Thursday, February 18, 2016

Responding to God's Love

#DailyProverbs John 3:16: "For God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life."

The entire context of this scripture is so often overlooked. I am STILL studying about accountability, and I am STILL working through this other series, but in my studies on accountability, love is a recurring theme. It just keeps coming up. Loving God. Loving people. l recently wrote about love. And God's love and how it is different than our human love. We have to respond to God. We have to respond to the act of love shown us and given to us, but the real question is HOW? How can we respond to love, when we don't really know what love is? How can we accept unconditional love, when we don't love unconditionally, and we rarely even love when it's not convenient or returned.

The only way I know is to look at what God would do, and model that, instead of thinking about what I'd do, and then trying to shoehorn God into what my mind can comprehend. So, let's look at the "greatest" love ever: the love God had for humanity when he sacrificed Himself as Jesus.

In John 3, the chapter starts off recounting what Jesus and a great teacher in Israel, Nicodemus, were discussing and "how" to be saved, essentially. How to get to heaven. Jesus said be born again, Nicodemus gave Him the side-eye and flippantly asked how to come out of a womb twice. So, Jesus laid it out there:

John 3:10-21: "Jesus answered, 'You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don't know this? I am telling you the truth: we speak of what we know and report what we have seen, yet none of you is willing to accept our message. You do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world; how will you ever believe me, then, when I tell you about the things of heaven? And no one has ever gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from heaven.'
'As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior. Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God's only Son. This is how the judgement works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil. All those who do evil things hate the light and will not come to the light, because they do not want their evil deeds to be shown up. But those who do what is true come to the light in order that the light may show that what they did was in obedience to God."

There is SO much going on in that passage of scripture that we gloss over. We are taught one little scripture to hold on to, that gives us salvation in a nutshell, but doesn't in context give the entire conversation and how judgment and guides for living are laid out right with it:
~v11. Jesus knew that he had people hanging onto Him, that still didn't "get" the message.
~v12. Jesus knew that even the disciples barely understood getting fed and him talking in parables they *could* understand, much less heavenly babble about new, secondary births and love being greater than earthly kingdoms. Stopping the fighting and resistance, even when that was political and national suicide, and giving twice as much to those that would steal from you as they asked. That was outside the realm of understanding. And it sounds like Christians today. We can't fathom not being a strong conservative, patriotic army-supporting Christian, but would Christ support war? Or would he draw in the dirt and point out some things we all need to consider?
~v13. I love that Jesus himself reiterates that He came from Heaven. It takes it right back to John chapter one and how He was there from the very foundation of the universe and all that was created.
~v17. For now, and for the purpose of salvation, Jesus came to save us, to be a savior, a healer, a comforter, and an advocate. He didn't come to judge and to shame and to wallow. He came to save. If only we, as his followers, could grasp that and treat others that NEED him with that care and love.
~v18. Wanna skip judgement? Get saved. Get saved by believing in Jesus and THUS, following Jesus in deed and not only in word.
~v19-21. He lays it DOWN on how we do not love light and we will seek darkness to blend and hide our own dark deeds. Those who follow Him and seek light, will expose their dark deeds and begin to "act true" according to a translation and will love the light for showing them their deeds.

So may people say that it confuses them that God created us, and will send us to Hell if we don't love Him - but that's not entirely accurate. Yes, He can see the future and yes, He knew what would happen, but that's the thing with free will. You can see something coming and still hope for the best. Lots of you do that with your relationships. You see the texts and signs and actions, yet... there you are... hoping and pretending. God is kind of like that. He hopes we'll act right and then grieves when we don't. Thus, the sacrifice of Jesus. But, after mankind rejected God, rejected the garden, and rejected perfect communion and companionship... if you don't accept the way God made out of bondage, out of Egypt, out of sin... yes, you will go to Hell. And it won't be God that sent you. You will have actively made the choice to go there.

See, the truth at the heart of all of this is that God has to be true to Himself. People, by and large, are foolish to entertain the hope that He will ignore justice and sacrifice holiness in order to allow unbelievers into heaven. That won't happen. There aren't seven ways, it's not all of the same spirit behind differing beliefs, and it's not just finding your inner peace and personal happiness. Morality is not the same thing as spirituality. You can't be moral "enough" to satisfy the payment for sin. "Good enough" will never be good enough.

