Monday, June 11, 2018

Four Identifying Marks Of God's Love In The Christian Life

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1 John 4:7 "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."

Introduction: The story of the little creek that turned into a mighty river

I can recall, as a little boy, a little creek running through the middle of our property. In the dry summertime, that little creek would get so low as to become barely a trickle. I would often find big rocks and sticks to create dams so as to observe how high the water would get. The water would momentarily dam up. But then, no sooner had the water formed a dam as to then suddenly break through the makeshift obstructions. 

Over the course of the year, the bottom of that little creek would become littered with big rocks and fallen logs. When spring came, the heavy rains of April would turn that little creek into a mighty river. As the water swelled its banks, all of the obstructions and debris would wash downstream. That mighty channel was unstoppable. In its wake, the creek bed was left clean for the little creek to run its course.

Christians are dry river beds in need of God, the mighty stream

Whenever we turn to the writings of the Apostle John in the New Testament, the theme of "God's love" runs through "the banks" his words. One of John's fondest expressions is: "love one another", deriving from Jesus' final instructions to his disciples involving the same command (see John 13:34; 15:12,17; 1 John 2:7; 3:11,23; 2 John 1:5). 

Whenever we turn to John's 1st letter, and particularly 1 John 4, we observe the mighty river of God's unfailing love. God's love isn't just a stream - it's a mighty ocean in the banks of 1 John 4. As Christians, we fail to remember that without the Lord, we are dry river beds. In another of John's writings, the Gospel of John, he quotes Jesus stating in John 7:37-39 -

"Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in His name. This promise of the Holy Spirit came to pass in Acts 2. Now that the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of all true Christians, we come to understand that He sheds the love of God abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:1-5). Literally, God by the Person and work of the Spirit operates as that mighty river. The Holy Spirit brings through the child of God the mighty torrents of the Father's mighty power and Jesus Christ's incomparable Person. The Spirit is, after all, the Ambassador of the Trinity.

Like the little creek mentioned earlier, we as Christians often have the clutter of life filling our hearts. We are in need of God. God, in the totality of the active love shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is comparable to the living, mighty river of love. Whenever God's love get's involved, He can clear away whatever is obstructing our growth and passion for Him. Love isn't just an emotion. Instead, love is a conscious decision to give of oneself for the betterment of another. The three persons of the Godhead have done this for all eternity. Whatever love humans express is an echo of such love that makes up our identity as bearing the image of God. Whenever a person converts to Christ by faith, their marred image is made anew into His own, meaning that God's love can flow unhindered (compare Colossians 3:10).

Identifying Marks of God's love

So how can you and I tell when God's love is flowing in our lives and in the lives of others? In using the acrostic l.o.v.e, we can discover from 1 John 4:7-21 the following four traits of God's love:

Lives through the cross. 1 John 4:9,10,19

1 John 4:9-10 states -

"By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

God's love was manifested through the cross. Paul, in Romans 5:8, uses the language of "demonstration" to prove what God did in showing His love. We know that God's love, in the sending of His Son, was effective. Christ's finished work "propitiated" or "satisfied" the wrath of God. What Jesus Christ as God in human flesh accomplished in six hours on the cross would require the book of Acts and 21 New Testament Epistles to unfold its meaning. The application of Christ's finished work at saving faith works itself through every person trust in Him by faith.

The incredible love of God flows unceasingly and unhindered from the cross. Though the cross is barren, and though our risen and glorified Savior is at the Father's right hand, yet, God's love lives through and around the cross. A Christian who is operating in God's love will have the cross in their hearts and Jesus' name on their lips. But notice another trait of God's love here in 1 John 4:7-21...

Overcomes anything. 1 John 4:7,12,17,18,20,21

1 John 4:7 states -

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." 

In this section of 1 John we see God's love overcoming the following:

a. Disunity (1 John 4:7,12). The command to love one another with God's love is the only thing that can diffuse disunity, bitterness and hurt that we so often see in churches today. My love is limited. His love is unlimited. My love will make conditions. God's love has no strings attached. My love can wane and waver. God's love does not wane and cannot waver.

b. Fear (1 John 4:17,18). 1 John 4:18 tells us that "perfect love cast out all fear". Whenever you see that phrase "perfect love", of what sort of love is John speaking? It certainly isn't human love, since sinless perfection is not attainable in this life. Only God's love is without flaw and without limitation. Every phobia and psychological disorder is traceable to fear or anger. Whenever Adam and Eve hid in the garden, they hid because they were fearful. Only God's love can destroy fear.

c. Anger (1 John 4:20-21). Of the 10,000 times we sin mentioned in the Bible, bitterness or anger against another person is mentioned some 2,000 times. God warns us about the dangers of anger and bitterness more than any other sin. This is why we need His love.

So far, we've observed the traits of God's love as: lives through the cross and overcomes anything. Notice with me a third quality...

Validated by the Spirit. 1 John 4:13

1 John 4:13 makes this observation -

"By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit." 

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Triune Godhead - meaning that:

a. He possesses all of the properties of deity along with the Father and Son
b. He is a Person, possessing intellect, emotions and a shared will with the Father and the Son 
c. He comes to abide within every Christian at salvation (John 14:17,23; 16:8-16; 1 Corinthians 2:12, 3:16, 6:17-18, 8:16-17).

The Holy Spirit in the Christian bears witness of who that Christian is and who it is that owns them (namely Jesus). Included in this witness of the Spirit is the reality of God's love(Romans 5:1-5). The Holy Spirit's ministry on the inside takes "God's love" from the realm of an idea to that of practical living on the outside. Let's consider one more trait of God's love flowing in the life of the Christian....

Expressed in sound doctrine 1 John 4:14-19

As we close out today's blog, we note that God's love is evidence by life through the cross, overcoming all things and validated by the witness of the Spirit. In terms of expressing such truth, sound doctrine - and our attitude toward it, will often tell whether or not we have God's love. If we love God, we will also love His truth. In 1 John 4:14-19 we see the following sound doctrines:

a. Person of Christ (truly God and truly man) 4:14-19.

b. Work of Christ (you cannot separate His Person from His work) 4:14-19.

c. Righteousness of Christ (relying on His act and accomplishment in both His perfect life and substitutionary death) 4:18.

d. God's unchanging love 4:19.

We cannot love God and love others rightly if our doctrine is not right. Attention to the truth of God is crucial is we are going to express and experience of the love of God. These then are the marks of God's love in the believer's life:

Living through and around the cross
Overcoming anything
Validation by the Spirit
Expressed in sound doctrine

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