I was asked by a friend today if love is a work or not. By that he means, is it something we must do as a Christian to maintain or obtain our salvation, or if it’s something else.

Christian love is a mixture of philia and agape love in that we are firmly bound to those who are in four categories:

1) Christ – We are bound to Jesus by his outpouring of affection in agape love toward us, in that he died in our place while were still his enemies, and adopted us into the family of God to share in the kingdom of glory.

2) Our Spouse – This is a combination of the Eros (which can be God-centered in a committed relationship, most clearly defined in a Christian marriage where both parties love Jesus more than themselves or their spouse), philia, and agape – in that we are bound tightly together to each other, and to Christ separately, and he binds us to all of us together. One supporting, caring for, and encouraging one another. Not that Jesus needs our support, care, or encouragement, but that he facilitates all of it between all parties.

3) Other Christians – Just as in a marriage, our joint focus on Christ will breed and support the philia and agape love for other Christians which is the brotherly-love that we all share for one another as well as our self-sacrificing love where we will put ourselves in even harm’s way to assist and defend those who are other Christians in our community (in-person or online). We gladly give of whatever we have with an open hand to help those whom are in need in the Christian union. This is what’s meant by Jesus:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~ John 13:35 (ESV)

4) Non-Christians – Our philia love for other Christians and the agape love we share with Christ and our community, pours into our treatment of others who are not in our faith. This allows us treat people who are not Christian and who treat us poorly with respect and understanding. Now, they don’t understand that it’s because we are able to love other because we were first loved by Jesus when we were his enemies, so that is why we endure hardship, indifference, spite, and hatred from those outside the community of Christ. We take care of all others because we were cared for. We endure because Jesus endured on our behalf. When we are wronged we don’t respond in anger or retaliation, but with understanding because we, too, were ignorant and offensive toward that which we didn’t understand at first as well.

All of this to say that our love, in its many forms, defines who we are and is the heart and soul of what we embody, but it’s most certainly not a “work” by which we obtain or maintain our salvation. It pours freely from a heart of worship to our God and King. The closer we are to God, the more deeply we understand our own sin and failures, the more intimately we are attuned to our need for Christ on a daily or minute-by-minute basis, the more the love which is born in this Christian communion flows into all aspects of our life and into our dealings in every relationship we have.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV)

Something to think about: None of the people who made the Ark of the Covenant, and the golden lampstand, and the bronze sea, and the table of show bread, and the bronze altar, and the veil, and the tabernacle, and everything else that they used to praise and worship God until and through the time of the first temple that Solomon made in 964 BC (nearly 500 years) ever lived to see the promised land. Well, not entirely – Joshua and Caleb were the only two who lived to enter the land as they were the two spies who trusted in God. Even Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt, served as their judge and, with Aaron, as their chief priest, wasn’t able to enter into the promised land. Why? Because of unbelief. It wasn’t because of their hard work that they were able to enter into the land of promise, but because they trusted in God and when they failed to do so God gave them their wages in the form of food and safety (for the most part) in the wilderness, but it was given only to their children to receive the promised land of Canaan.

Your works can’t save you. God has delivered you from your sins and into freedom, not into the slavery of the law. There is nothing that you can do that will make you right with God, but He has provided a way of escape for you. Repent of your sins, and trust that Jesus’ death in your place was sufficient to pay the price of your redemption. Nothing more, and nothing less will grant you access to the kingdom of God.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
~ Psalm 19:14

God not only cares about what we do and say, but our thoughts as well. Think about the 10 Commandments. Everyone knows the big ones – Don’t kill, Don’t commit adultery, Honor your mother and father, Don’t lie. But that last one is different – it’s not about DOING but THINKING! Remember, coveting is not an action, but an attitude of ungratefulness and a desire for what God has given to someone else. Not a godly desire for a better witness, but an un-godly desire for things and relationships. This is a transgression of the first commandment as you are placing something other that God as the central object of your desire, but my main point here is that this is not an outward action, but a meditation of the heart. I’ve heard over and over that God won’t condemn people for the sins they commit in their mind because “no one is hurt” by it, but this shows us that God is not only aware of it but that He judges it as well.

