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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Tuesday, June 05, 2018
Love and service.
"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:35 [NASB]
Most English readers understand the word "love" as describing a deep - in fact - the deepest kind of affection.  Even in English we are prone to focus on the emotions that love produces rather than focusing on love itself.  We see love in the expression of our emotions, even as we hear the wind in the rustling of the leaves, and "see" the wind as it winds through tall grass.

What if love was more than this?  What if love was not just the outward expression of an inward affection?  What if what we commonly think of as love, is just a shadow of what love truly is?  What if even our most poetic and pure portrayals of love reflect only the highest ideal a fallen creature can aspire to?  What if what most of us think of as love, is really just the fallen version of love?  What if it is just a broken shadow - the best we can muster having been separated from the very source and life of love?

A lot of us couldn't get behind a concept of love that was obligatory.  In order for love to be love, it has to be our choice to love.  To oblige ourselves to love someone we do not love - that would be ... it would be disingenuous.  No one would want to be loved with a "fake" love.  Clearly, we are being honest when we conclude that in order for love to be real, it has to be heart-felt, and it cannot be obligatory.

Right?  Let's change gears for a sec, before we come back to this thought.

 A lot of the  errors the Pharisees made in Christ's day had grown out of [1] the misguided belief that it was humanly possible to perfectly obey all of God's commands, and [2] a system of interpretation that made it possible to sidestep the intention of the law, by keeping a (strained) literal interpretation of the law.  If a law could not be kept, or was too difficult to keep (as written), then it could be, and even should be interpreted in a way that made it either possible or much easier to keep.

Under the old covenant God spoke to Israel saying, "You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord." - Leviticus 18:4-5 [NASB].  Note the prescription God gave to Israel - if you keep my statutes, you will live.  Recall how a lawyer in Luke 10, puts Jesus to the test by asking, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" - Jesus answered by asking the lawyer, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?"  The lawyer paraphrases Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18,34 in reply (c.f. Luke 10:27), "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself" which Jesus affirmed as the correct answer, paraphrasing back to the lawyer from Leviticus 18 (above), "do this an you will live".

The lawyer, wanting to further justify himself, asked Jesus to identify who the neighbor was in the context of Leviticus 19.  Consider this: if the lawyer loved everyone equally, he wouldn't have needed any further clarification regarding who his neighbor was.  This wasn't a question about whom he ought to love, but rather it was about whom he was not obligated to love.  Who deserved his love, and who did not.  When the parable was told, Christ asked the lawyer again - which of the men who met that wounded man on the road turned out to be a "neighbor".  Again the lawyer chose rightly, the the man from Samaria, i.e. the one who showed mercy to the wounded man was the neighbor.

Note that it wasn't just the selfless compassion and mercy of the Samaritan that Christ regarded as fulfilling the law's requirement - it was the indiscriminate nature of that selfless mercy and compassion.  The lawyer's question was premised upon the presumption that one was only obligated to love those who were deserving of that love.  Recall previously in the context (from Christ's own words) that the lawyers and Pharisees who rejected him were regarding him as a "gluttonous man and a drunkard" and "a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" (c.f. Luke 7:31-35).

It isn't a stretch to conclude that one of the ways - if not the primary way - in which the that lawyer sought to "justify himself further", was to show that as a righteous man he was justified in not hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, while at the same time exposing Christ as an unrighteous person because He associated with these unrighteous people.

I think we all, from time to time, stand in danger of coming to the scriptures with a like mindset as this lawyer - we are seeking to be justified in what we are already doing, rather than humbling ourselves before what the scripture is actually saying. The person who reads, "love they neighbor" and concludes that this command limits one's obligation to loving "only" one's neighbor - as though God commands us to love some, but not all - we err.

Which brings us back to the main point - if we're obligated to love everyone, how do we generate a universal affection? How can I love someone I don't know?

The first think you need to know is the love you're called to express, isn't an emotion or an affection.  It is described as a compassion and mercy that is not founded upon interpersonal relationship or rights to such relationships.  It is obligatory.

Objection: Does God expect us to "act" like we truly love people that we don't actually love?

The only person who would ask a question like that is someone who thinks of love as being dependent upon some underlying affection.  As a father I love my children.  I know them, I enjoy them, I want to be with them, I want to protect what I love, I am willing to sacrifice myself for what I love - I'd rather the world continue with my children in it, than I continue in a world without them.  That's the nigh universal experience of every parent I think.  It can be described as something virtuous, but really it's pathetic.

What I might sacrifice to save my children, or my wife, or perhaps an innocent child, I certainly wouldn't do for the person next door. My love is brokered through, and perhaps founded on, my affections for others.  The greater the affection, the more the impetus to act "in love" towards that person.

