Image via author, Emigrant Wilderness, Sierra Nevada
In the previous post entitled, “I’m Hatin’ Life Right Now,” I posed this question:
“What would bring people to “hate this life,” meaning to forsake all to be inhabited fully by His life?”
And the answer was love. “When one gives oneself over to loving our God above all, life is reorganized and priorities reordered. This love settles all lesser issues and establishes a new, peaceful, joyful life that endures even in the most trying of circumstances. The great promises of our God for abundant living, peace, joy, and rest for our souls become reality when God is loved with all one’s being.”
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 tells us, “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” The love of Christ for us and in us urges us on into living a life fully surrendered to the Spirit of Christ in us.
This love establishes a new, completely God-focused life. One no longer lives for self but for Him Who redeemed us. This all-consuming love for our God unlocks the life of God in us, for the very life of our God becomes the life the one who loves Him above all else. It brings us into union and intimacy with Him.
Few Christians know this and fewer teach this all-consuming love for our God this life of union and intimacy with our God. This, even though it is the central theme of the Bible. To love our God above everything else in life including ourselves is the foremost commandment in the OT and the greatest commandment in the NT. Yet it is largely absent from pulpits and books across North America.
Instead, following Jesus has been identified as going to meetings, doing the religious duties, agreeing with certain doctrines, and behaving in certain ways. We are taught to do this with greater effort and sincerity, and that success in this will come by increments over time. Trying harder, self-discipline, spiritual disciplines, and self-help theology dominate the conversation. Discipleship is about trying harder and harder to act like Jesus. In doing so we are more like Leviticans than Christians, trying to live by standards of behavior that are impossible to meet.
This is not the life our God intends for us. This kind of religiosity leaves us still in possession of our living, still making our own choices. In retaining possession of our own lives we deny our God His rightful place as our Lord and life, even as we expend large amounts of energy trying by our own efforts to please Him and be like Him.
The scriptures tell us that the biggest obstacle to our love for our God and to His life lived in us is our self-life. The self-life is always in the way of the work of God in us. By our very nature we want to retain control and set our course even in our relationship with our God. We try to get by with religious efforts, by trying to manage sin, trying to do more of the “right things.” Progress is small and slow, and sometimes seems unattainable.
This is why the Gospel of the Kingdom begins with the call to repent. We usually think of repentance in the context of specific sins, but the root of all sin in us is our self-oriented living. The opposite of love is being self-focused. Love for our God cannot grow in the presence of the self-life. We must repent of self if we are to ever come to love our God above all.
The life Jesus Christ intends for us is His life – His very life – lived in us in place of our own. Fullness is not found in doing for Christ but in being in Christ. It is God Himself living His life, His holiness, His faithfulness in us, in place of ours. And the key to His life lived in us is to love Him so deeply that we surrender all our living to Him.
Jesus spoke about love and His life in us in John 14:23-24: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.”
We have treated this verse as a command, a kind of “You must obey me to prove you love me.” But what if we missed the point of what Jesus is saying? What if it is statement of fact?
Those who love Jesus will experience Jesus and the Father living in them. Therefore, those who love Him will keep His words by the strength of His life in us.
In this way, keeping His commands is no longer burdensome for us because He is keeping them for us by His life in us. Christ Himself becomes our obedience, our holiness, our faithfulness. This is what John meant when he wrote these words in 1 John 5:2-3 “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and follow His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”
When we let go of our lives to love Him above all, we leave our small stories to join into the incredibly huge story that our God is working in the world. We are set free from our human cycle of trying and failing. We are joined to Christ, and He inhabits us with the fullness of His life. Conversely, retaining control and ownership of my living inhibits His life in me. As for me, I want to be inhabited, not inhibited.