Welcome to Unit 3 of Experiencing God. In the first two units we laid the groundwork for what follows by looking at two important truths about God.
One, that He is always working all around us. That is reality #1 of the seven realities. It’s the fact that God himself is carrying out His will on earth with and without our cooperation.
And the second important truth we learned is that God’s ways are not our ways. Not even close. And so, if we want to join Him in His work, we should expect our plans to change.
It will be important to remember those two truths as we go through this study, and actually as you go through the rest of your life.
Today we are going to start talking about our role in all of this.
So, let’s pray and get into it.
The second of the seven realities is:
God pursues a continuing love relationship with you that is both real and personal.
This is a profound statement that basically sums up the plot of the entire bible and the whole history of the world.
If that seems like a bold statement, let me explain.
If we go back to the beginning of time, in the Garden of Eden before the fall, right after God was done creating everything and calling it “good” – God and man were in a continuing love relationship that was both real and personal. And then Eve came along….just kidding.
They were both in a perfect, loving, real, and personal relationship with God. We don’t have a great many details about it, but we have enough.
What we see in the garden before the fall is God’s ways and man’s ways lining up. Adam and Eve followed God’s ways perfectly and willingly. We know that God had Adam name all the animals, and he did. He told them to tend the garden, which they did. He told them they could eat of the garden with one exception, and for a time they did. We don’t know how long the pre-fall period lasted, but while it did the bible implies that God would walk and talk with them in the garden as a man would with his friends. It was perfect, and just the way God wanted it.
But then came the fall. The devil, disguised as a serpent, tricked Eve into making her own decision about what was good and evil rather than just trusting God’s word, and Adam followed right behind.
At that moment, when they decided to go their own way rather than God’s way, the intimate relationship was broken and God’s way and man’s way diverged.
Actually, God’s way stayed the same, but man’s way fell far below. Sin had entered the hearts of mankind, with sin simply being our desire to do things our way rather than God’s way. And ever since then, there has been a great chasm between us and God. Separated from that close personal relationship, not because God moved far from us – but because we moved far from Him.
Not unlike a person who can’t swim jumping out of a perfectly good boat…
And the rest of the bible and all of human history is the story of how God, instead of just leaving us to our self-selected fate, chased after us, to bring us back into that right relationship because of His great love for us.
And that’s where Jesus comes in.
This is how God loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:10
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
You see, as I showed last week from the Proverbs – man’s way, our way, leads to death, eternal death, eternal separation from the loving relationship with God we were created for.
But, even though that is our chosen fate, God has intervened and pursued us. He did not expect or demand us to try to climb back up to him, to try to correct our own trajectory and rejoin Him. Because even if He did, it’s not something we can do. And so, God came down to us in the person of Jesus Christ – the Son of God.
Jesus lived a human life the right way. He did everything God’s way by living in complete submission and willing obedience to the Father’s will at all times. Maintaining that close and personal relationship that mankind was intended for. Then, though he himself was sinless and perfect, he laid down his life, taking our place, suffering our rightly deserved consequence.
He died FOR us, as in taking our place rather than on our behalf. I think when we say that Jesus died for us, we often think of it like a soldier who dies in battle for his country – a noble and heroic sacrifice – but his death does not necessarily take the place of the guaranteed death of someone back home. What Jesus did is more like taking someone’s place on death row and being executed in their place.
We are all rightly sentenced to death for our sin, but Jesus took our sin upon himself so that the Father could punish it in Him instead of us.
Thus He paid our debt and made a way that you and I, though guilty, can be forgiven and brought back into right relationship with God
…if we will let Him.
Because, you see, we can refuse that payment. We can refuse being saved.
But why, you may ask, would anyone in their right mind refuse such an offer? Refuse to be saved from the death penalty. Refuse the forgiveness of all their sins. Refuse to be rescued from drowning as this picture illustrates. Why would anyone do that?
Well, it’s because it comes with a cost. It costs you your life – or at least your life your way.
Because, again, God’s ways are not our ways. So, in order to go God’s way – which is what it means to be in a relationship with Him – means I can’t go my way.
It’s not unlike a grown son who breaks the law and ends up in jail. The father can come pay the fine and bail him out, but if the son just goes back to doing what got him in there in the first place..he’ll just end up there again…by his own choice to keep going his own way rather than the father’s way.
In other words, God does not send anyone to hell – we go there on our own, willingly, insistently.
But that’s not what God wants. He loves us with an everlasting love that will stop at nothing, short of removing our free will, to bring us back into His arms.
And not only did He already demonstrate that willingness to sacrifice everything for us by what Jesus did on that cross – but in the here and now, the Holy Spirit relentlessly pursues each one of us, urging our hearts to turn to Him and be saved.
As David described in
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
There is no where you can go that He will not follow. No pit too deep he cannot pull you out of.
And though we may have the ability to shut Him out, push Him away, and try to ignore Him. He will never stop loving and pursuing you.
As Paul expressed…
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God does indeed PURSUE a continuing love relationship with you and me that is both real and personal. He pursues a relationship like He had at the beginning. He pursues the relationship we were made for.
