Last week we discussed the prodigal son, and how he believed his sins drove him away from his father’s love. However, his failures revealed the depth of his father’s love in a way that he could not understand until he had nothing but failure to offer him.
In the same way, we don’t understand the depths of God’s love for us until we begin to understand that we have nothing to offer God but sin. In the flesh, even our righteous acts are sin, for as Jesus said, everything that is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is of the Spirit. The works of the flesh cannot produce anything of the Spirit.
When we begin to grasp this truth is when we begin to understand that God doesn’t love us based on what we have done or not done, but based on who He is. God loves you because He is love, and the only barrier God has established is our faith in His word of promise.
Let’s begin studying this truth by looking at love by comparing the Old Testament to the New. The unveiling of our need began when Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation in the garden. It began with questioning God’s love. Genesis 3:5
"For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
How subtle temptation can be. Man already had the knowledge of good. The only thing he lacked was the knowledge of sin. Before sin entered, man was God-conscious and only saw the good coming from the Lord. Once he stepped into sin, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, and though nothing in life had changed at this point, they became ashamed. They were ashamed because they now looked for good in themselves instead of receiving the righteousness of God. From the beginning, it has always been God’s intention to be our righteousness instead of demanding righteousness.
Once man set out on a quest to make himself good by human effort, the law began to take shape. In the beginning, there was only one law – don’t eat of the tree. Once the tree was taken away, man was in sin, but incapable of understanding his inability to be righteous outside of God. The Bible says that where there is no law, sin is not imputed. In order to reveal to man that good only comes from above, God began unveiling the law in order to drive mankind into the knowledge of sin outside of Him. The Law cannot make us good, it can only reveal our sin. Look at Romans 7:9-10, 12-14
9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.
12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Let’s look at how the law was introduced, how it drives us to the knowledge we are sinful by nature and cannot become unsinful, and then see how God uses our weakness to reveal His love. In order to reveal the power of His love, God first based the Old Testament law on our love. Look at Deuteronomy 6:4-5
4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
5 "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
The law was based upon the command to love God with all – not part – of our life. All your mind. All your heart. All your strength. If you fail to give God everything, you are guilty of breaking the law. The nation of Israel was put under the law, and they could not keep it. They began to shape the law into their culture, and then they strove to accomplish it through a never-ending expansion of the law. The question has always been, “Are you doing enough? Are you loving God enough?”
When the lawyers asked Jesus which was the greatest commandments, He quoted the above passage, but He used the word ‘agape’, which is the love of God. Man’s love is ‘philia’, or friendship love. Philia love is dependent upon receiving. Philia love dies or weakens when it is not returned, but agape is the unconditional love of God. Take time to read 1 Corinthians 13. This explains agape love – it seeks not its own, is not provoked, rejoices in truth, endures all things, and so on. It is beyond human capability to fulfill this. What’s more, is that if you do good deeds, and do not have agape love, your good works profit nothing. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:3
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Agape cannot be earned, nor can it be produced. Either our works are produced by God’s agape love, or they are worthless. Even our good deeds are mere acts of the flesh. This is why Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteous acts are filthy rags in God’s sight.
This is what those focused on the law could not comprehend. This is why grace was a threat to the religious community at the birth of the church, and why trusting in grace is viewed as a threat today. No one wants to believe that their works profit nothing. Yet once we understand the love of God, we discover this doesn’t matter, for by faith we receive the greater blessing than what we were trying to earn before.
When Jesus quoted the law, it was always to reveal to those who trusted in their works the reality of their guilt. To the Pharisee who thought they were keeping the law, Jesus dismantled all their works. They brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus knowing He would not condemn her. They said, “She was caught in the very act. The law says she must die, but what do you say?”
Jesus stooped down and began writing in the dirt. I imagine he was writing the secret sins He knew they were guilty of. Lust, greed, hatred. Perhaps He wrote the command to love God with all our soul, heart, and strength. Then underlined the word ‘all’. Why is Jesus writing these things, they wondered. Then they demanded, “The law says she must be stoned. What do you say?” The law had already condemned this woman, now those who trusted in the law thought the law could also condemn grace. But the reverse was true.
