“He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?” (Romans 8:32 HCSB)
I know, I know… we looked at this verse last week. Why do we need to go back and look at it, again? A dear friend of mine, who passed away several years ago, used to track each of my sermons by marking the verses and the date in her bible. I learned about this when she told me one Sunday morning, “You preached on that same passage three years ago.” I looked at her, grinned really big and said, “Well, if you had gotten it the first time then I wouldn’t have to preach on it again.” Sometimes our knowledge of God and His Word is a mile wide but only an inch deep. We know a lot about it, but we don’t have much depth in it.
To be honest, pastors and bible teachers can be the worst offenders of this very principle. I’ve heard many well known and famous pastors or evangelists speak on biblical passages as they expound upon the Greek terms, verb tenses and various other impressive feats of biblical exegesis while failing to hear and obey the words they were spouting. In fact, I’m certain I’ve preached on passages while failing to accurately and completely submit in obedience to their commands. I also know that we’ve often listened to God’s Word or a pastor’s sermon and thought about how much one of our friends, family members or even our enemy needed to hear those very words – all while ignoring the fact that we needed to hear those very words and God was speaking them directly into our hearts and lives.
I’ve mentioned over the past several weeks our deep, deep need to know God intimately and to love Him ultimately and this verse speaks to the very heart of that issue. So, I want to go back and spend one more week considering these words and the demands they place upon our lives and the ways we often fall short of meeting those demands, before we move on to the final verses of this chapter. So, hang in there with me for a bit longer.
As a dad and granddad, my children and grandchildren are very, very precious to me. One of the greatest joys of my life is the pleasure of having them gathered around me as we eat and play during holidays, celebrate their personal achievements, rejoice over life milestones like birthdays and anniversaries and just enjoy life together. There’s hardly any better feeling than to have one of them snuggle up against me, relax and just melt into my embrace and drift off to sleep. I can sit, listening to their soft breath and looking at their peace-filled face and enjoy those moments for a very, very long time. But, there’s also nothing more frustrating than to watch them make foolish choices and silly mistakes as they begin to venture out and navigate life on their own. I want to reach over and jerk them back, but I know that the learning process requires them to figure these things out by stumbling, falling, getting up and trying again.
I remember the first time my daughter rode her bicycle without training wheels. She had become pretty good at riding it around the yard with the training wheels keeping her upright and safe. But the time had come to teach her how to ride without them. I removed the training wheels, held onto the back of the seat and ran along beside her for a bit letting her learn how to balance without the training wheels to correct her. After just a few tries, it was time for me to turn loose… and… she did it. She was riding upright and pedaling across the yard. I’m excited, she’s excited. She’s doing it! But then I realize she’s riding straight towards the side of the church. I yell for her to stop, but she doesn’t and she rides right into the side of the building and crashes, falling to the ground in a tearful mess. She wasn’t hurt, but it took a few minutes to convince her to try, again. She had everything going right, but quickly crashed. Sounds like our efforts at being obedient and Christlike.
What does all of this have to do with our focal verse? God has given us His word – guides, examples, stories, parameters, rules and commandments designed to keep us safe and make us holy. God has called us to walk alongside Him as He leads us into obedience, worship and righteous living but we continually stumble, veer off course and crash. So, He became a man like us to show us His will, to defeat sin and to empower our service and obedience. Paul says, “He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all.” He didn’t even spare His own Son… God held nothing back in His efforts to redeem and restore us to a right relationship with Himself. That’s incredible love. That’s unfathomable love. That’s not love a mile wide and an inch deep, that’s love that is both wide and deep. God was willing to do everything necessary to “save” us from the mess we’ve created – to save us from ourselves.
“His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3 HCSB)
So, if God held nothing back in our redemption and restoration are we holding back in response to His love? As Peter states in the passage above, God has given us everything required for life and godliness. But are we giving Him our full effort in pursuing life and godliness? His love for us isn’t shallow but is our love for Him shallow? We often take a question like that and evaluate it in response to our religious commitment and attendance. Am I attending church services regularly? Check! Am I giving regularly to the offering? Check! Do I volunteer on occasion for the various events and outreach activities? Check. Do I read my Bible on a regular basis? Check! Wow, I got nine out of ten on those items. I must be doing pretty good (as our chest swells with spiritual pride).
