Visible Love

How can I know if I actually love God? How can I know that I am actually a disciple of Christ? These questions are valid questions, questions that Christians, specifically those who have been raised in church, struggle with because they don’t want to be guilty of going through the motions. Particularly, I think of Jesus’ words when He spoke to His disciples in front of the crowd, supposedly at the place now called the Mount of Beatitudes,

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

If there are people who are calling on the name of Christ, preaching in Christ’s name, and doing good works in Christ’s name who will not enter the kingdom of heaven, it seems to me that we should ask this question. Can I know that Christ knows me relationally and that I actually love Him, not merely admire Him and not merely do good things in hope that He will keep me from Hell?

Acts 17:10-15

As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. On arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica found out that God’s message had been proclaimed by Paul at Berea, they came there too, agitating and disturbing the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul away to go to the sea, but Silas and Timothy stayed on there. Those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they departed.

Nature of Relationship

We often hear this: Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. This is a really terrible way to try and describe the nature of life we have in Christ because the Christian belief system is a religious belief system (as is every other system of belief). I think we would be better off simply saying that we believe life is about our relationship with Christ, not about us trying to do good works for the purpose of earning a better condition in the afterlife. This is what makes the Christian worldview different than every other worldview. We don’t look at the world through the lens of self-righteousness, asking, “What can I do.” We look at the world through the lens of our own depravity and Christ’s all-sufficiency.

Our righteousness is based on Christ knowing us, not on how much we accomplish or do. Even in Matthew 7, we read that Jesus brings people into His kingdom because He knows them, not because they have healed people or cast out demons or preached in His name (or any other work, for that matter).

In this part of the story, we read that the Bereans were open-minded or noble-minded. The Greek word that has been translated as open-minded or noble in this text literally means that the Bereans were a people who had come into acting well. They were listening with great eagerness and searching the Scriptures to be sure that what Paul preached was true. The Bereans loved the truth and they loved the word of God. The evidence of that love was that they were eager to receive the truth, eager to search the Scriptures, and spent time abiding in God’s word, not merely by it. These were people who weren’t concerned primarily with doing the right thing, but with knowing the truth and abiding in God’s word and with one another.

Considering this, I want to answer our questions from this text of Scripture. How can we know that w actually love God and are disciples? The answer is that we consider how our time is spent. We don’t merely consider all of the things we do for Christ. Remember this isn’t a works-based righteousness. We observe how much time we spend simply being with Christ- abiding in His word. Jesus said it this way:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21),

and,

“If you love Me, you will keep My commands. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you” (John 14:15-18).

Our time is a great treasure. We invest our time into the things and the people that we love. If we love Christ, the evidence is that we will keep His commands and He will abide with us in the person of the Holy Spirit. How do I know that I love my wife and my son? I spend time with them. How do we know that God loves us? He spends time with us. How do we know that we truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ? We spend time in fellowship together. How do we know that we love our community? We spend time connecting with our community and getting involved. How do we know that we love what God has said to us? We spend time abiding in His word, not merely by it.

There is a great sense of wonder that I have when abiding in God’s words. N. D. Wilson describes them this way:

“I knew what God was saying. He gave me eyes so that I might see Him say it. He gave me ears so I could pick up the rhythms and clatters and rhymes. My skin can tighten, teased by His breath, and send up bumps. My tongue can taste these words, the water, the pine needles, even the log that held me, but I cannot say them. We have given them names, shortcutting them with smaller sounds, sounds that fit in our mouths.

Tree, I say, and you know what I mean. You see one in your mind or glance out your window and remember the much-needed pruning. Tree, God says, and there is one. But He doesn’t say the word tree; He says the tree itself. He needs no shortcut. He’s not merely calling one into existence. That thing in your yard, that mangy apple or towering spruce, that thing is not the referent of His word. It is His word and its referent. If He were to stop talking, it wouldn’t be there.”

God’s word is astounding and we get to read it and abide in it! God’s words don’t merely increase our knowledge; they literally sustain our very existence. If God were to stop speaking, we would cease to exist- yet we are tempted to rush the church service and rush our daily quiet times because we have so much to do. We are tempted to spend all of our time working and earning money. We are tempted to spend all of our time playing video games or watching television. We get lost in the things we need to do and in our own hobbies. What does the amount of time we expend on these things imply about the love we have?

Everyday I get to learn more about the mercies of God, the grace of God, and the wonders of God. I get to learn many of these things from my son, and he is almost four months old. He is unable to speak. He is without any biblical knowledge. He is entirely dependent on others to be sure that he lives. Yet, God uses him to show me new and wonderful things about Himself. How can I not give my time to such a heavenly Father, who is always teaching us something new as we abide in Him and give Him our time?

When we love God, we give Him our time. When we love people, we give them our time. We all fail when it comes to loving God well on this earth- we are at war with the part of us that is still sinful, trying everything we can to keep our time for ourselves. God will one day remove these effects of human sin.