“Well”, some will say, “that’s the God of the OLD Testament! Jesus would never condemn me for my thought life!”. Oh really? I’m skipping the theological issues of thinking that the Trinity is at odds with itself, and let’s just look at that statement. Jesus spoke on the subject of personal, mental holiness quite a bit. Two of His statements in the beatitudes make this point clear:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. ~ Matthew 5:27-28

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:43-45

One of the most terrifying and comforting things in the Bible is a statement from God through Jeremiah where God declares that despite the fact that people thought they were getting away with doing whatever they wanted, that He would stand as a witness against them:

“…they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the LORD.”
~ Jeremiah 29:23

Who can hide from God’s sight? No one! God knows the thoughts of all mankind (Psalm 139:9,23; Isaiah 66:18; Matthew 9:4; 12:25; Luke 11:17) and knowing that he judges our thought life as well, shouldn’t we turn to Him to help us control them? It’s for that reason that I pray the quote from Psalm 19:14 nightly – because it is God who controls all things, and it is He who, through the power of His Holy Spirit, leads me to action in the daily struggle with my sins, that I ask that He keep my mind clear and that He make me a strong witness for Himself in this world. Therefore I pray that God keep my words (the revealed intention of my heart) and that which I meditate on, acceptable before Him, and I pray that you would do the same.

God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life. Sometimes that plan includes my wife going through horrible seizures, confusion, lack of mobility, and struggles with changes in medication. Sometimes that plan includes a lack of available finances so that we have to trust that God will help us to meet our needs despite everything that shows us that we should search out help elsewhere. Sometimes that plan means that we lose family and friends to cancer, or people we know turn on us for no reason at all. Sometimes it means that people we trust implicitly turn out to be pathological liars who only sought their own pleasure by contorting our lives around their deception. Sometimes it means that our best laid plans, no matter how well thought out or deeply conceived, will be shut down and abandoned.

God is the author of everything in our lives. We not only acknowledge this fact but we seek to live it out. At times that means that we lose friends and alienate ourselves from family members. It prompts uncomfortable conversations when opinions are raised against the solid Word of God and we are under pressure from family to relent to the opinion of those who we know to love us, or stand firm for the God who died to save us. Ultimately, trusting in Christ without living out what you say you believe only degrades the image of Christians and, by association, Jesus Himself, to the onlooking world.

My heart is bent toward legalism in everything I do. I want rules and regulations, not a God who says, “you’re forgiven” and leaves it at that. I search the scriptures for something that will give me a guiding principle, some sort of path to perfection, but it’s not there. That means that I struggle with the concept of understanding who I am as a Christian man on a daily basis. I want to serve this God who saved me but at some point my heart always brings the cart of my works, which were meant to be in gratitude for what He has done on my behalf, before the horse of His salvation and I end up trying to wrestle control of my life from God.

What does that mean for me now? I will, to the best of my ability, trust in God to direct my life and what I do by His own wisdom and plan for what He wants me to do. I acknowledge that I will fail on the way but I know that He is the one who is ultimately in control and I hope that I will remember to release control of the reigns when I find myself trying to grab them again and live my life for God according to my plan and not His. I will seek to stop making pronouncements for grand plans and ideas that I think will lead me to some next great plateau. I do plan to finish reading Calvin’s Institutes but that will come when God leads me back into it. I will finish reading all the books I’ve set before myself, but not to put them under my belt or to become a more respectable Christian, and instead so that I will be more able to appreciate the glory of God in as many facets of His character and nature as I can perceive and understand. In the end, I will trust in God to lead me and to control my life. Why? Because I know that He loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.

