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Ordo Salutis: The Telos

How does God change us if we do not have an idea of the end goal of the Christian life? It’s one thing to experience conversion and to have the assurance that God is your God and you will one day live with Him in eternity. But it’s quite another to feel like you’ve got a grip on where He’s directing you in this life, right here and right now.

Scripture speaks of the goal with a Greek word telos. Here are a few passages where it occurs, though not

  • Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
  • 1 Corinthians 13:9-13: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
  • Ephesians 4:11-13: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
  • Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
  • Colossians 1:28: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
  • James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
  • 1 Peter 1:7-9: “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
  • 1 John 2:5-6: “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

From these passages of Scripture, we can list several things that could be part of the goal of the Christian life. It refers to being “mature” as a result of persevering through suffering, being “mature” as the result of hearing Christ taught, being perfect as God is perfect, the opposite of something that is partial, completeness, and refers to salvation as the end result of faith.

N.T. Wright looks at the Bible and says that the goal of the Christian life is this:

  1. The goal is the new heaven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests. 
  2. This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.
  3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world (After You Believe, p. 67).

It is interesting that the NT authors never use telos to describe the picture of the goal from Revelation. And yet the concept of a new humanity capable of living in the new heavens and new earth makes sense. If we agree with Wright, then the assumption is that our maturity here and now is something we’ll need there and then. We are practicing what it looks like to be the new world’s priests and rulers.

This vision of the goal of life encompasses what on one hand many Christians look forward to–eternal life with God–as well as what many other Christians strive for today–the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

How would you define the goal of the Christian life? What do you think God wants you to be/become? 

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Ordo Salutis: Conversion

Conversion is what makes the difference between someone who is simply seeking God and someone who has entered into a saving relationship with God. In a former post, we talked about this briefly. Conversion makes a difference, and it is a necessary step in one’s Christian spiritual formation–hear me say that I believe we need to call people to real conversion experiences. Conversion, however, is not the end of the road, as we all know from experience. I’m reminded of Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel, where he writes that we’ve become soterians (calling for salvation) rather than evangelicals (preaching the gospel), equating giving people an opportunity to “pray the prayer” with preaching the gospel. But I digress.

The way we call people will impact the way they understand their future life in Christ. It is imperative that we not only make available chances for people to come to Christ in a conversion experience, but also that we adequately explain just what is happening in them.

Conversion is a combination of God’s work and our work. It is, from God’s perspective, all by grace. It is a gift we receive. From our perspective, God’s grace makes possible also the gift of faith. In repentance, we turn from sin and turn to God in faith. According to Wesley,

Saving faith is not belief in the truths of the Bible. Satan believes this and is Satan still.
Saving faith means putting your confidence in the grace of God.
Saving faith means assurance that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again for me.
Saving faith means we rely on this Christ. We no longer rely on ourselves but on Him.
Saving faith means obedience. Wesley said this is obedience to all the commands of God, internal and external; obedience of the heart and of the life; in every temper and all manner of life.

This definition of saving faith is active and alive. It does not see salvation as an act of the past. We might ask, “I’m glad you were saved, but are you saved today?” Perhaps we ought to remember the Greek perfect tense verb as our example: salvation/conversion is something God accomplishes in us in the present that has impact in the future.

Conversion accomplishes four things in us:

Justification: What God does for us by pardoning our sins (Harper, The Way to Heaven, p. 55). Romans 3:21-24 says, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Notice how in these verses, Paul talks about the righteousness–being made right with God–has been made possible through faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone sinned, but everyone was also justified–pardoned from their sin–by his grace. We would do well to emphasize verse 24 in our preaching just as much as verse 23.

New Birth/Regeneration: “Renewing our fallen nature” (Harper, p. 56). This is renewal of the moral image of God, making us new creations in Christ empowered to live above sin. It is a change in heart, mind, will and action. The natural image and the political image are now also able to begin their renewal. Romans 6:1-4 says, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Paul continues in Romans, now talking about how we have died with Christ to sin. Our baptism symbolizes our deadness to sin and the new life that Christ brings. This is not just a new life as someone who now identifies himself or herself as a Christian, as if the newness were solely in self-identity. It is newness in the heart.