Christ's love wasn't like that.

A lot of people are theologically naive when it comes to a right understanding of the divinity of Christ.  They rightly understand that Jesus is divine - the second person of the Triune Godhead, and as such had inherent in Him all the authority of God to do miracles, to heal, to cast out demons etc.  But they fail to understand that Jesus having all that power, did not use any of it, but instead humbled himself and lived as a man, relying, as all men must, on God for all the things pertaining to His own life and ministry - including miracles and works of divine power.  Christ, as God the Son, could at any moment have used his own divinity to do any or all of what He did on earth - but doing so would have disqualified him as our Savior - for no unless Christ relied entirely on God, He could by no means fulfill on Israel's behalf, all that the Old Covenant required of Israel.  He needed to live by faith in God - just as we all must.  He did not walk around doing His own will - but the will of God the Father who sent Him.  He did not use His own power to cast out demons, or to do the miraculous, He received from God the Father the power to perform the ministry God had given Him.

It may challenge you theologically to understand this, but the bible does not portray Jesus as omniscient (all knowing).  You may interpret John 2:23-25 as a refutation of this thought, (c.f. "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man." - [NASB]), but I would remind you that prophets in the Old Testament exhibited this same kind of knowledge - without exercising any personal divinity to get it.

Before I go on to show examples from the New Testament that demonstrate the point (that even though Christ was God He did not exercise any divine attribute on his own behalf during the incarnation), I want you to ask yourself why you believe that Jesus used his own divine power to do miracles etc.  He did not come to earth on His own authority, but was acting under God the Father's authority.  He was not living subject to the will of His own person, but subject to the will of God the Father - as demonstrated most plainly in the garden of Gethsemane - "not my will, but yours be done".  

If you have always believed that Jesus could walk on water, cast out demons, still the seas, raise the dead, and heal the sick "because He was God" - you're missing something very significant, and potentially (profoundly) edifying.  The person who understands that Jesus did all that He did - including living a life that pleased God perfectly - in the strength and power that God had made available to Him (and makes available to every genuine believer - through the indwelling Holy Spirit), then you are living in the kind of ignorance that diminishes the work of Christ/glory of God/plan or redemption - and - cripples an understanding of how God works through the Holy Spirit in Christians today.  In short, you're living a hobbled, failure ridden kind of Christianity.

I am not suggesting that possessing a right understanding of these things will auto-magically produce right and proper Christian living - but it certainly will give you an understanding of why your sanctification is the beggarly self-obsessed mess that it is.

No omniscient person can grow in wisdom (Luke 2:40,52) or learn obedience (Hebrews 5:8), nor could an omniscient person fail to know who touched Him in a crowd (Mark 5:31, Luke 8:45).  Nor could an omnipotent person have that power pulled from him apart from His willing it, as we see the power to heal leaving the Lord in the same context (Mark 5:30, Luke 8:46).  No man relying upon his own power to heal would have it said of him that the power to heal was present with him (Luke 5:17), unless there were times when such miraculous power was not present (Mark 6:5).  Such a man would certainly not rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to cast out demons (Matthew 12:28), when He Himself had both authority and power vested in Himself to do so.

This is not to suggest that the divinity of Christ wasn't present in Christ during the incarnation - it is to say that Christ did not exercise His divinity (nor did He need to) during the incarnation, but humbled Himself in this way - that although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard being the second person of the Triune Godhead something to bring within him into the incarnation - in becoming a man he instead emptied Himself of all divine prerogative and set aside the form of God to wear instead the form most appropriate for a man - that of a servant.  Allowing Himself to be truly made in the likeness of men.  Having found himself thus, He humbly become obedient to God the Father as is fitting for a man - becoming entirely dependent on God rather than upon His own divinity - and to remain such even to the point of death on a cross.  That is what the Apostle Paul is teaching in Philippians 2:5-8.

Think that through soberly.  If Christ lived as a man -- living entirely dependent upon God for every aspect of His life and His ministry - it all makes sense.  Christ didn't want to die on the cross - because no man wants to die a painful, vulgar, humiliating death.  But Christ wasn't living this life according to His own will. No. He was living this life in the way God prescribed all of us to live - in utter and absolute dependence on, and obedience to, God. When they accused Christ of using demonic power to cast out demons, They weren't blaspheming Him or His power, because He was not casting out demons by his own choice, or by His own power - but was doing so in obedience to the ministry God had given Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit into Whom He was baptized in the Jordan.  No - they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit Who was working in and through Christ.

Jesus rising up out of the Jordan - baptized into the Holy Spirit immediately was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to fast for forty days and forty nights.  He didn't arbitrarily decide to go fast - He was driven to do so, by the Holy Spirit.  He lived in obedience to God, doing only what the Father told Him to do.  No innovation, no solo ventures.  Christ obeyed, and God provided.

