Friday, May 20, 2016

Living to Love (3 of 3)

My whole “theology” of “live in Love, find your true reward,” finds its root in 1 John 4:15-17. It reads, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in Him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; for we are as He is in this world.” Finally, I will explain my plan for the next few (many) entries to this blog at the end of this post. But first, it is important first to spell out the last aspect of what liL fytr entails.
Before moving to part 3, which will lay out the most externally visible application of this line of thought, it is important to review the ground we’ve covered in the previous two posts. In the first post, we explored the phrase “God is love” in verse 16 to try to understand something of God, to try to grasp the source of love, to try to grasp the only hope we have to ever live out this high calling. Last time, we looked at the love that should exist from believer to God—seen clearly in the words “the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him” in verse 16. However, it is important to note that the emphasis in the passage is on “God is love” and not “love God.” It is also important to note that verse 17 ends by saying, “we are as He is in this world.” The huge emphasis is on the external effect that the fact that “God is love” should have on our lives.
So let me propose a syllogism for you:
if God is love,
and
if we are as He is in this world,
then
therefore we are love also.
This is why in 1 John 4:8 we miss the point if we only focus on the words, “God is love.” That is John’s concluding argument in the verse. In its entirety it reads, “The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Now a very easy accusation against this theology would claim, “All anyone in the world wants is to love, to be loved, and to increase in both; you’re proposing love-based salvation which is works-based salvation. You’re a false teacher.” And I would say, “yes, that is very true. But only if we rip 1 John 4:8 out of its context, if we make it say its inverse, and if we don’t define our terms.” Otherwise, it is very clear.
The context of 1 John 4:8 is in the middle of a letter to those who are confessing sin, finding cleansing in Jesus, and who ultimately have been born of God (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2, 3:9-10; cf. John 3:5-8). This new birth is what enables us to believe and to grow in knowledge and holiness and love. First John 3:9 talks about how believers have been born from God and do not sin; then verse 10 explains, “This is how God’s children—and the Devil’s children—are made evident. Whoever does not do what is right is not [implied: born] of God, especially the one who does not love his brother.” In a sense the only sin John is worried about in this letter is not loving other believers (though more is going on in verse 9 than we have time to talk about in this post). He is saying that someone who truly has been born of God cannot and will not continue to fail to love fellow believers.
The perfect inverse of 1 John 4:8 is, “The one who does love does know God, because God is not love.” However that is blatant heresy, which is why we should avoid inverting verses to make them say their opposite. Someone might claim the opposite of 1 John 4:8 is simply, “The one who does love does know God,” but that clearly isn’t all of the verse. Then they will claim that loving people is all that matters: food, and water, and shelter for the homeless; marriage seminars for bad spouses; “true love waits” campaigns for teenagers and college students; etc. And all of these are good and right, but too often we completely miss the point. If you make peoples’ lives better, help marriages work more smoothly, keep all your clothes on and hands to yourself until your wedding night, but aren’t told of the gospel of grace for people dead in sin, you’re really just having your road to hell padded down, making it a little more comfortable. The definition of love is much deeper than all of these things.
Jesus defines love very clearly in John 15:13. “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” This is the kind of love that the majority of Christianity in America lacks today. Today it’s all about, “What can I get out of this?” “What can we gain from this?” “How does it make me feel?” I’m sorry, but when Jesus laid down His life, 1) He got pain, torment, and wrath from the Father; 2) He gained very little in those specific 6 hours, but gave up all; 3) He did not feel good at all! This is what love looks like. Love is not at all about what we can get, but about what we can give; love is not about what we can gain/want to gain short-term, but  rather about what we will gain long-term; love is not about feelings at all, but rather about actions. John said, “We must not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).
