Tag Archives: Love one another

Without love, we are nothing. We are on this earth to learn how to love. Jesus showed us the way.

By This We Know Love

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16)

We all know John 3:16. 1 John 3:16 is less celebrated, although it is of course a familiar scripture. A reading of John’s first letter probes the heart and challenges us in our walk of faith, and no more so than in this verse. We can imagine the apostle remembering the words of Jesus that he recorded in his gospel account (John 15:13) as he sat down to write this letter: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends,” and thinking, ‘Yes, this is at the heart of it all.”

What do we think when we read it?

I once watched a seal in the River Liffey in Dublin. A school of salmon was swimming up the river, which in itself was a splendid spectacle; and I stood for a while and enjoyed the glitter and flash of the darting shapes in the water. The seal was enjoying it for a different reason, which was in its mouth, half-eaten. But a detail I remember clearly was that there were also three or four small crabs clinging to the mutilated body of the salmon, having their own little feast How they had got there and how long they had been clinging I don’t know, but it was definitely one of those “I wish I had my camera” moments and it is printed very clearly on my memory. There are at least two “crabs” attached to this Bible verse.

One of those crabs is religion. Religion reads those words and says: “See! You must live a life of sacrifice. No fun for you. Don’t even think about enjoying life. Look at the rules! They say you must always put other people first. They say you have to be a doormat. It’s good to be a doormat! Who knows, you might even have to be a martyr. After all, isn’t that what Jesus said? He laid down His life, and he expects us to be willing to lay down ours, literally…” And so it goes on, seeking to present to the world the image of a joyless, dour and discontented assembly that the world will shun. And for centuries it has succeeded.

The other crab is the intellect. This is one I know well. The intellect reads scripture, thinks about it, maybe writes about it, tears off little pieces with its claws and puts them into its mouth to savour – but doesn’t live them. The intellect loves to dwell on the theory and the theology but doesn’t apply them to the here and now. We see examples of this from time to time when well-known ministries are discovered with their hands either in the church finances or on someone they shouldn’t be touching – or both – but the problem is far more widespread than the public fall of a few high-profile individuals. A couple of verses on from our opening scripture John wrote : “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) It’s easy to talk and write about love, but what counts is when we do it. The widow who gave her mite almost certainly had far less knowledge of the Law than the Pharisee who withheld his fortune.

So what is meant by the principle of laying down one’s life? Yes, we are called to serve. Yes, we are called to give. Yes, we may be called to literally die for our faith. Nothing that the religious spirit speaks of is untrue in itself, but it leaves out the most important part of the picture:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt 16:24-25)

The Bible doesn’t teach us to lay down our lives out of duty, but out of desire. We have to desire to follow Jesus, and when we do, we will find our lives. At the beginning of his letter, John says “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” We lay down our lives so that our joy may be full. This is not the religion that shrinks the soul or the intellect that puffs it up: this is the abundant life that Jesus came to give us (John 10:10). The life that we find is not the life that we were born with, but the life that we were born to: it’s the life of the Spirit that is ours in Christ. Whenever we find that life we find peace and joy, we find patience and self-control, we find kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and above all we find love: all the fruit of the Holy Spirit flows like rainbow colours in that living water. And if we need a gift from Him for someone that we are with – healing, prophesy, a word of knowledge – it will be there for us, carried along on the current, whenever we lay down our lives for Jesus and the gospel.

Whenever, not when or if. Because, as we know from many scriptures, that stream is always there for those who are born of God. Although it flows out of us (John 7:38), we also have to step into it (Ezekiel 47); and to step into it we have to step off our own dry land. But to do so is not difficult or complicated; it does not need the worship band or the anointed speaker, and we don’t even need to remember this morning’s Bible verse or even – shock, horror – to have had a quiet time, for “His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) To step into the river we just need to step into Love, and this has just one simple prerequisite: to love another person we need to leave our own agenda on the bank.

I really do believe that it is as simple as that. Whenever we give ourselves to the person we are with, the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to flow into the relationship and bring His agenda into it. By contrast, whenever the outcome that we desire is for the person we are with is, one way or another, to give themselves to us, the river of Love will just flow past. We can worry so easily about what will happen if we let our agenda go, but if we believe the scriptures we know that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1: 17), and that it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12: 32).

