Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Love of God and the Cross

(Or the Forgotten Implications of Following Jesus)
Matt.4: But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Matt.5: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Matt.5: 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Lk.6: 27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

Lk.6: 34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Rom.5: 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Mk.12: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Jn.3: 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Eph.5: Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.

II Tim.1: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Ti.3: For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,

Jam.2: If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

I Jn.3: 16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
17 But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

I Jn.4: Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

I Jn.4: 15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

These are but a few of the verses and teachings laid out in the New Testament concerning love. They present a pretty dismal picture of western Christianity indeed. But let me take it a observable step further. The faith commonly called Christianity does not even exist in America except for a few scattered individuals. As you read these verses and many more you will discover that love, and particularly loving your enemies, is a special manifestation of the faith that follows Jesus. And that revelation is obviously missing in what passes for the faith here in America.

And the obvious culprit which has shipwrecked the faith is nationalism. It is this love of country which has obliterated the teachings found in the New Testament. And by this unholy allegiance and love, the verses that I provided must be manipulated, interpreted away, and generally made into nice little sayings which have no teeth as it pertains to our attitudes and behavior. How many times must we be taught that the supreme revelation of God’s love is the death He suffered for His enemies? And how many times must we be taught that the cross is the template for an authentic Christian life? You cannot speak ill and hate sinners and still claim to be following Jesus. And just by watching your words and not joining in on the fun of a critical spirit as it pertains to unbelievers is not nearly enough. No, not nearly enough.

We are called to exhibit that love for our enemies in ways that will separate the love that is only words and the love that is alive through deeds. The cross was not some fairy tale which had a good moral teaching and an example which requires little more than allowing someone to cut in front of you in a grocery store line. And yet that nauseating kind of situational ethics is what passes for “taking up your cross” and “keeping yourselves in the love of God”. The ingenuity of the American mind is absolutely astounding! How fallen is the mind which takes the sacred sufferings of the cross and distills them down to a list of convenient manifestations that unbelievers can agree with and exhibit as well? This westernized kind of faith is lazy and comfortable and resembles nothing of the love which bled and died in order to provide a ransom for those who hated you. We sing so eloquently about the love of God and we feel so sentimental about the Good Friday story but we live our lives well within the caustic rhetoric of the fallen culture. We hate the Rosie O’Donnells or the Barak Obamas or the Gays and Muslims and still have the audacity to suggest we believe in Jesus.

Jesus said that we are His friends if you do those things He teaches. And how easy is it to give up smoking or drinking or cursing? But how many professing believers have adultery and murder running rampant within the cesspools of their own hearts? And yet we are called, yea we are commanded, to love and do good and bless our enemies. I just wonder how in God’s dear name you can do good and bless someone while dropping a drone on his head and everyone else around him.

Please do not think that I am suggesting something easy. It is easy sometimes to bask in the love God showed for us, but to love sinners with the love of God is a profound challenge, and to ignore it is to sin against Christ and His cross. And believe me when I tell you that the lost world takes notice of our hypocrisy. They realize that Jesus taught not to return evil for evil and that we were to love and do good to our enemies. And when they see the church ignore those teachings in favor of politics and nationalism they rightly point out our hypocrisy.

Much of the orthodox evangelical community has a well organized theology which teaches that the Bible is inerrant and without error. But of what benefit is that if you do not obey what it teaches? Who cares if you say you believe the Bible and yet openly disobey many teachings simply because you are an American? You see loving your enemies, just like many New Testament exhortations, requires much more than having a conviction that those words are inspired. It requires those tow little words that are profound and outdated. Self denial. And just what can we see that can provide an example, a template, and a representative of self denial? Yes, again it must be the cross.

And it is that cross that must provide the prism for which we understand all of the spiritual truths and disciplines. The cross of Christ has become such a religious symbol, cold and lifeless and so much neck jewelry. If it even has a place in our theology and redemptive doctrine it has lost any tangible place in our earthly lives. Now think about that for just a moment.

Lk.9: 23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.

