Compelled by the Love of God – 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

How easy it is to let fear dominate our lives…

What am I going to do if I do not find a spouse? What am I going to do if I don’t get into grad school? What am I going to do if they fire me? What am I going to do if the economy goes into a recession and there are no jobs? What will I do if I contract a terminal illness?

Jesus wants to free people like us who are in bondage to fear. Biblically speaking, the opposite of fear is not faith, but love. 1 John 4:18 says: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…”

Perfect love drives out fear…

First of all : How do you know that God’s loves you? Secondly, in what ways does the love of Christ transform us?

I.       THE PROOFS OF GOD’S LOVE – How do we know that God loves us?

A. First, what has God done FOR us in Christ?

  1. God demonstrates His own love for us by sending Jesus to die in our place (v.15c) “who for their sakes…died. 1 John 3:16 – This is how we know what love is…Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. When did he do this? Not when we had our act together, but while we were still sinners…ungodly.
  2. God demonstrates His own love for us by raising Jesus from the dead (v.15c) “who for their sakes…was raised.”

B. Secondly, what has God done IN us through Christ? This love of God in Christ has brought about three miracles in your life…

God demonstrates His own love for us by giving us a new heart. NEW HEART – Regeneration (v.16-17) Do you believe that you are a new creature in Christ, namely that all your sins are forgiven and that you are totally accepted by Your Heavenly Father?

God demonstrates His own love for us by giving us a new peace. NEW PEACE – Reconciliation (vv.18-20) Reconciliation takes place when two parties, estranged from each other, are brought back into a harmonious relationship through the efforts of a mediator. Reconciliation supposes a quarrel, or breach of friendship. Sin made a breach in our broken relationship with God. The heart of the sinner is filled with enmity against God, and God is justly offended with the sinner. Yet, behold, there may be a reconciliation; the offended Majesty of heaven is willing to be reconciled. Relish our friendship with God. Do you believe that you are reconciled to God and you are now at peace with Him because Jesus paid the debt of sin you owed and the debt you were powerless to pay?

God demonstrates His own love for us by giving us a new record. NEW RECORD – Righteousness21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Do you believe that you possess the righteousness of God in Christ and will you quit trying to establish your own track record of goodness to earn God’s favor?

Luther: “Anyone who does not understand this righteousness or cherish it in the heart and conscience will continually be buffeted by fears and depression.”

Luther writes to a monk in distress about his sins: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him and say “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not” (Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p.110).

II.     THE POWER OF GOD’S LOVEIn what ways does the love of God in Christ compel us?

The word synch in verse 14 means to compel, constrain. It implies pressure but not so much the pressure to control but the pressure that causes action. The Greek implies to compress forcibly the energies into one channel.

NEW MOTIVATION FOR LIFE – The love of God liberates us from selfishness and compels us to center our lives on Jesus. There are certain tendencies that cannot and will not persist in the heart of a believer who personally experiences the love of God. The cross of Christ stands as a continual rebuke to our self-centered, pleasure-oriented lifestyle. Christ’s self-sacrifice had a particular goal in mind. He died that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (v. 15). Selfishness cannot persist in the heart of the Christian who understands the love of God.

We should not make ourselves, but Christ, the end of our living and actions: and it was one end of Christ’s death to cure us of this self-love, and to excite us always to act under the commanding influence of his love.[1]

LOVE SO AMAZING, SO DIVINE…Isaac Watts…

NEW OBJECTIVE IN LIFE. The love of God liberates us from futility and emptiness and gives us a new purpose. It compels us to give ourselves fully to His cause – communicating the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). Proclaim the good news of reconciliation.

Charles Spurgeon: “Let all who trust in the merit of Messiah’s death be joyful at every remembrance of him, and let their holy gratitude lead them to the fullest consecration to his cause.”

NEW ASSURANCE. The Love of God Offers a Profound Assurance

Listen to the poetic words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who herself knew what it meant to be forsaken. Her parents disowned her when she married Robert Browning. She wrote her parents beautiful poetry and letters of her love for them. Her parents responded after ten years by sending all of her letters back to her in a box all unopened. She took great comfort from Jesus’ cry of being God-forsaken and wrote about it in her poem

Listen to the poetic words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning…

Cowper’s Grave

Yea, once Immanuel’s orphaned cry his universe hath shaken.

It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”

It went up from the Holy’s lips amid his lost creation,

That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation.

[1]Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, 2 Co 5:12. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991.

To What End Does God Love You?

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysica...

John Donne

I’ve been studying over the past several days for our Spring Sermon series entitled “Final Words” from John 13-17 which is Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse.

John 13:1 says: Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

A devotional thought worth serious reflection and meditation comes from the pen of
John Donne from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He writes:

“Those whom God loves,
he loves to the end
and not to their end and their death,
but to His end,
and His end is that
He might love them more.”
– John Donne

Have You Settled the Issue Regarding Your Assurance of Salvation?

Both our struggle with sin and pressures from suffering can unsettle us deeply. The only remedy is to know with equal depth the unbreakable love of God for us in Jesus. Reflecting on Romans will promote a cross-based, Spirit-given assurance of salvation for all believers in spite of sin (8:1-17), suffering (8:18-30) and death (8:31-39).

