God’s Love Expressed: Through The Cross

In our house princess stories and movies are high on the agenda. Over the last few years the movie Frozen has been a regular viewing experience.

You may know the story yourself.

We sit on the couch and watch the journey of Elsa and Anna, both princesses of the royal family trapped within the walls of the castle. Yet, it isn’t until Elsa becomes Queen that the gates are opened and the connection with the people is renewed. But because of Elsa’s special powers, and their uncontrollability, the city is sent into a perpetual winter and she runs away to hide and live by herself.

Princess Anna goes on an adventure to find her sister and have her return, but in the process she is struck by Elsa’s icy powers. From here on in there is a distinct concern for Anna who can only be saved by an expression of true love.

I won’t spoil the ending.

But Frozen is a story with twists and turns, and is of course a story of love.

In the Bible we read of the way God has expressed his love toward us. In fact, the whole Bible is God’s love story toward his creation. We see this from Genesis to Revelation, as God seeks to be with his people who are so often rejecting his love.

In 1 John 4:9-10 we read about the pinnacle of this story, the pinnacle of God expressing love. It says,

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

This is the extent of the love God has for us; his expression of true love for his creation.

God's Love Expressed Through The Cross

I wonder how you express love?

I wonder how you express the love you have for others, for your family, your friends, your pets, the things you do, the things you have?

A little while ago Ed Sheeran released his single, ‘Perfect’. In the lead up to the release of the song he publicly stated that he wanted this to be his best song ever. Here are some of the lyrics:

I found a love for me

Darling just dive right in

And follow my lead

Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet

I never knew you were the someone waiting for me

‘Cause we were just kids when we fell in love

Not knowing what it was

I will not give you up this time

But darling, just kiss me slow, your heart is all I own

And in your eyes you’re holding mine

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms

Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Ed here (yes, we’re on a first name basis) is expressing love. He is expressing his deepest love for his girl through song. It is a clear expression of love.

And while 1 John 4 isn’t talking about romantic love it nevertheless describes the love God has for us.

John describes the love God has for us as sacrificial love. He points out that God has shown his love for us through, (1) the sending of his one and only son, and (2) as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

The way God has shown his love for us is through Jesus.

The way God has shown his love for us is through the cross.

It is a cross-bound, life-sacrificing love.

This love is a relational love, meaning God has such a strong affection for us, he cherishes us so much, that he is willing to die for us.

This is a love that is deeply personal, a love that shows his commitment and faithfulness to us. This committed love, this affection for us, is displayed for us through the action of sacrifice. He loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us.

He loves us so much that he sent himself, in human form, to take our place on that cross.

This sacrificial love is the love God has for us.

In the original languages the particular word for ‘atoning sacrifice’ is only used twice in the whole of the New Testament. Here in v10 and also back in 1 John 2:2. As one commentator has put it, it is a term to,

“…emphasise that God sent Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice to remove the guilt we have incurred because of our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is the great expression of God’s love, and on this basis the author can say God is love.” (Kruse, 161)

Due to our sin, both the sin we do as action and the sinful nature we find ourselves battling against as fallen creatures, we are in need of a saviour.

The reality is that our hearts are naturally inclined to sin. Sin isn’t just what we do that is bad, or immoral, or hurtful, it is more than that. It is a heart position. It is the state of our heart that means we are against God in everything we do.

The bible speaks of our heart as being against God and His goodness.

Our hearts, from birth, are defective.

Our hearts are selfish and messy.

Essentially we’re a mess.

And so, we find God sending his one and only Son in order for our sinful natures to be transformed. Transformed into life-giving, self-sacrificing, love-promoting hearts. Sin is forgiven, our hearts are changed, and we begin to be changed into creatures perfected by his love.

Ironically, Ed Sheeran’s song, which I read out earlier, points to this. You may not remember but he sings,

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Did you see it? Do you get it?

We are a mess yet because of God’s great love for us he looks upon us because of the cross and says, ‘you’re perfect’. As we dance with God through what we call life God understands our mess, and because of the cross calls us perfect.

