Apr. 20, 2018

Arriving At Love

1 Corinthians 13:5 NASB. (Love)… “does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.”

Dare we say at the outset that love is not reactive but instead proactive, regenerative, and creative? And divinely so! Yet how do we arrive at love, so as to love as Jesus loved?

Love is not just a feeling of affection on a human level - where I love my spouse or I love my dog. It is also not the sense of “falling in love” with someone, or even falling in love with an ideology or religion. So let’s stop right here for a moment to realize how easily we can be fooled by a feeling of euphoria, even about abstract thought. For some this is quite attractive.

Yet how many people are convinced that this “high” is “proof” that the Holy Spirit is active, who are drawn into a religion (be it “Christian” or otherwise), simply because they are drawn to what they hold as an ideal, fueled by seeing their current religious situation as not what they’d want it to be? Beware of such moments, for the devil lurks at every window of opportunity to lead us astray into falsehoods which demolish the clear and simple gospel of devotion to Christ, and especially Christ’s devotion to us! (This does not include of course the possibility of leaving an apostate congregation or denomination.)

The practice of Jesus’ kind of love is what Scripture calls us to as the ultimate. This requires a prayer life including opening oneself up to the searchlight of the Holy Spirit - the very presence of the Great Physician Himself - Who speaks the Word of forgiveness. With this He delivers us little by little from what lurks within - uncharted darkness that largely characterizes our interior being. As this goes on, Love that is in Christ alone shines forth in ever increasing magnitude as this darkness is dispelled. Out with the bad; in with the Good, so to speak. 

We may not even realize that such darkness is lurking within us, holding us in some aspect spiritually captive! When we see it for what it is, and how it so mercilessly keeps us in the dark, there is nothing for it but - by the power of the Holy Spirit - to surrender ourself to the Lord’s provision for our salvation and the restoration of His likeness in us. In so doing let us hear Him impart to us, and receive, the priceless proclamation and command, “Thy sins are forgiven thee. Arise; go and sin no more!” 

This “treatment” of receiving forgiveness may have to be sought multiple times throughout life in various applications to the “sin within” (original sin), which to say the least is an understatement. So it behooves us to pray according to Psalm 19:12 (NLT), “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults.” 

All of these lurking interior conditions prohibit the manifestation of Christ Love in and through us. God alone by His own infinite love must remove them. Our part (relating as sin sick patient to the Great Physician) is to admit to this and to receive His “treatment” - by grace through faith - which has already been created for us in Christ Jesus: forgiveness, renewal, and restoration. This is the goal of Confession and Absolution. 

We return then to the eye opening request in Psalm 19, this time including verse 13 (Amplified Version): “Who can discern his lapses and errors? Clear me from hidden [and unconscious] faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I shall be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of transgression.” (Highlighted emphasis mine.)

On a personal note - in offering up the essence of this prayer to God - I have begun to perceive where I am impatient (far too much of the time), unkind (a lot more than I want to be), and jealous (due to thinking that much of life has passed me by but has been granted to someone else), or feeling wronged in a myriad of ways which may not even be true or real. Bragging and arrogance may also cloak themselves beneath a facade of colorful pretenses and images of ourself we’d like the world to see. We all wear to some degree or another this thin veneer that is so very easily scratched! Yet if this facade is to be put off and the humility of Christ put on, then being a “put on” must be put off. How so?

This reality can happen, as our sanctification must be a continuation flowing out of our justification: “by grace through faith lest anyone should boast”. Per Ephesians 2:8.

Religious rites and rituals - whether on the one hand extreme with complex liturgies, or the other hand extreme in the direction of the most simplistic praise choruses followed by sermons - are never to become substitutes for our “metaphysical” reality in Christ Jesus. They ought to point to that which already is in Him! Let’s repeat that: Religious rites and rituals are never to become substitutes for our “metaphysical” reality in Christ Jesus. They must point to that which already is in Him! If this is not understood, then we wind up as the ancient Jews, mistaking rituals and procedures as substitutes for relationship with the living God. 

This is not how He intended it, even though the Lord Himself carefully prescribed every detail of ritual for those days, from the layout of temple and tabernacle, to procedures of sacrifice and worship. Why then did He go to all that trouble? It was not so that people would fall in love with religion and rituals, mistaking the forms for reality, but so that when they saw and heard the message of the Messiah and the Gospel enacted in the rituals, they would perceive it and fall in love with Him!

For it was His proclamation of old - through sacrifice, ritual, word, and song - that God was revealing His saving, transforming love through Jesus Christ. God, Who is Spirit and Creator, revealed His Way of Love for us, physical and human, received  by grace through faith. He was revealing through these forms the Way to transcend our fallenness and defilement through the remission of sins by the application of forgiveness so that we can love as Jesus loves. 

This is, always has been, and ever shall be so, only through the blood of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Redemption and salvation are by Jesus Christ alone, Who has ransomed us from sin, death, and the authority of the evil one! He has made us once more His own, “that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. This is most certainly true.” (From The 2nd Article, Luther’s Small Catechism.)

