Hi everybody! This is Ken not Terri. No I am not trying to crash the “girly girls” blog cult! I just had a very long (and maybe thought provoking) tidbit I thought I’d share with my sisters (and anyone else who dares to enter the “land of female blogging”).
Wednesday night I heard a brother stand before our church and cry out for Christians to begin loving each other as Christ loved us. He suggested that we allow our lives to be “transformed” by the power of God which in turn would allow us to engage in true and connected love relationships. I don’t think anyone would disagree with his petition. We are called to love one another, but what does that really mean? How does this “transformation” come about in a Christian’s life? I believe it begins and ends with the word grace.
The following is my feeble attempt to link this idea of having a transformed life with one of the most misunderstood words in the bible. That word of course being grace. If at first it seems that I am mindlessly rambling, stick with it. I promise I am actually trying to bring together a rational and organized thought.
When we love each other we fulfill God’s law and prove our love for Christ.
John 14:15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." 22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" 23 Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.
John 15:9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.
Verse 24 of John chapter 14 is particularly important because it makes it clear that we will not obey the Lord’s teachings unless we have come to love Him!
Another important tie in with this is found in Matthew 22. Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
So, what does all of this mean? Let’s break it down.
1. Jesus says if we love Him, we will obey His commandments.
2. What are those commandments? In John 15 verse 12 He says His command is this: “Love each other as I have loved you.”
3. Thus, we prove our love for Jesus by loving others the way He loved us.
4. Yet, Jesus makes it clear that we will not do this if we don’t love Him. (John 14:24)
5. This is made clear when we look at Matthew 22:37-40. There is the reason the Lord said, “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. Why does the Lord list this as being the “first and greatest” commandment? Because, if this is not the case in our lives, we have no ability to fulfill the second greatest commandment which is, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' John 15:5 says, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”
6. Thus, we will not (and cannot) obey the commandment to love others (the way Christ loved us) if we do not love God first. It is impossible!
So, the question is, Do we love God? Are we really at the place in our lives where we are really able to love Him?
Although this may sound harsh, I think the answer to that question would be no for most of us. Before you “freak out”, stay with me! I don’t think this is due to a lack of appreciation for what the Lord has done. We see the cross and cognitively recognize the great sacrifice God has provided on our behalf. Yet, I really believe most of us simply lack a deep and committed love for God. So why is that? Why is it that most of us have reduced this glorious redemption to a system of “hoop jumping” and feeble attempts at pleasing our God with good behavior. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, most of us live as if we believe serving Christ means doing the good and running from the bad. At the end of the day, we tally up the good versus the bad. If the good stack trumps the bad, then we can rest easy knowing we have appeased our Lord. If not, we must deal with the furrowed brow of a disappointed Father who grows weary of our constant failure!
Every now and again, I have these imaginary conversations with the Lord where I play both parts. These generally happen after a “bad” day or some grievous failure has taken place in my life. They tend to sound something like this: God: “Well Ken I see you’ve wasted another day that I blessed you with!” Ken: “Yes Lord. I didn’t do very well today at all.” God: “When are you going to learn boy!” Ken: “I know I’m a complete failure Lord.” God: “Well, I just want you to know that I’ll still love you because of Jesus, but I really am sick of your train wreck of a life. You better straighten up and fast mister before I have to send some nasty discipline to do it for you!” Ken: “Yes Lord, I’m so, so sorry! I’ll try to do better. Maybe I can witness to someone or something tomorrow. That will make you happy. Right Lord?” God: …………(silence). Ken: “Won’t that be good Lord?” God: ……………(continued silence).
This imaginary conversation generally ends with me walking away believing that I will need to live really well for the next few days so that my relationship with the Lord can be restored.
At this point you are probably thinking one of two thoughts. Either you are amazed that you are not the only psychotic person in the world, or you feel sorry for Ken Richmond and his apparent psychosis! Maybe it’s not quite that black and white, but I do believe many of us tend to “feel” as if we must earn God’s love, acceptance, and blessings. The question is why?
That is such a very important question because without its answer we will continue on what we should call “the performance treadmill”. What is the performance treadmill? Well, it is a sick device of torture we have created that forces us to endlessly chase after the embrace of the Father with NO hope of ever really arriving at our destination. The funny thing about treadmills is that they require a lot of work and movement but never transport us anywhere. They allow us to burn off that which we do not want to keep, but keep us in the same spot. Now, if you’re wanting to drop some pounds that’s not such a bad thing. But, if you’re wanting to drop some pain, guilt, fear, or any of the other “stuff” created by our propensity to sin, it’s a complete waste of time and energy. The truth is sin and it’s effects are just far beyond our ability to “burn off”. No amount of hard work and sweat will ever rid us of it. God knew that and provided Jesus. He dealt with a problem we could never have dealt with.
If that’s the case, then why do we continue to try and earn God’s love and acceptance through our own performance? Well here it is folks. FINALLY! Here’s why I think that sad cycle continues in each of our lives. WE SIMPLY DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE GRACE!
SO, what does that have to do with all that stuff about loving God and loving others and having a “transformed” life? It has everything to do with that and our own ability to live a Galatians 5:1 life.
Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Let me ask you a question. Does that describe how you feel? Do you really feel free? Does that word completely describe your Christian experience? From the time you wake up in the morning until you enter the bed at night, do you live each moment feeling free? Not just head knowledge, but a heartfelt, “breath of fresh air” kind of freedom. If not, you do not understand grace. Let me summarize.
1. If you do not understand grace, you will continue trying to earn God’s favor on the “performance treadmill”.
2. If you are running on the performance treadmill, God’s love for you is based on how well you are living the Christian life (hoop jumping).
3. If God’s love (and “like”) of you is based on you and your performance, you will never feel free. Why? Because you and I fail constantly.
4. If you never feel free, you will grow weary bearing the burden of your own guilt, sin, and shame.
5. Thus, God becomes an angry task master who constantly demands that which you can never fully deliver.
6. If God is viewed (even some of the time) as an angry task master, how can you ever truly trust or feel love for Him.
7. If you can’t fully trust or love the Lord, you won’t obey His teachings (John 14:24)
8. If you won’t obey His teachings, you’ll never be able to love others as Christ loved us.
9. All of this makes for a dead, disconnected, and lifeless church. Buildings full of people unsure of how to love God or each other.
10. If that is all we are left with, then we must find some kind of way to justify living this Christian life. So, we climb on the performance treadmill hoping to create “something” with a God we don’t know how to love or even relate to.
The end result: religion.
Is that what Christ died for? Does that sound like the kind of life Jesus talks about “life and life more abundant” (John 10:10)? If there is to be any hope for the Church, we must find and embrace the truth of who we are in Christ and how we are loved by Him. Let me encourage you to pursue a study of who you are in Christ and how God really sees you. As we begin to better understand and embrace the awesome love and grace offered to us by our heavenly Father through Jesus, we will surely begin to see not only transformed lives, but a transformed church!
Sorry this was soooooooo long!