A Christmas Baby
On a Christmas day in 1965, I was born in Asheville, North Carolina. Two nurses cleaned me up and brought me to my mom and dad in a Christmas stocking.
My birth meant a lot to my mom and dad (or so they have led me to believe). But our country did not rejoice at my birth. The state of North Carolina did not rejoice at my birth. In fact, the city of Asheville did not rejoice at my birth. My birth did not make the national papers. It did not even make the local paper. There were no geopolitical implications that came from my being born into this world.
But there were huge implications when Princess Lalla Salma gave birth to a daughter named, Lalla Khadija. Her husband, King Mohammed the 6th of Morocco, was so excited when his daughter was born, he wanted to celebrate in a big way. Instead of giving out cigars, he pardoned 8,836 prisoners and reduced the sentences of 24,218 others. The Justice Ministry said the pardons were a humanitarian gesture. (from the Preaching Today website).
Talk about setting the captives free.
What the Birth of Jesus Did Not Mean
Well, the birth of Jesus also had a few implications. A few major implications, in fact. The problem was that it just wasn’t what the people were expecting.
The first part of the beautiful words from Isaiah 9:6 reminds us,
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
You see, the promised Messiah was supposed to ride in on a mighty horse, bearing a sword, to overturn the political and military structures and put Israel back on top. At least that is how many first century Jews understood that text and others like it.
What the Birth of Jesus Did Mean
Let’s take a look at one verse in Matthew’s Gospel to see what it says about why Jesus was born. Matthew 1:21 says,
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (emphasis mine)
Joseph’s Marching Orders
The Gospel of Luke records the angel announcement and conversation with Mary about giving birth to Jesus. But in Matthew, the angel is addressing Joseph. This is important because it was prophesied in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be a descendent of King David.
Luke gives us Mary’s genealogy to show us she was a biological descendant of David. But there is something a little different going on in Matthew’s Gospel. In that Gospel, Joseph is never called Jesus’ father. Joseph is his adoptive father, so to speak. Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus was a great miracle of the Holy Spirit. And so, God was the Father of Jesus.
But the key to this part of verse 21 is this – by giving Jesus his name, Joseph was accepting responsibility for raising Jesus as his own. “YOU shall call his name Jesus…” In that culture, the act of naming a baby gave the child legal status in the family. And so, Jesus was biologically linked to King David through Mary and legally related to David through Joseph.
Name Him “Jesus”
Now here’s what didn’t happen: God didn’t say to Mary and Joseph, “Go down to the Bethlehem Barnes and Noble and pick up a baby name book. The couple didn’t consult Great Baby Names of Hebrew History, 3rd Edition.
God, through the angel said, You shall, you will, you must, you are to call this baby boy, “Jesus.” And so, God told Mary and Joseph what to name their son.
Something About That Name
In a recent children’s Christmas Eve service at the church I serve, the service featured a story called, “Operation: No More Tears!” It began with Isaiah foretelling God’s “rescue plan” to save his people. We find the fulfillment of that prophecy in the birth and naming of Jesus.
The name, “Jesus,” was the Greek form of the name, “Joshua.” It was a common name in Israel. It literally means, “Jehovah is salvation” or “God saves.” The angel told Joseph the baby boy was to be named “Jesus” because he would save his people from their sins.
Again, however, the salvation most of the first century Jews had in mind was a national liberation. They wanted to be freed from those who oppressed them. In this case, it was the Romans. They wanted a kingly figure in the style of King David to ride into town, with sword drawn, and take out their enemies.
But the prophecy that best points to the kind of salvation Jesus would bring is found in Psalm 130:8, which says,
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
The salvation Jesus would bring would primarily be spiritual, though it would certainly have implications for every sphere of life. As the words to an old hymn remind us, there is something powerful indeed about the name of Jesus.
The name, “Jesus” represents our deliverance from sin and our reconciliation with God. Acts 4:12 says this about the name of Jesus,
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (emphasis mine)
The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 2:10, puts it this way,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (emphasis mine)
And who did Jesus come to save? “His people.” “His people” certainly meant Israel. We know he came first to “his own” as John 1:11 puts it. “His own” meant the Jews.
But we also know there is a wider context. Undoubtedly Matthew, the same Gospel writer who gave us the Great Commission, which commands us to go into all the world to make disciples of every nation, understood it was not only Israel Jesus came to save.
The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus came for Jew and Gentile. Paul writes this in Romans 1:16,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
For a Jew, the word “Gentile” or “Greek” simply meant everyone else… everyone who’s not Jewish. In other words, Jesus came to save everyone who would believe… Jew and Gentile alike.
Now think about that – Jesus cam to save his people from their sins. “His people” would have included a lot of very, so-called, “religious” people, not just those who were described as “sinners.” Jesus came to say that no one can be delivered from their sin by their own religious works, no matter how good. We’re all b born in sin and our sins can never be atoned for by our religious works, whether they’re Jewish or Gentle good works.
So, here is the question for us. Maybe you have asked this yourself. Why couldn’t Jesus just parachute out of heaven as an adult and go straight to the Cross? The answer: because he had to be truly God and truly human, and live that life.
As God, he would be able to atone for the infinite transgression of sin and bridge the infinite gulf between God and us. As human, he would live a life, be tempted just like the rest of us, yet remain without sin.
And as the God-man, a sinless human, a lamb who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptist referred to him (John 1:29), he could die in our place and take the punishment we deserved. You see, his life of perfect righteousness was just as important as his sacrificial death. Because if he were a sinner like the rest of us, then his death would not have even saved his life, much less ours.
By taking on human flesh and living among us, God revealed just how much he loves those he came to save. In one of my favorite hymns, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley reminds us of this piercing truth,
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that we may no more may die,
Born to raise us from the earth,
Born to give us second birth.