Jesus stood up and said, “Whichever among you is without guilt, let him be the first to cast a stone.” Then He returned to highlighting their sins in the dirt. One by one, they dropped their stones in frustration and walked away.
Under the law, we are all guilty. And if you look to your works or righteousness – or anything from yourself, you will find guilt instead of righteousness. And that is the purpose of the law. Look at Romans 3:19-20
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
The law was intended to show you are guilty because God wants you to understand that you are loved, not because you do good works. Not because of the sins you manage to avoid. Nor does God deny you because of your sins or lack of good works. God doesn’t love you because of what you do or don’t do. God loves you because He is love. God defeated sin for you in order to reveal that nothing can stand between you and the love of God. Nothing but your refusal of His love. People refuse God’s love because they either don’t believe God loves them because of their failures, or because they believe they can earn His love by human success. But the law never produces righteousness. It only reveals whether a person is already righteous by nature.
After the incident with the woman condemned by the law, Jesus began revealing how they are also under condemnation. He said, “You have heard it taught that if a woman leaves her husband for another, she has committed adultery. But I tell you, if you even look at a woman to lust after her, you have already committed adultery in your heart.”
To those who boasted of their righteousness, Jesus revealed their sin. The rich young ruler who said he loved his neighbor as himself was instructed to sell everything he had and give it to his poor neighbors. To those who condemned murderers, Jesus said that hatred in the heart makes you a murderer. To the person who condemns the thieving tax collectors, the Bible says that greed is equal to thievery. To the one who condemns idolaters, loving wealth is idolatry. Every sin we can observe is already in our own hearts, even if pride blinds us to its reality. Pride blinds us to our guilt, but the law reveals our condemnation. A condemnation that is removed in Christ.
Do you love God with everything? Every thought is based on love for Him? Every action is out of a love for Him? Everything in our heart is grounded in love for God? Our love for our neighbor is so great that we give from our own table to them?
Anyone who trusts in the law or believes they are keeping the law is deceiving themselves. Anyone who thinks they love God enough is living a lie.
That’s the bad news of the law. But the good news is that Jesus fulfilled the law for us to give us God’s favor, bore the penalty of sin for us to take it out of the way, and gives us birth into new life by the Spirit whose life is from God.
The Old Testament law is, do you love God enough. The New Testament says, “It’s not about your love at all. It’s about His love.” Look at 1 John 4:16-19
16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: 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 casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
19 We love Him because He first loved us.
It was never about our love. It has always been about God’s love. In the beginning, man enjoyed fellowship with God until his focus was turned to himself. Remember the account of the tower of Babel? Their goal was to build a tower to heaven. Man’s goal has always been to make himself good, yet every good and perfect gift comes from God, not from man. The law reveals to you and I that our efforts can never be good enough, and it doesn’t matter. Our failure reveals God’s love.
The law was never about man. It has always been about God. The law unveils God’s perfect character and nature, and it unveils our inability to be perfect or attain to God’s standard of perfection – a standard that has always been about God. Now we see the promise, it isn’t about your love for God, but His love for you. God couldn’t have made this clearer than 1 John 4:10
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.
It’s not that you love God, it’s that you know and believe in the love God has for you. That is the message of the prodigal son. It wasn’t about the son’s love. It was that the son could not comprehend the love of the father until he had nothing but failure to give to his father. It was then that he discovered the father loved him only because he was his child, and because that was the father’s nature. It was never about the son. It was about the father’s love for the son.
This is you. You are the focus of God’s love. He loves you because you are His child, and His love transforms you. But that transformation cannot take place until you come to the end of yourself – the point where you stop looking to you and begin to know and believe in His love for you.
