God created us in love – for love. Our primary purpose in life is to have a loving relationship with God and then, in turn, with those around us. God’s sovereign love is not just His choosing of us; it’s not just His affection for us; it is also His power within us. His love impacts us and does something to us, in us and through us. It affects our being. You cannot be truly impacted by the love of God and remain the same. I had the following statement on my desk for many years to remind me of this truth:
God sees all that you should be
God sees all that you could be
But God loves you, just as you are
Religion is very concerned about what you should be and many churches are passionate to tell you what you could be, but God simply comes to you in love, just as you are. However, when that amazing truth, God’s amazing grace, really sinks in and God’s unconditional love impacts you deep down in your soul, then a transformation will begin and it continues and intensifies day by day. The more you drink in the unconditional love and grace of God; the more you embrace the empowering presence of God, then the more you become all that you could be and all that you should be! This is the gospel! This is the good news in Jesus Christ.
Now that we have been chosen and loved by God and this love has affected us in life-changing ways, this is where we are to stay at all times – rooted and established or grounded in that love. We don’t move on from that reality. We don’t grow out of our need for God’s love. We don’t ‘mature’ into some place in our relationship with God where we don’t need His empowering presence and love. We need to be rooted and grounded in what God has done for us every day and it’s out of that reality that we then minister and do things for God and with God in the world around us.
Ephesians 3:16-19 “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
When I first embraced my salvation personally and started living for God, I read a lot of books and heard a lot of teaching about what I needed to now do as a new believer and what I needed to be grounded in so I could be strong and effective for God. I had quite a list! Now these were very helpful things. I was told to read the Bible and pray and commit to a Church family and give my money, time and gifts; to share my faith with others and to support overseas missionaries … to name just a few! All these things were important and all the advice I was given came with love and the best of intentions.
However, someone forgot to tell me the most important thing. Something vitally important and foundational was missing, or so well-disguised that I have no recollection of it. None of those books said that before we do anything else by way of Christian activity or service or spiritual discipline – first and foremost, we must be rooted and grounded in God’s love. That is the foundation. There is where we need to drop anchor FIRST. We need to grow deep roots into God’s love before we do anything else. Everything must flow out of that reservoir of God’s love in our life.
You see friends, I was one of millions of disciples who were not really told the most important truth of all, which is that all of those wonderful acts of worship, all of those precious spiritual disciplines and Christian activity and service are actually meant to be the fruit of something else far more foundational, far more important. None of those things are worth anything unless they are the fruit of God’s empowering presence, God’s amazing grace, God’s overwhelming, lavish love in our lives. Our life must be FIRST established in God and His finished work in Christ, before we can participate in life with our worship, our good works or our service. God’s love is that bedrock in our lives, our ministries, our congregations and the entire Church across the world.
God’s love is outrageous. If you don’t think so, come with me to the cross of Christ and observe that incredible conversation between Jesus and the guy on the next cross. Jesus is hanging on the cross, near death, writhing in agony, spiritually crushed by the weight of the sin of the world … and then this most extraordinary thing happens. With His dying breath, Jesus has a conversation with the thief on the next cross. This brief snapshot at the end of Jesus’ earthly life showcases the radical gospel of God’s grace and love in just one paragraph – one picture – one brief encounter with one broken human being.
In the last minutes of his life this criminal encounters the love of God nailed to the cross beside him and this low-life says the most arrogant, infuriating thing a religious person would ever want to hear leave the mouth of this scumbag … he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And then from the next cross comes the essence of our whole faith, the gospel, the bedrock of the Church, the simplicity of the good news: Love then turns His bloodied, tortured face towards this criminal who deserves everything he’s getting and says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Outrageous! Unbelievable! How could this be, asks every Pharisee who ever lived! Did this thief tick any of the boxes which religion requires? Did he repent? Did he confess his sins? Was he baptised? Did he study his Bible? Did he pray, visit the sick, give a tenth of his income or serve in any ministry? Did he show any fruit in his life which would honour God or deem him worthy of being called a disciple of Christ? No! He spent his life stealing from people and didn’t give God or anyone anything but contempt and this God, Who is love, turns to him and says, “You’re coming home to heaven with me brother.”
Brothers and sisters, that encounter between Jesus and the thief on the cross was recorded and preserved by the Holy Spirit so that in every generation since that day, enlightened children of God could be given the most powerful religion-busting tool in our possession and the most simple and life-changing story to tell when people ask us what the Church is all about. That is what the Church which Jesus is building is all about: unbridled grace, unconditional love, undeserved forgiveness, complete redemption, restoration and reconciliation with our God for eternity. In short, the Church is about the outrageous love of God.
It is that Jesus Who promised to build His Church and that’s exactly what He’s doing. As that happens, the world will no longer be talking about Royal Commissions, abuse and corruption within the Church, or the irrelevance of the Christian faith to our post-modern, post-Christian, ‘enlightened’ society. The world will once again be talking about these Christians who are known by their love, their acceptance, their grace and the power and presence of God in their lives. Christ crucified, risen and reigning among us will be Christ glorified and then the promise of Christ to build His Church against which even the gates of hell itself cannot prevail, will become a reality right before our eyes. You and I get to be part of that revolution as we, and those we minister to, teach and encourage, become rooted and grounded in the life-changing, nation-transforming, outrageous love of God.