28 May 2011

For the Life and Love of God

The Lord your God has created you for life, and He has created you for love. That is how you are made. It is who you are, and why you are here. Your existence and your being are from God, and so there is a presence and a movement about you that belong with Him. You live best when you live toward Him and move in harmony with Him.

When you are apart from Him, away from Him, or at odds with Him, you are and will be restless, out of sorts, and afraid. Your heart will be searching and longing for Him, whether you know it or not, and it will never be satisfied, at peace or at home, until you are found in Him and are living in Him. Else your heart will grow cold, bitter and hard, and you will be angry all the time, or de-spairing; arrogant and proud, or eaten alive with envy and jealousy.

Driving everyone else away and retreating into yourself doesn’t work, and it won’t help. Nor does using and controlling other people. Neither lonely isolation nor lording it over your neighbor will gain you the peace and satisfaction that you crave. These are ways in which you try to be like God, and you make a god out of yourself, but they are not the divine life at all, nor anything like it.

The one true God does not exist in lonely isolation, ever, but is a permanent communion of three divine Persons in perfect unity, an eternal relationship of mutual Love. And it is for the sake of that divine eternal love — the Father for His Son, the Son for His Father, in the Holy Spirit — that He created all things in peace. Not out of necessity or need, but solely out of love. Not to be served, but to serve; to give good gifts by grace; to love His creatures with fatherly affection.

Thus, you have been created — you exist, and you are here — to live with God, and to be loved by God.

He does love you. He has all along, from before you even were. He created you in love, and He loves you still. The Father loves you in His Son and with His Holy Spirit. Therefore, in His love, you are like God, and you live God’s life, because God the Son has bestowed His Spirit upon you, and He brings you to the Father in Himself.

This true divine Love, in Christ Jesus, is the character and content of the true divine Life for which you have been created, and to which you are called. Therefore, in the same way that your heart and mind and body and life are restless until they rest in God, so also do you long for love from your innermost self: You long to be loved — and you are created by God, in His Image, also to love.

As the Father loves you in His Son, so are you called to love the Father in Christ Jesus. And as the Holy Spirit lives in you — who is Himself the very God who is Love — so are you called to love the Father and the Son, and to love your neighbor as you are loved. To love in this way, both God and man, is fundamental to the life you are given to live.

The problem is, though, that while you have been created for love, and so you have a built-in inner hunger and deep desire for love, your heart and mind and soul and spirit have been bent, turned backwards, curved inward upon yourself. Which is to say that you are consumed with self-love, which is not really love at all, but selfishness and self-idolatry. This is your most basic sinfulness. You do not really trust any love but your own, and you are not really concerned about love for anyone but yourself. And the whole beautiful capacity for love, for which you were created, becomes instead this crushing insatiable appetite of lust and greed and jealousy and spite.

Oh, you may love those who love you, with a certain kind of love, but there’s always a condition, a contingency, a contract, so to speak. What’s in it for you? And how can you best protect your own interests and yourself? How can you be safe and secure, and sure that you won’t be hurt or taken advantage of?

Knowing your own selfishness, even if you would hardly admit it, you don’t trust others to love you any better than you love them. On the one hand, you must work for their love and earn it, and on the other hand, you must guard yourself against betrayal and treachery. Selfish love is never free, and it is never certain. But selfish love is all that you have known — apart from Christ.

It is the sort of love that you expect from Christ Himself, as well, and from His God and Father. For as you make a god out of yourself, so do you also assume that God must be like you, and that His love must be like yours. That is the way of the world and its thinking, yes, but the world does not see God or know Him. Consequently, you strive to win His love, to bargain and barter for it, to work for it, to earn it, and then to horde it for yourself, as though others could rob you of it.

It is such a sad dilemma, because your heart cannot be happy or have any lasting peace apart from the love of God, but you are so mistaken and confused about the nature of His love. You long for it, but you do not trust it, and you do not know where to find it or how to get it. In fact, a love that you would have to work for and earn, would be no real love at all. That sort of love will never satisfy, but will only stoke the burning fire of your selfish desire and leave you desperate for more.

Longing for God’s love, therefore, but neither knowing nor trusting that He loves you, your heart is embittered toward Him, angry and resentful, but also hurt and afraid. You perceive (wrongly) that He demands so much, and that He gives so little in return, and so you are scared, and you grow tired, and you don’t know what to do.