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) writes Paul. This is the life that Jesus holds out to us when we lay down our own to love another. How can we not desire it? Because surely it is to die for.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us  commandment.” (1 John 3:18-23)

“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4: 17-18)


“Perfect love casts out fear.” This is a Bible truth that we have all turned to, been turned to, or turned others to at different times and points of need in our walk with God. If certain scriptures are familiar “meeting rooms” that we all know and visit on many occasions, this has to be one of them. But I think that there is an aspect of this room, a décor, that maybe we don’t often see, and that I would like to spend a bit of time looking at and appreciating here, and it’s this: the perfect love that casts out fear is not just the love that has been poured in, but the love that we pour out in obedience to God’s command. It’s the love that we walk in. Output, as well as input. And not only does it have implications for our emotional and spiritual well-being, but also for the effectiveness of our faith. We know that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5), but we have to walk in love for it to be manifested: it is only when that love is manifested that we do actually love “in deed and in truth” and not just in word and tongue, as John so succinctly puts it. That is when “As He is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17)


Walking in Love

God’s desire is for His love to be manifested on earth as it is in heaven. We love the Lord and His love is revealed in us when we obey His commands; and John tells us clearly that when we obey Him we know that we abide in Him: “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him.“  (1 John 3:24) Moreover, “Whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.” (1 John 2:5) When we keep God’s word His love is perfected in us, and so we have no fear of condemnation, because perfect love casts out fear. John tells us that fear involves punishment ( “kolasis:” correction, punishment, penalty. NKJV above: “torment”), so to put this simply we know we aren’t going to get punished because we know we are being obedient. While it’s the input of God’s grace through the cross that brings us to salvation, it’s what comes out of us when we express that love in obedience to His word that casts out fear. And when we walk in the manifestation of this love, we will receive whatever we ask, because we are asking in the full assurance that we know we are walking in His purpose. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5: 14-15)

Much of 1 John is a reprise of what Jesus taught and John recorded towards the end of his gospel (see John 15): we love Jesus and remain in Him when we keep His word; when we do this we will do even “greater things” than what He accomplished during His earthly ministry; when we remain in Him we will “bear much fruit,” but without Him we can do nothing.

All the time we walk along the path of love, we walk in ‘the works which are prepared for us beforehand’ (Ephesians 2:10), and we will receive whatever we request to accomplish them because we won’t be asking for anything that is not on our path. If there is a tree in front of me and I need the fruit that hangs from a branch that I can’t reach, God will give me a ladder by the power of His Spirit, because I am keeping His commandment and abiding in His purpose. “Now he who keeps his commandments abides in Him and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.“ (1 John 3: 24). However if there is another tree, or even a whole orchard, beckoning from somewhere over the fields and off my path, God will not give me the means to reach it. And if I do, stubbornly, manage to beat a path there myself I will find that the fruit is either under-ripe, inaccessible, or rotten.

The Lie of Condemnation

The devil is always working to thwart the purposes of God in Christ, and we are called to achieve them by walking in faith and love. We are fighting a war, and these are the battle lines. The devil will use the world and the flesh to try and tempt us away from the path because these are the domains under his sway; and he will undermine our faith by telling us that we are not walking in love, because if our hearts are under condemnation we will not have the assurance of faith that God will answer our prayers. Faith only works through love, so if he can weaken our resolve to love and convince us that our love isn’t perfect enough, our faith is undermined and our prayers ineffective. Bringing us under the lie of condemnation is one of the enemy’s main strategies.

But “God is greater than our hearts”: He knows that we love Him, and He knows that He has called us according to His purpose. Even though the heart of the old man is “deceitful above all things” (Jer 17:9), the heart of the new man – the new, soft heart of flesh – has God’s  law written upon it  (Jer 31:33) and is therefore always directed towards fulfilling His purposes. And when we miss this direction because we fall into the ways of the old heart, we know, and God knows, that if anyone sins “we have an Advocate with the FatherJesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1).

The commandment that we are given, which as John says “is not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), is to love one another and to believe in Jesus. These two are like the twin poles of an electric current: out of our born-again, righteous heart we walk “after the Spirit and not after the flesh,” (Gal 5:16) loving one another with the resources that the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts. And when we fail to obey this part of God’s commandment – which we will do, regularly – we obey the other part, which is to believe in the power of the blood of Jesus and the Grace of God to forgive our sin. So perfect love – the love that is perfected in us by our obedience to God’s commandments – casts out fear, because There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1) Free of condemnation, we can walk in faith that our prayers will be answered.

Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace

To complete the picture of the electric current, there is (in the UK anyway) a third pin on an electric plug, and that is the earth. We can neither hear what Jesus is asking us to do, nor receive His forgiveness for not doing it, unless we stay close to Him all the time. So we need to always be earthed in the presence of God for the twin poles of our obedience and His forgiveness to be active in our lives. When they are, God’s current flows and the power of the Holy Spirit moves among us, and those “greater things” become possible.

So brothers and sisters, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb 4:16) knowing that in this place the devil ‘has nothing in us’ (see  John 14:30). When we can ask, free of fear and in full assurance of faith, for whatever it is that we need to see His Kingdom furthered, His love will be manifested among us and the name of Jesus will be glorified on the earth.

Walking in the Light (2)

Just after I had published the article “Walking in the Light” last night, Anne called up the stairs: “Bob, can you help me get the chickens in?“ It was about 11 pm. We had both forgotten to shut in Jessica Hennis and Roadrunner, the two hens that have the run of our garden. The long Summer days are already starting to draw in, and Anne actually commented: “It’s dark now!“  I took my phone and said “it’s okay I’ve got my torch,“ and switched it on to shine a light up the garden. And then I realised that I had just written about exactly this, and that God was speaking to me prophetically.