Let us never fall prey to getting lost in ritual! It is story. It is communication of the drama of salvation - enacted, spoken, and sung. But it is not an end in itself, no matter how simple, or contrastingly ornate or beautiful (with potential toward burdensome works). Let us relate to it as it is - visible, auditory,  and participatory “word” - a tool revealing Christ, pointing to Christ, in all His splendor and authority, in Whose already finished redemption is the extension of the forgiveness that brings about the remission of our sins.

I’ve often prayed about what forgiveness really means, wanting to know and to understand this working of the Lord. It has taken many years of asking, seeking, and knocking. It seems a simple thing to many people, but not for me. What has been revealed is but a fraction of what is to come!

How so? The proclamation of the forgiveness of sins is the medicine that brings about the remission of sins - the inherent, congenital, terminal condition which is upon fallen humankind. This means everyone! This proclamation is God’s grace directed to all who are fallen under this condition, abiding in death and darkness. Forgiveness is announced, for example, in liturgy, upon confession of our sinfulness. How receptive are we to what we are hearing? Do we receive it and participate in it in life?

The Spirit, through the truth proclaimed, must “overshadow” every human soul contained in man who is physical being. (Just as Christ was physically produced in Mary through the Spirit, so He is to be spiritually reproduced in us!) Forgiveness is the “axe” of the power of the Word of God being laid to the “root” of the sinful condition within man, for it cannot exist in the same space as the Light of God. Simultaneously, with each blow of the axe, a soul is set free from sin, self (ego/pride), and Satan’s power. The Holy Spirit, every time forgiveness is pronounced and received, makes His inroads - destroying the old regime and supplanting and replacing it with the Kingdom of Heaven. 

We are God’s “inheritance” in and under the Lordship of Christ Jesus, precious to Him beyond imagining! This is what forgiveness restores to us - the right to become the sons of God! What a marvel! With this “declaration” comes transformation - to be made Christlike through the Blood of the Lamb! We could even say “sublimation” - not in the Freudian sense - but by the spiritual sense of Holy Spirit’s work of elevating us through purification, converting something inferior (due to the Fall) into something of highest worth to our Heavenly Father.

This is not theology only, but the reality into which we are called to participate in Christ Jesus. Are we, or are we not, new creations in Him? That is the question. We become new creations as we are born again of water and the Spirit. But as all newborns, we must grow in grace and knowledge of God through Christ.

It is the action of the Unseen Almighty’s love that never gives up on mankind or individual human beings. Purification means that through much tribulation we enter the kingdom of heaven (and the kingdom of heaven enters us!) Darkness must be supplanted by the Light of Christ within us. Yet it is never by the hand of man - who is the recipient of this work. Seeing our shortcomings and where they will take us, there’s nothing for it but to surrender fully to the all consuming Love of Christ under the direction of the Holy Spirit and receive forgiveness.

What anciently rooted itself in the race of humanity through deception is such an insidious thing that it cannot be approached in the power of humanistic self effort. We are no match for the adversary. This sin condition is of such an altogether “alien” Luciferian construct and magnitude of being, that it is only by way of forgiveness through the Blood of Jesus Christ that there is sufficient power against it! Let us never underestimate the value of forgiveness!

We see this exemplified in the Old Testament accounts of Israel coming against the giants who ruled the Promised Land. There was no natural strength against them to be found in the efforts or weaponry of Israel on it own. Overtaking and conquering them could only be accomplished at the Word of the Lord. When Israel was faithful to the Word of the Lord, the occupational forces were routed. It was the only way.

What a blow to self effort is this realization! This has to be the revelation of Paul to the Church: it is not, it never was, nor shall it ever be by our own might or power; but this “regime change” within us must be strictly by the power of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Word of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. This is how we not only receive forgiveness, but are transformed and the likeness of God in us is restored (That likeness is love!). Where Peter was given the revelation of the identity and therefore the authority of Jesus Christ, Paul was given the Word of revelation on how His kingdom is to be built upon the foundation, the Rock! And unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it. (Per Psalm 127:1)

It is so easy for human ego to become enamored of offering God religious works, and this easily morphs into religious pride which always stands like a mountain in the way of the all-sufficiency provided by God in Christ. When that mountain exalts itself, it stands in the way of Christ's love and likeness being formed in us. When man thinks he has a better “religious” way, ironically all that he does is to shake his fist in God's face as he sings, “I do it my way.”

May we ever be wary, diligent, and vigilant about the deception of religious forms replacing the reality of the substance that belongs to Christ alone and our relationship to Him built on that. Certainly religious forms can be beautiful and intriguing drama presenting the salvation story, but if they supplant it as reality - and this happens often and easily since idolatry lurks in the hearts of men - let us ever speak to that mountain and say, “Be thou cast down and leveled never to rise again. Stand down and take your place!" 

So be it according to Your word, O Lord God, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ all powerful, all sufficient name. Amen.

PS: One would think that the prophetic unfoldments circa 70 A.D. should have been sufficient evidence of the message to the churches about God’s dealing with such devices. Yet man continues to substitute ritual for the reality of relationship with Him, in the face of the cry from the cross, “It is finished!” Let us surrender ourselves to God for forgiveness and repentance of having substituted any other way that supplants His Way through Christ Jesus! Amen.

Respectfully submitted, Soli Deo Gloria!