Monday, June 23, 2014

BELOVED


 
Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.– Romans 5:5

I had an unusual question asked of me a few days ago.  The question was “What drew you to Christianity?”  It was unusual only because I’d never thought about it.  I was raised in church, prayers said before every meal and at bedtime, and knew the stories of the Bible as a small child.  God has been part of my life all my life, and my salvation through faith came at only 8 ½ years old. 

But after thinking about the question, the answer was simple.  “It was the love, His timeless love”, I said.  There has never been a time when God did not love me, even though I didn’t always love Him back. 

Even from before the world was created, God loved me.  Revelation 13:8 says that even before the world was created, God had prepared Jesus, who was there when it was created, to be the sacrifice for my sins.  I often think about how Jesus must have felt when Mt. Calvary was raised from the surface of the earth to be a mountain, knowing what would happen there when He came to earth as our Savior.  But I’m told in John 1:1-5 that nothing was made without Him.  He loved me then, and He loves me now.

God’s love shines as early as Genesis 3.  Adam and Eve chose to sin, to disobey God.  Sin is always a choice.  But even after they had rebelled, God in His great love for mankind, did two amazing things.  He said in verse 22-24 “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—  therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.  God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden not as punishment, but to prevent future damage to our broken relationship with Him.  I say “our” because their sin was something we inherited.  Romans 5:12 says “just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”.  It was a contagion in our blood.

We had already eaten of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was sin.  But we had not eaten of the second tree named in the garden, which was the Tree of Live.  Had we eaten of that tree, we would have lived forever - but lived in sin.  We had to be able to die so that Christ could rescue us from a sinful lifestyle where we would be eternally separated from God.  God is holy, and holiness does not have fellowship with evil.  Psalms 5:4 says “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.”
 We could not know God as our Father had we eaten of the Tree of Life, so he put cherubim with flaming swords around it, and cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, away from the tree.  He wanted us to have eternal life – but never wanted us to have it apart from Him.    

And there we were – separated from God through our own selfish desire to do what we wanted instead of what He wanted.  That’s all sin is – our own selfish desires. James 1:14-15 says “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”  

But even before Adam and Eve, God had already set the steps of Jesus’ life to lead Him to the cross, to gain victory over death.  If Jesus didn’t die, no one could be saved.  He had to lay down His life (John 10:17-18), and then take it up again in victory after His own death in order for us to have victory in our own death by accepting Him as our sacrifice.  Jesus knew it, and said in John 14:6 “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  That included Adam and Eve. 

John 1:4 says that “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  That Life was not human life was we know it with a beginning and an end.  Jesus’ life was eternal, because He was first and foremost, God’s son.  His blood was pure because there was no sin, and being born into human flesh didn’t change Him.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says “For He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Those that died before Jesus was born were loved as well.  God didn’t give up on them until they rejected Jesus, and yes, they all had an opportunity to do that in Hades.  1 Peter 3:19-20 says that “He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited”.  They were captive because the world still remains, and death and Hades have not yet been thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).  When that happens, life as we all know it is over.  And as the next verse says “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

But for those that had died before Jesus was born, God had mercy.  Ephesians 4:8-9 says “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?  How many people do you know that would go to Hades to save you?  God’s love has no boundaries.

God still has mercy on us today, allowing us to believe in Jesus with a faith that He Himself provides. Ephesians 2:8 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves.  He not only provides the sacrifice, Jesus, but provides in us the ability to believe in faith and receive His righteousness as atonement for our own sin.

God’s love is so unlike anything we can compare it to.  It’s not like the love of a Dad, because even that has its moments when forgiveness isn’t offered.  It’s not like the love of a spouse, because that kind of love has boundaries and we can by our own actions cause that love to die.  Our mothers loved some of us before we were born, but others did not have the love of a mother at all.

God’s love is timeless, unchangeable, and unfailing.  He loved us before we were born, as Ephesians 1:4-6 says “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,  having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,  to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. We are BELOVED. Oh, get a grip on that! BELOVED, which means darling, dearest, most precious, adored, much loved, treasured, prized, and even admired!

And even when we messed up, broke the rules, and sinned, God still loved us in spite of ourselves as Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  He didn’t wait for us to come gravelling to Him, on bended knee, begging for forgiveness.  He just offered it in hopes we would accept it.

Here’s the reason I’m a Christian in a nutshell.  A year from now, 5 years, 10 years, when I die, I don’t know how many people that love me today will still love me.  But I have a Father in Heaven, and a brother in Jesus Christ, who I know will love me not only till I die, but long after that, and always welcome me into their presence.  And because they love me, I love them.  I cherish time spent with them, though in this life only in Spirit.  And I look forward to death for the sole reason that I will be able to be in their presence and see them face to face.  

Long distance relationship?  Not really.  He took care of that by giving me His Spirit to live inside me, poured out into my own heart.  Yes, we are that intimately intertwined.  Why? Because I am His BELOVED.  

Now, tell me, where else can you find a love like that? 

What other religion gives you selfless, secure, eternal love?

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