When I first became a believer I wondered why I could not perform miracles like they did in the New Testament.  I thought it was because I didn't believe "enough" - that if I had enough faith, I could call down fire from heaven or raise the dead.  I didn't understand that God's word is a fire that comes down from heaven, and that everyone who believes the gospel has been raised from death into life.  I was looking to recreate the signs that Christ and the apostles performed, rather than to perform the realities they foretold.  I felt like a false convert because miracles did not happen at my bidding.

If Christ was living in obedience to God, it follows that the miracles He performed were performed in obedience to God.  God, in the person of the Holy Spirit was present with Christ to perform those miracles which God was leading Christ to perform.  The reason the Holy Spirit empowered these miracles was not because Jesus was the Son of God - nor even because Jesus wanted to perform these miracles and was using the Holy Spirit to do them.  Rather it was because the Holy Spirit had been sent to do these miracles, and God was using the man Jesus - His Christ - to do them.  He was using Christ to do them because Christ was living in unbroken obedience to God -- having never been separated from God by personal sin.

Christ wasn't freewheelin' it around Israel - healing here, raising the dead there doing whatever He imagined the situation called for.  He was instead going where God told Him to go, and doing only what God told Him to do.

Consider all that, then consider that Jesus, in His humanity - did in fact love the Lord His God with all of His mind, heart, soul, and strength.  Don't shy away from the fact that God the Father was the God of Jesus Christ.  During the incarnation Christ lived as a real man - and worshiped God even as God calls all men to do.  Christ loved God and Christ loved His neighbor - not 'because he was God' - but because the love we are called to love one another and to love God with - is not rooted in our affection, it is grounded in God.

That's a pretty pithy way of saying it - and a little too ambiguous to be very useful for people.  It's difficult to lay out the kind of truth that can only be apprehended spiritually by those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and for whom understanding has been granted.

Even as I typed that it sounded hokey.  Not unlike the trite old line about unicorns - some things have to be believed to be seen.  I am not saying that I've laid out some truth as a riddle that only the Holy Spirit can unravel for you.  What I am saying is that like the gospel itself - spiritual truth is plain and obvious the moment your eyes are opened, but until they are, whatever you think you know about it, you don't really know.

Some of you reading will have had the same experience as myself.  I heard the gospel clearly preached many times, but I never understood it until the day I was saved.  I thought I had understood it every time I heard it.  I was no more, nor no less fervent and earnest on the day it saved me, than on the countless other days it hadn't.  All that changed was that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, revealed the gospel to me that day, and hadn't done the dozens of times I had before heard, and even thought myself to have "believed" it.

If you've had that experience - you know what I mean when I paraphrase Paul's assertion that the natural man does not and cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God (c.f. 1 Corinthians 2:14-15).  What I am saying is that there is a truth about love that I can tell you as plainly and clearly as words can convey - but you will not see it unless the Holy Spirit reveals it to you.

To that end I will repeat - love is incompatible with selfishness.  You cannot love God or anything else, as long as your heart is selfish - as long as you continue to regard yourself as the sustainer and provider for the life you are living.  Unless you cast that crown at Christ's feet, You cannot love anyone else - because your own self love is in the way.

This isn't a learn it once, and forever it makes all things easy for the Christian kind of truth - it is a truth - but it is apprehended by faith, and lived out in obedience - the kind of obedience that cannot co-exist with a life lived for self in any portion.  You are either entirely for God, or you are entirely for yourself, even if you've convinced yourself you are "mostly" for God.  If you in for yourself at all - your in for your self in all.

Thank God for Christ, and that life that was lived in obedience - through which alone we are made acceptable to God.  I do not look to my obedience for my justification - I look to my justification for obedience.

Love and service are indivisible.  Those who truly love, serve, and those who truly serve, love.  It isn't about provoking the "right" affections.  Likewise it isn't about suppressing the wrong ones either.  It is about whether or not you're living for your self or not.  Are you driven by self or by God?

The love that Christians are called to is obligatory in the sense that the only way you can truly live for others is if you aren't in some way living for yourself.  The moment you're living (even a tiny bit) for yourself - the love you are called to love with becomes compromised by your selfishness.  It may look like love, but it's nothing like the love of Christ.  You don't get that love when you mix it with any other.

We are obliged to love, but the love we are obliged to is not an affection - it is utter and selfless service - the kind that can only come when we are no longer living for ourselves.

Oh that your children would have ears to hear, and hearts cleansed from compromise - this servant included.
posted by Daniel @ 12:19 PM  
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