1 John 3:8-9 says, The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. Those who are born of God will not continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” God’s seed in this verse refers to Jesus Christ. They cannot go on willfully sinning. This verse is not saying we will never sin again, but our new birth in Christ enables us to live above the power of sin and to actually choose God over sin every time.

Reconciliation/Adoption: The relationship that was broken by sin, between God and us, is restored (Harper, p. 58). We are adopted as sons and daughters of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 says, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Through Jesus Christ, God restored a broken relationship with us (and now calls us to tell the world about it!).

Colossians 1:21-22 says, Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Note how Paul says we were once “alienated” from God and were enemies. Enemies in our own minds, that we thought of God as an enemy because of our evil behavior. How is this possible? Perhaps we assumed that God would want nothing to do with us and we wanted nothing to do with him too.

Initial Sanctification: Inward and outward holiness begins. God not only calls us righteous but makes us righteous with the righteousness of Christ. In real purity, our hearts are made places where the Spirit can dwell. Romans 6:19b-22 says, “Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”

If conversion accomplishes these four things–justification, the new birth, adoption and reconciliation, and the initial work of sanctification, that’s a lot to pack into a sermon. Most of you haven’t even made it through this whole post it’s so long. My point is, can we reimagine better ways to communicate the necessity and benefits of conversion than a quick call to salvation using the Romans Road? I believe we can, and we must. It will have to involve relationships, and it will probably have to take place outside of our worship services. Does God honor commitments made in those 5 minutes? Certainly. I just think we can improve on it.

Ordo Salutis 3: Prevenient Grace, Denial or Confession

All of this conviction is part of what John Wesley called “prevenient grace.” It is a grace that goes before that enables us to respond to God wooing us back to Him. Without God’s grace, we would still be dead in sin and helpless to respond; God makes a way for us to return to Him by first giving us grace and then by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. 

Prevenient grace operates in us before we even know anything is happening. It leads us to a place of repentance by creating in us our first sensitivity to God, by producing conviction that we have transgressed the will of God, and by causing our first wish to be to please God. 

The opposite of coming to grips with God’s conviction is denial. This is where we tend to go as we rationalize our thoughts and actions. If we choose denial, as God continues to convict and make us aware of new areas of sin in our lives, then we short-circuit our Christian spiritual formation. Denial is a harsh reality for many Christians who find their own behavior to be out of line with their theology. All of a sudden it is easier to switch beliefs than to switch behavior, and so they gradually turn away from God instead of confessing to Him what they also know deep down to be true. 

As we deny God and his truth, we cut ourselves off from grace and our mind (thoughts and emotions) becomes darkened to the truth. Ephesians 4:17-19 says,So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” 

The Gentiles are those who do not know God. Notice how they are first ignorant and darkened in understanding; their hearts are hard. Because of this, they turn to something else to fill the void: sensuality and greed. It is a result of the choice to ignore God that humans turn to perverse forms of sin. 

There are times when it is tempting to believe the condemning lie of Satan that says there is no hope to change, that God cannot release us from this sin, or that God really doesn’t love us because of our sin. We might think these words, “For God was so mad at the world that he sent his Son to come down and tell them to shape up, that whosoever would shape up would have eternal life. Indeed, God did send his Son into the world to condemn it, in order that the world might be saved through good works” (Smith, The Good and Beautiful God, 99)

But if we choose to acknowledge our sin, to call it what it is just as God already knows anyway, then we enter into confession. 

Perhaps this sounds weird, but I believe that God, somewhere around this point in the process, waits. Not with a hard hand ready to hit us when we’re down, but with a gentle, grace-filled hand ready to accept us, like the prodigal father in Luke 15. Up to this point, God has been convicting us of sin. He has also been giving the prevenient grace we need to be able to respond to his gift of forgiveness. But now he waits for us to respond to grace by acknowledging and confessing our sin. At this point, our response is to pray about our sin and acknowledge that it really is the Holy Spirit convicting us about real sin. 