And as much as the Jesus loves us and desires to save us from our sins, He cannot deny His holiness by accepting sin in His presence. Jesus is a part of the universal spirit of God, and he IS God in flesh, but God is pristine perfection--a Holy Being who, by His very nature, must condemn all sin. It really is the height of self-grandiosity and egotism to think that God will bend both His law and His nature to make special allowances for *you.* I don't mean that to be a dig. I don't mean to be so harsh that you are turned away, but I don't mean to gloss over this. I don't mean to allow whoever reads this to walk away thinking that they are the unique, special snowflake that got hugs after every race, and participation trophies after every game that God will treat you that way. He will, in fact, not. Either follow the teachings of Jesus, be saved, and live for God... or don't. You are in control and make those choices.

That sounds mean, but it's somberly and wholly true. It doesn't sound much like "love" speech, but the accountability portion requires us to be candidly truthful IN LOVE. The bottom line is that I am not worthy and still require lots of care from God. And you are not worthy. There is not one person who's good enough to enter heaven on his or her own merit. Every one of us needs Jesus. The end. Period. The stain of sin is washed clean only by the sacrifice of Jesus. Those who believe in Christ are forgiven their wrongs and cloaked in His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21: "Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with Him we might share the righteousness of God.") Our ONLY hope and righteousness is from partaking in a relationship with Christ.

So, how DO we respond to God's love? It doesn't necessarily always feel very loving to how we are taught today. We are taught that unless we are sublimely and completely sated and happy, then we are not loved. We don't view love as a means to salvation. We don't think it's fair that we bear the sin-debt of generations before us. And we think it ludicrous that because that sin-debt must be spiritually-legally paid, we are required to handle it. But we couldn't. We never could. Jesus did. And that is why love took over. Love and love alone made it possible for us to have this hope. So how do WE accept it? Let me make it very clear that trusting Jesus is exactly who He said He was, and who many followers have claimed, and learning that He is God and can save us... is far more than giving intellectual assent to His existence--that's something even the Devil acknowledges. It's relationship. It's communion. If you REALLY believe, you will follow His teachings. A true believer enters into a *gasp, that word again* a RELATIONSHIP with a God that loves his soul enough to save him from eternal punishment.

Or... sometimes, they don't. Some people intellectually know Jesus, but they will never give up sin, never stop hating others different from themselves, never give away their cloak on top of their shirt, never become selfless enough to share their lives with others, never give up war and death, and never turn another cheek when offended. They know that Jesus sells albums and books and tickets. They know that Jesus builds big brands. They know that Jesus brings groups of political prowess together. They know that Jesus will make people band together for a commonly held regional belief... Those who remain tightly wrapped in their mantle of sin, even when willfully ingrained through ignorant teaching, cannot hope to "sneak" into heaven. It's binary. It's pass or fail, not graded on some cosmic curve.

They do not get it and they are not taught these scriptures in such a DIRECT and blunt manner anymore. They are not IN a relationship with Jesus. They do not grasp the holy shema (Deut. 6:4: "'Israel, remember this! The Lord — and the Lord alone — is our God.' Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.") They do not look at those in need with compassion. They do not know that the ONE God is grieved by their lack of love for those around them, their neighbors, those needing hospitality, those forced from their homes, those that are victims of war and crime and unfavorable leadership. All of these point to a lack of love and devotion to God. If they WERE in a relationship with Jesus, they'd be following His teachings and His example. they would know the shema and God's first commandment, and they would then follow Christ's example of loving everyone around them in a manner they they would want to be love.

God's holy nature demands perfection, and since we can't provide this for ourselves, the Lord has given it to all who believe in Him. He has exchanged our filthy rags for a cloak of righteousness (Zech. 3:4: "The angel said to his heavenly attendants, 'Take away the filthy clothes this man is wearing.' Then he said to Joshua, 'I have taken away your sin and will give you new clothes to wear.'”).

God loves you.
I do, too.

#JustBeingMichael ツ

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