While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Those words are powerful and full of God’s love. This morning, as we reflect on God’s word about His grace toward us, let us also reflect on our response to such a gift of grace and love.
We love because He first loved us. God initiates, we imitate. Our Father in heaven created you and me in His own image and likeness and though we have sinned and marred God’s image and likeness through sin, our God and Father has chosen to redeem us at the awful cost of Calvary’s cross. We should never get over or get past or move on from this gospel truth, this eternal expression of divine love and grace. It is the depth and height and breadth and length of the love of Christ that draws us and empowers us and pays for us with God’s amazing grace.
How much does God love you? Look at the cross. See the Son of God in agony, dying for you, dying because of you, dying as a sacrifice to pay for the sins that marred God’s image and likeness in you, dying to cleanse you and call you and restore you and create in you a clean heart, a heart that He Himself comes to dwell in. How much does God love you? We can’t begin to fathom!
Perhaps the question is, why? Why does God love you? What does God see in you that would move Him to such an extreme expression of grace and love? Is it your goodness? No. Is it your beauty or giftedness? No. What is it? What moved God to offer His only begotten Son, a sacrifice to save you? When we ponder this and consider the scriptures, we find that God gave us such grace because He is God… and He created us to be His chosen people, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, the people who belong to Him… and He desires to spend eternity with us. It’s because of who He is and who He created us to be. God demonstrated His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. God wants all who are ungodly to be godly. God wants all sinners to come to repentance and be saved and be saints. God wants you with a holy passion that strains the imagination and surpasses knowledge.
How does one respond to such a God?
In Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43, and 47-50, Jesus gives us two parables to show us that we live in a world where good and evil are mixed among us. In the kingdom of Christ, the church, there are both wheat and weeds growing together. The church is like a net gathering in both good and bad fish. Jesus shows us that ultimately there will be a separation. There are those who are gathered into eternal glory and those who are cast into eternal fire. These will not be separated until the great day of Christ’s return.
The separation is between those who accepted God’s grace and love so that they reflect it to others, and those who did not.
What is it that those who receive God’s grace and are finally gathered into eternal glory look like? They imitate their Father. The love and grace of God work a change in them that is seen in their faith and reflected in their lives and demonstrated in their worship. It is perhaps most clearly seen in how they love one another.
John wrote, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another!” Listen to 1 John 4:7-21.
Illustration: (I am borrowing this from Blaine Kelly’s devotional at a preacher’s retreat I recently attended in Gatlinburg) It is easy to be in love with being in love, is it not? I think most of us can just imagine how wonderful and satisfying the perfect loving relationship must be, right? Can’t you just picture an ideal, perfect marriage with a happily ever after? Most of us who have been married for some time did just that, did we not? But what happens when the ideal clashes with the real? That line in the vows: For better or for worse… what happens when those promises are put to the test? The perfect ideal bumps into the reality that the fruit of good and evil brought us. Here we are cast into a mixed world where we can imagine it all good, but when it’s not, we tend to point the finger of blame, and experience the pain of shame.
This is a place where good and evil are still mixed and where love is tested. Can love survive in such a fallen place? God’s answer is, yes! But only by grace though faith, and through the power of God working in us and we cooperating with His work with our obedience of faith. We may not have perfect marriages, but we can have faithful marriages. We can practice sacrifice and forgiveness and forbearance like God does for each of us. We can be happily incompatible, broken together, united in the common cause of Jesus Christ, or even if not, faithful to the vows we made to one another before God. Love is tested by living in and among the mixture of good and evil, and for all who follow Jesus, love wins. And for all who do not, evil devours. God never said marry the one you love, God said love the one you marry. Love is demonstrated in imitation of Christ, when selfishness screams for satisfaction. Love receives heaven’s highest rewards for sacrifice and suffering for what is God’s will.
Now, set aside the marriage illustration and think about this: What about relationships within God’s family, the church? It is easy to have grand expectations of an ideal church, a perfect church. We all want a place and group that we fit into and find fulfillment in, do we not? Yet, in this world where good and evil are mixed, there will be challenges when the ideal clashes with the real even in church.
God didn’t tell us to join the church we love, God tells us to love the church He joins us to! Even in a great church family like we enjoy, there can be challenges to practicing love for one another. God designed the church to be a place where we grow up to become like Christ, but it is not without challenges. Eph. 4:11-16 states the purpose of God for our relationships in the church. God puts us together in the church so we grow up to be like Christ. It’s not always easy. It requires us to practice grace, mercy and forgiveness with one another. Loving God and loving one another is ever our job. Fail here and fail period.
Jesus taught us that if we are bringing our gift to the alter and there remember that our brother has something against us, we should leave our gift there at the alter and first go and be reconciled with our brother; then come and offer our gift. That’s a powerful teaching. Love looks past feelings and reaches for what is best for God’s glory and brotherly relationships.
Now there may be some things that make you especially fond of this congregation of God’s people. I know I really love this church, and my Christian family right here. I also know that I am part of God’s church family all over this planet, but God put me here. He put you here. It is in the local body of believers that God places us to grow and become like Jesus, to work out our salvation as God works in us and to be made a new creation, formed into God’s image and likeness. We who are members here are all sharers in the gospel of Jesus Christ and have been baptized into Christ, cleansed from our sins by His blood because of His mercy and grace. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit, built into a dwelling that God lives in by His Spirit, and empowered by that same Spirit. God, in love, has given us all spiritual blessings in Christ and commanded us to strive to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.