Heaven (Part Five)

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 7:17).

In our previous article, we examined two truths about heaven as a world of love. First, the great cause and source of love in heaven is God himself. Second, we saw three characteristics of the people who will know God’s love for all eternity. Now, let’s continue with three more truths about heaven and love.

The exchange of love in heaven will be threefold.

  • The Triune God will share his infinite love among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as they have from before the creation of the universe. And out of their Triune love will be love for all they have chosen to be the objects and beneficiaries of their love.
  • The holy angels and the redeemed will respond to God’s love with perfect love. In this we will experience the fulfillment of the First Great Command, as a spontaneous, delightful desire. We will love God as Father, Redeemer, Spouse, and Friend.
  • The holy angels and the people of God will love each other perfectly. We will be sincerely united in love. There will be no loners or outcasts or enemies in the holy city. And since all are fully lovely, we will experience perfect joy in loving each other.

The principle of the love shared will be agreeable to the character of those sharing it.

  • Love in heaven will be totally holy. Most of the love in this world has some mixture of sin. But love in the eternal state will be free from corrupt principles or selfish motives. It will not be directed toward low or evil purposes. But it will be a pure flame, consistent with God’s glory and happiness. We will love God for God’s sake and one another for God’s sake, and for their relation to him.
  • In its intensity, this love will be perfect. There will be no remaining hatred toward God, or distaste or coldness or deadness of heart toward God. There will be no envy towards others. Those who have a lower position in glory will suffer no thoughts of loss by seeing others in glory above them, but they will rejoice in the happiness that each one has attained. True love delights in seeing the prosperity of another, and a satisfaction in seeing another perfectly happy. There will be a pure, sweet and fervent love among the saints in glory, and we will agree in the position that each one occupies, as to the rightness and beauty of it. Those who have a superior position in glory will not be proud, because they will have a perfect humility, and will have an abundant love to all.

The excellent circumstances in which this perfect love will be exercised and enjoyed.

  • Love in heaven is always mutual. Love will always be returned with love, which will be much different from life in this age. When we reach out in love, our love will be accepted and prized.
  • We will know the greatness of God’s love for us, and we will have the capacity to express appropriate appreciation to our Sovereign Redeemer. At that time, the truth of our loving because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) will be deliciously comprehended.
  • The joy of heavenly love will never be interrupted or cooled by jealousy. When we share love in heaven, we will have no doubt of the love of others for us. “Everyone will be just what he seems to be and will really have all the love that he seems to have.” We will have no fear that God or others will withdraw their love from us, and we will not withdraw our love from others.
  • There will be nothing to hinder the mutual expressions of love. Here, we can feel dull and heavy in spirit, and our flame can flicker or smolder, but there it will be forever new, vibrant and fresh. We will not lack correct words to tell others of our love, and we will feel freedom in expressing it for God and others.
  • Love will be expressed with perfect decency and wisdom. There will be no false steps, no poor decisions, or lack of discretion. There will be no indecent, impure or dissonant actions or voices. No passion will run out of control.
  • We will not be separated by distance or time. We will become fully acquainted with one another, and not able to come to misunderstandings or forgetfulness. We will agree in truth, and so in our opinions, worshiping the ever-glorious Lord. We will be employed together in serving God and helping each other in the joy of that employment.
  • We will be united to each other as very near and dear relations, as children of God and brothers and sisters together in his family. All will be closely related to Christ, the Bridegroom as his beloved Bride.
  • All will belong to each other. We are God’s, God is ours, and we are one another’s forever.
  • We will enjoy eternal prosperity and blessing together, sharing in God’s eternal riches.
  • All things will promote our love, because all things will show forth the beauty and loveliness of God and Christ by the Spirit (Revelation 21:22-23). The beauty and glory of the city will be an eternal testimony to the glory of God that we share in love.
  • There will be no lessening or end to the enjoyment of love together (1 Peter 1:4).

Let us all meditate on the glory of God in Christ that we will share!

Grace and peace, David

Heaven (Part Four)

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 7:17 NIV).

