“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” “If anyone claims, ‘I am living in the light,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.” (1 John 1:5-7, 9-11) “How can a supposedly loving, just, sovereign God allow the pain, darkness, and suffering that take place in this world?” This question is one which has been grappled with by people for millennia. Pagans usually ask the question with derision; Christians many times pose the question during times of hurt and confusion. The answer is simple: because He loves us. If He didn’t, He would have ended our existence long ago. Instead, He has chosen to walk the road of sorrow with us, tolerating our rebellion and selfishness, hurting right along with us. His great love allows for no other course of action.
Let’s recap for just a minute. Our human nature is born under Adam’s curse. We are the ones who first think about ourselves and our own needs before considering the needs of others. Our sense of entitlement causes us to justify so many evil plans and actions. We scheme, manipulate and coerce. And most of us begin to do these things at an early age! We are desperately sick. We need healing. “Hold on there, Pastor Mark,” you might say, “this doesn’t sound like ‘good news’ to me…in fact, it sounds a little harsh and judgmental!” On the contrary! The good news is in spite of the wretched condition of our hearts, God’s love offers a solution. Not an easy one, mind you, but one that is sure. This week we explore several aspects of relationship with God; how we know when we’re in fellowship with God and when we’re not.
God’s love is reflected in His justice; His mercy in His Truth. He is holy, pure, and good. There is no other standard except the one by which He measures all of creation. We are the ones who choose to step away from our Creator so we can say “I did it my way.” However, our rebellious hearts indict us to a harsh sentence: death, misery, and destruction. Yet because of His desire for us, God’s love is unconditional. Romans 5:6-11 states, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” Did you get that? Friends of God! There’s a HUGE implication in this statement: we are a friend of God because we know Him (after all, can you call someone a ‘friend’ who you don’t really know?). That’s why the earlier passage of Scripture from I John 1 is so important. We cannot claim to truly have friendship (fellowship) with God and continue to walk in spiritual darkness.
What are the implications we face by being God’s friend? The same for any relationship. You see, true friendship – true love – doesn’t come with conditions attached. That’s just the way it works! But it gets even better. When we become true friends with the Father, He imparts His nature to us. But then we have a choice. Do we live according to His nature, or our own? Read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the Law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.” (Galatians 5:13-25) I told you earlier that God’s solution to our ‘sickness’ wasn’t an easy one. But He doesn’t leave us to figure it out on our own, thank goodness!
Jesus told His disciples that He would not leave them comfortless – as orphans. After all, they were His friends! He said He would come to them, and He did! And He is still with us today, just as He was with them 2000 years ago! Let’s connect the dots with some Scripture: 1. (John 13:34-35) “So now I am giving you a new command-ment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” 2. (Matt. 28:16-20) “Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 3. (Acts 1:4-8) “Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, ‘Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, ‘Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?’ He replied, ‘The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” 4. (John 15:15-17) “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.” 5. (1 John 4:7-14) “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” So we see that (1) Jesus gave His disciples a new command to love each other. He later tells them to (2) ‘teach and make disciples of all the nations’, but He cautioned them to (3) wait until they had received the Holy Spirit and power from on high! Power for what? Well, remember that earlier He had (4) called them ‘friends’, and reinforced the command to love each other. The ‘power’ Jesus spoke of enables us to – among other things – live our lives in relationship with Him and each other, as (5) the Apostle John admonishes!
There comes a point in a person’s life when they are confronted with their Creator. Even those who do not directly hear about the Gospel of Jesus Christ are without excuse, according to the Apostle Paul in Romans 1. When we hear we are faced with a choice: do we surrender to God or not? There’s no middle ground. Even by refusing to make the choice, a choice is made. This is the nature of God – remember, all creation is measured by His standard and no other. For those who surrender and choose Him, something awesome happens. Maybe not at first, but, sooner or later, for the person who truly seeks relationship with the Father, they find Him. The experience changes one forever. Here’s an account of how it happened to the prophet Isaiah: “In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out 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 trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.’” (Isaiah 6:1-6) From personal experience I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty: when you see the Lord and are confronted with His Majesty, everything comes into crystal clear focus, especially the depths of man’s depravity and the heights of God’s love. Your world is undone. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but it’s here the journey begins.
Jesus never intended for us to view the ‘born-again’ (John 3) experience as ‘fire-insurance’ used solely to escape Hell. We don’t make some commitment to a church, try to do the right things, and hope that it somehow all works out in the end, while all the time we go through life pursuing our own agendas – or worse, coasting aimlessly. On the contrary, the Bible is clear that when we are born with new life, our very nature changes at its core. Do we cultivate this nature and draw close to the Father (something which requires continual surrender of our ‘rights’), or do we just go on living for ourselves? My dear friend, there is a much larger picture! The Apostle Paul writes, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, ‘THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.”
There is so much the Father desires to show us, to give us. Not earthly, material things that do not satisfy, but things that draw us into deeper and deeper relationship with Him. I’m talking about living the type of life we were created to live, the type of life which will carry us into eternity, forever face to Face with the One who loves us most and knows us best! For those courageous enough to engage in the journey, the words in Romans 8 sound loud and clear: “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”