Monday, April 20, 2009

A Drop in the Ocean

Understanding the Depths of the Love of Christ

“And I pray…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

When we think of the Reformation we often give thanks for the recovery of the doctrines of sola scriptura (Scripture alone) and sola fide (Faith alone). We rejoice over these great doctrines because when we returned to Scripture as our sole authority, we also were clearly reminded of the instrument of our salvation--faith alone. We are not justified because of some goodness in ourselves. Believing in Christ and participating in the sacraments do not justify us. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone!

My tendency, as I embrace the great “sola’s” of the Reformation, is to emphasize the judicial nature of the atonement and our justification. I often think of God’s holiness and His right to have his holiness vindicated through his wrath. I think of God’s grace in justifying an undeserving sinner like myself. He has judicially declared me righteous in Christ. He has imputed my sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to me. What a glorious exchange! However, I often intellectualize my faith and do not think about the love of the Christ who would offer so great a salvation to me.

One of the great recoveries of the reformation, that is so often passes without discussion, is the reaffirmation of the richness and freeness of the love of Christ. Prior to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was teaching a gospel that drove men to try to earn and retain the love of Christ. Men, like Martin Luther, strove with such effort to please God that they often grew in hatred toward him. It was not until Luther understood justification by faith alone that he began to truly love God. He understood that God, out of His great love, makes us alive together with Christ. Salvation is a free gift. It is not predicated on our works. It is a gift motivated by the love of Christ.

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.
Rom. 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Eph. 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Eph. 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
1John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

At times, I need to return to the biblical texts of the love of Christ and be reminded of the depth of the love of Christ. I think we often forget how much God loves His creation. Luther remarked that God’s love is the only love powerful enough to create the objects of its affection. We often need to be reminded of the fact that Christ loves us with a richness that we cannot even fathom. The love of man, even at its purest and best, is such a poor example of the love of Christ that comparisons seem empty. Charles Haddon Spurgeon remarked, “None of us loves men as Christ loves them; and if the love of all the tenderhearted in the world could run together, they would make but a drop compared with the ocean of the compassion of Jesus.”

The love of Christ was given to us from eternity. The love of Christ brought us into being. The love of Christ extends all gracious gifts to us. The love of Christ elects us unto salvation. The love of Christ effectually calls us to salvation. The love of Christ lavishes us with grace and mercy. The love of Christ preserves us in salvation. When speaking of the love of Christ, Paul said,

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

As the great hymn, “The Love of Christ” by William Gadsby, says…

“The love of Christ is rich and free;
 Fixed on His own eternally;

Nor earth, nor hell, can it remove;
 Long as He lives, His own He’ll love.
His loving heart engaged to be
 Their everlasting Surety;
Twas love that took their cause in hand,
 And love maintains it to the end.
Love cannot from its post withdraw;
 Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law, 
Can turn the Surety’s heart away;
 He’ll love His own to endless day.
Love has redeemed His sheep with blood;
 And love will bring them safe to God;

Love calls them all from death to life;
 And love will finish all their strife.
He loves through every changing scene,
 Nor aught from Him can Zion wean;
Not all the wanderings of her heart
 Can make His love for her depart.
Love cannot from its post withdraw;
 Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law,
 Can turn the Surety’s heart away;
 He’ll love His own to endless day.
At death, beyond the grave, He’ll love; 
In endless bliss, His own shall prove
The blazing glory of that love
Which never could from them remove. Which never could from them remove.”

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