Read Matthew 1:21 again,
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus was born for this. Talk about implications!
The birth of Jesus has eternal implications. It has temporal implications. It has implications for every sphere of your life.
Have you called out to Jesus to save you from your sins? And have you entrusted your life – given your whole existence to him? If not, let today be the day.
Thanks be to God for his holy and sacrificial love.
One of the most important classes I have ever taught as a pastor was on the Cross of Jesus Christ. Indeed, there are few Christian doctrines more essential to our faith than Christ’s atonement, for his precious work upon the Cross vividly expresses God’s great love for those Jesus came to save.
Moreover, what I’ve discovered in my studies on Christ’s atonement is that the Book of Hebrews is in a class by itself in helping us see the love God has for us, in and through the work of Jesus on the Cross. Let’s take a look.
The Book of Hebrews
The author of Hebrews had a very definite purpose in mind as he wrote his letter. He wanted to show the superiority of Jesus and the new covenant over the old covenant. His reason was that many of the Christian believers to whom he was writing had come out of Judaism and now were facing persecution. Some were being tempted to turn back to what they had left behind. They had found new life in Christ, but some were beginning to question whether Jesus was worth the persecution and suffering they were facing.
Maybe you’ve felt that way. Maybe you too have wondered if following Jesus is worth it. Perhaps you’ve thought that the cost of discipleship – of denying yourself, picking up your cross daily and following Jesus – is asking too much. Maybe like the Israelites who were following Moses in the wilderness, you’ve thought that the food you had as a slave back in Egypt wasn’t that bad after all. That thought has crossed my mind from time to time.
But then I read in Scripture the kind of message I find in Hebrews, and I come to see yet again, God’s great love for me – and for all of us – and I’m reminded that following our Lord, whatever the hardship, is more than worth it.
Here’s how our Scripture puts it. Hebrews 9:11-14 says,
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Lesser to Greater
The folks Hebrews is addressed to needed to be encouraged. And the author does this by using what’s called, “lesser to greater” arguments. Jesus taught in the same way.
In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus taught,
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (emphasis mine)
In Matthew 12:11-12, he puts it this way,
11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (emphasis mine)
The author of Hebrews uses this rhetorical device throughout his letter to show the superiority of Jesus in several ways.
The High Priest
First of all, we learn in our text that Jesus is our High Priest. In the Old Covenant there was a great barrier between God and his people. In the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, there was a great veil that separated God’s people from the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could go behind the veil to bring sacrifices to God.
But the death of Jesus spiritually and literally tore the veil in two (Luke 24:44-46), so that there was no longer anything preventing us from approaching God directly.
Also, when the high priest in the Old Covenant entered the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifices to God, he had to first offer a sacrifice for his own sin. Because even though he was the high priest and a holy man, he was still a sinful man. But Jesus was greater because Jesus was without sin.
Hebrews 4:15 says,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
In the Old Covenant the high priest brought in an animal to sacrifice. In the New Covenant, the High Priest was the sacrifice.
Our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself on our behalf. His life for ours. Do you remember what John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus approaching him? He declared these words in John 1:29,
… “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
John understood the mission of Jesus as, “the lamb without blemish” the Israelites were to sacrifice at the Passover, in Exodus 12.
The prophecy in Isaiah 53:7 points to this.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. (emphasis mine)
He laid down his life for those he loves. His life for ours.
Once For All
In the Old Covenant, the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement had to be repeated annually because the blood of animals was purely symbolic. It revealed that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It taught God’s people that sin is a big deal. It separates us from a right relationship with God. It has to be atoned for.
And yet, the death of animals, offered by a sinful high priest, could do no more than point to something greater, something beyond itself, something that was to come.
And something greater did indeed come! God came in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and he offered himself as a “once-for-all” sacrifice. That phrase, “once-for-all,” appears over and over again throughout Hebrews. It speaks of the permanence and perfection of the work of Jesus on the Cross.
Therefore, there’s no need to repeat the sacrifices anymore. All that needs to be done, has now been done.
Therefore, we’re called to trust in his sacrifice alone. The death of animals provided only a temporary, symbolic, and ceremonial cleansing from sin. But the author of Hebrews makes it clear that the death of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness – both outward and inward. It cleans our hearts.
Verse 14 says,
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (emphasis mine)
Because of what Jesus did on our behalf, we no longer need to be weighed down by the burden of our past – the guilt and shame of who we were, or what we did, before we came to know Christ.
We now have a freedom that’s been won by our Lord Jesus on the Cross.
The Love of God
God did all of this because he loves us. The Apostle Paul emphasized this in Romans 8:9,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (emphasis mine)
And because we’re now new creatures who are free in Jesus Christ, the author of Hebrews says we can now “serve the living God.” The word, “serve,” in this verse points to the worship of God, more than anything else. Because the veil to the Holy of Holies has been torn in two, we can now approach God in worship, unhindered by the oppression, shame, and guilt of our sin.
All of that has been atoned for. We’ve been washed. We’ve been redeemed. We’ve been reclaimed. His life for ours.
Aslan and Edmund
In the book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, one of the story’s four children, Edmund, betrayed his brother and sisters by telling the evil White Witch of Narnia where they were hiding. And in the Land of Narnia, where the story takes place, the penalty for being a traitor… is death.
Edmund was a young man and was understandably terrified at the prospect of this punishment. And even though he betrayed his family, they forgave him and thus they begged Aslan, the great lion and King of Narnia, to intervene… to do something… to get Edmund off the hook. Maybe an exception to the rule could be made this time.
However, Aslan, who is the Christ-figure in the story replied by telling the children that the law is the law and betrayal is indeed worthy of death. There was no other way. The White Witch, therefore, legally laid claim to Edmund in order to be his judge and executioner. Things looked grim indeed.
