“Love one another: just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another.” -Jesus (John 13:34b-35)
I can remember well when a time in my early twenties when I first began to dig into theology. Something happened to me that I have often seen happen to people. I began to lose my love for the people that Christ told me were my family. I believed that anyone who did not believe as I believed, or act as I acted were somehow lesser or wrong.
Looking back on this season of my life I think that the most frightening this was that the theology that drove me to become such an ass was one that boasted of radical grace. I had a growing knowledge of the love and grace of Christ, but I was far removed from the experience of it.
In his book, The Signature of Jesus, Brennan Manning captures this place that so many that claim the name of Christ can find ourselves by writing, “ We prefer the map rather than visit the place. The specter of our unbelief persuades us that it is not the experience that is real but our explanation of the experience.”
I believe that this was more true of me than I would care to admit. And I am sure that it is still true for many today. I believe that this is the reason that so many Christians pride themselves on knowing the words of Jesus, but do not carry with them the aroma of Christ.
For I am more and more sure that the main reason this can take place is that we are so quick to forget the radical grace of God that has been given to us. For the surest sign that someone has truly drank from the grace of Christ is that they are ever ready to take others to the fountain to drink for themselves. The mark of one shown radical grace is that they show radical grace in return.
Many in the Church, and most who have walked away from her, believe that there is no place for them. And I believe, sadly, that one of the largest reasons for this is that we have forgotten how to love, because we have not allowed ourselves to feel how loved we have been.
It is a purely human thing to share with others the things that have shaped us. We need only to spend a few short minutes on social media to see that people desire you to know what they know, see how they see, feel what they feel, and act like they act. Some people may be more in your face about it, but at the end of the day each person is trying to give you what they have. And yet so many in the Church offer up nothing more than a law they cannot even keep for themselves.
So what can be done?
The only remedy to this is for us to again experience the love of Christ for us. For none of us can give to others what we do not have ourselves.
I have long marveled at the word of Christ in his John 17 prayer. “You (God the Father)...loved them even as you have loved me.” Did you hear what was just said..? Does such a declaration bring you to the place of ecstasy and joy? If not you may be in a place of understanding the Scripture of God without experiencing the God of Scripture.
Christ was no fool. He knew that He had chosen a group of scoundrels and scallywags. He knew those that the Father had given Him. He knew full well just how sinful I was, am, and will be till He returns or calls me Home. And He knew just how sinful you are as well. And the Father also knows these things. He knows the worst thing each of us has ever done, He knows intimately well our treason against His Son, our tendency to run away from Him, and yet He loves us as much as He loves His sinless Son.
If I am honest this is something that I often need to be reminded of. It is something I have to make myself stop and meditate on. It’s something that overwhelms me with love and grace.
When reading this my mind goes to the story Jesus told of the prodigal son. This child sinned in a way that would have left the Father well within His rights to disown the boy, yet the picture we are given is not of a Father who gives what is deserved but one who runs to his sullied and sinful son with arms open wide. (Luke 15:11-32)
For many of us, we have done what the Church in Ephesus had done. Jesus says that they had correct doctrine, they tested teachers to see if what they were saying was true, they had endurance and patience, but they had forgotten how to love. And for this offense, Jesus says that He will remove His light and presence from them. All because they lost the aroma of grace. (Rev. 2:1-7)
I often wonder if they were surprised at His words. I believe they were. For many who have forgotten how to love like Christ loved them are quick to justify their actions. Many could have a Ph.D. in twisting Scripture to show you how they are right in their thinking and their actions. They become scholars in every sin they believe another has committed and can quickly explain how their sins are not that sinful. I know...because far too often that is me.
So I would invite you to join me. Join me in asking the Spirit to reawaken your understanding of the love that Christ has shown. Join me in meditating on the numerous ways that you have been brought in and loved by the Father. Come with me to ask that the Spirit fill you to look and smell like Jesus, Son of God, and friend of sinners.
For I believe, no...I know that when we allow ourselves to experience the love of Christ we will be true to the names we have given ourselves. Christians, little christs.
And this is what the world needs, because this is what you and I need. And you, and I, need it daily...