Here are some encouraging words from saints of old on assurance based upon their study of Romans 8…

Assurance sets a child of God free from a painful kind of bondage. It enables him to feel that the great business of life is a settled business, the great debt is a paid debt, the great disease is a healed disease, and the great work is a finished work; and all other business, diseases, debts and works are then by comparison small.  In this way assurance makes him patient in tribulation, calm during times of grief and sorrow, not afraid of bad news, in every condition content; for it gives him a settledness of heart.
J.C. Ryle

The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us.  In the midst of the clamor, the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts:  ‘Abba, Father.’
Martin Luther

I grasp thy strength, make it mine own, My heart with peace is blest;
I lose my hold, and then comes down, Darkness, and cold unrest.
Let me no more my comfort draw, from my frail hold of thee,
In this alone rejoice with awe, Thy mighty grasp of me.
John Newton

Pastoral Charge for Our Graduating High School Seniors

I want to charge you briefly as we celebrate this milestone in your life. The Apostle Paul pronounces a blessing on all those who follow Jesus in the ancient city of Thessalonica. In it, he offers to them and to you two safe spiritual harbors for a lifetime of meditation and reflection: God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

2 Thessalonians 3:5 says:  May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and the perseverance of Christ.

In some ways, all of you have come a long ways in your particular journey, but, in other ways, you are just beginning. John Bunyan’s in his classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, reminds us that life’s a dangerous journey with many pitfalls, perils and temptations. All of us need safe harbors along the way where we can renew our strength and perspective. Here are two that I want to commend to you: the love of God and the perseverance of Christ.

The text says that the Lord has to direct and guide our hearts into these two things. If this is so, we must assume that our hearts and minds do not naturally gravitate towards them. Left to us, our hearts gravitate towards other loves… the love of self, the love of money, the love of pleasure, the love of independence. All of these other loves turn us in on ourselves and lead us into bondage and have a way of dehumanizing us. The love of God turns us out of ourselves to love and serve others. It liberates us  from the all-consuming self-consciousness and self-absorption that naturally plagues us.

My prayer for each of you is that the Lord would direct and guide your hearts into His love. Part of that directing and guiding is that He would remove all the hindrances that would arrest in you a deep, transformational experience of His love. There are lots of hindrances: The idols of your heart and mine… like people pleasing and valuing the esteem of others more than Christ’s. Many other things can hinder your experience of His love… like friends, family, boyfriends, girlfriends, ideologies, philosophies, hypocrisy in the church, and certainly cultural Christianity.

The Apostle Paul uses that wonderful word for love here called “agape.” Its first use in the New Testament is found in Matthew 24:12. In it, Jesus sadly foretells that in the last days due to abounding iniquity most people’s love for the Lord will grow cold. One of the main ways that you continue growing in your love for the Lord is to remind yourself repeated how much it cost the Lord to love you! This leads to the second safe spiritual harbor along your life’s journey.

Secondly, may the Lord direct your hearts and minds to Christ’s perseverance. Left to us, we grow weary and lose heart and courage. Rather than trying to muster up an ability to endure, let me urge you to actively call to mind all that Christ endured for you… the hostility, animosity, vulgarity, brutality… the death and hell that Jesus endured because of the joy set before him… And lose heart if you can.

Friends will betray you, but He is a friend who sticks closer than any brother or sister. Some of your dreams may not be realized in this life, but God will fulfill His purpose and dream for your life. At least that’s what Psalm 138:8 says! Others may be ashamed to associate with you because you are unashamed in your stand for Christ, but He is not ashamed to call you his brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11). As you consider all that Christ endured for you, you will become a person who endures… a person who is “not swerved from your deliberate purpose and your loyalty to Jesus Christ by even the greatest trials and sufferings” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).

If you’re normal and you are, your journey will involve great trials and great joys. In the midst of both victories and defeats, joys and sorrows, actively call to mind the love of God and the perseverance of Christ on your behalf. You’ll find that you will slowly be transformed into a person who loves deeply and perseveres resolutely. AMEN.

The Lord’s Mercy and The Black Horse of Affliction

In the Fellowship of the Ring, the ominous Nazgul ride into the peaceful Shire on huge black horses pursuing Frodo and the other hobbits looking for the ring of power. This graphic scene portrays what oftentimes happens in our lives: All is peaceful, happy, and simple. Then the black horse of affliction rides into our lives.

Charles Spurgeon writes: Be thankful for the providence which has made you poor, or sick, or sad; for by all this Jesus works the life of your spirit and turns you to Himself. The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our hearts on the black horse of affliction. Jesus uses the whole range of our experience to wean us from earth and woo us to Heaven. Christ is exalted to the throne of Heaven and earth in order that, by all the processes of His providence, He may subdue hard hearts to the gracious softening of repentance.

Let us praise our Lord that He is a God who extracts such mercies out of miseries!’ (from John Flavel) and He will do the same with us.

When we forget this about our Lord, we question, rail against, and complain to the Lord in times of trouble and travail. Why us? Why not us? Let us settle it firmly in our minds, that there is a message from God in every sorrow that befalls us. There are no lessons so powerful as those learned in the school of affliction. “No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous–nevertheless afterward it yields peaceable fruit.” (Heb. 12:11.) The resurrection morning will prove that many of the losses of God’s people were in reality eternal gains.

Young people, how easy it is to consider a long life as an inalienable right and guaranteed certainty! You never know what a day may bring forth. The strongest and fairest are cut down and carried away in a few hours. Six University of Alabama students died in the deadly tornado of April 27th. Are you personally prepared to meet God? Are you putting off doing business with Christ? Are you living like you are ready to depart at any moment?

Why is it that I can confidently assure you that the Lord’s mercy will arrive in your time of affliction? Jesus was afflicted to end all affliction. Jesus died so that death would die. The prophet Isaiah reminds us: “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.”