“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:16-17
I have been having some very intriguing conversations about our mission to the world. Our threefold vision includes the idea of strengthening believers, serving others, and sharing our lives with those who do not know Him.
How does God’s love (agape) operate in God’s redemptive plan? There are several things to consider but let me offer you some challenges about how God’s love functions in redemption.
First, God’s love does not save anyone. God’s love is the motivation for God to care to act to rescue us from our circumstances that we are helpless to free ourselves. While God’s love is the motivating factor for Christ going to the cross, it is the death of Christ that satisfies the righteousness of God, not His love. If you notice John 3:16-17, God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world should be saved through Him. If God’s love saved everyone, there would be no need for repentance and faith. God’s love is conditional in the sense that if anyone does not respond to God’s contingencies related to how He has demonstrated His love, they will perish.
Second, God’s love was willing to sacrifice what was most precious to Himself (His Son) in order to respond to the deepest need of humanity. While I have addressed some of this before, there are some issues that I believe are worth repeating. We tend to put love and acceptance in the same sentence. Obviously, it depends on how you define these terms but here is the question I have been asking: When does God accept us? By “accept” I mean that point when we belong to Him, we cross over from being separated from God because of our sin to being welcomed as part of His family. That happens when we place our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. God has always loved us, but He only accepts us once we yield to the condition of His love – “if you believe in Him (Jesus) then you will not perish but have everlasting life.”
If we follow God’s model of loving the world, I believe we can glean some helpful insights:
- Our primary purpose to love the world is to help people discover that God can meet their deepest need. Their deepest need is the separation and alienation from God because of sin. Our commitment to love people in the world is to help them see how God can meet that need.
- Our primary purpose of loving others is not to be relevant. Being relevant, in and of itself, does not change anything. The most relevant thing we can do is show and clarify how God’s love can truly respond to their deepest need. That is as relevant as it can get.
- Our primary purpose in loving those far from God is not about making them feel welcome. The inevitable result of loving people like God loves them, often result in people feeling cared for and valued by believers, but that still falls short of why God loves the world so fiercely. When Jesus loved people well, they did not always feel welcomed because Jesus, in love, communicated their greatest need. The result was people felt convicted but often turned away from Jesus because they did not want to admit their need.
- Our primary purpose in loving unbelievers is not to be the solution to their need but Christ. Sometimes we want to be the solution and take more credit for “helping” someone than we need to take. Maybe we want to feel good about ourselves or we place too much of our own self-worth on success. Certainly, God chooses to use faithful believers to accomplish His redemptive work but, as the apostle Paul said, the power of salvation is in the gospel, not him. He plants seeds of the gospel; others may water but God brings about the change.
In Christ Jesus our Lord – Pastor Brad