Yet Aslan and the White Witch left the others for a long period of time to privately discuss the matter, and upon their return, in what seemed like the impossible, Aslan declared Edmund would not be put to death, and was now free. As you can imagine, upon hearing such wonderful news, there was a great celebration.
Later that evening, after the celebration was over, Aslan, somber and alone, left the camp where all the Narnians were sleeping, and made his way to the Great Stone table, which represented a sacrificial altar.
And there, the White Witch and all her wicked followers, bound Aslan, shaved his great mane, all the while mocking and beating him. And he took all of this pain, torment, and abuse without defending himself. Without trying to fight them off. Without trying to talk them out of it.
And there on the great Stone Table, Aslan was put to death by the blade of the White Witch. He voluntarily died in the place of Edmund, thereby receiving the punishment Edmund rightfully deserved.
His life for Edmund’s.
Isaiah 53:4-5 says,
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. (emphasis mine)
His life for ours. There is no greater love than this. God has done a great work on our behalf because he loves you and me. Our response is to love him, trust him, and follow him. And when we consider all he’s done for us, how could we do otherwise?
But thanks be to God that the story of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest and sacrifice, didn’t end at the Cross on Good Friday. Because Sunday was on the way.
What the World Needs Now
In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. If you know it, it will now be stuck in your head the rest of the day. It was called, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” The title says it all. It was true in 1965, and it’s perhaps even more true today, especially in our politically polarized country.
Love has been a topic of stories, poems, and songs for centuries. Again, going back to the 1960s, an “obscure” band from Liverpool, England sang quite a few songs about love.
And, in the same spirit as Jackie DeShannon’s song, we can add,
Well, what the world does need today is love. But I wonder if we know what we’re saying when we claim that. I wonder if we have a firm grasp on the subject when we use popular slogans such as, “love is love” or “love everyone, always.”
Not An Abstraction
Christian love, biblically understood, is anything but abstract. It’s a way of life. It not a mere feeling or emotion, but an act of the will. I almost called this post, “The Shape of Love,” because love, biblically understood, looks like something. It has a shape to it.
It cannot be reduced to an abstraction or slogan. Furthermore, this kind of love, biblical love, is hard. It takes practice because it is a way of life, and not merely a feeling or emotion. It is a mindset.
The Great Commandment
Jesus emphasized the priority of love for his followers, indeed for every person, when he gave us the Great Commandment. In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked by an expert in the law, which of the commandments was the greatest. He was trying to test Jesus.
But Jesus, being the smartest human to ever live, didn’t take the bait. He summarized all ten of the commandments by saying these words in Matthew 22:37-40,
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
You see, love is the greatest commandment. Love is the purpose of all the commandments – love of God and love of neighbor. And that kind of love looks like something.
What does it look like? It looks like…
Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments by saying we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – with all that we are. And we’re to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
The Real Meaning of the Commandments
And so, what do we often do? Well, a lot of times, instead of trying to dig into those commandments to understand them, we oversimplify them and say (or infer) silly things like, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone today or robbed a bank, so I must be ok.”
But then Jesus comes along in the Sermon on the Mount and tells us that not murdering anyone is a good start. However, if we have unrighteous anger toward someone, we’ve murdered them in our hearts. He says, you may not have committed adultery, but if you have lusted after someone, you’ve committed adultery in your heart.
Jesus gives us eyes to see what the commandments really mean. And they mean much more than we usually give them credit for. Moreover, Jesus also teaches us that the commandments aren’t merely negative prohibitions against things (“Thou shalt not”). They also imply positive actions. To not murder means more than not taking someone’s life or hating them in your heart. It also means desiring the best good of others and helping them flourish. It’s to act with reverence toward all living things and to honor the sanctity of life.
That’s just an example of what it means to love God completely and love our neighbor. It’s a way of life and requires a sanctified mindset.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
Biblical love is immensely practical, not just theoretical. It ought to be the heart and soul of all who follow Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2,
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The ESV Bible version says we’re to “imitate God.” As God’s children, who are dearly loved and forgiven by him, we’re called to imitate God. How? By walking in the way of love.
Jesus, who is our ultimate model, shows us what that love looks like. And the short answer is… it’s a sacrificial love. Paul says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That’s sacrificial love. That’s real love. That’s Christian love.
But even at this point, it would be fair to say, “that description is still sort of vague. What does it mean to love sacrificially?” And here the Apostle Paul is very helpful.
Paul loved writing lists. And right before Ephesians 5:1-2, he gave us a list of what sacrificial love looks like when it’s put into practice. And again, Paul is doing the same thing Jesus did, by summarizing the Ten Commandments with practical examples. Here’s his list in Ephesians 4:25-32.
What does it mean to walk in the way of love? It means…
That’s what walking in the way of love looks like. Want another list? Paul has one for you in the “love chapter” – 1 Corinthians 13. There he wrote that love…
That’s the way of love we’re called to walk in.
So, How Are You Doing?
How are you doing with all that? Are you faithfully walking in the way of love, based on the descriptions of Jesus and Paul? Understood Christianly, love is a bit more than a slogan, isn’t it?
Love, as the world understands it, is so much easier when it fits into the title of a song, or a bumper sticker, or a slogan. But Christian love is hard in real life.
The good news is that we don’t have to love perfectly, to be perfectly and completely loved by God. God has redeemed and reconciled us because he loves us, and when we put our trust in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we become new creatures.
God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and we become people who are able to walk in the way of love, as Scripture describes it. In fact, we are unable to walk in love without the continual power and guidance of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.
But we do participate. God doesn’t do it for us. We won’t love this way by accident. Walking in the way of love takes practice. It takes conscious intentionality.
This is why God has given his people means of grace. For example, God has given us his church, the fellowship of the saints, prayer, Scripture, worship, fasting, the sacraments, just to name a few.