So, as Christians, what are the deeds we should do so that we can show love to others and so that we can be “as He is in this world”? There are two key ways to do this, but first it is extremely important that we realize what we aren’t doing. We aren’t loving others so that people see us as kind-hearted, social justice champions. We’re loving others because we’ve been immensely loved by God and our love-tank is overflowing and needs to go somewhere. The language of verse 15 is clear, “God remains in him and he in God.” There is a sense of oneness between the believer and God to where if we do something, God does something (it’s why Paul gets so riled up in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). We are to be as He is in this world. The world will know we are His by our love (cf. John 13:35). Our love is to be shown in two key ways. First, by helping the needy, and second, by evangelizing the lost.
The needy have a huge place in God’s heart. Read Leviticus and see how God goes out of His way to make provision for widows and orphans and the poor—both physical provision and religious provision. Exodus 22:22-24 even says, “You must not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, they will no doubt cry to Me, and I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will burn, and I will kill you with the sword; then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless.” Point taken, right? And lest you think that’s just the Old Testament—angry wrathful God—look at two New Testament verses. First John 3:17 asks, “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but shuts off his compassion from him—how can God’s love reside in him?” James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The Old Testament emphasizes not mistreating the needy. The New Testament raises the bar from “not harming” to “actively loving.” We are to help those in need. How do we define need? If someone has less of something than you they are in more need than you. Do with that what you will.
There is a high percentage of this world’s population that is lost and on its way to hell. What is more loving than to tell them about their problem and inform them of the only solution to their problem? Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 5:14 and 20 that, “Christ’s love compels us . . . we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God’.” Our message is a message of reconciliation. Our biggest need is reconciliation—with each other, but much more with God—and since we’ve been entrusted with the message of reconciliation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18), we are the ones responsible to spread it and exhibit it. If we claim to be reconciled to God, we should live reconciled with each other! If we want others to be reconciled to God, we need to be reconciled to God. If we fail to share with those who need to hear, then we are judging them unworthy, and we should take a good long look in the mirror to see what qualified us as worthy (hint: it was only God’s grace that is making us worthy; we haven’t even arrived yet!). A Christian’s love for others is even to extend to his enemies (cf. Matthew 5:43-47), so no one should be exempted from our evangelism. Society would turn around in a heartbeat if we’d live out the basic tenant of our religion (John 13:35).
The whole point of the Bible is love. Each of the 66 books in our canon emphasizes a different aspect, but they all describe and promote love. I have written more extensively on this topic elsewhere (though only focusing on the New Testament) and it can be accessed at:  www.academia.edu/25063760/Love_Wins. I need to dive more into the Old Testament aspect of this idea, but that is a project for the future.
John talks a lot about a new command in his letter. This is a reference to Jesus’ command in John 15:9-12. “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my command: love one another as I have loved you.” The way to remain in Jesus’ love is to keep His commands. His command is to love others. Therefore, the way to remain in His love is to love others. This sheds light on John 15:7 and its comparable passage in 1 John 2:7-11. “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). The way to remain in Him is to love others. The reason our prayers aren’t answered is because we aren’t loving others well enough. First Peter 3:7 then becomes very clear: “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” Prayers are hindered when husbands don’t love their wives rightly; prayers are hindered when Christians aren’t loving people in general rightly. Perhaps our prayers should be more focused on the needs of others than our own. That’s one way to love others better.
In fact, all sin could be summed up as a lack of love. And if this is true—which a quick reflection on commandments 5-10 shows it is—then all sin is an area in which we aren’t living as He is in this world. He has nothing to do with sin, so we have a lot of work to do to imitate Him better. And if it’s a sin to not love others rightly, then when we aren’t loving people we aren’t loving God because we are sinning against Him. So if we’re to rightly love God, we must love people too. It’s all connected!
So the question I leave you with is, “How well do you love others? How much more—specifically in what areas—can you love others? And who can you evangelize today and thus show them that you love them?” Let’s walk this thing together, striving to love God by loving others!
Soli Deo Gloria