You see this in the disciples of Jesus. Peter boasted of his love for Jesus. He proclaimed his willingness to fight for Jesus, die for Jesus, and affirmed that he would never forsake Jesus – even if all these others do. Who was the only disciple to deny Jesus? It was the one trusting in himself and his own love for God.
All the others forsook Jesus and fled for their lives – except one. John went to the palace with the crowd arresting Jesus. He is the one who helped Peter get into the courtyard where Jesus was being tried. He was the only disciple at the crucifixion. He was the one Jesus spoke to from the cross when Jesus delivered His mother into John’s care so she would not have to watch Him die. Now look at how the Bible describes John in these passages?
Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.
Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him."
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!"
Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following,
Do you notice anything unusual about the disciple Jesus loved? Have you noticed this only appears in the gospel of John? John is called the disciple whom Jesus loved, but this only appears in John’s own writing. John endured because he understood the love of Christ for him. Never does he boast about his love for Jesus. In John’s latter years, he writes to the church and says, “It’s not that we love God, but that He first loved us.” Following this he says, “We have known and believed in the love He has for us.”
From here we have the promise that perfect love casts out fear. No fear can abide in the heart that is receiving perfect love. Human love can never be perfect. Perfect love is God’s love received into our hearts. When you understand that you are the disciple God loves, you will begin walking in confidence. Fear is forced out of your life, for the disciple God loves has no fear of judgment, but has confidence – even in the day of judgment. God loves you so much that He was punished for your sins. Someone who lives in that kind of love could never fear judgment.
There is no fear in life, for God has promised that He has worked out all things for your good – this includes now and in the future. If you know and believe in the love God has for you, and His love has already prepared the way, how can you fear anything this life can throw at you? Look now at Daniel 10:19
And he said, "O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!" So when he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, "Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me."
You are God’s greatly beloved. God’s beloved has no fear, but peace. And where does strength come from? God strengthens you and it is by His grace we stand. Don’t believe the lie that Jesus loves you and defends you to the Father. Indeed Jesus is our advocate, but He defends us when the accuser tries to condemn us with the law. Your Heavenly Father loves you and you must know and believe in His love. Look at the words of Jesus in John 16:26-27
26 "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you;
27 "for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.
You and I are in that day. He is referring to the day when our redemption was complete in Christ. The barrier of the law was removed, sin was taken out of the way, and now the love of God is unveiled in all its glory. When we fall into a humanistic religious mindset, we falsely think God is pleased based on what we do for Him. Not so. Let’s wrap up with Hebrews 11:6
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
All of this is based on knowing and believing in the love God has for you. Have faith in His love for you. Many children go through rebellious attitudes during the transition from childhood to adulthood. During the dark years of adolescence, children doubt their parent’s love. I’ve heard children say, “My parents hate me,” when I know for certain that youth’s parent would give up everything for their child’s good. They work to provide every necessity, education, and gifts. Yet if a child disbelieves in their parent’s love, they will live life under a false ideology and their own perception becomes a reality in their lives.
We do the same with God. He has done everything to unveil His love for us, yet if we place ourselves under the perception of condemnation, we’ll live under condemnation, doubt, and frustration. We can live as a child who has an unpleasable father and never experience the love given to us.
During Jesus’ last prayer, He said the following in John 17:22-23
22 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
23 "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Your heavenly Father loves you just as much as He loves Jesus. You have the glory of God resting upon you, but you can live as a condemned man or woman. Or you can walk in God’s strength and trust in His love.
Know and believe in the love your Father in Heaven has for you. If there is one truth that will transform you into the victorious Christian life, it is this. Once you begin to believe in God’s unconditional love, you will begin walking as a child of the Kingdom. Once you understand you are loved, not because of your own abilities, but because God delights in you solely because you are His beloved child, you will experience a life of love. And God’s agape love transforms lives because it is the power of God within you.
Abide in God’s love. Know and believe in the love He has for you. In this rests all the promises of the life we have been given. It’s all a gift of God’s love for you. You are the disciple God loves!
Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987