Why is it that I do the things that I do? Fear of God. In one way or another, everything we do is related to our fear of God. From the most pious legalist who reads their Bible 87 times a day and stands in fiery indignation over anyone who can’t hold to their standards of holiness, to the atheist who responds to their conscience and occasionally helps people outside of their own natural character, and everyone in-between. All of this, is from the fear of God.

So, what is the fear of God? The Bible sure has a lot of references to it. While the exact phrase “fear of God” is used only eight times in the ESV, references to fearing God appear over 100 times throughout the Bible. Adam, in the Garden while hiding himself and trying to cover his sin, said “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3:10). In Genesis 8:15, Sarah, after initially laughing when she heard God tell her husband that she, at nearly a hundred years old, would bear a son, lied to God because “she was afraid“. I think one of the greatest portions of text on this subject comes from Isaiah chapter 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!“ ~ Isaiah 6:1-5

What an awesome and horrifying image! To stand before the throne of the King of Glory, the God of all creation, and to see His power and majesty? How can you not cry out with Isaiah in that same place and ask God to forgive all of your sins? The same can be said for people who God has chosen in the past as heralds of His message to the people. Each of these people have heard directly from God on a specific subject and they were called to go and tell everyone about it. Those experiences produced in them a fear of God that led them, through the rest of their lives, to follow Him as they had been called.

So, what about those of us who haven’t seen God’s throne room directly or heard from Him audibly? How are we to fear Him, or even to know to fear Him? God has revealed Himself to us in two different ways. First, He has placed into our hearts His law (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10, 10:16), as well as “eternity” (Ecc 3:11) which R.C. Sproul explains in his Reformation Study Bible as: “The heart knows that history is not meaningless, but is frustrated in its efforts to discern the pattern of events”. Second, God has also revealed Himself to us in nature:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. ~ (Romans 1:18-20)

So, if all of us know about God, and He has revealed Himself to us, how should we respond? Jesus, who said that He was the Son of God and then proved it when God the Father raised Him up from the dead (Acts 13:30; Romans 1:4), has told us clearly:

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! ~ (Luke 12:4-5)

So, how does that translate into our lives? The atheist or agnostic, who outwardly rejects the “notion” of God as one rejects butter for their baked potato still acts morally in relation to the law of God that He has placed into their hearts along with the understanding that God really does exist and that there will be a day in which they will have to account for their deeds. They, much like a religious “seeker”, who attends church for the experience and to stamp their “religion” card as they live their lives in their own sight, do so because they too have eternity in their hearts and know that there must be something more than we can see in this life in store for them. Everyone, in one way or another, finds ways in which they can appease their guilt which God has provided as a gracious gift for us. Everyone has a fear of God in them in one way or another. Most people seek to fill this fear with a religious experience – something that they can do “for God” to appease Him. God has made Himself very clear through the Bible – you are wholly destitute before God (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23), and there is nothing we can offer Him (Psalm 51:16), but He has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him (John 3:16-18). Most people, however, reject that offer in favor of a god of their own making – one that will enable them to keep their pet sins while religiously judging the pet sins of others. That’s the case with Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, etc.

How should a saved Christian respond to this fear? As everyone should – with reverence toward the King of all eternity, with fear and trembling before the God who will judge all in the last day, with awe-filled wonder at the might He displays and the works of His hands. When I feel a desire to sin: a lustful thought that I allow to linger little long, decisions made based on my desires instead of prayerful consideration, thoughtless words laid out before others, what we take in through our eyes on television or our ears through our music, or even how we respond to those we love the most – our spouses or our children… In those times, where is the fear of God before my eyes? Every act, every word, and every thought is already weighed in my mind before it comes out and each response is a choice. All of these are seen in relationship to how much I desire to have my thoughts expressed, or my desires fulfilled. The struggle is a battle between my own pride and how much I fear God. Who, at that moment, is more important to me? That is the battle that ultimately decides what I will and will not do. I am confident that even in the atheist, the agnostic, the religious “seeker” (Mormon, Muslim, Catholic, Evangelical Christian, Hindu, etc), and the converted and transformed Christian – in everyone the battle is the same.