These are means by which we’re able to learn and grow in grace, so that we can walk in his way of love. And the more we experience the true love of God, the more we’ll want to love God and others the way we have been loved.
But we need a plan. Like a vine needs a trellis to guide it in the right life-giving direction, so it will bear fruit, we need an intentional way of life to help us bear fruit… to help us walk in the way of love.
Make A Plan
This consciously intentional way of walking in love will not happen by accident. We need a plan, or a “rule of life” to serve as our trellis or, to change the metaphor, a rail that guide us in godliness.
In fact, this Bible study is part of that plan. Think about and develop ways to employ the means of grace, or spiritual disciplines, to help you move in a godly direction.
It is God’s will that we walk in the way of love. As we saw earlier, what the world needs now is indeed love. That’s absolutely true.
But the world needs the love of God. And that love has a shape to it. There’s content to it. Thus, what the world really needs is followers of Jesus Christ who not only love God, but love others as they have been loved and instructed by God.
What if you could live the life for which you were created? That sounds like the beginning of a self-help book, doesn’t it? But actually it’s just the opposite because you can’t live that life in your own strength.
A life filled with the “fruit of the Spirit” we find in Galatians 5 and elsewhere, is unattainable if we are left to pursue such a life in our own strength. Christianity is not a self-help or personal development program. The way up, is down. We must not depend upon ourselves to attain it. It is a life of humble dependence. Left to ourselves, we’ll fall short.
This is why the Apostle Paul begins Chapter 1 of his letter to the Galatian church by reminding them of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of God’s grace. It’s only because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we can have, not only the hope of eternal life, but the promise of a flourishing life here and now.
When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we’re able to live the life for which we were created because it’s the Spirit of the living Christ who comes to reside within us and live his life through us.
Paul puts it this way in Galatians 2:20,
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
In Matthew 19:26, Jesus says it like this,
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The point is this: the flourishing and abundant life God desires for us comes only through him; it comes through the Spirit of the risen Christ dwelling in and through us. He is the one who empowers, directs, and animates our lives.
A Man Named Saul
There was a man named Saul, who had an impressive academic background and was a zealous overachiever in the circles in which he ran. He describes himself this way in Philippians 3,
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But then, one day, as he was headed to Damascus to round up more Christians to arrest and persecute Saul of Tarsus had an experience with the risen Lord. And after that experience his life was never the same.
Well, as Paul experienced, I want to promise you that your life can become different as well. You really can live the life God desires for you.
And that brings us to the focus of this lesson.
Even though we will briefly look at Paul’s references in Galatians 5 to goodness and faithfulness, what I really want to do in this lesson is set the context for Paul’s focus on the fruit of the Spirit in the first place. Why did he even bring up the fruit of the Spirit? What issue did he believe he needed to address?
At the beginning of our text (Galatians 5:13-26) Paul says that Christ did not die on the Cross to liberate us from sin so we could live any way we want. That’s not Christian freedom.
Instead, he says in verse 13,
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
In fact, Paul makes the bold claim that we can summarize the whole Law of God by keeping the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (v. 14). But how do we do that? How do we not indulge the flesh, which is a Bible-way of saying, “How do we not give into our sinful inclinations and desires?”
Paul’s answer can be found in verse 16. He says we are to “walk by the Spirit.” When we walk by the Spirit, by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to Paul, we won’t gratify those sinful desires. We won’t put them into practice.
Have you ever felt like Paul in Romans 7. Here’s the Dale Tedder Paraphrase of Romans 7,
Can you relate to that? I can. And yet, with God’s help I’m trying, though I am but a slow work in progress.
All that is true, but let’s not miss the point Paul’s making. Paul is saying our “flesh” (which means our sinful nature) in in conflict with the Spirit who lives within us. And if you’re putting your sinful nature first, then you can’t live by the Spirit. And thus, you aren’t living by the Spirit.
However, if you walk by the Spirit… if you live in the power of the Spirit… then you can have victory over those sinful temptations.
Paul’s Sin List
And so, right after driving emphasizing that point, Paul gives us with one of his famous “sin-lists” to watch out for. We find this list in verses 19-21.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now, maybe after reading that list you’re breathing a sigh of relief. You’re saying to yourself, “Phew, he didn’t mention the issues that I wrestle with.” Well, Paul has this rhetorical device he uses at the end of his lists. He adds phrases like, “and the like” or, “and things like these.” That’s Paul’s way of saying you’re included too.
I find the last half of verse 21 pretty chilling. Let me share that part again,
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
I can imagine what you’re thinking right now. You’re saying, “This is really uncomfortable… do something about this.” Well, I’m not looking to get any of us off the hook for when we sin. When we do, we need to repent and cling to God’s grace.
What Paul Means
But pay close attention to what Paul says in this verse. He says, “those who live like this…”
Here are some other ways we could read this part of the text…
Therefore, Paul is not saying “you’re out of the Kingdom of God because, during those times of weakness we all experience, you sin.” We all do that from time to time. Right?
But if you belong to Christ, then the Holy Spirit convicts you of that sin and it grieves your heart, causing you to repent of it and seek God’s forgiveness. What Paul’s talking about are folks who might profess the name of Christ but who show no signs of giving up the sinful patterns of their lives.
Walk in the Spirit
But even here, the Spirit of God can help bring conviction and correction in their lives as well. That’s why Paul says…
It’s only in the power of the Spirit of God that we can live the life for which we were created and redeemed. And what does that life look like? It looks like a life of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” This is the fruit of the Spirit. This is a glimpse of what living by the Spirit ought to look like.
Goodness and Faithfulness
Our fruit for this lesson focuses on goodness and faithfulness. Goodness is the “quality of being good and having praiseworthy character and moral excellence.” It is God’s holiness that is the standard for goodness and so we look to God and his Word to measure our goodness toward others. Paul especially has in mind our generosity toward others.
