Taking time to reflect on the love of God
Every Christian knows that love is important. The Scriptures are full of love verses and perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, speaks to this. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What I want to explore is the question — how does love become a reality in the life of a believer? We know that God is love (1 John 4:8), but how does that love begin to manifest itself in the life of the Christian? I would like to suggest that it is a process that follows a somewhat predictable pattern. What follows is not intended to be a rigid list, but is more of an outline. As God’s love fills our lives, we can expect this four-step process to happen in our lives:
1. Knowing that God loves us.
What an amazing thing to think that the Creator of the universe knows me and loves me. Have you ever stopped to ponder that? Because I am “in Christ,” God actually likes me. God is fond of me. God calls me His friend. God will never leave me nor forsake me because I am His child. This blows me away.
Many people have a hard time believing that God could ever love them. They know their past and they know they are a sinner. They are also aware that God is holy and just and cannot simply “wink” at sin and pretend everything is OK. Of course, the solution to this dilemma is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through the electing grace of God, every believer is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. How can God love us? Because the blood of Christ covers our sins and we become a child of God.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) You mean God is actually for me? You mean God is actually pleased with me? God loves me? Yes, yes, and yes!
When we start to understand the love of God, it tends to overwhelm us. We can never fully understand it, but as we begin to comprehend the redeeming love of God, we can’t help but be amazed. God was not required to rescue us, but He did, by His grace. Praise God. Praise God. Praise God.
There are people who have faithfully attended church for decades who have never come to know or experience the love of the Savior. They are committed to doing what they can to please God and to “do things for God” but they have never come to understand or experience the love of God. Unfortunately, all their striving and toiling will count for nothing at the end of the day. The bible tells us, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) In other words, they are disgusting. Why we would ever think God would be pleased with us, apart from the perfect righteousness of Christ? So first, we must come to know and experience the love of God, in Christ.
2. Loving God
The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God’s love always precedes our love. Keep in mind that loving God is not simply a matter of doing our best to keep the moral law. Some people think that if they don’t perform up to par, God will not accept them. It’s always our default position to think that if we do our best to please God, He will love us in return, and grant us acceptance into His kingdom. However, this is not a biblical understanding.
Ephesians 2:4-5 explains this amazing reality. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved.” Here we see that God’s love always precedes our love. Clearly, that which is “dead” cannot love. But as the Spirit of God fills our lives, we begin to experience the love of our Heavenly Father. Over time this love begins to be reciprocated. We gradually fall in love with the One who saved us. We can actually say (and mean it) I love God.
Clearly, love is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just as we continue to grow more and more in love with our spouse, so too do we grow in our love for God. It’s true that we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) But I don’t think anyone would say they have fully mastered this. It is a process that God performs in our lives over months and years and decades. God turns our self-centered, world-focused hearts towards Himself, so that our affections and desires are rightly directed. Gradually, we begin to love God in place of the world and ourselves. Let’s praise God for this amazing work of grace in our lives!
3. Loving our fellow Christians
If we truly love God and are born of God, it will result in loving our fellow Christians. As 1 John 4:20-21 explains, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” In using “brother,” the apostle John simply means a fellow Christian. What this tells us is that there are certain outcomes we can expect to see when we truly love God, and this is one of them. We are deluded if we claim to love God, yet fail to love and serve our brother in Christ.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) This is a remarkable statement. Instead of trying to take advantage of one another, disciples of Jesus will strive to love and serve one another. The world can’t help but take notice of this.
The apostle Paul expands on this by listing several ways we can serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:10-13) It’s safe to say, we have a high calling as Christians. We are responsible not only to God, but also to the saints in Christ. Our love for God will manifest itself in love for fellow Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Does this mean that love among the brethren is where the love stops? You already know the answer to that question. As Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) Simply put: do good to everyone, especially our brothers in Christ.
4. Loving the world around us
Part of “loving the world around us” is sharing the greatest news in the world with them. The apostle Paul is a good example of this. He writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:4-5) This is the gospel in a nutshell. Paul could have kept it to himself, but he didn’t. He chose to share what was so graciously delivered to him – the good news of Jesus Christ.
The people of God are spread out all over the world, which means we live among the heathen. Whether at work or home, there are non-Christians around you. This is not something to be fearful of, but something to embrace. God has placed you in a particular context for a reason and He will use you, if only you are willing. All too often, Christians cut themselves off from the outside world. They are not willing to do the hard (and sometimes messy) work of building relationships with those around them. This means they won’t have the opportunity to share the love of God, which is very unfortunate.
If you are a follower of Christ, that means someone in your life loved you enough to share the gospel with you. We can praise God for sending messengers into our lives – people who were willing to tell us the truth about God, man, sin, and salvation. My question for you is this — are you willing to be a messenger of truth? The bible teaches that it is not the messenger who does the saving – that’s God’s work. But if you are willing, God will use you as a bearer of good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15)
There are many ways we can love and serve our neighbors. I want to in every way encourage this. But perhaps the most loving thing you can do is to share Jesus Christ with the world around you. After all, it is only Christ who can save us from the power of death and it’s only Christ who gives us the hope of eternal life. You have a unique circle of friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors, which means you have a unique opportunity. It’s not an accident you are where you are today. Why not pass on the truth that was so graciously delivered to you? Why not spread the love?
The Rev. Daniel Stegeman is the pastor of Pine Glen Alliance Church.