Our mess is made perfect through his sacrificial love.

Through the atonement God’s love is expressed. And through the atonement we find ourselves transformed away from selfishness and mess and made into people of perfected, sacrificial love.

Day 8 – You Are Free

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

The movie ‘Room’, adapted from the book of the same name, is about a young boy and his mother who live in a small 2m x 2m room. At the beginning of the book there is detailed descriptions of how the young boy, having grown up in this shed, refers to items within this room as his friends. At night he says, “Goodnight table”, “Goodnight chair”, “Goodnight lamp”, and so forth. The reason he does this is because he knows nothing but life inside of this room. Spolier Alert: His mother was kidnapped a number of years ago, fell pregnant to her kidnapper, and raises the boy in this small secured room. It is a terribly sad and harrowing story. However, when he is five years old they hatch a plan and in the end they both get out and survive. They are freed after so many years, and reconnect with her family and loved ones.

You're More Than A Number - You Are Free.png

As we’ve been exploring who we are we come to the great truth that we are found to be free.

We have found freedom.

This occurs in two ways.

First, we are spiritually free.

Exodus is the second book of the bible and speaks of the liberation of God’s people from the hand of the Pharaoh of Egypt. God’s people have been under slavery for 400 years, being used by the Egyptians to expand and grow their kingdom. While they have worked for Pharaoh the slavery upon them has been exhausting and crushing. However, the time comes for God to liberate his people through the leadership of Moses. God’s hand is upon Moses and his people and enables them to leave Pharaoh and Egypt behind, no longer slaves. The night before they are to leave God instructs his people to paint their door frames with the blood of a lamb. This is so the spirit of death will passover the house and not kill the first-born son. This is God’s final plague upon Egypt and is the one that makes Pharaoh give God’s people their freedom.

In the New Testament, strong connection is made to this story. You might be able to see the connection in the Romans 8:1-2 verse above.

Those who believe in Jesus, and put their trust in him as their saviour, have their sin ‘passed over’. Those who believe are no longer under the judgement of God nor under the curse of the law, nor under the slavery of sin and death. Those liberated and free from the judgement and condemnation of God are those who God has ‘passed over’. That is, Jesus has taken our sin and dealt with it himself on the cross.

Second, we are free from any laws or rules.

Because of this freedom, through what Jesus has done, we seek to follow God’s commands out of a place of gratitude and grace. There are no rules, no matter how many we believe we need to obey, that will help us please God. God is already ready pleased with us because of what he has done.  

Tim Keller, a NYC pastor, puts it like this,

“The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference.”

Some believe the Christian faith is a restrictive faith. But this is not the case. Our willingness to follow the commands of God only come from recognising what he has already done for us. And our following of these are from a place of joy and thankfulness. 

There are no restrictions on what kinds of foods we are to eat, there are no restrictions on what we wear, there are no restrictions on what spiritual activities we have to do to be right with God. No, out of our freedom we choose to follow the commands of God, to love him and others. But, there are no tight restrictive rules given for us in order to make God love us. 

We are given freedom.

This freedom comes from God. 

There’s a great song called ‘No Longer Slaves‘, which has lyrics that speak of this theme of liberation and freedom. It’s a good way to end our reflection for the day with these words. 

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

From my mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again to my family
Your blood flows through my veins

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

I am surrounded
By the arms of the Father
I am surrounded
By songs of deliverance

We’ve been liberated
From our bondage
We’re the sons and the daughters
Let us sing our freedom

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears are drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I will stand and sing
I am a child of God.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Have you ever felt trapped, believing you had to do something for the sake of doing something, rather than undertaking a task for the love of it?
  • Do you see how God has freed us from sin through his Son?
  • What is it that makes you willing to follow his commands? Is it out of freedom or out of duty?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved

Day 7 – You Are Saved

“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.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We’ve been looking at the guts of the Christian faith over the past week and now come to this idea of ‘being saved’. I don’t tend to use the term ‘saved’ when talking about my identity and faith. I know it’s often used in movies and shows that depict Christianity and churches. It is a term used by a generation that were all about having people ‘saved’ at big faith rallies and events. And occasionally, you may still hear it in conversation between Christians when they are talking about people, ‘whether they are saved or not’. It’s just a good old Christianese word.