Faithfulness means “dependability, loyalty, and stability” which primarily highlights our relationship with God, but also other people. And again, our standard is God. From Genesis to Revelation, God showed faithfulness to his people, even when, (especially when) they didn’t deserve it.
We are living in a time when our denomination and church family need to exercise the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. This is especially true in this time of struggle as we seek God’s will. We need Christians who are reflecting the goodness of God toward one another and their faithfulness toward God.
It’s times like these that a church family needs to put on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with those we care about, with those we’ve been part of the same church family with… for years.
Now is not the time to turn on one another. Even as we may disagree greatly with one another we must still love one another, show kindness and generosity of spirit to one another. And yet, our disagreements are not trivial. They are real. They are important. They are personal. And for many, they’re nonnegotiable.
But We Can Love
But that only means we must cling to Christ more tightly and walk more dependently by his Spirit as we seek to walk with one another through this difficult time.
And so, as a shepherd and brother in Christ, I implore you to please resolve to walk in the Spirit of God with your brothers and sisters in Christ. I feel the weight of this difficult time as you do. I’m still discerning God’s will in all of this, as I know you are.
Thus, let us contend earnestly for our understandings of the faith, but let’s do so with love, goodness, and faithfulness overflowing in our hearts, and let’s trust the Lord to lead us as he will. This doesn’t mean we’ll all agree with one another at the end of the process. It doesn’t even mean we’ll all remain together as one body.
But to paraphrase a favorite movie quotation of mine, “we can still love one another completely, even without complete agreement.”
And in the midst of this turbulent time, here’s what I do know for sure: Without God we can do nothing. But with God, all things are possible. Let us pray without ceasing.
The Shape of Love
Love is love. This unhelpful tautology has seemingly won the day with Christians and non-Christians alike. It works well as a slogan but offers little substance for how God calls us to live a life of love. Instead, the Bible teaches us there is a shape to love. The love God calls us to looks like something. It has content to it. It is first and foremost received from God, then directed back to God, and then, lived out toward neighbor. It’s sacrificial, others-centered, joyful, and obedient. This life of love is the Way of the Lord, and the reason for the title of this study.
The Ten Commandments are an expression of the love Jesus commands in his summary of the Law. The great commandment is to love God with our whole being and the second commandment is like it, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But even that word from our Lord Jesus is general, and even vague. Yet he could speak in such a way because he knew he was summarizing something more detailed and specific, something his first-century audience would have understood.
In speaking of the two great commandments, Jesus was really summarizing the moral Law of God, the Ten Commandments. The first table of the law, for example, which contains the first four commandments, focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on our love for God. The second table addresses the nature of neighbor-love, which as we learn throughout Scripture, is also an expression of our love for God.
In other words, the way of loving God and neighbor looks like something specific. The commandments are not platitudes. They are concretely helpful. And the rest of Scripture is a commentary on what this love for God and neighbor looks like. The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles all shed light on the height, width, and depth of what it means to love God and others in the way God has prescribed in the Ten Commandments.
More Than Meets the Eye
By the time of the first century, many in the Jewish religious community had reduced the Ten Commandments to external rules and regulations that could be manipulated. But Jesus came along and reminded them that obedience to the Law had always involved the motives of one’s heart. It was not merely about behaving in the right way. It had always been about doing the right things, in the right way, for the right reason, with the right attitude.
Of course, a standard like that immediately leads one to self-discovery, or at least it ought to. When you come to understand, for example, that “not murdering” another person is more than not taking the life of another person, but includes not hating them or being unrighteously angry toward them, you begin to realize how far you fall short.
Furthermore, when you consider that each commandment carries with it a positive side, such as desiring that same person’s best interest and doing what you can to help them, then a legalistic framework really begins to crumble. Such a realization ought to cause us to run to the grace of God found in the work of Christ, for he was the only one who faithfully lived out a perfect life of righteousness. His sacrificial love on the Cross paid for our inability to live a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law.
Morality Revealed by God
What we learn as we study the Ten Commandments is that morality is fundamentally theological. That does not mean irreligious people cannot live moral lives, but it does mean when they do so, they are borrowing from a theistic framework. For their worldview cannot justify their way of living. There are secular forms of ethics. But those systems are usually forms of utilitarianism. They base their view of what is right and wrong on whether something works (whatever “works” means) for the common good (whatever “common good” means).
A secular ethic is not grounded in that which is immutable, transcendent, and objective. It is not a revealed ethic. It is dependent on king or crowd. What is considered normal, or even good, is determined, so to speak, in the voting booth of public agreement and alignment. Absent from such a worldview and ethic is an objective standard, revealed by an immutable and transcendent Creator, who not only created the universe, but also each and every person, in God’s own image.
Christians believe that having such an ethical standard is good, not only for individuals, but for families, communities, workplaces, societies, and ultimately, the world. A commitment to such an ethic does not mean every moral decision is clearly understood or that every command is easily interpreted and applied in every situation. But it does mean we have a firm foundation from which to start as we seek to faithfully live in this world.
Contrary to popular notions, freedom does not mean being untethered to any moral restrictions in one’s life. Nor is desiring to obey God a form of legalism. Instead, we should understand that obedience to God is true love. And this kind of love produces real freedom, which is the ability to live the life for which we were created.
That is not a life of legalism or bondage. The Law of God provides freedom to become all that God created and redeemed us to be, as well as delivering us from a path of self-destruction and potentially hurting others along the way. We don’t live this way in order to earn points with God, but such a life is evidence that God is doing a great work in us. God is molding and shaping us into something we cannot possibly imagine – his grand masterpiece – the very likeness of his Son. How could such knowledge lead us to anything but joyful and grateful obedience?
The heart is the heart of the matter. God gave us his moral law to reveal to us his character and will for our lives. God’s Law does provide structure and rails to keep us safe. God revealed this way of life for us because he has our best interest at heart. He really does want what is best for us and thus has revealed the way for us to live.