What is confession? 1 John 1:5-10 gives us a good picture. 
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.If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

Madame Jeanne Guyon says, “There is a higher experience of repentance, and there is a deeper experience of confession of sin than the feeling of regret. In fact, you will find those feelings of regret replaced by something else–replaced by a love and a tranquility” (in Foster, Celebrating the Disciplines Workbook, p. 49). 

V-Day in Light of Easter

Preached this on Feb. 11th as a “Valentine’s Day” sermon. So maybe it’s no surprise what the subject was (begins with “L” and ends with “OVE”). But read on to discover what John has to say about loving one another.

Title: Seeing Valentine’s Day in Light of Easter
Text: 1 John 4:7-21

Introduction

Valentine’s Day: a day known for chocolate, for hearts, for Cupid, for diamonds, for flowers, for love. I’m sure some of you can look back on Valentine’s Days past and remember the wonderful, sweet, romantic things your special someone or your children did for you. This Valentine’s, Jamie and I are getting each other Papa John’s pizza. It will be a great memory of our first Valentine’s in Baraboo.

And some of you lack those memories. You can’t think of a V-Day when someone bought you jewelry, or made you a special meal, or gave you a card. Whether you have such memories or not, Valentine’s Day is a day set aside to love one another. It’s a day to show our appreciation for spouses, kids, classmates, co-workers. Now you’re probably not going to go out and buy a diamond necklace for all your female co-workers, but you might set out a bunch of chocolates on your desk. Even if it’s something small, people all over America this Wednesday will be saying, “I love you.”

Back in elementary school we used to create boxes to hold all of the valentines we were going to get. Even us boys, who were too young to understand that five shades of pink was just too feminine for a shoe box, decorated as best we could. And then we bought bunches of valentines and candy to give to our friends.

There’s a story about a girl named Amy, a shy kid in elementary school. And she, like all the other kids, decided to give valentines to everyone. She said, “Mom, Jesus talks about loving everyone, and I want to give the other kids valentines. Could you help me?” So she asked for her mom’s help in getting all of them made.

Amy didn’t just want to buy them; she wanted to make the best valentines ever. So her mom bought all the colored paper, scissors, glue, and stickers. And Amy spent a month making the 30 valentines, one for each classmate. All the while her mom agonized over what was happening. She knew her daughter wasn’t the most popular child, and that the other kids left her out during recess. While the other girls laughed and held hands coming home from school, her Amy walked alone. Amy’s mom was afraid her daughter would spend all this time making the valentines and not receive any in return. But she loved that her daughter was concerned about what Jesus wanted. She remembered last Easter when her pastor delivered a message about God’s love for us expressed through Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection. That Sunday Amy asked Jesus to be her Savior; she was so excited to know that Jesus loved her. And now, there was nothing that would stop her mom from letting her daughter love those kids.

Valentine’s Day came, and Amy piled up the valentines neatly into her backpack and left for school. Her mom prayed that Amy would get something that day. The afternoon passed and she waited by the window for her daughter. Again, she came alone, arms empty. Amy walked in and her mom asked, “What happened?” All she heard Amy say was, “Not a one, not a one.” Her heart sank. And then Amy added, “I didn’t forget a one, not a single one.”

What a wonderful story. But don’t miss this: Amy did what she did because she knew that Jesus loved her. Her love for her fellow classmates flowed from the love God had for her. As we talk about loving our neighbor today, we must remember that the love we show on Valentine’s Day cannot be separated from the love God showed to us on Easter. Our love for others must come from God’s love for us.