It is my prayer that my daily walk would open up with a direct and firm understanding of the God of the Bible – who stands strong and unmoving, yet cares enough to shape my life into the likeness of His Son, and that everything that I think, do, and say would be a reflection of that God who is working in my life and what He has done for me. May all of you focus a little more on your fear of God today, and may you think a little harder on why you are choosing to act in the way that you are.

So… reading through Ecclesiastes and it’s King Solomon basically stating, “I’ve been there, and done that”. Really, who else has had the ability to do so as he did? He really had every possible resource at his disposal; The wisest man in all the world. The richest king in all the world. He never had any wars against him throughout his entire kingdom during his whole reign. Even in that he found no lasting pleasure. He had 300 wives, 700 concubines and found no lasting pleasure in that. He built monuments to himself and gardens and wonders the world had not yet seen – some of which are still around today, and he found no lasting pleasure in that. He sought out the deepest wisdom that he could find and found no lasting pleasure in that. Ultimately, he kept coming back to what I kept going back to – at some point, everyone dies, and all your accomplishments account for nothing. Someone else will own your homes, your possessions will become old and worn down, your discoveries will become passé, and eventually no one will mourn your loss.

The only highlight of the whole book is the last chapter when he finally comes to the understanding that the only constant in all things outside of death is that the Word of God is true and that it is the goal of mankind, not to pursue ungodly desires, but to fear God and keep His commandments and that God’s coming judgment will be the ultimate and only true decider of the worth of one’s life.

It’s too bad he didn’t have the full revelation available to him. Remember that they only had the Old Testament – the law of condemnation and the promise of a Savior to come. Their salvation was based on their adherence to the laws (as best they could muster), their continual sacrifices, and their faith that God would send a Savior who would rid them of the burden of the Mosaic Law.

Then Jesus came, and most rejected Him because they wanted a conquering ruler to crush Rome and place them at the top of their geo-political structure. They had the “wrong Savior” in mind when God’s Savior came. They were guilty of acknowledging God’s choice for them and rejecting it in favor of their own. So then, who is this Savior that God provided?

The Savior the God provided was His Son, Jesus. Jesus was born of a virgin to separate Himself from the sin-drenched seed of Adam. He lived the perfect life that you or I could never live – never, ever sinning. He never had a dirty thought about a girl (or a boy, if you’re wondering), he never lied, never stole anything, never wanted something that belonged to someone else (was completely content in what He had), never was unrighteously angry at someone, and always kept the laws of His religious upbringing. Most importantly, He did all this, not for His own glory, but for the glory of His Father in Heaven. He lived under an oppressive and antagonistic government against His cultural religion, and, even while He was teaching those who were to spread His message among others, He never told them to attack or mistreat the government, but to submit to authority as all authority comes directly from God the Father.

Once it was revealed to those in the religious system who have been looking forward to His coming since that fateful day in Eden when man first rebelled against God, they flatly rejected Him and had Him murdered to shut Him up. It was by God’s sovereign hand that all this took place, so that God’s justice and righteousness over all mankind would prevail. Not because we’re so loving and worthwhile that God can’t keep from doing anything to love on us. God REQUIRES that ALL WHO SIN AGAINST HIM (even those who don’t even understand what “sin” is) MUST BE PUNISHED FOR THEIR CRIMES! ALL! It was by the mercy of God that He opted to act for us – He had no obligation to do so. It was by grace alone that He has sent His Son to take our place on the cross. God chose some out of the billions who will live throughout our history to save from the consequence of their sins through HIS mercy and by HIS grace.

God did not die so that you could be the very best “you” that you could ever be. He did not die so that you can have a Bentley, or a mansion, or a 4 carat rock on your hand. He die so that your race, creed, or political party could be the top ruling party in the world. He did not die so that we would have a moral society that organized walks and marches to combat against the murder of our children in the womb. He did not die to create your brand of church – Southern Baptist Convention, Calvary Chapel, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Sovereign Grace, etc… would exist for all time, and He did not die so that we’d give up a couple of our weekends to feed the poor, or to give our shoes for Haiti.

