway. Why? Because it demonstrates His attributes of grace and mercy, compassion, and it shows His power, that He can make the most vile, God hating sinner into a sin hating lover of God all by the power of His grace, mercy, and love.
In short, God did not love us because He saw something within us that was lovable, but rather, He loved us to bring Himself glory, and to demonstrate His love for His Son, by allowing His Son to die for His bride. And, in bringing Himself such glory, by displaying to us the powerful love and glory of His Son dying for us, we get greater joy. Why do we get greater joy? Because our greatest joy is seeing and praising His glory. His glory is the source and fountain of all our joy. We love Him because He first loved us, remember? We love to see God glorify Himself through loving us, and seeing that, we praise Him for that, and by the power of His Spirit, reflect His love amongst others. He gets the greatest amount of glory, we get the greatest amount of joy. God is glorified, and we are satisfied. We are loved, and He is loved. We are His children, He is our Father. We are the bride of Christ, and Christ is our Lord and Savior, Reedemer and Friend. We have been privileged, by His grace and love for us, to have Him die for us and save us from the wrath we deserve, and not only that, but to also struggle against sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. God's love is so great, it is incomprehensible. For as much as I have said, I have yet to begun to scratch the surface. You could easily write a book on love, and God's love for us.
And I will have to break this up and write another entry on love. That is because what I have described to you, in large part, is God's love for us, and Christ's love for us, as seen in Christ dying for us. But I have barely begun to explain the life of Christ, all that He endured for us, both physically and spiritually. And I have not explained the way in which He lived and died for us, which of course, was with a spirit of love. And it is not merely that Christ lived and died for us, but the love that He had in His heart which motivated Him to live and die for us, which reveals to us and teaches us how to live and how to love both God and others. Remember, in 1 Corinthians 13 it says that even if we give our bodies to be burned, yet we do it without love, it profits us nothing. It is useless, it avails not, without love. If Christ lived and died for us, but had not love, Christ would not have been Savior and Lord. He would have failed. His death would have been meaningless, and we would still be in our sins.
So next time I hope to further explore Christ's loving temperment and spirit, because it is this spirit with which we must live, and it is this spirit which we do have dwelling within us, the Spirit of Christ.