Monday, March 15, 2010

Host the Loving Presence of God


This morning I preached on John 17:25-26. Here Jesus concludes his prayer for his followers. He says he is giving the love the Father has for him to be "in" his followers.

I spent some time developing the nature of the love the Father has for the Son. The Christian conception of God is: God is a three-personed being. This means: three individual persons sharing one essence. AKA the "Godhead."

The essence of the Godhead is: love. On Christian theism God is love.Trinitarian love is:
- other centered
- freely given and freely received
- unconditional

To say that Trinitarian love is other-centered is to say it is, of course, not self-centered. Love this of the other. Love is not entertained by questions like "What's in this relationship for me?"

To say that love is freely given and freely received means that God's love for us is not out of any need God has for our love. What can that mean? To begin, "love" is relational. In love, one subject loves an other. Because God is a three-personed being, this makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. In the Trinity the Father loves the Son, the Son the Father, the Spirit the Son, and so on. In this sense, because God is love, God is not out looking for love in all the wrong places. Stanley Grenz says: “Because God is triune, the divine reality already comprehends both love’s subject and object.” (Stanley Grenz, Theology For the Community of God, 72).

To say that God's love is unconditional is to say that love is not merit-based. It is NEVER based on the merit of the one receiving it. Rather, it is based on the loving nature of the one giving it. If the love of God were merit-based, then God would NOT BE LOVE. This therefore means there is no “striving” in the being of God. Within the being of the Godhead the Son, e.g., is not trying really hard to earn or deserve the love of the Father.

This has implications for you and I. When you feel you’ve got to strive to get God’s approval and love, you’ll start to compete with other Christians around you and judge them. That’s the bitter fruit of merit-based love. You see that when people start talking about others who either “deserve” or “don’t deserve” their love. There are a lot of ministries and churches and individual Christians out there trying to “outdo” each other for God’s approval, to impress other people, or to feel better about their own corporate selves. All of that is totally foreign to the being of the Godhead.

God's love is also everlasting. It has always existed, and always will. And, its manifestation has been a 24/7 thing (understanding this metaphorically, since "time" is non-applicable in a being whose existence is everlasting). There has never been even a tiny micro-second where the love of God has slacked off.

Now think, as much as you can, about love within the Godhead. What if such love were in you? As outrageous as that sounds, that is precisely the claim Jesus makes when he says, in John 17:25, that the love the Father has for him will be in his followers. I love what New Testament scholar D.A. Carson has said about this. Carson writes:
“Jesus’ revelatory work will continue (through the Holy Spirit), so that God’s gracious self-disclosure in his Son will not be reduced to a mere datum of history, but will be a lived experience." (Carson, The Gospel According to John, 570)  
Now watch this, as Carson writes:
“The crucial point is that this text does not simply make these followers the objects of God’s love, but promises that they will be so transformed, as God is continually made known to them, that God’s own love for his Son will become their love. The love with which they learn to love is nothing less than the love amongst the persons of the Godhead.” (Ib.)
Remember that Jesus, in John 14:23, has already told his disciples, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” I take all of this to mean that we are not to spend our prayers asking for a visitation from God. This is because God wants to make, with us, in us, a "habitation." This is not "Guess who's coming to dinner?" This is: "Guess who's moving in with us, forever and ever and evermore.
When God moves in to your heart and makes his home there he brings his stuff. I want you to think… tonight… as you are in your home… that God lives with you… in you… “Christ in you, the hope of glory”… and He’s there with suitcases full of his stuff. And what wouold be in those suitcases? Things like: his peace, his joy, his all-knowingness, his all-powerfulness, his all-lovingness. And his love is grace-filled, good, truthful, righteous, pure, other-centered, freely extended, non-merit-based with no strings attached.

In short – When God moves in and unpacks his bags he brings his “glory.” "Christ in you, the hope of glory. The word “glory” means – the attributes of God. God's resources and attributes and, above all other things, his everlasting love. The love of eternal Three-in-One God is in you and in me as we dwell in and with him, like branches attached to Jesus, the True Vine.

This an experiential thing. It is not some theory. It is not a bunch of words. Accept this as truth.

But, you may wonder, "I don’t comprehend it all? You don’t need to. For example, a few weeks ago I was watching a guitar instructional dvd that had some amazing guitar work on it that is, currently, beyond me. I saw it with my own eyes. I heard it. It was glorious. And I did not understand it. I wondered – “How does he do that? I cannot comprehend it. But it is so, so beautiful.” I'd love for that to get inside of me! What i saw was real and beautiful and I wanted it. But I did not "know" it in the sense of comprehending it and being able to do it. It's the same kind of thing when it comes to Trinitarian love.

Think now of the real and Incomprehensible love of God. Paul experienced it, knew it, and did not fully comprehend it. So, in Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul wrote:

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Jesus closes his prayer by adding, "…and that I myself may be in them." D.A. Carson writes: “This is nothing less than the ancient hope that God would dwell in the midst of his people.” (Carson, 570-571) We see that ancient hope in a text like Isaiah 66:1:

"This is what the LORD says:
"Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?

Here Craig Keener quotes Carson:

“Jesus’ departure does not have as its goal the abandonment of the disciples to solitary isolation. Far from it: his goal is to sweep up those the Father has given him into the richness of the love that exists among the persons of the triune God.” (In Craig Keener, The Gospel of John, 1064)

I am being swept up in the Trinitarian love of God. It's for every follower of Jesus. It's not merit-based. So...

Know that God loves you.
Accept that, as you dwell in Christ, Trinitarian love makes its home in your heart.
Be the dwelling place of God.
Host the earth-shattering presence of God.
Let's God's love rule in your heart.