So what was He saying?

We shine the torch of love on the path ahead of us so that we don’t stumble. But we also shine a torch for others to keep them from stumbling as well. And what was the purpose of our walk? To shut in the hens so that the fox didn’t get them. God has given us responsibilities. The chickens go into roost by themselves, but it isn’t enough for us to just leave them to it: we have a responsibility to keep them safe.

The purpose of our walk together was to keep the enemy out. Jesus came to destroy the works of the evil one.  So we walk in the light and we help others also to walk in the light in order to thwart the work of the enemy within the realm of the responsibilities that God has given us. To paraphrase 1 Peter 5:8: the devil prowls around like a sly fox, to see what chickens he can devour. But God has given ministries and allocated responsibilities within the church so that we can walk together in the light; and it is as we grow in love and look after our “chickens” that the boundaries of the darkness are pushed back and the devil – who can’t come into the light – has less and less room to roam.

Today the Lord says to us: “Is your torch switched on? Who are you holding it for? Are your chickens safe?

Jesus said “the devil has nothing on me.” (John 14:30) The day will come when he has nothing on the church either and no darkness within it for him to roam in: that will be the day when Jesus comes back for his bride.

Are your chickens safe?

Walking in the Light

Before  I became a Christian in 1984 I was immersed in “new age” thinking: I believed that there was a higher level pf consciousness that we called God, but that there were  ‘many paths up the mountain.’ (I write a bit on how I met with Jesus in the middle of this fog of deception – including my conversation with a demon masquerading as the spirit of the pharaoh Ahkenaten that I was writing a novel about –  in “Two Seconds to Midnight.”) So I was fascinated by all things spiritual, unless of course it was the Truth – that can only be found in Christ – and that had long been consigned to the intellectual bin of narrow-minded dogma. I love to think back sometimes on my winding road to salvation. The apostle John wrote “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining,” (1 John 2:8) and I think that is what happened to me: the light in the fog gradually came nearer, then one day I saw where – Who – it came from. (If you are a non-Christian reader who has somehow googled your way onto this page, that is happening to you now.)

One significant time marking the approach of that Light for me was when I read the first epistle of John. I can’t remember why I read it at that time, because I wasn’t yet a Christian, but it was the first book of the Bible that I ever read, and what struck me about it was its deep spirituality. I didn’t understand it (although I probably thought I did at the time), but I realised that here was something in the Bible that was talking to me about spiritual matters on a level that I enjoyed. It pushed my buttons. Ever since then I have been drawn to that book. I have been challenged by it, I have meditated on its many pithy statements, I have been encouraged by it, I have been swept along by the tides of its all-encompassing pronouncements such as “God is Love,” “God is light,” “Perfect Love casts out fear,” “By this we know Love, that Jesus Christ laid down His life for us,” and many more. But only now, after 37 years, do I see the point of it. John himself tells us plainly why he wrote this letter: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.” (1 John 2:1).

It’s easy to lose sight of the basics in our complicated, hyped-up modern world. Our senses look for more and more stimulation, and we expect it to come more and more easily. And just like the world constantly lures us with calls for “more,” we can bring the same consumerism into our Christian lives: we can look for “more” of God and heightened levels of spiritual experience, and at the same time lose touch with the whole point of the Christian message, which is that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim 1:15.) Jesus went to the cross so that we would stop sinning.

John’s logic is clear and compelling: when we are born again we are born of God; we are no longer of the world. We have “passed from death to life.” (1 John 3:14) God is light and God is love: there is no darkness in Him and He cannot sin. Sin is from the devil who “sinned from the beginning.” Jesus came to “take away our sin” and to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3: 5, 8). “Whoever has been born of God,” writes John, “does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”

If we are born again we cannot sin and we don’t sin. Hmmm. Have you sinned recently? I know I have. Are you born again? I know I am. How do we reconcile these contradictory statements? John even writes himself: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) It must be possible to square that particular circle, because John himself clearly has no problem with it. Strong’s tells me that the meaning of “commit sin” is to have nothing to do with God’s law, to wander away from it; to miss the mark. It means to persistently live without reference to God’s righteousness: in other words, to sin is to walk in darkness. If we are born of God, who is Light, we cannot spend our time walking in darkness because there is a “seed” of light that remains within us.

What happens of course is that there are times when we don’t walk on the path where the light is shining; and when we stray from that path we stumble. If we are not born of God we remain in the world, “and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one;” (1 John 5:19) however if we are born of God, we have overcome the world: “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)

If we are not born of God by faith, whatever we do and  however we worship (however good it may seem in the world’s light) remains in darkness, because the world and all that is in it is in darkness and is passing away. As Jesus Himself put it: “If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt 6:23) On the other hand it is possible to walk by faith and stumble because we have looked away from the light, because “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

So the difference between walking by faith and having religion is this: religion is thinking you are walking in the light while your “eye is bad,” whereas faith is knowing that we are children of the light even if we have stumbled out of it, and knowing that Jesus will always bring us back from the shadows and into the eternal sunshine.