How will we live in heaven?

What will life be like? We will live in love, fulfilling a great purpose of God in our salvation. Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God (Ephesians 5:1-2 CSB). When all things pertaining to the present state of the church pass away, love will continue. Love will never fail (1 Corinthians 13:8); cf. Edwards, Heaven, a World of Love. Let’s think of two aspects of the love that will be shared by God’s people forever.

The great cause or source of love in heaven is the presence of God himself, who is love (1 John 4:8, 16). God will reveal the majestic greatness of his love in heaven (Revelation 7:17; 21:4). Having determined to live eternally with his chosen people, God will make known to us the riches of his love and grace (Ephesians 2:7; cf. 3:18). Since God is all-sufficient and infinite, it follows that he will be eternally the overflowing and inexhaustible fountain of love.

  • We will be with the Father, who is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). We will see the fullness of the love of the One who loved the world so much that he gave his Son for it.
  • We will live with the Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain and resurrected, the Prince of peace, who so loved us that he gave himself for us (Ephesians 5:25). The great Mediator will see the results of his atoning work and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:10-11).
  • We will be with the Holy Spirit, who has poured out God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5) and whose great task is to produce love in us (Galatians 5:22).

The people who are the objects of God’s immutable, unending, inexhaustible love have three characteristics.

  • They are completely lovely, because no one who is unlovely has any admittance into the Holy City (Revelation 21:8, 27; 22:15). No one will have any moral deformity, but all will be beautiful to look at and wonder at the power of God’s grace in Christ. The church will be a radiant church, without any blemish, but it will be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27). False professors or hypocrites will not mar that company. No one will have a hateful, malicious spirit, or will have any motive to dislike anyone. Everyone will draw forth love from each other.
  • They are perfectly lovely. Too often now there is in the best of believers some defect of character or attitude or conduct that damages what is otherwise quite attractive. But there will be nothing sinful or foolish or weak in that city. No words will disturb the perfect harmony of love that will reign there.
  • They will be able to set their hearts upon what they have always desired and delighted in without hindrance. Many great realities of the faith have captivated their minds on earth, and they were willing to suffer the greatest loss for what they held in prospect. Yet what we desire to know now, too often the presence of sin, suffering, death, or the simple weakness of the flesh keeps from our full apprehension.

This week, meditate on the coming glorious love that followers of Christ will share forever. Since we’re headed for this destiny, walk in love together on this earth.

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Fifteen)

The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8 CSB).

To be loved by the Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, is truly awesome. For this reason, we ought to know as much about it as possible. Next, let’s consider the characteristics of God’s love.

  • God’s love is uninfluenced or uncaused by motives apart from God himself. God’s love is spontaneous, flowing out from his loving nature. God traces his love for his creatures, not to their goodness, but to his (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Anything that he does proceeds from his purpose and grace (2 Timothy 1:9). The expression of God’s love toward his people came from his decision to make the riches of his glory known to them (Romans 9:23-24). In fact, our love for God comes from his love for us (1 John 4:19).
  • God’s love is eternal. God did not develop love when he created. No, God has always enjoyed love within the Persons of the Trinity (John 17:24). But what is even more amazing is that God from eternity set his love upon his people (Jeremiah 31:3) and predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-6).
  • God’s love is infinite. It is not measured by our puny ability to calculate or imagine its true glory. Instead, it is as great as God himself (Ephesians 3:18-19). It is a love of such power that it can overcome the greatest obstacles (Ephesians 2:4-5) and move God to give the greatest gift, his one and only Son (John 3:16).
  • God’s love is immutable (Romans 8:35-39). As it springs forth from eternity, so nothing can stop God’s love. It keeps a strong hold on all those on whom God sets his heart (John 10:27-29). This ought to produce great confidence in Christ’s followers, even during the darkest hours and in the face of the worst evil. At all times, we are “brothers loved by God” (1 Thessalonians 1:4). Since God’s love comes from his loving nature, it cannot be changed by our failure to love or trust or obey God.
  • God’s love is sovereign. We have yet to consider God’s sovereignty, but we must know that God loves whom he will. He is under no obligation to love any. All that any human deserves is justice. If we receive mercy instead of condemnation, it is not something that we can control or force God to extend. It is completely a gift of free grace, proceeding from God’s good pleasure (Luke 10:21). A clear example of this is God’s declaration about Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:10-13). “There was no more reason in Jacob why he should be the object of Divine love, than there was in Esau. They both had the same parents, and were born at the same time, being twins; yet God loved the one and hated the other! Why? Because it pleased Him to do so” (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 93] “God set his love upon Jacob purely as an act of his sovereign will… To most people this is an unpopular teaching, but it is the only way things can be if God is truly to be God. Assume the opposite: God’s love is regulated by something other than his sovereignty. In that case God would be regulated by this other thing (whatever it is) and would thus be brought under its power. That is impossible if he is still to be God. In Scripture no cause for God’s love other than his electing is ever given” (Boice, God the Redeemer, p. 217]

