God is Love

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.

1 John 4:7-12, 15-16

Here John teaches us about love. This is what we learn:

  1. God is love.
  2. Love comes from God.
  3. Loving others is a sign that we know God.
  4. God showed His love for us by sending His Son Jesus, that we might live through Him.
  5. Our love for God is a response to His love for us. He loved us first.
  6. Out of response to God’s love for us, we should love one another.
  7. God’s definition of love is this: Jesus came and died for us.
  8. The fullness of love is displayed in Jesus’s death and resurrection. Without this at the center, love becomes defined by our own preferences and selfishness.
  9. It is our acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God that allows God to come and live in us and allows us to live in God’s love.
  10. Our identity is rooted in God’s love for us (not our performance for Him).

What is clear from this passage is that there is no separation between God’s love and Jesus. We can’t somehow abstractly talk about the fact that “God is love” without also mentioning that “Jesus is Lord” and that Jesus is the “Son of God.” All of this is intricately woven together. Any attempts to separate talk of God’s love from talk of Jesus immediately depart from the biblical definition of love.

There is also this tendency, especially in progressive circles, to remove “God is love” from the context of this whole passage. Likewise, there is a tendency to remove “God is love” from the other New Testament descriptions of God. For example:

  1. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16)
  2. God is holy (1 Peter 1:16; Psalm 99:5,9; Rev 4:8)
  3. God is light (1 John 1:15; John 1:4-5)
  4. God is good (Mark 10:18; Psalm 34:8)
  5. God is faithful (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Thess 3:3)
  6. God is just (1 John 1:9; Hebrews 6:10; Isaiah 61:8)

This list could continue but I think we get the point. In God, these attributes never conflict. Does God bring love to the unloved? Yes. He also brings holiness to the impure parts of our lives. He brings light to the darkness of our lives. He brings goodness to the evil parts of our lives. He is faithful when we are unfaithful (2 Timothy 2:13). He brings justice to the injustices of our lives.

If we want God to love us but we don’t want His holiness, goodness, and light to purify us, then we want some of God but not all of God. It is partial surrender. It is half-hearted faith. He absolutely loves us. God is love. And He loves us enough to want us to get free from our sinful lifestyles that damage our soul. God is holy. God is light. God is just. God is love.

The Fog of Unforgiveness

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

1 John 2:9-11

John reveals here the bad fruit of living in unforgiveness. Unforgiveness leads to resentment, and resentment to bitterness. Bitterness creates a breeding ground for hate. This is why living a lifestyle of forgiveness is absolutely essential for those who follow Jesus.

We forgive because we have been forgiven. When someone hurts us, there is a relational indebtedness that occurs. There is a feeling that they “owe” us. Forgiveness is choosing not to hold onto that debt. It is not saying that what they did was okay. Just the opposite. Forgiveness is saying that what they did was not okay and yet, because we’ve been forgiven, we will release the debt and cancel the indebtedness. Jesus taught us this in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35.

From this parable we learn that Jesus has forgiven us way more than what He is asking us to forgive. The debt that has been canceled for us is way more than the debt we are canceling for others. We also learn that living in unforgiveness leads to our life being tormented by the enemy. John is echoing that reality here in this passage of 1 John.

Unforgiveness, which eventually turns into hate, causes us to walk around in darkness. We lose the ability to see reality clearly. Everything gets filtered through the dark lenses of hate, bitterness, and resentment. When we live in unforgiveness, we lose our ability to dream about our future because we are stuck in the past. The chains of hate are shackling our life to the person who hurt us, and we find ourselves unable to move forward. Forgiveness is the only thing that will break that chain.

I wonder how many people who say, “I don’t know where I am going in life,” don’t need to “find themselves” but instead need to forgive someone who hurt them. They wander and meander in life and can’t figure out why. Maybe John is telling us one possible reason. Maybe they don’t know where they are going because the darkness has blinded them. Maybe darkness has been given permission to invade their sight because they were unwilling to forgive and the fog of hate clouds their future.

In The Light

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life…

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:1, 5-7

Once again we see that the message we receive in the books of the New Testament are not speculation about Jesus. What we are reading are the eyewitness accounts of those who “heard,” “have seen,” “looked at,” and “touched” Jesus Himself.

The message that John is proclaiming is one that he heard from Jesus and now is relaying to us. What is that message? God is light; in him there is no darkness. There is no imperfection. There is no lack of justice or lack of love. There is no darkness at all.

Having fellowship with this kind of God means that we too must walk in the light. We too must live out the truth. And when we stay in the light, two beautiful things happen.

First, we have fellowship with one another. There is a unity that results from purity. There is a community that is born out of holiness. Walking in the light not only connects us intimately with the Father, but it begins to connect us with others who are walking in the light. We become the family of God. We become true brothers and sisters in Christ.

