Miriam recently sent me a thoughtful response to my last post. It began,
We’ve been browbeaten into believing it’s what we do, how often we do it, how well we do it, with what attitude we do it that determines firstly, our state of grace and secondly, whether God’s kingdom will come or not.
I hope that from the pulpit or blog I have never said anything that could possibly be inferred to mean that. But, at times I could have been more loving and less stern in exhorting my fellow believers. So, with apologies, this is for anyone who has felt browbeaten to exert greater effort in being a disciple.
God loves you; every minute of the day. God’s love does not go back and forth like a tide pulled by the strength of your efforts to follow Jesus. God loves you when you’re on a roll of 52 consecutive Sundays in worship and when you’re in a slump of 0 for 20. God’s kingdom has already arrived, and will one day have complete victory, irrespective of whether you have even met your neighborhood pagan or never volunteer at the food bank. There is no pressure to perform. Whew!
Because God loves you, through Jesus you have been set free to be a person who matters in this world. Yes, God has a purpose for your everyday life! According to Galatians 5:13,
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.
You have been set free for the purpose of love! That’s the whole deal. That’s all you need to do. As Jesus says in Matthew 22, what God requires is for you to love him in return; heart, soul, mind and strength. And that leads to loving others as well as you love yourself. In turn, loving others in that way means sharing God’s desire that no one be lost forever, that everyone would embrace God’s love. That’s what the “Great Commission” is; it is Jesus’ mission of setting prisoners free to and for God’s love. If you have been set free for love, then you have been set free to participate in that mission.
You probably know this already, but think about it again. Jesus did not say, “Go make converts”, he said, “go make disciples”. One facet of baptism is it brings the new believer into the family of God – into relationships – into “love one another”! Making disciples requires eating, teaching, serving, laughing, arguing, forgiving – together. How else is it possible to teach everything Jesus commanded, that is, “love God, love others”? A convert, however, only requires someone to make a choice; it does not require a long term loving relationship. Making converts is scary; loving your neighbor because God loves that person too is compelling.
God loves you. God loves others. Being a disciple, an apprentice to Jesus, simply means learning to love God and others like he does. Nothing stern about that!
Nonetheless, living your life as Jesus did (1 John 2:6) may feel like a huge burden. I mean, as far as I know, Peter is the only person to actually walk on water like Jesus, but look how well that ended up (I’d be careful about using the “we’re just practicing walking on water down at the lake on Sunday morning” excuse too often)! The miraculous aside, putting up with idiots like Jesus did, let alone choosing to hang out with twelve of them, seems beyond most of us. But we give our best efforts to live like Jesus, fail, seek forgiveness, and try harder to improve. That’s where many of us feel the strain. It might be easier to keep trying to bench press 600 pounds.
But God loves you. Therefore, why would God have such an impossible expectation of you? The good news is God gives you everything you need to love as Jesus did. First, according to Galatians 2:20,
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Chew on that for a while! If you are apprenticed to Jesus then it is his life filling you, not your own. Jesus lives in you so that he might live through you. In Galatians five Paul contrasts living under the guidance of our old human nature, which can be recognized by all unsavory ways we fail to love, versus life under the guidance of the Spirit; life under the Spirit’s direction (another expression of the idea of Jesus living in us) naturally produces identifying marks highlighted by love.
But my favorite is Romans 5:5,
And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
God loves you by filling you with his own love. I might be stretching things (but I don’t think so) to say that as a disciple of Jesus you have been filled with God’s love so that you CAN love God in return with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, love others as well as yourself, and love non-worshippers into apprenticing themselves to Jesus.
So where’s the rub? Why doesn’t this life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control (Galatians 5:22-23) kick in automatically and go on cruise control? Because I believe it requires an on-going attitude of submission, being on bended knee before God. This is worth a whole post or two in itself, but I’ve come to believe that submission is all that is necessary for us to walk as Jesus walked. We place ourselves in submission to God when we acknowledge that we are incapable of following Jesus with our own resources. What is the end result of worship? – A bent knee before God. Look at the Lord’s Prayer. At its core it is a prayer based on our own weaknesses, it expands Jesus’ prayer later in the Garden, “Not my will, but Yours be done”.
And that is just one more expression of God’s love for you. When you say, “God, bench pressing this 600 pounds is impossible! I can’t do it, will you help?” God says, “Of course! Get back on the bench, ’cause I’ve already done the heavy lifting. One, two, three, go!”
God loves you. Blessings.