Incomparable Love, Inside Information, and Incompatible Faith

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17 ESV)

We live in a world of “cheap grace.” What do I mean by that? Simply that we’ve taken something precious and costly and wrapped it in cellophane and offer it up at little or no cost to our friends and neighbors. We’ve taken the gift of grace offered to us by the “lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world” and washed away the blood, the agony, the sheer horror of the cross and the ugliness of our rebellious sin and gilded it with gold and flowers to make it presentable to others.

Consider the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Cheap grace is the idea that “grace” did it all for me so I do not need to change my lifestyle. The believer who accepts the idea of “cheap grace” thinks he can continue to live like the rest of the world. Instead of following Christ in a radical way, the Christian lost in cheap grace thinks he can simply enjoy the consolations of his grace.”

Bonhoeffer knew the cost of following Christ. He was a pastor and theologian during World War II and refused to submit to the demands of Hitler and his regime in altering church doctrine to match cultural expectations and demands. He spoke out openly against Hitler’s racist and evil actions. He was finally arrested and imprisoned in 1943 but later transferred to a concentration camp. As Hitler’s regime began to collapse, Bonhoeffer was accused, tried, convicted and executed on April 9, 1945 for allegedly conspiring and plotting a failed assassination attempt on Hitler. Bonhoeffer knew well the cost of following Christ.

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27 ESV)

Our focal passage this week says, “love one another as I have loved you.” That’s not cheap grace, that costly grace. Somehow we’ve taken the precious gift of God’s grace and made it cheap. Easy. Worthless. Faithless. But, Christ has called us to love each other in the same manner in which He has loved each of us. The Cross of Christ was not just a sacrifice on our behalf, but also an example for our emulation. So, the first admonition of these verses is to love one another by emulating Christ’s sacrificial love. An incomparable love.

Incomparable, nothing else like it, without equal, beyond comparison. Are we truly able to say that our love for each other is beyond comparison? Without equal? How can Jesus’ sacrificial love be considered truly incomparable? There have been others who have died for noble and worthy causes. Just last week we celebrated Veterans Day and remembered the tremendous sacrifice of those who have served and those who have given their lives to ensure our freedom. Surely that is a worthy sacrifice that is comparable to Christ’s. Right?

If Jesus were merely a man who sacrificed his life for a noble cause, high calling or worthy purpose, then the comparison would be valid. However, He wasn’t just a man but He was, and is, the very God who made us in His image, from the dust of the ground and breathed His life into us. He is the eternal I AM who is sinless, perfect, holy, just, loving and righteous. It is at this point that the comparison between our sacrifice and His falls apart. Even when our life or death is sacrificial, it is NEVER comparable to His. But it OUGHT to emulate His.

Wait, are you saying that each of us ought to live and give ourselves sacrificially for others? I thought some were called to do that but not all of us are called to sacrificial living, right? I mean, God intended that missionaries should live sacrificially… Perhaps pastors too… But, the rest of us “normal” Christians are just supposed to live good, moral, comfortable lives. Right? Make a good comfortable living, be honest and hard working, tithe to support missions, give a little extra at Christmas or even Easter, attend church as often as convenient, and pray at meals.

That’s enough, isn’t it?

You tell me, is it?

Jesus goes on and tells the disciples that he will no longer refer to them as servants, but rather as friends. Why? Two reasons: 1) Friends die for friends; 2) A servant isn’t admitted into the private circle of knowing the Master’s plan, but a friend is. Why does Jesus reveal God’s plan to them? Because it involves them. And, it involves you and me. We’ve been given inside information. God has revealed His heart to us. That’s truly the evidence of love, revealing your heart, being vulnerable. God says, here’s how much I love you (Jesus’ sacrificial love). Will you accept my expression of love and love me back?

The inside information we’ve been given is intended to engage us in God’s plan. You can’t truly receive His expression of love and sit back comfortably disengaged from His purpose and plan. When we truly understand the sacrifice that Christ made, then our obligation becomes evident and our engagement becomes the natural response.

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News (gospel).” (Colossians 1:15-23a NLT)

However, notice that our responsibility is also highlighted in Jesus’ statement “you didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” Consider this promise…

“What joy for those you choose to bring near, those who live in your holy courts. What festivities await us inside your holy Temple.” (Psalms 65:4 NLT)

We are chosen by God but for a purpose…

“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NLT)

So, we have an incomparable love in which we’ve been chosen and given inside information that involves us in God’s plan and purpose. But what specifically are we called to do? This is where things start to get really interesting because God’s people are so diverse and the tasks He gives us are just as diverse. Jesus summarizes them as “bearing fruit.” There are basically two ways this “bearing fruit” has been viewed; 1) evangelism, 2) obedience.

Personally, I don’t know why they are viewed as separate responses. If we are obedient and the character of Christ (fruits of the Spirit) properly develops and matures in our lives then we will naturally see evangelism as the result. (See 2 Peter 3:15) However, if we refuse obedience and our lives become self-centered instead and we fail to exhibit a mature expression of spiritual fruit then our evangelistic efforts will be hollow and will fall on deaf ears. Actually, fruitless faith is incompatible with true faith in Christ. Let’s reconsider Bonhoeffer’s words:

“Cheap grace is the idea that “grace” did it all for me so I do not need to change my lifestyle. The believer who accepts the idea of “cheap grace” thinks he can continue to live like the rest of the world. Instead of following Christ in a radical way, the Christian lost in cheap grace thinks he can simply enjoy the consolations of his grace.”

A vine that was chosen, planted, and cultivated for fruit but bears no fruit is useless in the gardener’s design. If it fails to produce fruit, he will dig it up and replace it with a new vine. If the church or, more specifically, WE fail to bear fruit for the Lord’s glory and purpose then He will replace us. If we produce fruit, He will prune us to produce more fruit. Fruitless faith is incompatible with faith in Christ.

“And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost… Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Luke 14:27-28a, 35 NLT)

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