We too often think “personal sin” has no effect on anyone but ourselves. But we see here that sin, even when it is so-called “private,” has communal ramifications. Infection in one part of the Body, when not addressed, spreads to the rest of the body. Sin brings division.

The second thing that happens when we walk in the light is that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. Here John mixes his metaphors, but we get the picture. Light cleanses and purifies. The longer we stay in the light, walk in the light, live in the light the more different areas of our life get cleaned out. Layer by layer the Holy Spirit restores and heals. Room by room the light of Christ exposes the moldy areas and lets fresh air in.

There are people who do “good things” who are walking in darkness. Walking in darkness is about being out of step with the Holy Spirit and heading in the opposite direction of Christ. It’s a lack of surrender. It is a self-directed, self-sufficient, self-absorbed life. Walking in darkness is about the trajectory of a person’s life.

We can’t claim to have fellowship with God, intimacy with God, friendship with God and continue to walk in darkness. Those two realities are incompatible. Walking in the light doesn’t mean we are perfect. We can walk in the light and make mistakes. We simply recognize our sin or error, ask forgiveness, repent, get up, and keep walking. Walking in the light is about moving in the direction of the light, not about being perfect. It’s about keeping in step with the Spirit and letting the Light guide our steps.

He Will Lift You Up

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-10

I have found this to be true. When we draw near to God in private times of worship, prayer, and scripture reading, the Lord will draw near to us. We come to Him with honesty, confessing our sin and seeking His forgiveness. We come to Him grieving the latest experience of loss, and we cry out to Him.

There is something powerful that happens when we cry before the Lord. Maybe we’ve faced a loss, a disappointment, a failure, a struggle of some kind. Maybe we’re confused or just exhausted by it all. When we humble ourselves and cry out to Him, there is an exchange that happens in our hearts. Our tears become like little drops of prayer. And God answers each one with a provision of His comfort and grace.

Jesus steps in, puts His arm around us, and pours His love into our hearts as the tears pour out of our eyes. We begin to feel the heaviness dissipate. Light breaks through the clouds. We can feel the joy start to invade the darkness. Hope seeps in. We feel a lightness on our shoulders where there was only burden before. By getting low and lower still, God is able to lift us up.

We leave our time with the Lord different than when we entered. We’re ready once again to face the day and face the battle. Our hope and strength has been renewed.

He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

Filled with Light

Paul reminds the Ephesians that they “are now light in the Lord,” and so he tells them, “Live as children of the light”(Ephesians 5:8). He then lists what living in the light is and what it isn’t.

In order to live as light:

  1. find out what pleases the Lord (verse 10)
  2. have nothing to do with deeds of darkness (verse 11)
  3. expose deeds of darkness (verse 11 & 13)
  4. be careful how you live–not as unwise but as wise (verse 15)
  5. make the most of every opportunity (verse 16)
  6. do not be foolish (verse 17)
  7. understand what the Lord’s will is (verse 17)
  8. do not get drunk (verse 18)
  9. be filled with the Spirit (verse 18)
  10. speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (verse 19)
  11. sing and make music in your heart to the Lord (verse 19)
  12. always give thanks (verse 20)

This list is directed to those who have already been made new, who Paul already called “light in the Lord.” Paul is teaching Christians how to walk out their faith.

That’s what makes #9 so interesting. He commands (with a passive imperative) those who already have the Holy Spirit to “be filled with the Spirit.” Passive imperatives show up throughout Scripture. It is a command (that’s the imperative part) that you have to let someone else do to you (that’s the passive part). So, for instance, “be baptized” is a passive imperative. You are commanded to do it, but it is something someone else has to do to you.

The command to “be filled” is the same. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit but the actual filling is something the Lord has to do. In water baptism, our job is to position ourselves–make ourselves available–to surrender to the other person baptizing us. The same is true for being filled with the Spirit. We surrender our lives in such a way that we are in a posture to receive an increase of Holy Spirit as He fills out our whole life with His Presence.

This command lets us know unequivocally that just having the Spirit is not the same as being filled with the Spirit. According to Scripture, they are two distinct situations. And I would suggest that the reason much of the American Church is riddled with sin, living powerless lives, is because many, if not most, are not filled with the Spirit.

We were only taught that we needed the Holy Spirit to be saved. We were never taught that to walk in holiness, purity, and freedom from sin we needed to be filled with the Spirit. We were never taught that in order to walk in the miraculous power of God we had to be filled with the Spirit.

Just as salvation is an event that happens (we were saved) and an ongoing process (we are being saved), being filled with the Spirit is both an event that happens (often separate from salvation) and an ongoing process. Like a waterfall that reveals a wider section of the river, being filled with the Spirit is both that moment of being deluged by the waterfall, and it is the process of traveling down the new section of the river.