Our path in the light doesn’t have to be a haphazard one, though, because we have been given a torch to keep hold of: “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:10). We all know Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet. And a light to my path.” This light to our path is not difficult to hold, or as John puts it “God’s commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3 b). In fact all of the law is summed up in one verse: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8) If we obey the command to love, His word is a lamp to our feet. And as loving God is keeping His commandments, (1 John 5:3 a) if we don’t love one another, not only have we dropped the torch, but we aren’t loving God either. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)

Jesus didn’t just command us to love one another so that the Church could be a reflection of the values of the Kingdom: He told us to love one another because His purpose was to rid the world of sin. He told us to love one another because “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Pe 4:8) He told us to love one another because the world is dark and we need a torch if we are going to we can walk in the light. It’s not by memorizing pages and pages of scripture, it’s not by reading a new devotional book every week, it’s not by praying in tongues for two hours every day or playing worship music from the beginning to the end of every car journey. All of these things help us to know where the torch is and where the light comes from, and they can help to keep the battery on charge. But the only way to walk in the light is to take hold of that torch with both hands and shine it on the path before our feet. If we don’t love one another, we stumble straight into sin.

Be Renewed in the Spirit of your Mind

Changing the points…

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4: 20-24)

The verses that follow (Eph 4: 25- Eph 5:5) give the Ephesian church – and the rest of us – a blueprint of what “true righteousness and holiness” look like as we walk in love as children of light and imitators of God. So we read them, maybe underline them in our Bibles; we pray over them, we memorize them and write them down – and yet we find that the old man is stubbornly clinging on like an unshakeable shadow. “O wretched man that I am,” we cry, quoting Romans seven, and maybe go back to our Bibles and our worship, feeling weak and defeated in our personal walk but thanking Jesus for His saving love. But we will have missed a key, though: like changing the points on a railway line, there is a course of action from which all those attributes of godliness can flow, and it’s that little one-liner that makes up verse 23: “and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” If we can really grasp verse 23, the rest of the verses will follow.

The Blue Letter Bible lexicon defines the word spirit (Greek pneuma) as it is used here as “the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of any body.” Paul’s exhortation is quite uncomplicated: instead of letting the “old man” influence our thinking, we allow our minds to be filled and governed by the “new man.” To move the language away from first century male-dominated culture and into the twenty-first, I am going to use the term “new creation” from now on where Paul uses “new man.” The new creation is born of the Spirit, and, just as Adam and Eve before the fall, is made in the image of God. Since God is Love and He is light (1 John 1:5), the disposition of the new creation is always towards love and light. The new creation is a spirit being and has to walk in the light, and will always pursue love: not to do so is not to walk in the spirit. To be renewed in the spirit of our mind is to let our thinking be controlled by the desire to love.

We can get up at 5.00 am and spend three hours in prayer and worship to God, but if at 8.05 our words to the person next to us are negative and unloving, the spirit of our mind has not been renewed by the previous three hours spiritual activity. If we have not love, we are nothing. Jesus hasn’t called us to spend three hours with Him in Heaven and not to bring Heaven with us when we come back to Earth. He taught us to pray “You will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” and the Father’s will is always going to be to show His love. In all our communication and all our interactions, this has to be our priority. It is only the thinking of the renewed mind that is in line with the loving purposes of God, which is what Romans 12:2 makes clear: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Taking the steps
So how do we take the steps to walk in this direction? A few people are called to spend most of their time in prayer and public ministry, but for most of us the majority of our Christian life is spent with the relatively small number of people with whom we live and work. We work out our salvation in the close relationships of our daily lives. Our interactions may involve works of service and may involve prayer ministry, but most of all they are the words we exchange concerning the issues that affect us. These are the conversations that either build us up or break us up. We can either tend towards Ephesians 4: 14 “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ;” or Galatians 5: 15 “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another.” It all depends on whether or not we are renewed in the spirit of our minds.

A key to the renewed mind is in the well-known phrase “speaking the truth in love.” There are two aspects to every conversation: the content, and the relationship. The way of the world – that Romans 12:2 says we are not to conform ourselves to – is to “tell it like it is”, to “have our say,” to “tell them straight,” etc., or at a corporate and governmental level to “have talks.” But the purpose is always the same: it isn’t to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God,” but for me to prove to you that it’s my will that is good and acceptable, and that you should comply with it. The discussion is about the content; relationship is secondary. If “talks have broken down,” at whatever level, so too has the relationship.