But He won’t force Himself on you. He may draw you to Himself and woo you relentlessly, but He won’t take away your ability to reject Him. And sadly, most do.
But for those that do accept Him, those who believe in him, meaning those who accept and trust his gift of forgiveness and turn from their own way (which is sin) in order to follow His way, to those He gives eternal life.
This is how God loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.
Which is far more than living forever, as Jesus later Jesus defines as…
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Eternal life is not only living forever, it is returning to a right relationship with God. God is eternal, so the only way we can really know Him is through a relationship that lasts forever.
Now I want to step through the door and talk about something that comes after the decision to live for Christ. Something that troubles many Christians…perhaps many of you.
When you decide to stop doing things your way and start doing things God’s way, it should come as no surprise that there are certain things He expects, or rather, commands us to do and not do. In other words, He has to tell us what His ways are because, as I’ve already shown, they are not our ways and thus will not come natural to us.
We find these commands in our instruction manual – the Bible. And while there are many detailed and specific commands that we, as Christians, should do our best to know – Jesus did us a favor and boiled them all down to just two simple commandments.
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Seems simple enough until you really think about it…how in the world are we supposed to do that? If we are honest, I don’t think there are any of us who can claim that we do this very well. And while it does seem like a tall task, I will tell you that it is not impossible and you are probably doing better at it than you think.
Let me explain.
First of all – God would not give us a command that was impossible to obey. So, don’t think this is just some lofty goal you have no hope of achieving so you might as well not even try. No, God’s commandments are not mere suggestions, nor are they lofty ideals. He means it.
Second, it is important to understand that this commandment has nothing at all to do with feelings. It is not telling you to muster up feelings of love for God and your fellow man. If that were the case, it would be impossible because emotions are generally not controllable. Which is why it is rather foolish to be ruled by them or even to trust them.
No, the love God is commanding you and I to give Him and others is the AGAPE love – the choice of the will to put the other above yourself, regardless of how you feel. It is a love of action.
God’s love for us was demonstrated in the action of Christ on the cross.
Our love for God is demonstrated in our obedience to His Son.
In John 14, three times Jesus specifies,
23 Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Therefore, the greatest commandment could easily be rewritten as
Obey the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.
John, in his first letter expounds upon this…
1 John 2
3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them.
God loves us by creating us, providing everything for us, saving us, and so much more.
How we love God is by trusting and obeying Him, which are really one and the same.
But that does not mean we memorize a checklist of rules and do our best to keep up with them. That is not a relationship. Remember, this is about a relationship, not about rules. But even in a relationship, there are rules.
It’s not unlike the relationship between parents and their children. In a home, there are certain rules of the house laid down for the children to follow. Some are age appropriate and some are constant no matter the age.
For example, my two year old is not allowed to use scissors by himself, but my eight year old can. But none of my children are allowed to tell Alexa to play that stupid Frozen “let it go” song ever again! But seriously, one rule we intend to keep for all time is that they are not allowed to hit each other.
You get the idea – the rules are primarily there for their own protection and quality of life. And so are many of God’s rules.
But our house does not run on only the set-in-place rules. I, as the father, have a unique relationship with each child. We talk together. We play together. We laugh together. Which is all wonderful, but underlying all that fun and good feelings remains the fact that I am the father and they are the children, and when I give instructions, they are to be obeyed – ideally immediately and without argument.
Because I’m a big bully and just like to have my way, and kids are easier to boss around than adults? Actually adults are much easier.
But seriously, I don’t instruct my kids just so I can have a power trip (at least not most of the time) my instructions are generally for the benefit of the child and/or the whole family.
And since I know a whole lot more than my children and have a far greater understanding of almost everything, the best thing for them to do is just trust me and do what I say rather than argue with me based on their limited perspective and generally selfish desires.
In other words, their lives and the general peace of our house would be far better off if they all just surrendered their little wills to Mom and Dad.
Because we have great plans for them. Plans to prosper them, not to harm them. Plans to give them a hope and a future.
Do you see it?
That is what Paul is talking about in one of my favorite verses that I cover often..
If the Greatest Commandment is WHAT God wants from us…This is the HOW.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
That is how to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You surrender your will to Him and obey Him as best you know how. And you don’t stay satisfied with your current best. You continually improve your ability to hear Him and know His will by also applying the next verse.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
And we do this because He first loved us, because He made the first move, because He pursues us and invites us into the love relationship that we were designed for and will never be complete without.
Just as Paul begins this chapter…
Therefore, I urge you, my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, in view of God’s mercy, His forgiveness of your rebellion, and His relentless pursuit of a love relationship with you…present your body as a living sacrifice to Him, give yourself fully over to Him, allow His love to overwhelm you, give up your life for Him and you will find the life everlasting, which is ultimately to know Him.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
And a little note about prayer. The Greek word behind the English “pray” is “PROSEUXOMAI” – which literally means to exchange wishes. To exchange wills. In other words, prayer is not so much us talking to God and laying out all of our requests and such – though that is part of it. Prayer is primarily where we lay down our own will in exchange for God’s will. Hence why Jesus taught us to pray…Your kingdom come, your will be done…
So, let us now exchange wishes with God…