What Manner of Love

The Apostle John encourages us to behold the love of God, to study His love and contemplate it, to recognize what kind of love this is, to try to comprehend how immense and immeasurable it is. How profound and unfathomable is it to be called a child of God? (1Jn 3:1)

The key to perceiving God’s immense love lies in recognizing what God does, how He demonstrates His love and acts it out: He lays down His own life for us. (1Jn 3:16) He does this for us while we’re still His enemies. (Ro 5:10) This is amazing love indeed!

The Passion of the Christ

If we dare to dig a bit deeper, we contemplate the kind of death He chooses to die for us: it is perhaps the most painful and humiliating kind of death – Roman crucifixion. (Php 2:8) It’s brutal beyond comprehension, yet in itself a hideous metaphor, a window into something utterly profound.

The fierce agony in God’s physical death is symbolic of His spiritual suffering: the reality of its depth and breadth lurks in the separation imposed by our sin within the very Trinity itself. As He voluntarily accepts the penalty of our sin and fully identifies with us as sinners, as He becomes our sin, the Son is forsaken by His Father. (2Co 5:21) This causes a deep separation, an annulment of the infinite, loving communion between Father and Son. (Mt 27:46)

This may very well be the most intense kind of suffering possible: separation from God within God himself. It is certainly well beyond any possible form of physical or emotional suffering, and it’s endured by the infinitely precious Holy One, Who deserves it the least.

Yet God suffers this willingly for us — for anyone, for all who come to Him. (2Pe 3:9) The totality of God’s personal suffering is thus multiplied by His suffering personally, in person, for the multitudes. His suffering surpasses that of every other living thing, in both degree and scope, in both depth and breadth; it’s infinitely more than anyone could ever suffer, even for eternity, even if God only experienced this vast suffering for a few dreadful hours, many years ago.

We might presume this was indeed merely a one-time occurrence, buried in the distant past, such that God has now put this atrocity behind Himself and moved on, seeing it as only a distant memory.

The problem with such sentiment is that it presumes God is bound by time when He is not; He is ever present in every moment of time. Duration means nothing to Him; past, present and future are meaningless in His timeless experience. (Jn 8:58)

Anything God experiences, He experiences infinitely and forever. God never stops experiencing anything which He ever experiences. So the unthinkably painful separation between the Father and the Son is something they live with even now, to this present day; they will live with this anguish continually, and forever.

God has voluntarily entered into an eternal suffering from which they will never escape, and which they have always known. (Re 3:18) Father, Son and Holy Spirit have chosen to suffer for us like this from eternity past. It is almost like God is forever going to Hell for us Himself, giving up His eternal safety and welfare for us, taking your place, suffering in my place.

Who would you give up your eternal welfare for? Who would you burn in the flames of Hell forever for? If you would do it for anyone, would you do it for an enemy?

Doesn’t this change everything?

What has God done, my dear friend? Do I really think I have any clue how much He loves us? and whom He loves? Is it even for the worst of us?

What does my mistrust of Him look like now? In the presence of such love? What is my complaint now, my uncertainty, my selfishness, my fear … it is all a lie, darkness fleeing the Light. (Jn 1:9)

If I could keep the taste of this wonder in my spirit, let the fragrance of it dwell within and permeate all that I am, the very first glimpse of this immense, divine passion, truly, would it not begin to fill me with all the fullness of God? (Ep 3:19)

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Love Is Perfected

If we love one another, God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1Jn 4:12) God’s love is being perfected, or brought to completion in us, as we express God’s love to others. God is perfecting His love in us by loving others through us, for love is of God, from God: He is the ultimate source of love – the Author of love. (1Jn 4:7)

If we don’t love others then we don’t love God (1Jn 4:20), and if we don’t love God then we don’t know God. (1Jn 4:8)

It isn’t that we could ever earn God’s love by loving others; God’s love is unconditional: it can’t be earned. He loves everyone because He has made them in His image and chosen to love. We don’t grow in Christ’s love by trying harder and denying ourselves, but by beholding the glory of Christ as the Spirit transforms us from glory to glory. (1Co 3:18) As we behold the glory of Christ God reveals Himself in us and to us, until we know experientially His love for Man, filling us with all the fullness of God (Ep 3:19), enabling us to love others.

When we know and believe God’s love for us, since God Himself is love, and as we live each day receiving and expressing this love, we dwell in God and God in us. (1Jn 4:16)

Since love is so central, so fundamental in walking with God, He tells us clearly what His love for us looks like, and also what it means for us to love Him.

We might think loving God is a sentimental thing, a feeling of interest, pleasure or delight at the thought of God. While loving God naturally produces such feelings, it isn’t exactly the same thing, and this may be hard to fully grasp.