I promise you, God isn’t looking to see if you’re checking off those boxes on your Sunday School attendance record or looking for you name on a volunteer sign-up forms on the bulletin board at church. He’s listening to how you respond to your spouse when a crisis occurs at home. He’s watching your reaction to your child when they fail to meet your expectations or they make a foolish choice. He’s looking at your time sheet as you claim 40 hours of work but really only worked 32. He’s watching your interaction with the homeless man who’s in need of a meal, a caring smile and a friendly face. He’s listening as you argue with your neighbor about their noisy, messy pet. He’s crying as you break several traffic laws and curse out other drivers as you rush to get to your next appointment in your car with the “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker.
Now, don’t misunderstand. I know you’re going to mess up. God knows you’re going to mess up. You know you’re going to mess up. The question isn’t whether you will or won’t mess up and say or do the wrong thing. The issue is what you do when mess up. What we often do is make excuses, look for someone else to blame, or even claim we didn’t make a mistake and the Bible is wrong on that subject. What scripture calls us to do is confess, repent and seek God’s grace and help to change and grow to be more like Christ. As I scrolled my way through Facebook a bit earlier today, I stumbled onto a new song by country music star Blake Shelton. The song was titled, “Bible Verses” and was about this very issue. Here are some of the lyrics: “But I keep praying for the day that I can open up the good book and Heaven don’t look like it’s out of reach. When it feels like those apostles are giving me the gospel and not the third degree. I just want it to read like Bible verses and the not the Bible versus me.”
God’s not against us. He’s fighting for us. This isn’t some cosmic DIY project with God sitting back and laughing at our mistakes, collecting video footage and creating a bloopers episode to put on continuous replay for us in Hell. He didn’t sit back in heaven, look down at the mess we’ve created and say, “Wait, let’s watch and see how they get themselves out of this one.” He knew that our efforts were useless. Every time we tried to fix it ourselves, we just made it worse. Please, hear me. I’m not calling you to perfection in this life, but I am calling you to pursue God with everything that’s within you. You’re not saved by your good works (or your good looks), but you are saved for good works and to continuous effort to look more like Christ, each day.
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 HCSB)
I hear you… “Yeah, but I just keep messing up. Surely God has given up on me, by now.” That’s the good news. He hasn’t given up on you and He won’t give up on you. “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 HCSB) If you’ll recall, Peter asked Jesus about how many times he must forgive someone who had wronged him, seven times? No, Jesus replied. Not seven, but seventy times seven (see Matt. 18:21-22). Now, I know some of you are a bit like me and you immediately calculated that out and began to keep count. Ok, that’s one. Two. Three. But, that’s not Jesus point. It wasn’t about keeping a record until the 490th time, then declaring him unforgivable. It was about giving grace to others in the same manner God gives grace to us, limitless.
How many times has God reached 490 times with you? I’m certain that I’ve broken the counter, by now. But God keeps forgiving as I keep confessing, repenting and trying again, and again, and again. You see, that’s the beauty and the Good News of the Gospel. Your sin is deep, but God’s grace is still deeper. Your failures are wide and far reaching, but God’s grace is limitless. I need you to hear that and let it sink into the depths of your soul. God held nothing back, He gave His Son for your failures and mine. He held nothing back, His grace is limitless. His love for you is beyond your ability to fully grasp and understand. He has given us glimpses of understanding in the beauty and sacrificial love of a parent for their child. But he has also given us glimpses of understanding into the depth of human sin when we see the horrors of parental abuse, sexual exploitation or the death of innocent children.
So, if God has held nothing back in His efforts to save you why would you hold anything back in your expression of love and gratitude for His salvation? To love God ultimately or above anything else in life is not only hard, it is impossible without having His love flow through us. Scripture indicates that we really don’t know, understand or grasp true love until we experience it in God through Christ. Seriously, you REALLY don’t know what love is until you’ve experienced it in God through Christ. You think you know. You think you understand. You think you’ve experienced it, but you really haven’t. How can I be so certain?
“This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need — how can God’s love reside in him? Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.” (1 John 3:16-18 HCSB)
Church, we need to hear those words afresh. If we close our eyes to these needs, how can God’s love reside in us? You don’t love with word or speech, but with truth and action. It’s not enough to say it. It’s not even enough to say you BELIEVE it. We’re called to be challenged and changed by the truth and then we’re called to action. Nothing held back. Yes, you heard that right. God held nothing back in His plan and efforts to redeem and restore us and we must not hold anything back in our loving response to Him.
God’s love demands a response… it can either be a response of faith that changes you and the direction for your life as you turn towards Him, or a rejection of His love that keeps you on the path of self-destruction. How will you respond?