What Jesus did on the cross was to glorify God by fulfilling His law for His elect. The Church that erupted from that event and from His life and teaching exists to feed the followers of Christ and to encourage discipleship, teaching, worship, prayer, and to prepare evangelists to head out into the world to glorify God through the spreading of the Gospel. What is that Gospel? It’s not social justice, nor is it better legislation, nor is it feeding the poor. The Gospel is that though we are wholly destitute before our God and incapable of any transformative ability to save ourselves, that God has accepted Jesus payment for our sin debt against Him on our behalf. What is our responsibility in light of that revelation? Our trust in the work that Jesus has done on the cross has saved us, and that we will abandon all things to follow after Him. Our dreams, our ambitions, our friends, and, in some cases, even our families. There is nothing that can stand between us and our God if we wholly surrender our lives to Him. The hard part of the walk comes in following that commitment.

King Solomon was exactly right – death is the great equalizer. Nothing can save you from it, nor can you keep anything you’ve done once you’ve passed through it. Those that came after him hardened their religious beliefs to follow their own sinful hearts and to cater to their own desires for power and control. They wanted God’s Savior on their terms and, as a result, rejected Jesus – God’s chosen Savior – in favor of their own. The real question is, which Savior do you want today? The Savior that God provided for you, or the Jesus that is your personal conquering ruler, who provides you with the things you want?

The point of Christian parenting, as Pastor Mark Driscoll has pointed out in the past, is not to raise moralists who do what’s right for the sake of its rightness, but to raise young people who love Jesus.  Think about it – when you scold your children, why are you telling them that they should do things?  “We don’t call people fat because it’s not a nice thing to do.”  “We don’t treat people with disrespect because it’s unkind.”  “We don’t lie to people because it’s not the right thing to do.”  These are all moralistic instructions.  Do what is right because it’s right.  Don’t do what is wrong because it’s not the right (moral) thing to do.  Atheists raise their children in the same way, many even far better than we do.  How then, should we act?  What should we, as Christians be teaching them?  In the very same way that we ourselves should view our impact in the world should we raise our children.  We, as Christians, are not to change our lives or to expunge the sins that impregnate our actions, thoughts, and deeds.  We focus on Jesus.  When we spend time daily in prayer – when we spend time reading the Word – when we spend time contemplating the Son of God, His perfect life, His sacrifice on our behalf, and our right response – we will not want to sin and our first inclination will be to do what is right because it’s what Jesus commanded us to do.  We, as Christians, should be so Jesus saturated that His very essence is seen in all of our words and actions with those in the world. 
How does this relate to our children?  Raise your children in the love of the Lord, reveal to them the grand things of Christ and God’s kingdom, spend time daily with them in the Word and in prayer.  Let them observe Christ in you as you impact the world for His kingdom as well as how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (not confined to our own local church body, but the body of Christ as a whole) and they will want to follow suit.  When you sin against your children, repent to them, then ask God to forgive you.  When your children sin against you, explain it to them in the context of Jesus.  “Sam, it was wrong to throw that rock at Jimmy because Jesus told us to love our neighbors and by throwing the rock at him you’re neither loving your neighbor, nor are you showing him the love of Jesus.”  Be a strong servant leader in your home by modeling Jesus to your family.  Be intentional in your relationship with Jesus and study His word daily.  Be public with your children in your prayer life.  Don’t put on a facade of a the perfect Christian father or mother when you’re hurting deeply in your relationship.  That leads your children to think that when they are feeling distant from God that it’s a problem with their own actions or maybe an issue in their relationship with Christ.  Be honest in your desires before God and your family, knowing that every word and every action is watched by your children. 
How do we impact the world as Christians?  By living for Christ in all that we do and our children are the most prominent symbol of our worldview.

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