God and his Gospel are more than a good idea, more than a concept that, when grasped, can change your circumstances. The Gospel will transform your life. If it doesn’t change you at the fundamental level of your beliefs, your values, and your motivation for living, then it is little more than a tool you’re hoping will make your life more comfortable.
The very first reality that gets turned upside down by the Gospel is our understanding of love. Love has been so tragically twisted through movies, music, abuse, and neglect that we can’t hardly recognize it anymore. Love has become this hazy idea which we fall into … and out of. Love must be earned and we love deeply those we deem worthy, as long as they remain worthy. Love is passionate and flighty, it is fragile — a romantic idea dependent upon our emotion in a given moment. Love is almost always equated with some form of sex. It has been grossly perverted and corrupted. The Gospel turns this completely on its head.
In the Gospel we see people (all of us, every one, to a man and to a woman) who are unworthy of the love of a holy, righteous, and almighty God. God had given mankind form and purpose and meaning and value; he had given us everything we could possibly need and yet we accused his heart, doubted his goodness, and sought more for ourselves, putting ourselves in the place of God … and we still do, daily. Though God is well within his right to wash his hands of us and leave us suffer the consequences of our selfish, short-sighted lives he did not. “Yet God shows his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Did you catch that? While we were in the heart and heat of our rebellion, God made the ultimate sacrifice for our sake.
Love means sacrifice. Love is a giving of ourselves for the welfare of another. We want to find who is worthy of our love. God, in perfect love, makes us worthy through his sacrifice. All the Old Testament serves as a foreshadowing of God’s work to redeem mankind through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sacrificial system was a temporary fix, but the (life) blood of animals is not equal to the life of those created in the image of God and so man must die for man. Since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” there is no man who does not himself need redeeming, so God himself took on the form of man, Jesus Christ, and died as a man for mankind. People of other religions, like Muslims and Hindus, have a really hard time with this. Their gods must be appeased through works, service and offerings. They would never lower themselves to man’s place and so responsibility is on them to rise up and get to their god. The truth is, One True God has come to us, Emmanuel, “God among us.” Love makes the sacrifice.
In our lives, love is most often about what we stand to gain. When a marriage ends and one or the others says, “I just don’t love them anymore,” what they are really saying is, “I’m just not getting what I want out of this relationship anymore.” We will show kindness to others in the name of love, as long as we are getting what we want from the arrangement whether that is kindness, respect, or sex. Should that change, should the other “transgress” our standard and expectation, the love ceases to flow. God redefines this, in fact, he condemns it and anyone who lives this way: “As I have loved you, so must you love one another.” “No greater love is there than this, that a man lay his life down for his friends.” “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar and the truth is not in him.” “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God.” “And I will say to them on that day (of judgment), ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!'”
Not only has God given us the ultimate example of true, life-giving love, but he has also described it to us. Even non-church going people are familiar with, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Notice, that there is not an emotion on the list. Every one of these attributes is an attitude we choose to hold. Our problem is, we do not have the capacity to love like this apart from God, the Source of love. We cannot give what we have not received, and God has lovingly told us what love is, and has showed us powerfully what love is, and he has called us to follow him in this way.
The reason God has shown us this amazing love and challenged our thinking about love is so that his unfailing love will become the motivation for everything we do. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” The point is, unless love is the motivation for our lives, even the most religious things we can do are meaningless. God says that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” This is because all our good deeds, apart from faith in and love for God, are done for selfish motives by virtue of our own standard of good and bad/right and wrong. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our mind through the power of the Gospel so that we can understand the nature of true love, and live by it. In a world where love is either perverted, or growing cold (see Matthew 24:4-14). Living in true love will be the mark of those who belong to the family of God. “By this all men will know you are my (Jesus’) disciples, by the way you love one another.” And living in true love will reveal God a world that desperately needs him.