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Righteousness

“Love the Lord:” But what does that really mean?

By | "Training for Godliness" podcast, Audio, Christianity | No Comments
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Most people familiar with the teachings of Jesus can tell you what he considered to be “the greatest commandment.” They may not know exactly where it is, but somewhere in the Bible, Jesus tells us that “You shall love the Lord,” is the most important thing, and that a close second is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And as a result, there are a lot of people have developed an idea that serving God and following Jesus involves having some sort of emotional attachment to Jesus.

Does godly love mean “getting along?”

We can look at it like the way we love our parents: “I love my mom and dad, but that doesn’t mean I have to do whatever they say! I’m a grown-up now, and can make my own rules and decisions, and their job as parent is to accept all those decisions, and my job is to love them even when they say things I don’t like or act in ways that I don’t agree with.”

By that standard, love is basically being able to ignore all our differences and care about each other. That sounds great, and on some level there’s some truth to that.

But there’s a lot more to what Jesus is saying there, and sometimes we miss what Jesus is really calling us to do.

Loving God “with all my heart”

Jesus says in Mark 12:28: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” That’s not an empty expression; it’s not hyperbole.

I might tell someone “I love you with all my heart,” but when it comes to making decisions in my life, my first thought is still about what I want to do. What’s in my best interest? After all, that’s what we’re taught in our culture: “Take care of yourself. Don’t give up your dreams or ideals or desires for anyone! Be true to yourself.”

The problem is that Jesus is saying the exact opposite of that. If I love the Lord with all my heart, that leaves no room for any love that is going to contradict a love of God.

Loving with all my strength means that my energies and efforts are reserved for activities that reflect a love for God – and I don’ have strength left for anything else.

And in Matthew’s account, we read an additional statement that Jesus makes: “on these two commandments (loving God, loving neighbor) hang all the law and the prophets.” That means that everything God commands you to do first into these two categories.

Love of God leads to love of good

It doesn’t mean that the other laws God gives us are unimportant, or even less important – they’re not optional for us so long as we maintain an emotional attachment to God. They are the tools God gives us to exemplify our love for God.

Do I truly love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength? Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not “If you love me, you’ll think of me fondly while you go about living the life you choose and ignoring all the things I’ve told you to do.”

Godly love is a love that is defined by God, not by us. And the love that God requires from us is a love that compels us to not only embrace God, but to embrace everything God is – including his character, his nature, his will. We love what He loves, and we love HOW he loves.

Loving God requires a choice!

In Romans 12:9, Paul makes a pretty important statement about what true godly love requires. He says “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Those aren’t separate thoughts. Paul is saying that true love, love that comes from God, calls for us to make some choices in our lives. If I love God, I will love the things of God – things I know that God approves.

That means that I not only have to have a knowledge of what God loves – not the things I think God SHOULD love, but what His word actually teaches us that He loves – but I need to love those things too. I should desire to fill my life with good things, not continuing to cling to the sinful activities of the world that we know God hates.

So does that mean that God doesn’t love sinners? Of course not! God commended his love to us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us! That’s what Paul writes in the same book, Romans 5:8.

But God doesn’t love in the same way that we describe love in our culture. God’s love didn’t allow him to simply overlook sin, to say “You live your best life, do whatever makes you happiest, whatever you enjoy, and I’m going to accept that and let you come live with me in my kingdom.”

How much do I REALLY love God?

God’s love compelled him to reach out to humanity, his creation, and provide a way for us to be with Him – if that’s really what we want. But we have to ask ourselves the question: Is my love for God genuine? Do I REALLY love God?

Because if I love God, I want to be LIKE God. I want to be around things that reflect the character of God. I want to live the way God wants me to live – not out of the sense of some moral code, but rather a wish to be everything God wants me to be, knowing that every command He gives, every instruction for my life, is designed to bring me closer to Him, so that when this life is over, I can spend eternity in the presence of the God I truly love.

So let’s love the Lord, not in some nebulous, meaningless way, but with a love that seeks to know God in all his virtue, righteousness, justice and mercy, and carry that grace with us in everything we do. That’s the whole point behind the idea of training for godliness.

What two things did God NOT create?

By | Christianity | One Comment

You hear a lot of hypothetical, philosophical questions about the nature of God and His power. I still have memories of the smug smile that invariably followed the challenging statement: “if God is all-powerful, can he create a rock so big that He can’t move it?” As if we can create a paradox in our own mind that somehow disproves something that exists outside out mind. Sometimes it does seem like people live their lives with the attitude that if they simply can’t accept a concept, it must be false.

But my inability to get my arms around a subject doesn’t invalidate it. Otherwise, anything more advanced than Calculus 101 would cease to exist. If it were left to my abilities to study and focus in college, anyway…

So why do we get so hung up on the idea that there is evil in the world, if a purely good God did in fact create “everything”? How many times have we heard “if God were real, He never would have allowed that”. Never mind that in many of those cases, what happened was a result of something a human being decided to do to someone else. “How could God allow us to bomb each other into oblivion.”

The fact is, there are a couple of things that God actually didn’t create, and I think they help us understand a lot about what it means to have a relationship with God.

God didn’t create darkness

Do an experiment if you can. Find a closet or small room with a door. Close it, and turn out the light. Now imagine that the light creeping through the space under the door isn’t there – that you’re in complete darkness. Did you “create” that darkness? Well… Only in the sense that you removed the light. But the truth is that darkness is the “default state”. Without the light that you installed, without the exterior lights in the house, without the natural light from outside, that closet would always be dark.