Future goal for blog = I’m going to choose a book of the Bible and go through it verse by verse using the hermeneutic I’ve laid out in these last three posts. For those of you that don’t know, a hermeneutic is an interpretation philosophy. I’m taking book recommendations in the comments below, and there’s a poll on the sidebar containing four books I’m personally interested in delving deeper into (if using desktop version). This will be my primary use of this blog, though some other posts and updates will also come up sporadically.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Living in Love (2 of 3)

My whole “theology” of “live in Love, find your true reward,” finds its root in 1 John 4:15-17. It reads, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in Him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; for we are as He is in this world.” Again, I will explain my plan for the next few (many) entries to this blog at the end of part 3. It is important first to spell out what liL fytr entails.
Before moving to part 3, which will lay out the most externally visible application of this line of thought, it is important to make another observation first. Last time, we explored the phrase “God is love” in verse 16 to try to understand something of God, to try to grasp the source of love, to try to grasp the only hope we have to ever live out this high calling. Next time, we will focus on the end of verse 17 which is the goal of the Christian life: “we are as He is in this world.” If God is love, then the call for a Christian is to reflect His love well to a watching world.
But this time, the focus is a step that must come in between. Because, it’s all fine and dandy to know that God loves you, but try taking that and immediately translating it into loving others, and you quickly realize two things. First, you’re being idolatrous. Second, it’s idolatrous because you skipped a step. You can’t properly love another human being if you don’t properly love God first (aside: Thank You, Lord, for letting her break up with me so I could finally realize this).
The Gospel of Mark describes the focus for the life of a follower of the Way as follows: “‘This is the most important [commandment],’ Jesus answered: ‘Listen Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The second is: Love your  neighbor as yourself (cf. Leviticus 19:18). There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:29-31). Jesus sees the greatest focuses of the believer’s life first as actively loving God (what we are looking at this time), and second as actively loving neighbors (which we will look at next time).
It’s definitely not the best way (inspired, authorial intent) to understand the book of Song of Songs, but the closing line can definitely help us understand somewhat what it means to love God. Song of Songs 8:14 has the bride saying, “Hurry to me, my love, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.” If we ignore the very likely present connotation of gazelles and stags, and if we focus on the first line, we see that true love actively desires another. And before anyone accuses me of making this weird, look at the next to last verse in the Bible—Revelation 22:20. “He who testifies about these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” This should be every believer’s cry. This is how much we should love God. We should desire His coming more than anything else.
I was convicted in the last few years when writing a song about my future wife, that maybe I was potentially being idolatrous; maybe my focus was misplaced, so the following verse came into being:
While I'm waiting for her, that ain't all
cuz maybe before then the trumpet will call
the heavens might fall--sinners appalled
please oh please LORD do not stall
I'm looking forward to meeting my future wife
but this line of thinking leads to strife
Matthew 22:30-- I should desire Christ
wives and marriage absent in next life
Christ be my all-- someday You'll come
blazing resplendent in glory to gather the sum
of those You died to redeem--sinners fear numbed
as all the saints shout, “Jesus please come”
so Christ be my focus-- Hebrews 12:2
Matthew 6:33-- I'm seeking only You
if you bring her to me, glory to You
Your timing’s the best, and this all is true

The things we long for the most are the things we love the most. The things we think about most are the things we love the most. The things we spend the most money on are the things we love the most. Song of Songs helps us understand the longing that should be there, but then the verse Jesus quotes about loving God helps us narrow it down and see specifically how we should be loving God.
Jesus says that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. John MacArthur says, “The use of the various terms does not distinguish among human faculties but underscores the completeness of the kind of love commanded” (John Macarthur Study Bible, note on Matthew 22:37). This is correct, but a few words still need to be said.
Love God with all your heart. Your desires must be for God. All your desires should be for God. No part of you should desire anything less than God. How far short of this do we all fall? It’s a point at which we must all repent and ask forgiveness.
Love God with all your soul. The Greek word for soul is the same as the Greek word for “life.” Our whole life should love God. Basically our motto should be that of Paul: “living is Christ and dying is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We should love Christ more than we love life. However, we are much too quick to cling to our lives, to cling to our comforts, to cling to our plans for ourselves than to love God with all our life. (My recent life situation change proves this one greatly for myself.) Christians in ISIS occupied lands are doing a much better job at loving Christ with all their lives than we are. We should praise God for our relative security from persecution in America, but lack of physical persecution can be yet another form of persecution that distracts us greatly from loving God with all our life. Again, it’s a point at which we must all repent and ask forgiveness.
Love God with all your mind. Christianity is a thinking religion. It’s not a matter of blind faith. We have been given 66 books from God that have been translated from the original Hebrew and Greek into many different languages that are still powerful to speak life into our lives. We aren’t Muslims where only the Arabic text of our holy book is from God. No! Our translations of the Hebrew and Greek are God’s Word too, “inspired by God and . . . profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). For this reason, we must love God with our minds and get His words in our heads. We must read books by authors throughout the ages that have honored and revered God and the Scriptures, and gain wisdom and insight and love for God from them. This is my favorite aspect of loving God, but I need to repent of making it my only aspect. Some may be in the same boat, but there’s plenty of others who don’t love God at all with their minds. If we’re to live out our Christian calling, we must repent of apathy and love God with our minds!
Love God with all your strength. This is simple. We should love God in our actions. We strive to honor those we love. If we love God with all our strength, we will strive to honor Him in all we do. We will live out Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.” This is the clearest area in which people fail to love God rightly. I’m sure guilty here. Thankfully, there is grace, because this isn’t a works based religion, but since God loves us so much, we should strive with all our effort to love Him back the best we can. When we sin with our strength, we should repent and keep going.
When we sin with our minds, we should repent and keep going.
When we sin with our lives, we should repent and keep going.
When we sin with our desires, we should repent and keep going.
God’s grace is so much greater than our failures. God’s love is so much more perfect than our love. But the call is large and weighty. Let’s love God with all our beings. He loved us enough to become one of us. We should love Him so much more than we do. I call it “living in love” because it’s all about a relationship with God.
So the question I leave you with is, “How much do you love Him? How much more—specifically in what areas—can you love Him?” Let’s walk this thing together, striving to love God as God! He’s returning soon.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Living from Love (1 of 3)

My whole “theology” of “live in Love, find your true reward,” finds its root in 1 John 4:15-17. It reads, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in Him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; for we are as He is in this world.” The Greek word for “remain” in verses 15 and 16 is menĊ. It is translated by the NASB and ESV as “abide.” Thus we see that the one who abides (lives) in love abides (lives) in God.

