December 20, 2015
Our society uses the word 'love' in many different ways. We love our spouse and we love our children. But we also love our cars, our coffee, and our favorite TV show. And we would love to take a vacation. But love in the Biblical sense never has a selfish connotation. It never means something that just gives us pleasure. I really, really like ice cream, but I don't 'love' ice cream. I do not put the needs and well-being of a carton of ice cream before my own.
The ancient Greeks had more than one word for 'love'. There was 'eros', which is romantic love. The kind that makes your heart race, and your legs weak, when you see that special person. The kind that makes you daydream, and write poetry, and act like someone you don't even know. Then there is 'philia', which is the virtuous brotherly type of love. Family love. But the highest form of love is 'agape'. That is the pure love that God has for us. It is totally untainted by sin. It is a love that transcends all other forms of love. Jesus told His disciples, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13) But then Jesus Himself even went beyond that, as the Apostle Paul told the Romans, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8)
Some people do not completely grasp what Christ did, so let me attempt to clear up a few false concepts. At one end of the spectrum are those who believe that Christ died for everyone (which in itself is true), so therefore everyone will eventually go to heaven (which is not true). At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe Christ only died for the 'elect', those who God predestined to go to heaven - and not for the rest (also not true). While God has always had foreknowledge of who will and will not go to heaven, based on their acceptance or rejection of His Son, Christ died for everyone and the offer of salvation is extended to everyone, no exceptions. It does not matter if you are the nicest person on the face of the earth, or the most hardened criminal. Christ died for you. Period. The concept of predestination is misunderstood by some, to mean that you have no choice, so why even bother? If you are either predestined to go to heaven or you aren't, what difference does it make what you do or don't do? Predestination does NOT eliminate free will. You have a choice. Whether or not you go to heaven or hell in up to you. God will not force anyone to go to heaven if they don't want to. It is your decision to go to hell. Not God's desire. He never predestines anyone to go to hell.
Which brings us back to agape... Think about this: How could a God whose very essence is the purest form of love in existence in all the universe, purposely send the very beings He created out of love, and that He loved enough to be born Himself as a baby only to suffer and die to redeem us - to a hell that is the darkest place in the universe, devoid of love and light and any form of goodness, to spend an eternity? Do you not think that God's very heart breaks over every soul that rejects Him and His offer of salvation through Christ? No parent ever wants to feel the anguish of losing a child, but any parent who has can appreciate to some extent the utter remorse that God feels every time other one of His children opts to live without Him for eternity. At least when a human parent loses a child, they have the hope of seeing them again one day in heaven. God has no such hope for anyone that refuses to return His love. When Jesus was on earth He shed tears over the death of Lazarus, whom He brought back to life (see John 11). And He wants to bring every one of us back to life too. For all of us have died spiritually because of sin, but Jesus loved us enough to die for us - for each and every one of us - so we can become spiritually alive again (read Ephesians 2:1-10). So we can live eternally in heaven with Him, if we choose to do so.
Now for those of us who have chosen Christ, who have through the grace of God realized that a life serving Christ is far better than a life serving satan (and we are either doing one or the other!), and that an eternity with God is far better than an eternity without Him; we have the Holy Spirit living within us. That means that we have the spirit of agape love in our hearts! And because we do, we have a capability to love that exceeds that of those who do not have the Holy Spirit within them. And yet, why is it that at times we act just like the rest of the world? Why do we let our flesh rule over our spirit? Why do we listen to everyone BUT God? We were called to grow in the Spirit, to become more like God every day, to love as God loves. We will never be perfect as long as we are in our earthly bodies, and satan will put every possible stumbling block in our paths. He does so not because he can ever lay claim to us again, but to keep us from leading others to Christ. Therefore, every morning when you get up, think to yourself, "What if those I come into contact with today will make a decision to either follow Christ, or not, based on how they see Christ in me?"