But more than that, in and through Christ, God has recreated us once again in his image. His very Spirit indwells us. God not only wants us to live this way because it is best for us. God wants our hearts. He wants us to desire to live this way because we love him, want to please and glorify him, and because we love others. He wants us to love what he loves.
It is God’s sanctifying process for helping us become like him… in what we desire, the way think, how we speak, and in the manner in which we conduct ourselves in this world. And not only is this what is best for us here and now, but God is also training us for eternity. Thanks be to God.
A Word About Each Lesson
It will not take you long to see that some of the study questions have many Bible verses to look up. You might even say an obnoxious amount of Bible verses. And that’s true. But they are there for a few important reasons.
First, they are included to show you how widely the Bible speaks on the particular commandment of each lesson. These Ten Commandments are not isolated only to Exodus and Deuteronomy. They are repeated, interpreted, and applied throughout the rest of Scripture.
Second, the verses are there to reveal that God’s commands are not to be understood and applied in a simplistic fashion. The Ten Commandments are not only prohibitions. That is, they are not only forbidding us to behave in certain ways, but they also point us to the birthplace of those behaviors. Our desire for sin festers in the human heart and sometimes finds its ways into our thought-life, as well as the words we speak and the actions we take.
Third, the variety of Scripture is there to remind you that there are positive, godly ways to live out the commands. The Ten Commandments are not merely a list of things not to do. They also guide us in a God-honoring, life-affirming, Christlike way of living in this world.
The Last Reason for All the Scripture
And that brings us to the last reason for all the verses, which is also why we have the Law in the first place. The first time I read the Sermon on the Mount, with a level of maturity and understanding, I immediately understood how far short I fell of living according to this standard that Jesus had set before me. And frankly, I was distraught. What hope did I have of faithfully and consistently living in this way, even if I tried my best every single day? And who among us does that?
But that was also a key moment in my life for understanding grace. It’s the point of the Law, at least a part of the point. We cannot perfectly live this prescribed way of the Lord. Yet it is still the standard. So, what do we do? We turn to Christ, who did perfectly live it out. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of the world, Lord of all creation, and Light of life did perfectly fulfill all righteousness in his life, death, and resurrection.
His sacrificial and substitutionary life, death, and resurrection is what we trust in. We trust in him, not only to forgive us for our sins, but to impute his righteousness to our account. We died with Christ in his death and were raised to new life with Christ in his resurrection. And now, not only are we forgiven; not only are we new creatures in Christ; but the very Spirit who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead lives in each person who trusts in him. Therefore, Christ can live his life in and through ours.
And When We Stumble
We are not called to live the way of the Lord in our own strength. But Christ guides and empowers us through his gracious Spirit. The reason God has revealed this way to us is for us to become like Christ. It’s the path by which we are progressively molded and shaped into his likeness by the Spirit of love.
We will stumble along the way. But even the grief and conviction we experience when we fail is the gift of a loving Father disciplining those he loves. His discipline is gracious correction to get us moving along the right path once again.
My Advice for Each Lesson
Thus, my advice is to answer each question however you see fit. You can write down your reflections for each verse of Scripture. Or, you can read all the verses and write down your summary statement of what they all mean. Or, you can read half of them, a third of them, or even a fourth of them. It’s up to you. My goal is not to provide you with a legalistic framework in a study which hopes to show you why legalism is neither godly nor livable.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least encourage you to go the extra mile and try to read as many verses as you can in each lesson, and to think deeply about this way of the Lord prescribed for us. If you think about the character of God and the ways he has worked throughout redemptive history, then you recognize that even though we may not understand all the things God has included in his Word, we should realize that there are no “throw away” verses. They are all there for a reason, especially when they relate to who he his is, his way of salvation, and his path to holiness.
Ultimately, we are here to glorify God. We want to please our loving God so that when others see our good works, they will give praise to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). My prayer is that this study will enlighten, encourage, and equip you to know God’s will, the way of the Lord, and that by it, God’s Spirit will carry on to completion the great work he has already begun in you until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
Sermon text: Isaiah 6:1-13
God used the first seven verses of today’s Scripture to revolutionize my faith almost thirty years ago. I was teaching a study by R.C. Sproul called, The Holiness of God. It was a needed balance to my view of God which, in the tradition of many “mainliners” of my generation, understood God exclusively in terms of his attribute of love. When I say, “his attribute of love,” what I really mean is what we usually think God’s love ought to be like, in our humble opinion. For many of us who grew up in church, the unconditional love of God is almost synonymous with the unconditional niceness of God.
God used Sproul’s book and study on the holiness of God to awaken me. I discovered God is much larger than I imagined. Sure, I had read A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy, but goodness, I was still in my 20s and barely understood most of what I read there. Sproul’s book put the cookie jar on the bottom shelf so I could get to it. To think of God as “holy, holy, holy” was something I hadn’t thought much about. If asked, I may have used the word “holy” to describe God, but I would have been guessing at words out of my ignorance.
The Holiness of God
I came to understand that God’s holiness, like all of God’s attributes, is essential to who God is, and not some second tier, take it or leave it, attribute. His holiness signifies both his otherness and his moral purity. To stand before such a holy God, one can’t help but react the way Isaiah did. Who could look upon our holy God and not cry out that they are ruined, undone, disintegrated?
Every sinful thought, word, deed, and desire that our lives have been built upon would overwhelm our hearts and minds were we to stand before such God. The guilt would be more than we could possibly endure. Isaiah’s cry was recognition of his guilt and his repentance of it. Thus, in our Scripture, the angels took the searing coal and applied it to the lips of Isaiah to symbolize his purification and atonement. His guilt was taken away and he was forgiven. Is there better news than that?