The Kingdom way is the opposite. Relationship comes first. It’s love that endures forever. If we are keeping in mind the law of Love we prefer one another (Romans 12:10); we submit to one another (Eph. 5:21); and through love we serve one another (1 John 4:7). Every conversation is an opportunity to allow the love of God to flow into a situation. Speaking the truth in love starts with considering what the other person wants from the conversation. This is what causes the body to grow “into Him who is the Head, Christ.” (Eph 4:15) Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies,” writes Paul (1 Cor 8:1), and to the Ephesians he writes “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph 4:29) Corrupt words come from the old creation, which “grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Words that impart grace are what edify, and have their origin in the new creation, “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

Changing the Points
According to these scriptures, then, the purpose of everything we say should be to build up the other person and “impart grace” to them, releasing something of the love of God into their life. Every time we do this, prioritizing relationship over content, we establish our minds in the new creation rather than the old. Bob Dylan released the Christian album “Slow Train Coming’” in 1979. In one of the tracks he sings: “I’m gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules.” When we change our way of thinking, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind; and when we renew our minds, as Romans 12:2 says, we start to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We do literally change the points, because the purpose of my words is no longer for you to get my point, but for me to get yours. And once we have let go of our own agenda, it is a small step for me to move from trying to consider your agenda to actually being open to hearing God’s agenda for you, and to catch something of His perfect will for your life.

So if we want to impact the lives of others with the truth and the power of God, we start by seeing every conversation as an opportunity to love instead of an opportunity to make our point. And when we do this, we will be built up in our own lives too, because as we give, it shall be given unto us (Luke 6:38).  As Atticus said to Scout in  Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Jesus climbed into our skin, walked around in it and was crucified in it so that we could be renewed in the spirit of our mind and live, speak and act out of the new creation, rather than out of the old one that was crucified with Him. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

Becoming established
It is because the Son of God did this for us that we can to put off all the corruption and self-centredness of the flesh, and put on the new creation that has been born of the Spirit of God. We do this every time we make the decision to love. The more we do it, the stronger the new creation becomes, and the fainter the shadow of the old. This is what I think is meant by the idea of being “established” in God that we find, for example, in 1 Thess 3:13, 1 Pe 5:10, and Romans 16:25. The more we make it our habit to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, the more the new creation will walk in the love and the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing blessing to others, manifesting the character of Christ in the fruit of the Spirit, and building the Kingdom of God at every step. Who knows what miracles will flow, when we are open to God’s “good and acceptable and perfect will” for the person that we are talking to?”

Peace on Earth

I was born in 1950, so I was 17 in the “Summer of Love,” as 1967 came to be called. When I went to University I grew my hair and said “Peace, man!” to people, and I spent my 20’s generally identifying with hippie culture and coveting the lifestyle, even though (thankfully!) I was far too fearful to fully embrace it. Peace deals are brokered in the Middle East and across the world, political systems strive to bring a degree of peace to the lives of their communities, and harassed parents and carers crave just “five minutes peace” where they can spend a few moments recovering from the turmoil of their daily lives; but neither the world nor the flesh can find peace, because the old man “grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” World peace remains a cliché, an impossible dream forever eroded by the power of sin and death, because the world and the flesh do not enter into God’s rest.

We, however, are no longer of this world. The Kingdom we belong to is ruled by the Prince of Peace Himself, who promises us the very peace that the world can’t give: “Peace I leave with youMy peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27) If we read the Bible, we will know the words. But what some of us need is for this promise of Kingdom peace to move from the area of theory and mental assent, where they can evaporate so easily into the same misty dream that is shared by the world’s and the flesh’s version, into the place where they are the solid ground under our feet that we walk on day by day; Kingdom minute by Kingdom minute.

Hebrews 13: 20-21 might help:

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

The resurrection of Christ is ascribed individually to all three members of the Godhead (For a summary of these scriptures, see https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_1350.cfm), therefore the God of Peace who raised Jesus from the dead is the whole of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the cross, the power of sin and death was destroyed forever, and three days later the God of Peace became a living breathing reality on the face of the earth for the first time since it was created. The angels announced “Peace on Earth,” Calvary made it possible, the Resurrection delivered it, and Pentecost made it our own. Peace permeates the being of God and flows into all that He touches: as oxygen is to the Earth, God’s peace is an element of the very atmosphere of His Kingdom, and we breathe it with every step that we take when we walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh.

Paul emphasises the pre-eminence of peace as a characteristic of the Godhead in both his letters to the Thessalonians. In 1 Thess 5:23 he writes:” Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” And in 2 Thess 3:16 he writes “Now may the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace always in every way.” To walk in the peace of God is not just about being free of anxiety and fear: God’s peace is the agent of our sanctification, the balm that prepares the bride of Christ for her wedding day. This is made clear in Philippians 4:7 – words that most of us probably know by heart: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” and again in Col 3 15: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

I think these scriptures make one thing clear: the peace of God isn’t a bonus, the icing on the cake of our salvation; it is in every crumb of the cake. Jesus Christ brought salvation to the world so that the peace that pervades Heaven can be made manifest on Earth. The peace of God is a reality of the spiritual dimension that can only be accessed by “the new man, which was created according to God in all righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:24) If we aren’t walking in God’s peace, we aren’t walking in the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Peace. When the peace of God isn’t ruling in our lives, Jesus isn’t ruling either. It’s our hearts and minds that the peace of God “guards in Christ Jesus.” Our spirits are seated with Him in heavenly places, but unless the peace of God is ruling in our hearts we aren’t bringing anything to Earth from where they are seated. Peace is the litmus of our spiritual walk.