Gal.2: 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Here we have two sections of Scripture (There are more.) which take the theology of the cross and transform it into that which has profound implications for our very lives. This is no play on words that rises to the level of sentimentality but fades like a vapor as soon as we open our eyes in the morning. If indeed the cross is what we must live then just what does that mean and how expansive must its dominance over our lives be? And does that cross have real power today? And if we have severely and conveniently polished and framed and confined the cross to a showcase in a doctrinal museum, then taking it out and allowing it to remake our very lives should require many things.

But I believe that necessitates brokenness and surrender and faith and self denial and many other things from us. But I would suggest the very first step would be to reexamine the cross and all its facets with a seeking heart and a relentless spirit until we begin to uncover the depth and breadth and grace and suffering and selflessness and redemption and humility and the sheer weight of such love. And when we are overwhelmed by that glory, and when we have sought the Spirit’s guidance to miraculously translate that glory into the driving force in everything we do and think, and when we have rejected the luxury of comparing ourselves with others, then and only then can we even begin to call ourselves followers of Christ.

Every facet of the cross is absolute and perfect. That is our pursuit even if it remains out of our grasp. The selflessness and self denial exhibited on the cross is mindboggling. I mean God suffers and dies for those who hate Him? It is so very easy to write those words but the depth of the truth they carry is unfathomable. Christ the Creator came down from a place of infinite glory and put on human flesh and spent years speaking and trying to teach truth to sinners. That alone would have been unthinkable. But to go to the cross all beaten and bruised and then to gasp His last breath is really beyond us. Who can really take hold of such immense condescension?

And yet that is not some doctrinal curiosity which can be somewhat inspected in church but never really signed out and brought home. That standard of abject and inconceivable humility is presented to us for much more than our wonder and awe. That wonder and awe must be conduits which carry that same spirit of humility into every place in our hearts and minds. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”. Are you kidding me? The same lowliness of mind and humility which came with God Himself giving His life is the template for us as well? Does that not seem much too overwhelming? And that is exactly why we lose hope and just surrender to a milquetoast and powerless Christian life.

But that well worn road is what the visible church has presented for many decades because we lean on our own understanding. And at the core of it all is our utter ignorance and even disdain for allowing the Holy Spirit to do that within us that can never even be considered in the natural. And because we fear being associated with the abuses that are so often touted as the Holy Spirit we have surrendered to a life without the controlling power of the Spirit. And let us state the painfully obvious. Without the power of the Holy Spirit we can never hope to live and exhibit the cross of Jesus Christ.

I hope you will pray over this post and soon I will go further into what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus in ways that are remarkable and observable and which speak with actions the love of Christ.


Steve said...

We probably end up on the wrong track because we take the wrong first step: recognizing who the enemies ARE.

Scripture's clear that our enemies are NOT flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), and we war NOT according to the flesh (II Corinthians 10:3ff).

But we prefer to ignore scripture, and style ourselves "culture-warriors." Only then can we set our hearts on hating flesh-and blood: as Rosie O'Donnell, gays, Obama, Muslims, and "liberals" are.

In Jesus, Steve

Lorena said...

Thanks for the post, Rick.

We can get very stiff in our Christianity...and too many are controlled by the 'uppers' in the congregation (don't know how else to put that). It seems to be about a set-up system instead of 'being' like Christ.

I agree with what Steve said too.

Anonymous said...

We musn't set our hearts on hating flesh and blood but we must remember that we mustn't be silent about those who currently are spreading blatant lies about Jesus.

It is biblical to point out hypocrisy. Jesus did it and so too should His genuine followers.

A loving person can criticise those who practise iniquity. When Jesus said someone was a hypocrite He was being critical of their thinking and behavior. His response to them honored God!



Steve said...

James raises a good point. It seems we can so completely give ourselves over to them that enemy "thinking and behavior" come to define who we ARE. Or so I understand scripture’s teaching that "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." (Prov. 23:7)

As James points out, Jesus' rebuke of "hypocrites" must be taken as sovereignly definitive: God's Own judgement that some ARE hypocrites.

And we all know experientially the difficulty of trying to "judge not" by our human view, but operate in the Spirit's discernment who ARE enemies…and love them in the Spirit. Which comes back to Rick’s point.

In that difficulty no hope is greater than God's promise that by His grace and His power we are being changed into the image of Jesus. That God Himself guides our "thinking and behavior" in the ways that make us children pleasing to Him.

Hallelujah !!