The apostle John knew this better than probably anyone. He was, after all, the Beloved Disciple. Just look at the Gospel of John, and you’ll see multiple references to the one Jesus loved, or to the beloved disciple. This is John. So it should come as no surprise that’s John letters contain a BUNCH of references to love. His letter, 1 John, has 43 occurrences of the word love. And in the passage we’re looking at today, there are 29 of them. Twenty-nine times the word “agape” is used. Obviously John wanted to make a point. If you have your Bibles, turn to 1 John 4:7-21, and we’ll see what point John was trying to make.

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. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

And Love Is…

John’s point is this: Hey guys, we ought to love one another. Right there in verse 7 he says that. But what does brotherly love look like? We can answer that question by defining agape and by looking at what John tells us in this passage.

The word “agape” perhaps was best defined by dc Talk in the early 90s when they sang “Luv is a Verb.” It is a verb, and therefore it is a decision we must make. One can decide to love God and his neighbor, or he can decide not to. And the only way to know what decision has been made is by that one’s actions. As John Wesley once said, “There is no holiness (perfect love) except social holiness.”

As one commentator puts it, “Agape is not a half-hearted love. It is listening faithfully and obediently to God’s Word, placing yourself under His lordship. It also means basing one’s whole being on God, clinging to Him with unreserved confidence. It is hating and despising all that does not serve God nor come from Him, breaking all other ties, cutting away all that hinders, snapping all bonds except that which binds to God alone.”

Agape is not conditional. Once you choose to love like this, you love no matter what. John gives us five descriptors to help us understand more of this love for one another.

Our Love is the Evidence of Sonship (vv. 7-8)

Verses 7-8 say, “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.”

Notice how those who love are both born of God and love God. Being born of God is a big theme for John. Does anyone remember John 3, where Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being born anew? The word for “born” is γεννάω, which speaks of the father’s action in the process of procreation. When John uses this term, he wants to emphasize that being born of God is nothing that we can do in and of ourselves. Loving our brother doesn’t make us born of God; rather, it is a sign of those who have been born of God.

And knowing God isn’t just a head-knowledge. It is an intimate knowledge of someone you’ve been with; it’s a first-hand knowledge based on experience of God rather than a scientific knowledge based on hearing about God. It’s knowing God like a son knows his dad.

If you don’t love, then it shows you don’t really know God. If you did, you would know that “love comes from God.” God’s love is characterized by who He is. John tells us that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. That means that His love for us and our love for each other does not tolerate sin. It calls for us to repent, to confess our sin and allow God to cleanse us. God’s love (and our love) keeps us accountable and honest with one another about our faults and failures. It shows that we are sons of God…like the song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Our Love is Defined by God’s Love (vv. 9-11)

Verses 9-11 say, “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.”

We would not be capable of loving one another, nor would we understand how to love except that God first sent His Son as a gift of love to us. John makes it very clear that God didn’t send Jesus to us based on our love for Him. “Not that we loved God…” The way John phrases this in Greek is to say that we continually didn’t love God. Over and over in the past, we failed to love Him. And it says that our failure to love has an effect on the present—God loves us anyway.

That blows me away. How often do we expect someone to do something for us before we’ll act on their behalf? How often do we need to know we are loved first before we’re willing to love someone else? I remember asking Jamie to date me. For the longest time I was afraid to ask her because I didn’t know what she would say. I was afraid of rejection. It took a while to gather up the courage to ask her out. It’s not that she had done anything to make me think she’d say “no,” I just wasn’t sure if she liked me too.

And God showed us His love first. He “asked us out” with the knowledge that we had rejected Him in the past. “Not that we loved God,” but that He loved us. And God sent Jesus for two reasons: 1) that we might live through Him and 2) that Jesus might provide new life to us. Love is not natural to us. My natural desire is to be selfish and think about ME. But because I am now born of God, because Jesus is our atoning sacrifice and we have new life in Him, we live through Him. His Spirit lives in us, empowering us to love and to give and to serve. We live through Him, not ourselves. And just as God loved us while we rejected Him, we ought to love one another regardless of the rejection we feel.