So, God explains that His love is much more than sentiment and feeling: His love is perfected in us as we keep His commands; if we don’t keep His commands we don’t love Him. (Jn 14:23)

Loving God is acting as if God is worthy, just and good; disobeying God is rejecting His authority, goodness and wisdom. In disobedience we’re despising Him, not loving Him; those who live like this don’t know Him (1Jn 2:4); it’s in obeying God that His love is perfected in us, accomplishing its purpose; it’s how we know we love Him and belong to Him. (1Jn 2:5) Earnestly obeying God from the heart is loving Him by definition. (1Jn 5:3a)

Torah itself is the perfect written expression of God’s love for us (Ps 19:7a), showing us how He loves us and unites us to Himself (He 8:10), how He transforms us to be in relationship with Himself (Ps 119:50,93); He gave us Torah for our good. (1Jn 5:3b) So, Torah defines both what loving God looks like, and also what God loving us looks like.

If we’re obeying Torah we’ll have no ill-will towards another (Ro 13:10), or envy or strife in our hearts (Ja 3:14-16); that’s not walking in love — it’s missing the mark altogether. (1Co 13:2)

While we harbor fear, fear of God’s displeasure because we’re willfully disobeying Him (He 10:26-27), or fearing and resenting His authority in our lives because we don’t believe He’s good (Is 33:14), or fearing what others might do to us because we doubt God’s sovereignty and justice (Mt 10:28), then we aren’t yet made perfect in love. (1Jn 4:18)

Obedience also isn’t merely about outward observance to ritual and mechanical rules; nor is it about honoring God with just our lips. If our hearts are far from Him, if we’re not in awe of Him (Ps 4:7), seeking His face, rejoicing in Him, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, it isn’t obedience at all (De 6:5): it’s nothing. (Mt 15:8)

In living out God’s love, ordering our steps in His Word so iniquity has no dominion over us (Ps 119:33), the purpose of God’s love is accomplished, completed and perfected in us; this gives us boldness before God on Judgment Day because we’re living divine expressions, incarnations of God in this world. (1Jn 4:17) In so abiding in God we have confidence, and aren’t ashamed before Him at His coming. (1Jn 2:28)

Bringing all of these concepts together shows us God’s love has a purpose or a goal: to conform us to the image of Christ (Ro 8:29), the very goal of Torah. (1Ti 1:5) When we love God, we will want to be like Him (Mt 11:29), and walk as He walked. (1Jn 2:6)

Knowing God’s love for us enables us to walk in benevolence, mercy and love toward all, wishing ultimate good for everyone, as God does. (Mt 5:44-45) We don’t love because others are good, but because they’re made in the image of, and loved by perfect Goodness. (1Jn 4:21)

The more we behold and grasp the love of God, the more completely we’re able to display God’s heart towards others as He loves them through us. (Ro 5:5) We love Him, and therefore others, because He first loved us. (1Jn 4:19)

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A Consuming Fire

What’s God like? In being selective with scripture it’s easy to miss Him and fashion an idol after our own lusts. (1Jn 5:21) We should look at the whole of God’s revelation.

God is love, it’s true (1Jn 4:8), but that doesn’t mean He’s like a doting, harmless old grandfather.

God is also light (1Jn 1:5), the very medium by which we perceive spiritual reality. God is truth itself (Jn 14:6), undiluted, uncompromised, pure and holy. If we think we can fellowship with Him and not be seeking truth more than gold and silver, if we’re content to walk in darkness of any kind, to any degree, we don’t know Him. (1Jn 1:7)

God is also holy (1Pe 1:16), separate from sinners, higher than the heavens. (He 7:26) He calls us to holiness (2Co 7:1) because He won’t fellowship with anyone who walks in willful sin as a manner of life (1Jn 2:4); He’s angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7:11), and will trample them underfoot. (Ps 119:118) His response to any kind of rebellion is fiery indignation. (He 10:26-27)

We might get a clearer picture of God if we see Him as a consuming fire. (He 12:29) Like a raging wildfire, He’ll destroy anything and everything that’s opposed to Himself in any way (Ps 21:9) just by being Himself, by letting His very brightness shine forth undiluted, unfiltered, untamed. (2Th 2:8)

Yet God’s consuming nature will not annihilate the wicked; it will overwhelm, terrify, incapacitate and disable them with everlasting punishment. (Mt 25:46) God’s enemies will no longer be able to act like enemies when God reveals Himself. That’s a good thing, for God and for everyone – totally consistent with love: God shouldn’t have to suffer forever, and His arms will always be open to anyone who’ll come to Him. (Re 22:17)

God’s love is what fuels His justice and wrath, even His hatred. He’s benevolent, so He hates (or detests) sin and those who persist in it. (Ps 5:5) Sin harms ourselves, others and God, so He won’t overlook sin and let it go; there’s a price to pay. (Ro 3:23) We must pay that price ourselves, a debt we can never ever pay in full, or trust God to pay it for us in His Son; Christ is willing to become our sin, and die in our place so we might be made God’s righteousness in Christ. (2Co 5:21)

God is good, but He isn’t nice: God’s not safe; serve Him with reverential fear and rejoice with trembling. (Ps 2:11) Both His goodness and severity are awesome and beautiful (Ro 11:22), simply awe inspiring (He 12:21); we should rejoice in all His ways. (Re 15:4)

It’s a fearful thing to fall into God’s hands (He 10:31), but there are no other options; it isn’t a matter of if, but when. For those who love Him, who are seeking God’s face, there’s no better place to be. (Php 1:23)

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