I will close with one more point, which I will return to in another article. If you feel like the atmosphere of Heaven only exists in a room that you are locked out of, the psalmist has given us a key that will open the door. Psalm 119:165 tells us “Great peace have those who love Your law, And nothing causes them to stumble.” And just as we know the promise of peace, we also know the requirement of the New Commandment, which is to love one another. “To love, then, is to obey the whole law,” writes Paul. (Romans 13:10) If we want to have “great peace” we need to keep God’s law and show someone His love. The converse also applies: if we don’t have the peace of God it could be that there is someone to whom we are failing to show His love…

The enemy took “Love and Peace” and made it a slogan of the hippy movement. It’s time we took it back for the Kingdom of God.

Faith working through Love

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6) And then in chapter 6 of the same letter he writes “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything but a new creation.” (Gal 6:15) First he says “In Christ, it’s not about the law, it’s about Grace; and Grace is only about one thing, and that is faith working through love. Then he writes, “In Christ, it’s not about the law, it’s about Grace; and Grace is only about one thing, and that is a new creation.” So by this logic, faith working through love and the new creation are synonymous. We are born again for one thing only, and that is for faith working through love.

If this is the case, what is the work of faith? James famously writes “for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.“ (James 2:26) When Paul writes to his friend Philemon he talks about faith becoming “effective:”

“I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in you by Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” (Philemon 4 – 7)

The Greek word translated as effective – energes – is only used in the new Testament for supernatural power. It’s the same used same word translated as “powerful” – or in some translations “active”- in Hebrews 4:12: “for the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword.“ Effective faith is active and imbued with power. It is Faith with Works; not dead but very much alive.

As the writer to the Hebrews says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11: 1-3), and Paul writes to the Romans: “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” (Romans 4:17) God creates by the power of his word. He knows that what he speaks will bring about the fulfilment of his will, and will call into reality things which did not exist before his word was spoken. His creative word carries His life. It “framed the worlds“ and “gives life to the dead.“ The words of Jesus are “spirit and life.“ It is God’s own faith that knows for a certainty that what He says will happen: that His word “will not fall to the ground void.”

So how do we receive this faith ourselves? The answer, as Paul writes in Romans 10:17 is this: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” When we hear God speak His  word into our hearts we know it carries his creative life giving power. If we want to move mountains, we need God’s faith.

“So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. (literally “the faith of God”) For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.  (Mark 11:22-23)

If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17:20)

Paul is clear about the source of effective faith when he writes to Timothy: “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.“ (One Timothy 1:14)

Faith is in Jesus, as indeed is love. When we exercise effective faith we are drawing on the faith carried by Christ in us, not on something we have generated ourselves. If you have God’s faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. This faith is activated by a word from God brought by the Holy Spirit, and it operates in the spiritual realm. Human faith is activated by the soul and operates in the realm of flesh. You can have human faith the size of a mountain, and it won’t even move a mustard seed. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!“ is the cry of a heart  that recognises the difference between the two.

What else do we need to operate in effective faith? Paul tells Philemon that faith becomes effective “by the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in you by Christ Jesus.” The word translated as “acknowledgement” means precise and correct knowledge. The church is “the Fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:23)  Effective faith is borne out of “precise and correct knowledge” of every good thing that the Holy Spirit – the  Spirit of Jesus – has put into us: the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Unless we are operating in the fullness of the Holy Spirit we are unlikely to share our faith effectively – ie, with power. And since any one gift of the Holy Spirit might carry a mustard seed, we need to be open to them all.

Effective Faith takes us  from death to life, from flesh to Spirit, from human effort to divine enabling, from standing in the boat to walking on the water. We cannot know it unless we are filled with the Spirit who brings it. “All you who are thirsty, come to the waters!” (Isaiah 55:1)

When spirit-filled faith abounds in the Church, things start to happen…And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of faith  and power, (in other words, effective faith) did great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6: 5-8)

HOWEVER…

To be filled the fullness of God we need to be empty of the emptiness of self. The works of faith go hand in hand with the labour of love. “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.“

The Prophet Bob Jones, who died in 2014, was known for the remarkable accuracy of his prophetic ministry. He is also known for the fact that he temporarily died many years previously, in 1977, after after a short illness. When he reached Heaven he heard Jesus asking everyone the same question. It was this: “Did you learn to love?“ Bob Jones obviously hadn’t, because he came back to this life, and from that time on he was known not only for his gifting and the power of his ministry, but the depth of the love that he showed to others. He was known as “the prophet of love.“ However powerful our ministry, without love we are nothing