However, I will explain my plan for the next few (many) entries to this blog at the end of part 3. It is important first to spell out what liL fytr entails. Living in love with the result of finding your true reward can come across like works-based salvation if we’re not careful. A quote from Martin Luther that David Platt shared on Friday during Secret Church 2016 helps to provide a check to this possibility:

“The law is divine and holy. Let the law have its glory, but yet no law, be it never so divine and holy, ought to teach me that I am justified, and shall live through it. I grant it may teach me that I ought to love God and my neighbor; also to live in love, soberness, patience, etc., but it will not to show me how I should be delivered from sin, the devil, death, and hell. Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teaches me, not what I ought to do, but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel wills me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. Most necessarily it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

If we focus on the fact that the one who lives in God is to live in love, but miss the point that comes prior: “God is love,” then we are doing a great deal of damage.

The Bible starts with the word “God.” His love is shown clearly in the first verse of the Bible. He wanted fellowship with someone other than the other members of the trinity (note “wanted” and not “needed”), so He created the world. In this world, the one thing that made it very good was when man and woman were created (Genesis 1:31), and this is because they were the ones He could love. (Now you might object: “animals were created on the sixth day too. I love animals! Don’t they have a part to play in the ‘very good’ thing?” I “love” lots of things: baseball, pizza, cats. But I can’t have a relationship with any of them. Not even a cat. When I say I love cats, it basically means I pity them for their misperceived sense of entitlement and think they’re cute. They can’t talk to me; I can’t really talk to them.)  God created Adam and Eve and had a relationship with them (cf. Genesis 3:8-10, and think about the same situation only pre-fall).

God wants a relationship with people. His very character is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The problem of course is that humanity is now (post-Genesis 3)—at our very core—unlovable. This is why relationships between people have friction and often fail. Selfishness—my wants and “needs”—is innate in our beings. (Proof: watch a child steal a toy from another child; you didn’t have to teach them that; it comes naturally.) But because of the three words in the phrase we are dissecting in this post (“God is love”), it doesn’t have to be a problem. God’s very essence is love. And that essence of love is from God. God means “Ultimate being; holy, holy, holy; on a completely different plane from the rest of everything.” So God’s love makes our love look like hate in comparison. God’s love can overcome the fact that we are unlovable. God’s love is described in Ephesians 2:3-5, “We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah (Christ) even though we were dead in trespasses.” We are alive because of God’s love. I call it “living from love.”

Paul continued in the book of Ephesians in chapter 3 to describe our response to the radical love of God. Verses 17-19 say, “I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” This is a charge that should occupy much more of our time than it does. God loves us as far as the east is from the west, farther than the north is from the south, beyond the moon, and deeper than the Mariana Trench. It should blow our minds all the time because He loves us so much. This is what it means to say that God is love. He loves you and He loves me.

“But how do I know that?” you ask. Both Paul and John answer that question. The beginning of 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us.” Romans 5:8 and 8:32 make very clear the extent to which God loves us: “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! . . . He did not even spare His own Son, but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?” We will look more in depth in the upcoming posts at what this means for our lives, but for now the Bible is clear that God loves you.

If you want to know how to know that He loves you, I would point you back to 1 John 4:15. God is love, so He sent His Son to die on the cross as the sacrifice to cover all of our lack of love (SIN). However, it’s not a free for all. There is a condition on this love. Faith is required. This faith leads to a confession. That confession is laid out clearly in 1 John 4:15: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God.” Or, put slightly differently, “Whoever confesses, ‘Jesus is the Son of God’—God remains in him and he in God.” The confession is that Jesus is the Son of God. The confession is that Jesus is who He claimed to be. The confession is that Jesus is the most worthy being in the universe of our love and affection, and all else is a cheap imitation.

So the question I leave you with is, “Is this your confession? Do you know the love of God?” If not, make that your confession! I plead with you.

Soli Deo Gloria