Verse 11 is best translated this way, “Loved ones, since in this way God loved us, then we are owing one another to love.” John makes it very clear that since God sent Jesus, we must love one another, just as one man must pay a financial debt to another. Our love for one another is defined by God’s love for us.

Our Love is the Evidence of Fellowship with God (vv. 12-16a)

Verses 12-16 say, “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”

John starts out by saying that if we love one another, God lives in us. This sounds like he’s saying all you have to do is show love and you’re a Christian. He’s not. John then says that you must acknowledge…the same word as “confess,” which means to call something what it truly is…that Jesus is the Son of God. If we confess this to be true, God lives in us, and we live in God.

John is the only person who writes that we live in God, and God lives in us. Matthew, Mark and Luke talk about being part of God’s kingdom, and about being witnesses for God, living as Jesus did, etc. But John takes things a step further, saying that Jesus actually lives in us.

Here’s my question regarding John’s statement: What do you think Jesus feels when we, who have Him living inside of us, who are living through Him, don’t love one another? What do you think He feels? I wonder what He feels when we who know that He is the Savior of the world, like John says, keep Him to ourselves?

Our love, our actions, our service to one another shows the whole world who Jesus is. We get to be pictures of God’s love. So when we keep it in, we’ve just put the cloth over the picture. The world doesn’t get to see its Savior when we don’t love. Christ’s death on the cross must be our motivation to actively love one another. Every opportunity we have to show love must be taken. Not so that we will be seen in public and praised, but so that we can show Christ to the world.

Our Love is Evidence of Holiness (vv. 16b-19)

Verses 16b-19 say, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

Remember how I talked about being afraid to ask Jamie out? One reason I was afraid was because I didn’t know how she would answer. Another reason I was afraid was because we were still at a stage of liking each other. We hadn’t started to love one another. There was no way we could have that “perfect love” John talks about in verse 18. Now we’ve been married for almost three years. And I can say with confidence that we can share how we’re feeling, if we’re frustrated, if we’re happy, etc. and not be afraid of how the other one will react.

The Bible has another word for this perfect love. It’s called holiness. Loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself, that’s holiness. It’s something that Wesleyans emphasize quite a bit. And for good reason.

If God lives in us, and we in Him like verse 16 says, and if this is how God makes our love perfect, then it makes sense for God to expect us ALL to be holy. Holiness is such a big, intimidating word. When some people think of holiness they think of Charlton Hesston playing Moses, walking down the mountain after seeing the burning bush with his beard all white. That picture says to me that holiness is only for the spiritual elite and not for me. But God says holiness is natural and expected for every believer. God will make our love complete or perfect as He lives in us and we live through Him.

Our Love for One Another is Essential to Loving God (vv. 20-21)

Throughout 1 John, John lists several groups of people who are hypocritical. In 1:6 he says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness we lie and do not live by the truth.” In 1:10 he says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be liar.” In 2:4 he says, “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar.” In 3:6 he says, No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”

And now, in verses 4:20-21 he says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

John calls those who say they love God yet cannot love their brother liars. Loving one another is essential to loving God. In what we say about one another and what we do, we must love one another.

At the beginning of the sermon I said we must view Valentine’s Day in light of Easter. Perhaps we must also view Easter in light of Valentine’s Day. To view Valentine’s Day in light of Easter means you recognize that your love for your brother comes from your love for God. And to view Easter in light of Valentine’s Day means you recognize you cannot love God without also loving your neighbor.

Our love is evidence of sonship, it’s defined by God’s love, it’s evidence of fellowship and of holiness, and it’s essential to loving God. So here’s what we ought to do; here’s what we owe ourselves and God. This Valentine’s Day, get out there and celebrate like you normally do but with a twist. As John said in 1 John 3:18, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” So, take action. Actively love someone this week. It’s cold out, so offer to help one of our elderly members with shopping. If it happens to snow, shovel your neighbor’s driveway…or sidewalk for that matter. Bake cookies and some hot chocolate for your spouse. Do whatever you want to, but DO something, and do it in love.

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