In the last five minutes, I have been frustrated with my internet connection because it has failed yet again, and I have been annoyed by a text arriving on my phone and requiring my attention just as I sat down to write this piece. Of course there is no-one in my study with me to witness these little mini- explosions…
Although that isn’t true, is it? Actually the One through whom the Universe was made is here too. He knows every thought in my head, and every ripple of emotion that ruffles the surface of my heart. He gave his life up in agony so that I might live through him, delivered of the negatives embedded in my flesh and bearing fruit that glorifies Him, and that demonstrates to the principalities and powers of darkness the consummate victory of the cross and the eternal wisdom of God’s Great Plan. Yet in the space of five minutes, instead of spiritually “possessing my soul” by bearing the fruit of patience (“In your patience possess your souls” – Luke 21:19) I have yet again delivered it to to sin and death by yielding to my flesh.
As if to reinforce the point, Anne has just come upstairs with the landline phone in her hands: a friend from church wants a chat to arrange a cup of tea together. This time I smile. I smile because I am writing about love: the love that never fails. How far I am from that love! But as Paul famously writes, I can thank God for Jesus, who delivers me from “this body of death” (Romans 7:25). I may not have offended anybody mortal, but I offended Him.
The Light of Love
Love never fails. One day the sun will dim and the light of the stars will fade, but God’s love endures forever. As part of creation, even the sun and the stars are “subject to decay,” as Paul writes in Romans 8:20. But when The Perfect is come, the New Jerusalem will be coming with it, with “no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminates it. The Lamb is its light.” (Rev 21:23). The love of God is not like the light of the sun: it cannot decay. It cannot be dimmed. It’s not the created light that God separated from darkness (Gen 1:4); it’s the light that created the darkness and shines in it, which the darkness cannot put it out. “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all,” writes John (1 John 1:5). Uncreated eternal light is the light of love; it’s God Himself.
I’m not writing this because I think you don’t know it, because I’m sure you do: what I’m trying to put into words is the sense that the love that God pours into our hearts by the Holy Spirit is totally outside and beyond anything in the Universe that could diminish even a single spark of its light and power within us. Not just the abstract idea, but something of the experiential knowledge that it is the power of Life itself, it is the power that raised Jesus from the dead, it is the power that created the universe, and it is the power by which we were born again to eternal life and by which our spirits were resurrected with Christ to be seated with Him in heavenly places. Can anything separate us from this love? (Romans 8: 31-39)
“No!” we say, because we know that this is the truth of the Word. Yet how much of our lives are actually spent in the experience of this truth? When I lost my patience with the internet, then again with the person who dared to send me a text while I was writing, was I living in its glory? The new creation walks by faith and not by sight; after the Spirit and not after the flesh, bathed in the light of this love. It wasn’t the new creation Bob that lost his patience; it was the old one that is supposed to be passing away. Although nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus, we can lose contact with it oh, so easily. And the more we live outside of this contact, the less we see it working through us and wonderfully touching other people. ”You are restricted by your own affections,” as Paul writes (2 Cor 6:12).
Treasure in Earthen Vessels
Yet “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” What is shining in our hearts is brighter than the sun, and it is not subject to decay. We have this amazing treasure in the earthen vessels of our lives (2 Cor 4:7). But what do we see when we look in the mirror: the treasure, or the earthen vessel? Paul says “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18) Can we really see the glory of the Lord’s blazing love in our own eyes when we study our reflection?
Paul had already written about reflections in the earlier letter to his church at Corinth: “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known,” (1 Cor 13:12) Perfection hasn’t come yet, but it’s on its way. And as we allow the Holy Spirit freedom to work in our hearts, we keep moving closer to its glory. We can catch a glimpse of it even now, burning undimmable in the depths of our unveiled hearts – for “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Cor 3:16) – and He changes us from glory to glory as we become more like Him.
Before I formed you in the womb
The wonder of all this is, that the light of Christ within us is already part of who we are as the spiritual beings who have been raised and seated with Him in heavenly places. In that place that is outside the realms of time, we are already glorified: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Rom 8: 29-30) Our heavenly body already exists: “we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1) Paul doesn’t say that “we will have” an eternal heavenly body (“building”); he says we have already got it. Since it’s eternal, it actually existed before time. God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:4) When “this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality,” (1 Cor 15:4) we will finally be stepping into the eternal self that has been waiting all our lives to receive us.
Is this what we see when we look in the mirror? Because it’s what the love of God planned for us before He created time itself. Before He called creation into being and subjected it to decay, our glorified selves were already raised with Christ, and the works that we would do on Earth as we move in contact with the fire of that love were already prepared. (Eph 2:10) To walk by faith is to step through eternity, in the blazing light of perfect love by which we are being transformed from glory to glory.
If you want patience – and love, and joy, and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit – take a step of faith now and look at yourself as you really are. I am an amateur photographer, and I long for images that are ‘pin-sharp.’ What you will see will not be pin-sharp yet, but the more you long for it, the clearer it will become. Meanwhile it is no less real, and the light that you see it by is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6) Look, there He is, burning with unfailing love: Christ in you, the hope of glory.