Love doesn’t come naturally: it is the result of a choice. At every interaction we can choose love or we can choose self. We can choose life or death. We can walk by faith, or we can walk by sight. We can walk according to the spirit, or according to the flesh; we can live out of the new creation or out of the old. We were born again so that we can learn how to love and bring Gods love into this world. To do this we need to “be renewed in the spirit of (our) mind “(Ephesians 4:23); we need to “put off concerning your former contact, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,“ (Eph 4:22) and “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:24)  The new man is a supernatural being. Just like faith, love is found in Jesus, so to walk in love we need to walk in Him. To do so we need to die to self. And dying to self all day is hard! That’s why it’s a labour of love. Actually without the Lord’s help it isn’t just hard; it’s impossible. As Paul says: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)

If we keep close to Jesus and keep in mind why He endured His cross, He will help us with our own. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:4)

Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him.“ What was His joy? Sit down for this: it was you and me! And the rest of the Church, of course. Paul writes to the Ephesians “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5: 25-27) He has a vision for His bride and He is working on bringing her to the potential that He sees. We need to let His love that is within us show us His vision for each other so that He can work for us to bring others to their potential in him.

We are given a wonderful example of how the Holy Spirit gave one man revelation of his vision for another brother. A young man in the early church was clearly on fire for God, but he was not accepted by the other disciples. Barnabas, like Stephen a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” saw his potential and introduced him to the elders of the Jerusalem church, who accepted him into the group. His name was Saul. “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.” Acts 9:26-28 Before long there was an attempt on his life, and the brethren sent him off to Tarsus, presumably for his safety. At around the same time Barnabas was sent by the Jerusalem church to Antioch, where the Holy Spirit had begun to move in power. After encouraging the brethren there, Barnabas went to Tarsus – a round trip of about 500 miles – to fetch Saul to assist him in the work. The two of them then spent a year ministering together in Antioch. This is where Paul’s apostolic ministry began to emerge, and the term “Christian” was first used.

Barnabus saw the vision that Jesus had for Paul; he connected him with the leaders of the church; he singled him out for an important ministry opportunity in a young, growing fellowship, and almost certainly would have been discipling him during the year at Antioch where he was leading the apostolic team. Later, Paul would write: ““From whom (Christ) the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:16). To disciple others and to be discipled by others is a natural outworking of relationships in the church and the supernatural work of faith working through love in the body by the power of the Holy Spirit, and is what moves us closer to our destiny in Christ.

So to have the power, we need to be connected; and to be connected, we need to have the power. The essential characteristic of the new creation is faith that works through love.  It is the supernatural lifestyle that brings the supply of Heaven to Earth, releases the potential in others, matures the bride of Christ, and makes disciples.

Right or righteous? Sticks in the Fireplace

Jackdaws have been building a nest in our chimney…

“I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7 21-25)

I have been thinking about arguments and the destruction they cause, particularly the ones that arise out of misunderstandings. Also I am reading Paul’s letter to the Romans at the moment, and I have reached Romans 7. Now I have read Romans 7 many times, but have always tended to move on to the next chapter and the glorious conclusions that Paul draws in its verses. This time though, I asked the Holy Spirit to explain chapter seven to me, particularly verse 8 – “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.” I asked the Holy Spirit to explain how it is that the law brings sin. And while thinking about arguments, I was asking how it is possible to love through false accusations that can arise from misunderstandings. Unrelated questions? God didn’t think so. What He showed me was sticks in the fireplace.

Jackdaws have nested in our chimney, and in doing so have dropped a lot of sticks down the flu, so we have a little pile of dead sticks, put there by the jackdaws, like a fire waiting to be lit, in our fireplace. The sticks in the picture are exactly as they have landed. What I felt the Holy Spirit revealed to me was that those sticks are like little bits of law that I appeal to, in order to try and prove that I am right. But by appealing to them I still live under them; I am still “in captivity to the law.” Carry on reading – hopefully you will see what I mean.

If we argue, I am lost in that pile of sticks. I try and use a stick of mine against a stick of yours. Every attempt at an explanation, every effort to refute an apparently false accusation, is just another stick in the fireplace. My stick is right, I say, and yours is wrong! But which law is at work here – the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, or the law of sin and death at work in my members? There is obviously only one answer to this one. My flesh is trying to preserve itself by appealing to the law that says I am right and you are wrong, and in doing so is delivering itself to death. The sinful passion that is aroused by this law is the desire to justify myself. It only goes one way if I don’t stop trying to prove that I am right, which of course is where the enemy of our souls is trying to guide it – because if I keep going it will get to the point where he can put a match to it all by tempting me to say something intentionally destructive. At which point the whole thing goes up in flames.

Yet there remains a problem. “Lord,” I say, “What if I am right??”

