The Supremacy of Love

“Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Cor 13:13).  At the center of the supernatural Christian life is the desire and ability to love as God loves.  In His essence, God is love (I Jn 4:8).  And as His children, love should be our essence as well.  The apostle, John, describes the connection between God’s love toward us and our love toward one another in I John chapter 4.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (I Jn 4:7-11).

John brackets this passage with the command to love one another.  In between, he explains the foundation for our expressive love is the love of God Himself.  The clearest demonstration of God’s love for us is mentioned twice in this short passage; God sent His Son to be the payment for our sins that we might live through Him.  Love of that magnitude is the model for us to love as God loves.

This is all well and good, but in a culture that thrives on measures of success, how do we measure love?  In reference to the desert mothers and fathers (circa 300 AD), Roberta Bondi writes in To Love as God Loves, “It is true that the distinction between having perfect love as the real goal of the Christian life and the disciplines designed to foster that love was sometimes lost.  Some brothers and sisters probably never knew any better; others did what human beings of all periods do: they simply forgot their goal, confusing their means with their ends…No amount of pious behavior or Christian discipline can replace love.”

I can measure pious behavior.  I can measure Christian disciplines.  I cannot measure love.  But our call is to embrace and practice a love that is beyond measure.  So set the yard stick aside and dive into the vast love of God.  Enjoy it deeply.  Distribute it widely.  “And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:14).  This is the supremacy of love.

Love Overflowing

In the Old Testament, God’s presence was largely geographic.  Think about these titles, some of which we still use today:  Holy Land, Holy City (Jerusalem), Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple.  These specific locales were holy because they represented the dwelling place of God Himself.

Where does God reside today?  In one of the most incredible concepts in the New Testament and the supernatural Christian life, God Himself lives in us by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.  Titus 3:5-7 says, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  At the time we were justified, God’s Holy Spirit took up residence in our new heart.

One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit that we touched upon in our last post is His assurance that we are loved by God.  “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5).  It is interesting to note a few verses later when it was that God first loved us.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

God’s unconditional love was “demonstrated” to us when?  “While we were yet sinners”; while we were God’s enemies really.  Had we done any “good works” at that point in our enemyship to “earn” God’s love?  Of course not.  We were His enemies.  Based on the time line for this act of sacrificial love – “we were yet sinners” – it is clear that God’s love for us is not based on performance.  We don’t have to perform to earn God’s love.

What does this have to do with extending God’s love to others?  It works like this.  When I believe that God really loves me; when I live in the full assurance of His love and acceptance – independent of what I bring to the table – as promised in Romans 5 and elsewhere, I have a tremendous freedom to give myself away in service to others.  I am not a prisoner of or overly concerned about others thoughts and opinions about me.  I am not looking to others to satisfy my need for self-worth, love, or acceptance.  In short, our interactions become driven by ministry, not by manipulation.

Dwight Edwards writes in Revolution Within, “Only grace-soaked saints can become grace-dispensing servants.”  I would contend that it is the same with love.  Only love-soaked saints can become love-dispensing servants.

Faith Energized by Love

I guess in a way the most unique attribute of God is just that: His uniqueness.  His holiness.  His set apartness.  His off-the-charts Godness.  In a comparative sense, God is untouchable, a one of a kind.  And the most unique attribute of God’s holiness, His uniqueness, is His love.  God is Love.  And that love found us.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  As Kenneth Osbeck writes in Amazing Grace, “Christ did not die merely to display God’s love – He died because God is love.”  God, in His very essence, is love.  And as a Christ follower, love should be our essence as well.  “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:1-2).  We imitate God best when we love.

If faith is the fuel of the supernatural Christian life (we are going nowhere without it), love is the accelerator that puts faith into motion.  James says, “Faith without works is dead” (Js 2:17).  Works give life to our faith.  And our works are a direct reflection of our love.  If we love well, we will serve well.  “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).  How do we have the motivation and power to serve well?  Through love.  “The love of Christ compels us, controls us, motivates us” (II Cor 5:14).