Lesson 1: My Sin
God used this scene from redemptive history to do several things in my life. First, he taught me about his holiness. For when a person comes to understand the true holiness of God’s nature, it shouldn’t be a big jump to understanding how unholy we fallen and sinful sons of Adam and daughters of Eve really are.
Yet, Peter reminds us of God’s command from the Old Covenant to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Holiness is not optional. In fact, the Book of Hebrews reminds us that without this holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
Lesson 2: Grace
The second, and even more unexpected aspect of being introduced to God’s holiness in this very startling way was how God used it to show me what his love for me really means. I believe I was at a place in my life where I really believed God’s love was my due. It was God’s job to love me. It was entitlement thinking on my part.
However, as God’s providence would have it, at the same time I was teaching a class on his holiness, I was also teaching a class on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. And there I started digging into what grace really means. I began to understand what every confirmand we have celebrated at my church was taught… that grace is the unearned, unmerited, undeserved favor, blessing, and power of God. God first loved me because it is God’s character to love, but not because God is required to love me. God’s holiness, from which his justice flows, calls for my sin to be punished.
The Wages of Sin
My sin… our sin… is antithetical to the holiness of God and, as those created in his image, is displeasing to him and, to put it bluntly, tells lies about who he really is. Everything an image bearer does reflects on its Creator. It says something about the one who created it. When we sin, we’re saying something untrue about the One who made us. This is the human condition. This is why Isaiah cried out,
“Woe to me!”… “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
It was not only that Isaiah was a fallen, sinful man, but so were his fellow Israelites. So are we all.
That is part of the reason we cannot look upon the unveiled presence of God and live. He is too pure and holy. But Isaiah’s vision of the King was just that, a vision. Isaiah was a humble man, he therefore recognized this qualitative disparity. And so, he cried out. I too cried out when I recognized how good and gracious God’s love to me really was. When I truly understood God had loved me my whole life. I couldn’t help but think of how undeserving I was.
This was not a “worm theology” where I saw myself as worthless. But this was similar to Isaiah’s revelation in which he understood himself to be unworthy to stand before the King. That is how I felt. Yet, that is exactly what made God’s love for me all the sweeter. That is what made it precious to me. That is what humbled me and melted my pride in a way that remains a vivid memory in my heart and mind.
Our Response to Holy Love
After an experience like this, Isaiah couldn’t help but answer God’s call to serve him. That should be what each of us does in response to God’s holy love. When we have truly understood God’s holy love for each of us, we should tremble, rejoice, fall before him, and give our lives to him. That appears to be what Isaiah did. God asked for a servant to bring a hard word to Israel, and Isaiah stepped up. He answered the call. His calling would be to deliver a message of judgment.
There is no generation in which judgment is a welcomed guest. There is a reason we have the saying, “don’t shoot the messenger.” Isaiah wasn’t called to bring Israel his own assessment of how things were going and what was going to happen to them. Instead, he was bringing them God’s divine evaluation. And it wasn’t good. There would be judgment for Israel. This would not be a time of “superficial deliverance.” This would be what we sometimes refer to as “tough love.” All would be laid waste. Yet, “destruction is never God’s last word.” Hope would remain.
A holy seed, a faithful remnant of God’s people would remain, from which the Messiah, and ultimately, deliverance and redemption, would come.
I think I often forget there was a time when God’s people awaited the first Advent of the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. His coming was prophesied as early as Genesis and would be the hope of God’s people in every generation after. God would continue to provide foreshadowing and prophecies of the coming Messiah throughout the Old Covenant. We would learn where and when he would be born, to whom, the royal line he would belong to, and why he was coming. Recently, a religious leader in our denomination said,
“It is not important that we agree on who Christ is. …God became flesh, but not particular flesh. There’s no particularity around that. God became incarnate in a culture, but not one culture.”
The Scandal of Particularity
But Israel’s Messiah, was just that… the Messiah of Israel. This anointed One, this Messiah, was of the seed of Eve, the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of the line of King David, and remained the hope of Israel, a hope that existed only because God preserved a faithful remnant who did not bow to false gods and live in rebellion to him.
This Messiah’s Old Covenant lineage is highlighted in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And during the season of Advent especially, we remember that this Messiah would be born to a Jewish mother. The father who raised him and gave him his name was Jewish. And he would be named Jesus, because, the angel told his parents, he would save his people from their sin. The scandal of particularity matters a lot.
Joy to the World
Yet, by God’s grace, the deliverance, redemption, and reconciliation he brought with his coming did not remain for Israel only but became a sacrificial and loving offering for the whole world. Thanks be to God. God’s love is holy… and his holiness is loving. They are inseparable and intricately connected because they are who God is, along with all his other attributes. They aren’t merely what God does, but who God is. And we are created in his image. We too are called to be holy as God is holy. We are commanded to love God and neighbor because God first loved us. Our lives of holy love should reflect God’s character and goodness in our lives. It’s my prayer for my church family, and the church at large, that God’s light would shine through us so brightly, that when others see it, they will not be able to help but give our Father in heaven all the praise and glory.
Jesus and Nicodemus
Our Scripture comes right at the end of a conversation between Jesus and a man called, Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a great Jewish leader, yet he sensed something in or about Jesus that led him to come and speak with Jesus.
But because of his reputation, and the fact that Jesus was not very popular among the Jewish leaders, Nicodemus came at night. It was there and then Jesus taught Nicodemus the truth about how a person must be saved, or redeemed… brought into a right relationship with God.
Jesus even scolded Nicodemus for not already knowing this since he was a great leader of the Jewish people.
Moses and the Snake
As Jesus finished up his lesson to Nicodemus, he referred to an event in Jewish history that Nicodemus would have known well. Referencing Numbers 21:4-9, Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:14-15,
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
It is an interesting story, but the short version is this: after God graciously and lovingly rescued his people from bondage in Egypt, they began complaining. They started speaking against God and Moses, suggesting they had been brought out into the wilderness only to die.