Someone once thought about John 3:16 and the greatness of God’s love and wrote about “Christ—the Greatest Gift”. I have modified a few words to present the idea more accurately.

God: the greatest Lover
so loved: the greatest degree
the world: the greatest wonder
that he gave: the greatest act
his one and only Son: the greatest gift
that whoever: the greatest offer
believes: the greatest simplicity
in him: the greatest attraction
shall not perish: the greatest promise
but: the greatest difference
have: the greatest certainty
eternal life: the greatest possession

Grace and peace, David

Do Everything in Love

1 Corinthians 16:14

Let all that you do be done in love (ESV).

God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). He desires that we are like him. He wants our inner beings to be love, and our conduct to demonstrate his kind of sacrificial love (Ephesians 5:1-2). He desires the full compass of who we are and what we do to be love. But….

Yeah, we all really struggle here. As followers of Christ, we want to imitate God’s love, and I think we make serious attempts for comprehensive loving behavior. But it’s a fight to love in everything. I know it sounds strange to put the words “love” and “fight” together. (If you thought of marriage during that last sentence, be thankful that your spouse can’t completely read your mind!) Seriously, we don’t want to admit that it can be difficult to do everything in love, to do the wise actions that demonstrate God’s kind of sacrificial love to our family and friends. On the other hand, we will admit that it’s very difficult to love sacrificially our neighbors, coworkers, and enemies. You see, we suppose that we basically are loving people, and if circumstances don’t mess with us, we will do everything in love.

We ought to do everything in love, but in our text, the Holy Spirit through the apostle decided to instruct us about this. Why do we allow a cross word, an angry look, a small disappointment, or a subtle exclusion of us set us off into actions that are anything but loving?

The answer is not in the circumstances that upset us. It is inside us. Godly behavior is not like the checklist that we all are supposed to do before driving cars. Do you remember that checklist from driver’s education? Before we began to drive, the instructor made us check so many things about the car, the passengers, and the surroundings. We haven’t yet taken our granddaughter anywhere in our car, but there will be new items on that mental checklist! But godly love is not conformity to a checklist. It rises from something inside you.

The something is the love of God. God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5b). Radical change has happened to those who follow Christ. The Spirit has come on us to fill our inner persons with God’s love. This love reached us at the time we were “weak”, “ungodly”, “sinners”, and “enemies” (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). It was love that reconciled us to God. It gives us a new position in Christ before God. It starts to transform our condition in the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

The inner person or heart is the place from which we start to do everything in love. We have a sweet assurance that God loves us. New thoughts develop in the heart. “Since God loved me when I was his enemy, I can reach out with his kind of love to my enemies. Since God loved me when I was a sinner, I can forgive those who have stepped out of line in their treatment of me. Since God loved me when I was ungodly, I can bear with those who are unlike me. Since God loved me when I was weak, I can help those who are too weak to interact with me as they should.” Thoughts like these begin to develop new attitudes. We see people, not as those to be criticized or condemned or cast off, but as those who ought to receive the benefits of sacrificial love – God’s love through us.