This kind of love is made possible by our new identity.  Paul begins his classic defense of the new identity – Romans chapters 5 through 8 – with this introduction, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exalt in hope of the glory of God…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given for us” (Rom 5:1-2, 5).  One of the ten million things that were given to us at our new birth is the assurance of God’s love.  We were justified by faith.  We were introduced to God’s grace by faith and in return the Holy Spirit literally “poured out” (vs 5) God’s love over us.  We were and are immersed in God’s love.  Take a minute to meditate on the concept of God’s love washing over you.  Let it sink in deeply.  We will explore some of the ramifications of that “outpouring” next time.

Faith and Fruit

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor 5:7).  The New Testament speaks of faith in primarily two ways.  A saving faith, which we wrote about in our last post, and a living faith, today’s topic.  Our introduction into Christ, into the family of God, required saving faith.  A belief that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose again as the promised Messiah, our substitute who paid the debt of our sins.  Likewise, our walk, our experience of the supernatural Christian life also requires faith.

When I embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, God placed within me a new nature, a new heart, and new Holy Spirit.  I can’t feel my new nature.  I can’t see my new heart.  I can’t observe the Holy Spirit roaming around inside His new home.  I believe they are there, not by what I see, but by faith.  My experience of these influences in my daily life is made active by a living faith.

A fruit tree is genetically bound to produce a certain type of fruit.  It cannot produce any other.  We are genetically bound by our new birth to produce a certain kind of fruit, the fruit of the Spirit.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).  But our fruit production is not automatic.  The Bible speaks about two enemies:  Satan with his accusations, and the flesh with its temptations.  Just as a fruit tree’s production can be diminished by disease, so our experience of the Spirit’s fruit can be hindered by our enemies.

What is the key to overcoming our enemies?  Our faith.  “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (I Jn 5:4).  In Ephesians 6:16, Paul identifies one of our weapons in the fight against Satan and his accusations as “the shield of faith.”  Our faith matters.

The fruit of the Spirit is just that, fruit.  It is not work.  It is not a set of traits to aspire to, to work toward.  They are a holistic set of attributes that flow from the Spirit living inside us.  Faith is not one of the fruits.  Faith is the action whereby we appropriate the fruit.  I begin to practice the fruit of the Spirit and see its work in my life because I believe, by faith, that what God says about the new me and my spiritual capacity is true.  Let me say it again.  The fruit of the Spirit is appropriated by faith, not by working harder!

Faith Enters the Picture

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).  Faith is the “assurance” that God’s testimony is true.  And because it is “the conviction of things not seen”, it solely rests on God’s revelation, not our experience.  Faith is believing that what God says is true.

It was by faith that we first entered the Christian life.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph 2:8-9).  Our deliverance from the penalty of sin and our instantaneous new birth came about by our faith in God’s free gift of salvation.  When we, by faith, embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ, all is forgiven.  There is no probationary period.  There is no “good works” requirement of being better than my neighbor, attending a church, or performing acts of penance.  This is the absolute beauty and uniqueness of the Christian message.  Redemption is acquired by faith, not works.

A specific work, well understood by the Jewish background believers of the early church, was the keeping of the Old Testament Law.  Paul writes, “We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal 2:15-16).  Paul repeats himself for emphasis.  We are justified, made right in God’s eyes, by our faith in Christ Jesus.

Somehow, in God’s sovereign plan for our salvation, He included our faith, our choice to believe.  Exactly how, I do not know.  I only know that our faith played a role since it receives prominence in many salvation passages (Lk 7:50, Ac 26:18, Rom 3:22, 4:5, 5:1, I Pet 1:9).  A theology that places salvation in too narrow of a pigeon-hole solely filled by God’s choice will miss this mystery.  The mystery is this:  our faith is of tremendous consequence in our salvation.

It was much the same among the diseased in Jesus’ day.  On more than one occasion, Jesus assured the healed, “Your faith has made you well” (Mk 5:34, 10:52).  As with our salvation, the efficacy of the healing was somehow made complete by their faith.  Your faith matters.

How does this apply to our walk?  The message of Paul’s letter to the Galatians can be summed up with this exhortation, “You came to salvation by faith, now live the Christian life by faith” (Gal 3:1-5).  If we think our faith was of no consequence in our salvation, we won’t understand the consequence of faith, sheer necessity really, in living the Christian life.  Paul summarized the connection between our introduction to life in Christ and the next step of living by faith in a single verse of Scripture.  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).  More about living by faith in our next post.