You can’t win this game, but there’s nothing for it. You’re playing by the wrong rules entirely, but you can’t sort it out for yourself. You’ll have no peace or rest or satisfaction until you live with God and abide in His love, but His life and love are foreign to your fallen nature and sinful flesh, as elusive and beyond your grasp as they are to the world. They sound like impossible demands, which accuse and condemn you and drive you on.

Thus you fill your life with countless idols, and you erect your monuments of every kind to hedge your bets. You’re as religious as you know how to be, captivated by whatever comes down the pike having a semblance of spirituality, and still always craving something new, the next big thing.

You’re always searching for the unknown God, the One who will love you and give you life, who will save you and keep you safe.

Except that, now, in spite of all this, you do know Him; don’t you? You know the God of love, who is your life and salvation. Not because you have figured Him out and found Him on your own, but He has found you and discloses Himself to you. You know His Voice, His Word of the Gospel, and though you do not see Him with your eyes, you love Him, because He first loves you.

In His love, He has not forced Himself upon you; nor does He force or constrain you to love Him. In gentleness He has come to woo you to Himself in peace. In mercy, He reveals Himself to you, by His grace, and makes Himself known to you through His forgiveness of your sins. He gives you life, by giving His own life for you, and by raising you up in and with Himself. He does not accuse and condemn, but comforts and heals you. He teaches you to know and trust His love, simply by loving you. He gives you Himself and His Spirit freely.

His commandments, therefore, are not burdensome and deadly, but life-giving. He does not set before you the righteousness of the Law and of works, as though He were calling you to raise yourself up by some new and better effort on your part. Nor does He offer you a “tit-for-tat,” “scratch-My-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” kind of bargain. The Lord does not learn how to love from you; nor is the love of God contingent or conditional on your love for Him. Rather, what does He command? “Love one another, as I have loved you.” For He loves you first, even in the world, even to the end. He has come to you and will not leave you. He gets down on His knees to serve you, to cleanse and forgive you, to feed you and quench your thirst, and to give you life.

It is because He loves you, and He loves you so faithfully and well, that you love Him, and that you love one another in Him. His New Commandment is, in one respect, the same Law of Love that He gave at Mt. Sinai, but it is made new by His own fulfillment of that Law in His perfect love for you. In Him, it is not an order, a demand or a threat, but an assertion of the Life that is given you to live: the divine life, which Christ has lived for you in the flesh, that you may live in Him.

It is still true that you cannot raise yourself up to live and to love in that way, of yourself, but it was never the intention that you should.

You have not been created to live independently or self-sufficiently, but to live in and with God, by His grace, through faith in His Word. And you have been rescued and redeemed from your sin and death, from your selfishness and lonely isolation, not to live unto yourself, but unto Christ. That is why the character and content of that life is love. Not that you achieve or gain that life by your loving, but that you now live the life that you have been given in love.

To speak of this life, and of this love, is to speak of Christ Jesus. For you know God, His Life and Love, in this dearly-beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father. He has loved you by coming and giving Himself for you. He has loved you by taking all your sins upon Himself and bearing them in His Body to the Cross, making atonement for them by His death, by the shedding of His Blood. And in His Resurrection from the dead, He now loves you by raising you up with Himself and bringing you to the Father in Himself. That right there (His Resurrection and Ascension) is the life to which He calls you, which He now gives you by His grace, by pouring out His Holy Spirit upon you and into your heart through the Gospel. That is how He loves you, and that is how you live.

Likewise, even now, your Baptism saves you, as day after day it raises you up from death to life, in and with Christ Jesus. It cleanses your conscience before God through the Resurrection of the same Lord Jesus Christ, through whom you are justified. For as He has given Himself for you, and died for you, bearing your sins, His Resurrection is your resurrection, your righteousness, your reconciliation with His Father in heaven, and the sure and certain proof that God loves you.

In His Resurrection, and so also in your Holy Baptism, you are recreated — made brand new — for life with God, and for love. That is the hope that is yours, most certainly true, which is given to you in the Gospel: the free and full forgiveness of all your sins. As He loves you by and with that Gospel, so do you sanctify Him in your heart, and strengthen your heart, by the same Gospel.

Because you are loved by the Father, by the Son, and by the Holy Spirit, you have and you live the life for which you have been created, and you are free to love without fear. You know such love, and you know the one true God, who loves you, because He comes to you here, and He gives Himself to you, and He abides with you here at His Table in His House, and He will be in you, unto the life everlasting. All glory, honor, thanks and praise be His, both now and forever. Amen.

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