Therefore, God sent poisonous snakes among them, and the snakes began to bite the people. Many died. As you can imagine, this got the people’s attention, and they began repenting for speaking against God and Moses and pleaded for deliverance and healing from the snakes.
Thus, God told Moses to make a snake, put it on a pole, and then lift it high above the people. And so, Moses did just that. He made a bronze snake, put it on the end of a pole, and when the people looked with faith to the image of the snake lifted up, they were physically healed.
After retelling the story, the last point Jesus made to Nicodemus was this: just as Moses lifted up the snake, Jesus himself would be lifted up. By “lifted up” Jesus was referring to his death on the Cross to be sure, but also his resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
And Jesus added that everyone who looks to him – trustingly believing in him – will have eternal life.
The Bible’s Most Popular Verse
That brings us to the most widely known verse in all the Bible, John 3:16,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 is the most succinct summary of the Gospel in all the Bible. In one verse John tells us God gave his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to live, teach, heal, perform miracles, but ultimately, to die on the Cross.
By doing so, those who look to him in faith, as the Israelites looked to the bronze snake, would be forgiven and delivered from the guilt and power of sin. They would be reclaimed and reconciled to a right and eternal relationship with God. And they would be empowered to live the lives for which they were created.
The Front Door
John declares to us in this beautiful verse that we must reach out to God with our hearts and minds to receive this free gift of eternal life.
John 1:12 says,
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
We receive Christ by placing our faith in him. Trusting belief. This is more than mere head knowledge or vague acknowledgement. It is to give our very lives to him. To give him ourselves. To be sure, it involves trust, repentance, submission, commitment, obedience, and following him.
But the front door is faith. We must enter through that front door and say, “Yes Lord, thank you. I believe.” Then, what follows, is a life of getting to know him better – following him wherever he may lead. It means desiring to become more and more like him. It means telling others about him, even as we serve them, along our journey through this world.
According to John, those who do respond in faith in this way receive eternal life. Those who do not respond in faith, do not receive eternal life. John says they stand condemned already because they prefer darkness instead of the light that Christ brings into the world (John 3:18, 36).
Now, if you have been paying attention up to this point, perhaps you noticed I left out the central, governing motivation of all that God did through Jesus on our behalf.
John tells us that, “God so loved.”
That phrase, “so loved” means, God loved “in this way,” which involves everything mentioned so far about Jesus being “lifted up” on our behalf.
And please notice, John says God so loved the world. Not just the Jews, but the Gentiles too, which is a way of saying, everyone. God is not only the covenant God of Israel. He is the God of all. He sent Jesus for all. That is why John said, “everyone who believes” and not just the Jews.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:12-13,
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Emphases mine)
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And this is because, “God so loved.” God’s love expressed in this way, John reminds us in his first epistle, flows from the fact that God is love. It is who God is.
But here is where we need to be careful. We must not go to movies and music, or Hollywood and Hallmark, to get our definition of love and then read Scripture through that lens. Instead, we first go to Scripture to learn what love is and then look to see how worldly views compare with what the Bible says (and therefore, what God says) about God’s love. This is how we practice the art of spiritual discernment.
The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, seldom talked about God’s love without referring to it as a “holy love.” Each of God’s attributes relates to all the rest. God’s attributes do not exist in separate, isolated compartments in which they have nothing to do with one another. Furthermore, God’s attributes are not partial. He is not a 10% one attribute and 15% another and so on. He is 100% each of his attributes, and as I mentioned, they all interrelate and influence the others.
This led A.W. Tozer to write,
"From God’s other known attributes we may learn much about his love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, his love had no beginning; because he is eternal, his love can have no end; because he is infinite, it has no limit; because he is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity…”
Charles Wesley beautifully captured a glimpse of God’s love in his hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”…
Love divine, all loves excelling
Joy of Heaven to Earth come down
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling
All Thy faithful mercies crown
Jesus, Thou art all compassion
Pure, unbounded love Thou art
Visit us with Thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart
That is the love of God. And so how do you respond to that? This idea is that God sent his Son to come and save, not a world that was cheering for him, but just the opposite. As the words of the Holy Communion liturgy in the United Methodist hymnal, (borrowing from Romans 5:8), put it,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Emphasis mine)
How do you respond to that? How does that impact you emotionally? Does it fill you with awe? Humility? Reverence? Joy? Gratitude? Indifference? Distaste? Fear? The Apostle John suggests that all those seem to be ways people respond to the glorious announcement of God’s love in Christ.
How about you? Is the good news of God’s love for you in Christ an announcement of indescribable beauty to you? Of horror? Of Indifference?
I want you to know there is a God in heaven who loves you and who went to the greatest lengths to act on your behalf – to win you to himself. To enable you to become the person he created you to be.
He loves and rejoices over you so much he sings. Zephaniah 3:17 says,
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
He loves you so much he offers you eternal life in his presence. But he will not force you to respond in faith, to give your life to Christ. He will not override your will and desire. To those who would prefer not to spend eternity in the presence of God, God replies, “thy will be done.” And yet, like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he waits and watches for you. More than that, with his Spirit he lovingly calls you and draws you to himself. And he is doing that today.
The Ultimate Gift
And what is the gift that awaits you when you trust in Christ? The gift is God himself. “Life of abundant joy and immeasurable blessing in the presence of God forever.”
At the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes these words about some of the characters in his books,
“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Don’t you want to be a part of that Great Story?
If you have never put your trust in Christ before, reach out to God today and call to him. Trust in him. Enter his Great Story and become a part of it. If you do know Christ, then give thanks and continue to love and follow him. Tell others about him. Invite them to join you in the Greatest Story ever told.
Thanks be to God for the love of God.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.