In Genesis 1, God’s first act was to create light. If darkness is defined by the absence of light, wouldn’t that mean that darkness predates creation? It was not created simply because darkness  was an eternal state until light was created. And the great thing about light is that once we have it, the darkness can never again truly be dark – not unless you visit Innerspace Caverns or some place like that so far under the ground that natural light simply can’t reach.

God gave light, so that darkness could never dominate us again. Not unless we physically intervene and shut out that light.

What else in the Bible has that same characteristic?

John 3:19-21 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Constantly in the Bible, we see the concept of righteousness aligned with the concept of light. And with good reason: when God introduced light, he defined darkness forever. Who would ever have known that it was dark until light came and showed us that we were in darkness? Isn’t that how the righteousness of God works?

1 John 1:5-7 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we think of sin as darkness and righteousness as light, then try another experiment. Go back to that closet, make it as dark as you can, and then strike a match. Is there any part of the closet where it is both light and dark? Of course not, because they cannot exits together. Darkness is defined as the absence of light. By the same token, sin is defined by the absence of righteousness. The two cannot coexist – there is no unrighteousness in God – because righteousness is a characteristic of God. (2 Cor. 6:14)

God cannot be unrighteousness any more than I can be canine. I’m not a dog. It’s not in my nature to BE a dog. It is physically impossible for me to have the same nature as a dog – I can only imitate it in some superficial way. And as much as we talk about how “human” our pets act, they are not human, and they never will be.

So God didn’t create darkness; He created a means of escaping it. And God didn’t create evil; He showed us how we could escape evil and be righteous, and by doing so, we could live in the presence of the source of all light for eternity. (Col. 1:12-14)

So when Jesus talks about the concept of Hell as being cast into outer darkness (Matt. 25:30) away from the presence of God, we start to really understand what it means to be separated from God. It means being separated from light, separated from goodness.

But most importantly, it explains how God could “allow” someone to be condemned to a life of darkness and suffering. He doesn’t “allow” it. We simply wouldn’t have it any other way. And we spend our lives blocking out every source of God’s light, when all we have to do is open the door.

I know I don’t earn my salvation, but am I entitled to it?

By | Christianity, Salvation | No Comments

I’m convinced that one of the reasons we sometimes have such a hard time reconciling the concept of “faith” and “works” in our relationship to God is that we really don’t understand the concept of grace, and how it applies to that relationship. We find Christians playing “battle of the verses”, one going to Ephesians 2:8 and saying “we don’t do anything in order to be saved”, the other going to James 2:24 and saying “we are justified by our works!”

Why can’t it be both? I believe the answer is that it can, and it is.

There is a difference between earning something and being entitled to it – and I think that distinction can help us understand the relationship between the grace of God and the obedience of man. And please understand: when I say “entitled”, I don’t mean a sense of self-entitlement that we often see in life where someone says “I am entitled to certain benefits by virtue of my existence.” We’ve all met that guy. And a person who comes to God and says “God has to accept me for who I am and how I choose to live” is not going to be justified in the end. (James 4:6-7)

Earning salvation or fulfilling terms?

To understand what I mean, let’s take an example: if I buy a lottery ticket tomorrow (and no, I’m not sanctioning buying lottery tickets any more than Jesus was sanctioning the idea of a debtor’s prison – I’m just drawing an analogy), and it turns out to be the winning ticket, and I realize that I have won $20 million, at what point am I considered a millionaire? I’m going to run into a lot of trouble if I start trying to make million-dollar purchases at that very moment – because I have been given nothing at that time!

But what do I have? I have a promise, an agreement into which I and the lottery commission entered when I bought that ticket. If the numbers come up for me, the commission will then pay me the money.

Have I earned $20 million? No. Am I entitled to it? Yes.

So why am I not a millionaire yet? Because I haven’t fulfilled my part of the agreement. I need to present my ticket and fill out whatever paperwork is required. If I’m not willing to do that, I’m not getting the money. That’s because even though it was promised to me, it was promised under certain terms and conditions – which I probably never read, but which will nonetheless be enforced!

What does the Lord require?

Jesus spells out the terms of his offer in no uncertain terms to his disciples: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” God’s grace (Acts 15:11), my faith and willingness to confess it before men (Rom. 10:9) and my obedience (Romans 6:16-17) are required elements in this covenant.

So back to the question of “entitlement.” Does that mean I have earned anything? Or does it mean that God has promised something and I can be assured that I will receive it? Think about the concept of entitlement without the negative connotations we often associate with the word. The definition of “entitle” is as follows:

“to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying claim”

Notice that an entitlement is not something that I earn; it is given to me. But once I have it, I can expect that it will be fulfilled. So when Paul says: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day” (2Ti 4:7-8), he’s not talking about something he’s earned. He’s referring to an assurance he has from God that because he lived his life by faith in submission to God’s will, God will reward him for that life of sacrifice.

How do we “walk worthy” of the kingdom?

We are told that we must live in a way that is worthy of the grace of God (II Thes. 1:5,Col. 1:9-10). That doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect, or that we can live in such a way that has earned salvation for ourselves. But it does mean that God has promised that if I’m willing to place my faith in Him and submit to the terms and conditions He has set forth, then I can expect that He will be faithful until the end (Heb. 10:23, II Tim. 2:10-11).

The great thing about the gospel message is that I don’t have to understand all the deep nuances of doctrinal issues. I don’t have to be able to explain why God calls us to be baptized into Christ (Acts 2:41, Rom. 6:3, I Cor. 12:13, Gal. 4:27) in order to have my sins washed away (Acts 22:16), or be able to completely define and distinguish concepts like faith, works and grace. I just need to believe the word of God and obey it. And trust that God means what He says. That’s not salvation by works – it’s salvation “by grace through faith.”

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