We eagerly give our time to the things we love.

Nature of Religiosity

In verses 1-9, we read about Paul going into a different city, Thessalonica, before arriving in Berea. In this city, many Jews became jealous and formed a mob to try to drag Paul and Silas into the street, but they did not find them. Instead, they persecuted the man of the household where Paul and Silas had stayed. In verses 12-15, we read about the same mob from Thessalonica. The people had followed Paul to Berea and Paul’s missionary team was forced out of Berea also. These Jews were the established religious people of the day and in that region. They showed that they only loved themselves because they gave their time to jealousy. In fact, there are a few characteristics we see in the people who persecuted Paul’s missionary team:

    1. They were religious (v. 5).
      1. They were more concerned with doing things than with hearing what God actually had to say. Religion can be good, but mere religiosity leads to self-centeredness.
    2. They were jealous in an unrighteous way (v. 5).
      1. Unrighteous jealousy is an indication that we love ourselves more than we love God and other people.
    3. They were quarrelsome (v. 8, 13).
      1. Those who have not actually loved God loved people start fights where they are unnecessary and insight conflicts that simply don’t need to be present. It is evidence of a love-lacking heart condition and a sign that people are not really disciples of Christ.
    4. They complained without real reason, fishing for accusations (v. 6-7).
      1. Those who don’t love God and love people are quick to speak and slow to listen, quick to complain and slow to understand. This is another sign of a love-lacking heart condition.

There is a clear difference between the person who loves God and what God has to say and the person who does not; the genuine disciple and the ingenuine disciple. This is why Christ revealed to us that not everyone who calls on His name or does good things in His name will be saved. We actually have to be in a love relationship with Jesus. So, here, I feel a great need to ask a few questions of you, and perhaps to myself.

First, do we love Christ in such a way that we give Him our time; or are we concerned only in church so we can sit for an hour and check that work off of our religious to-do’s? There are churches all over the world meeting for hours and hours just so they can praise God together and rest as much as possible in God’s word as a church family because they love God. Our downfall is that we make church a program centered more around us because we have been raised to love ourselves while referring to ourselves as Christians. This is our religiosity and it is dangerous- fooling so many into thinking that they love Christ because they spend an hour in a church service. That sounds like works-based righteousness, doesn’t it?

Second, do we give God much of our time while we are not in the church building? We live in an era when five-minute devotionals and thirty-second prayers constitute the life of a Christian who considers him or herself to follow Christ closely. We concern ourselves with everything we are doing and forget to live in loving relationship with our Lord. This is evident in more than our relationships with Christ. Marriages deteriorate. Children grow up not knowing their fathers. People are becoming more and more isolated, individualistic, and cut off from others. This leads to the escalation of crime and violence. What is the cause? We have not loved and we have not given our time. The whole world would do well to read what God has given, but it would have to give up too much time, and there are things to do.

People don’t know that we love God by our doing of good works. I know atheists who are also humanitarians and civil rights activists and who practice creation care. No, people know that we love God because we spend time with God. We care enough to learn more about God. We try to please God. We talk about God. I would never say something like, “People know I married to my wife because I live like a married man.” People know that I love my wife because I can’t help but talk about her and spend time with her and learn her desires and do my best to please her.

Mere religiosity does not show love for God.

Nature of Godly Love

This is not a new problem. Scripture is clear and honest about human depravity. On our own, we are unable to love God and genuinely love people. Without God, we are all self-centered and self-interested people. We worry about other people’s opinions of us. We are concerned with never missing our favorite television shows. We try to set time-limits for God. We strive to achieve greater status, wealth, and comfort for ourselves. We try to establish ourselves and earn a good reputation for ourselves. Thank the Lord for His grace and thank Him that His system is not one of works-based righteousness because I would stand condemned if it were. We love because He first loved us (John 4:19).

“While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, ‘Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.’

The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42).

God loves us in such a way that He spends time with us. If we love God, we spend time with God. If we love one another, we spend time together as a church family. If we love people in our community, we spend time with them. The way we spend our time is evidence of the type of love we have.

When certain generations are treated differently because of perceived attention spans, we actually imply something that is contrary to the text of Scripture. When we say that attention spans are shrinking and so we need not spend as much time doing certain things, we are encouraging self-centeredness in our culture. When we develop youth ministries and children’s ministries that are separate from the rest of the body so that we can make things more exciting for youth and children, we do great damage to the local church in its structure. This and scientific study indicates that shrinking attention span is a myth. People pay attention and devote time to what they love. If we love them, we want to be with them and have them with us. Oh, look; discipleship in the context of a local church!

Do we love God more than we love Sunday lunch? Do we love Him more than we love our couches? Do we love Christ more than we love our pews, more than we love our religiosity? We can know by looking at the way we spend our time.

God’s love is not based on our works.

 

We eagerly give our time to the things we love.

Mere religiosity does not show love for God.

God’s love is not based on our works.

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