Happy New Year church! A new year typically brings new habits and new passions. One new habit that I want to kick off is a monthly blog post where I have the chance to share with you a devotional thought, something I’ve been reading, book or resource recommendations, my take (informed by scripture of course) on a certain issue, or simply what our church is up to. Let’s call it Life in Christ.
This month, since we begin another year of life. I think it’s only appropriate to begin by orienting ourselves toward our God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love and mercy at disposal.
In John 15:13, Jesus is speaking with his disciples when he says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” It is easy to recognize the nobility and novelty of that statement. We may think of countless films where someone sacrificed themselves for their loved ones, or those brave men and women who have given their lives in service of their country. But what Christ is saying here has some very significant implications that go far beyond the love that we can comprehend in this life.
When we speak of the attributes of God (such as love, justice, grace, mercy, etc.) we are not simply saying that God possesses them, but is them. In Him is the highest and most perfect expression of each attribute. Therefore, the love of God is the highest possible expression of love there is.
We just celebrated Christmas and with it the coming of Christ to Earth as an infant. This child, this Jesus, would grow up and bring the good news that the Kingdom of God has indeed come. He was crucified, “pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Christ, the Son, in humility stepped down from glory and laid down his life for those he would call his friends.
In God’s ordering of history, he decided before the foundation of the Earth to display the highest, purest, most unadulterated form of love to his creation in the act of laying down his life. It was not because we were deserving of this. In fact, Paul says in Romans 5 that while we were still weak, still enemies of the living God, Christ died for us. We freely receive the righteousness of Christ so that we may boldly approach our father.
This is love. Not the cheesy hallmark love, not merely the fleeting feeling of mushy gushy love, but our only example of what perfect, authentic, Godly love is. And it is not fickle, our sins and our struggle against them cannot separate us from this love. Paul reminds us: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39).
A fairly common conversation I have had in my ministry experience is people feeling they have upset God so much that they cannot go to him for forgiveness.
“I’ve used him too much.”
“He doesn’t want to hear from me until I’ve gotten better.”
“I just keep sinning, God probably wants nothing to do with me.”
“I’m going to use up all the mercy and forgiveness he has to offer me.”
“I’m scared he is running out of patience for me.”
Those were real statements. And those real statements reflect a poor understanding of Christ’s love and mercy. Thomas Goodwin, a Puritan theologian, writes that Christ’s “own joy, comfort, happiness, and glory, are increased and enlarged by his showing grace and mercy, in pardoning, relieving, and comforting his members here on earth” (Goodwin, The Heart of Christ).
His love is a wanting love, he wants you to receive it. He wants it to change and sanctify you, and when you struggle, he wants it to comfort and reassure you. Dane Ortland writes: “When you come to Christ for mercy and love and help in your anguish and perplexity and sinfulness, you are going with the flow of his own deepest wishes, not against them” (Ortland, Gentle and Lowly). Rest in the love of Christ. Do not let your objections belittle the ultimate love, do not trick yourself into thinking that you can out sin the love and mercy of Christ.
Ortland proposes the question: “Our unbelieving hearts tread cautiously here. Is it not presumptuous audacity to draw of the mercy of Christ in an unfiltered way? Shouldn’t we be measured and reasonable, careful not to pull too much on him?”
Answer: “Would a father with a suffocating child want his child to draw on the oxygen tank in a measured, reasonable way?”
We both know that the answer is no. He would want that child to take every bit of air he needs. I want to encourage you with this: If you are in Christ, he will be no means cast you out. He desires to pour out his love and mercy on you, so draw near to him, often. Do not fear, whether it be sin struggle, a mountain of grief, an already distant prayer life, a shaky marriage, doubt, or simply fear of the unknown, Christ loves you with the highest love possible, and will welcome you at the throne of grace.
Grace and Peace, Pastor David