“Yes you may be right,” He says gently, “But that’s beside the point. Being right has nothing to do with being righteous. The point is this. You all sin. You all fall short of my glory. You are all like china shops, where some of the items in the shop are real, and some are imagined. Some are “right,” after the flesh, and some are “wrong.” What do you do? Should you behave like a bull in someone else’s china shop, charging around in your own direction and your own thoughts, and then trying to justify why you broke some of the pieces; or do you love enough to consider all of their china – whether it’s real or imagined – and walk carefully around it?  After all, who are you to judge what is true?”

When we argue, it brings death. Arguing is carnal, not spiritual. The consequence of an argument within a relationship is always in some way the wages of sin. The jackdaws are the flesh; the sticks in the fireplace are the law of sin and death which is served by the flesh. The law of sin and death  is what the jackdaw flesh nests in. Yes, we can spend our time cleaning out the fireplace, going for prayer at every other meeting; and yes we can repent and seek forgiveness of one another. The grace of God makes this provision. But the jackdaws always come back, and they will always drop their sticks. How much better to realise that God has given us a completely different, brand new fireplace where the fire of His love is already burning in our hearts?

Paul ends Romans 7 with these famous words: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25). If we can use our minds to direct us to the fire of God’s love in every situation, we will not lose ourselves in the sticks of dead wood which the enemy is waiting to put a match to, and which, even if he doesn’t succeed, will only ever be used against each other.

When we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Rom 7: 5-6)

I am dead to the Law, for I died with Christ, and I am alive to God. God always wants me to love. He wants me to choose being righteous above being right. To do so I have to look into the china shop before charging in with the first thoughts that are in my head: consider what pieces of china might already be there, and consider what effect my words might have on them. If I do that, I will be speaking in love before I open my mouth. Think how much time is lost in an argument, besides other considerations of the fruit that is borne through it to death. It might take a bit longer to think before you speak, but it wastes a lot less time.

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all  who believe.” (Rom 3: 21-22)

The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus is apart from the law; it’s a different fireplace. We need to choose to be righteous, not to be right.

Choose Life: Love One Another.

Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you yourself desire, I will do it for you.” (1 Sam 20:4)

The love between Jonathan and David is well known; indeed it is the most elevated example of an actual friendship that we are given in the Old Testament, if not in the whole of the Bible – excluding, of course, the friendship that Jesus offers to all who follow Him. I Sam 18:3 tells us that “Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.” (NKJV) Other versions translate this as “he loved him as himself.” This takes us immediately to the model of love that Jesus teaches when He introduces the parable of the good Samaritan:  “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and your neighbour as yourself.” If we need to see an example of how Jesus wants us to love one another, we look at how Jonathan loved David.

We could study in depth what details that we are given about their relationship and find spiritual meaning in all of them; but what speaks loudest to me is who – or what – David and Jonathan actually represent in the Bible narrative. Jonathan is Saul’s son, and Saul represents the dynasty of the flesh. However David, as we know, is a man ‘after God’s own heart;’ he is a prophetic type and the human ancestor of Jesus, and he represents the dynasty of the Spirit. The anger that Jonathan’s covenant of loyalty to David provokes in Saul is the anger of the devil himself who knows that it is Christ’s rule, and not his own, that will ultimately be established on the Earth:

“Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom.” (1 Sam 20: 30-31)

In “choosing the son of Jesse,” the son of Saul chose the dynasty of the Spirit over the dynasty of the flesh. Prophetically, Jonathan died to self and turned to Jesus. When we love, we make the same choice for God. In the immortal words of Deuteronomy 30:19-20, we “…choose life, that you and your descendants may live, that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.” To love others is ultimately to love God, and there is only one way to do that, which is the way that Jesus tells us to love him. It’s quite simple. He says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

A husband can long for his wife; he can miss her when they are apart; he can love to be around her; he can admire her beauty and her qualities and can enjoy her conversation. He can miss her, desire her, and seek her presence: but unless he does the things that she likes and avoids what she doesn’t like he is not actually loving her. It’s the same with the Lord: we can long for His presence and spend time with Him; we can enjoy His conversation and immerse ourselves in His word, but we aren’t loving Him if we ignore the things that He asks of us and grieve His Spirit by doing what He doesn’t like.

Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you yourself desire, I will do it for you.” In the same way, therefore, we look to Jesus as we make our choices throughout the day and say to Him “Whatever you yourself desire, I will do it for you.”  Colossians 3: 17 tells us: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through him,” This doesn’t mean we tag “in Jesus’ name” onto everything we do and say: it presupposes that we can’t actually do anything in the name of the Lord unless we know that it’s what He desires. We can’t separate loving God from loving our brother, which is what the apostle John makes clear in his first epistle: “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:10)

To love our brothers and sisters, we need to abide in the light, and we achieve that by doing what He says. As we do, the Kingdom of the Son of Jesse is established on the Earth.

Love Never Fails (Mirror, mirror, on the wall)

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.