This change comes from within as we lay hold of the truth that we did not deserve God’s love. It came from his grace and mercy. It came through great cost, the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. God’s love is cross-shaped, and it remakes our thoughts and attitudes in this same cross-shaped pattern. We then begin to do everything in love, not because love is an item on our checklist, but because it is the pulse of our hearts. God’s overflowing love causes us to overflow with love for others. Doing everything in love comes from a heart filled with God’s love.

Grace and peace, David

This Man Welcomes Sinners (Part Two)

img_3663Luke 15:1-10

In this section we read an encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees about the nature of God’s love and mercy toward people. The Pharisees (the Jewish religious leaders of that time) were of the opinion that God loves good people and certainly not people far away from God. In their mind they could not imagine that the Holy One of Israel would want to be with people that lived rebellious lives against him. They assumed that God loved nice religious people like them, or rather like they thought they were. For this reason, Jesus talks about what God’s love accomplishes when he finds sinners.

Jesus told them how the lost sinner who is found by the Lord is repentant. The Pharisees looked on the outward condition of people, and all that they could see was how those following Christ used to be: tax collectors, thieves, drunkards, prostitutes, irreligious, etc. In this they were not unlike other people. You know how it is. People do not believe that anyone can really have his or her way of life change. But Jesus told people not to concentrate on the outward appearance to the neglect of the inner person of the heart (Matthew 23:25-26). True change begins from the inside out. Proper outward actions are spiritually meaningless unless they flow out from a clean heart.

When Jesus finds a sinner, he gives that person a new heart, a heart that continues to repent (cf. Acts 3:26; 5:31; 11:18), a heart that wants to fellowship with the Holy God.

Notice the phrase “one sinner who repents” (15:7, 10). To repent means to have a change of mind about God, sin, oneself, Jesus Christ and the way of salvation. The Spirit of God sets the saved sinner free from bondage to sin (what is called total depravity or radical corruption). The Spirit teaches the mind with the truth that is in Jesus, gives the emotions godly desires, and sets the will free from bondage to sin and Satan. Have you repented? Is there an ongoing change of mind in you regarding God, sin, yourself, Christ and the way of salvation?

After telling them how God changes sinners by his grace, the Lord Jesus told them about the correct attitude they ought to have about the salvation of sinners. Joy is the proper response to the repentance of sinners.

The Pharisees and the law experts muttered about what was happening. They could not believe that a respectable rabbi like Jesus would welcome sinners into his fellowship and actually eat with them!  Extending a welcome of grace to the unworthy was unthinkable. It was like they were saying, “If the lost sheep wants to be found, it will find its way back to the fold. If the lost coin wants to be found, it will roll back where the woman can find it.” Every such opinion, of course, is utter nonsense. Sinners do not seek God (Romans 3:11), because all unsaved sinners are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). Though the Pharisees and teachers of the law should have understood the first of the doctrines of grace, their problem went much deeper. They did not see their own need of grace. They could not imagine that they might be a lost sheep or a lost coin. The Pharisees and teachers of the law, like many in our day, believed in conditional love, conditional grace, and ultimately, a conditional God. In the views of such people, sinners can only receive God’s love if they first measure up and change their lives by becoming very religious.

But Jesus must tell what God’s attitude toward repentant sinners really is. God gladly, happily, and joyfully receives sinners. Jesus says that God rejoices like a shepherd who has found his lost sheep, though he had ninety-nine others. Jesus says that God rejoices like a woman who has found her lost coin, though she had nine others.

Christians, brothers and sisters, are we imitating our Father’s welcoming love? Do we extend a welcome sinners to receive God’s love now? Or do we expect others to “measure up” first?

You might think that you are the worst of sinners. Your life perhaps has been godless, greedy, profane and blasphemous, dishonest, intoxicated again and again with drugs and alcohol, rude, self-seeking, unkind, heartless, violent or sexually immoral. The world may have tired of you, or your family may have cast you off. Whatever you are, wherever you are, listen to this word about Jesus, intended as a criticism, but gloriously true nonetheless: “This man welcomes sinners!”

Grace and peace, David