To say that ‘you are saved’ is to say that you have salvation. As Christians, we believe we have attained salvation because of what God has done for us on the cross.

You're More Than A Number - You Are Saved

The dictionary defines salvation as, “the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction”. And when we seek to define it in faith terms, it means that we are saved or protected from the judgment and consequence that we are under due to sin. Some might even go as far as saying that we have been saved from a particular place, hell.

I imagine we can all relate to what it means to be saved or protected from harm.

I remember a cousin of mine struggling to swim in a pool when we were kids. After she’d slipped off the step she found herself in a panic, thrashing around in the water. One of the adults around, my mum I think, saw what was happening and quickly grabbed her by the hair and yanked her up.

We would say she’d been saved from harm wouldn’t we?

I wonder if you can think of a time when you were saved from harm? Perhaps it was crossing the road without looking. Perhaps it was while you were climbing a tree. Perhaps it was swimming yourself.

Throughout the storyline of the bible we read of the constant effort people go to in order to attain salvation. To be saved.

Once Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s instruction to not eat of the tree there has been a need to find salvation. The initial judgement they faced was being booted out of Eden, their disobedience had physical consequences. However, there were further costs for them, further costs which had eternal consequences. In order to find salvation many people throughout the Old Testament seek to make good their bad by providing sacrifices and avoiding mistakes and errors in their life. They don’t want to face the judgment and wrath God has toward their sin and so go to extraordinary lengths to avoid actions that disobey God.

It’s like knowing the curfew your parents have placed on you for the party. There will be consequences if you disobey. We get that right. But, to make this even more legalistic, like the people of the Old Testament, we would make sure we are home well before the curfew to avoid any sort of possibility of being late. We might even leave 30 minutes earlier so we know we’re back home in good time. (Probably not realistic I know, but I hope you get the idea).

Some people continue to operate this way when they think about Christianity.

But, Christianity is not about law and legalism, it is about faith and freedom.

To be saved, to find salvation, is something that we are given by God. God, in his wonderful grace, has given us salvation. He has saved us from his own judgment and wrath through his Son Jesus.

Just as we have explored the forgiveness that comes through Jesus and the cross. Just as we have explored being bought back to God through Jesus and the cross. Just as we have explored the love God has for us through Jesus and the cross. So too, we find another aspect of our faith is centred around being saved from judgment and wrath through Jesus and the cross.

Here we can say that Jesus saves.

Here we can say that we are saved.

Praise God.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Can you remember a time where someone saved you from harm or injury?
  • What picture do you have of God’s wrath and judgment? It’s not often we think on this, mainly because it’s not a particularly appealing thought.
  • Do you recognise the need to be saved from God’s judgment and see how Jesus achieves this?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved

Day 6 – You Are Loved

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

In recent weeks Ed Sheeran has released another single. A few weeks ago he stated publicly that he wished to write his greatest love song, and with ‘Perfect’ he seems to have done that. It is the song that thousands of couples will now dance to on their wedding day. Here are some of the lyrics:

I found a love for me
Darling just dive right in
And follow my lead
Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet 
I never knew you were the someone waiting for me
‘Cause we were just kids when we fell in love
Not knowing what it was
I will not give you up this time

But darling, just kiss me slow, your heart is all I own
And in your eyes you’re holding mine
Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song
When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

In writing this song Eddie expresses his deep love for his girl. In doing so he gives us word pictures about how he loves her so.

What a way to express love! What a way to express what someone means to you!

You're More Than A Number - You Are Loved

I wonder how you express love?

I wonder how you express the love you have for others – for your family, friends, pets, things you do, things you have?

The passage at the top of this post isn’t talking about romantic love like Ed Sheeran is. Nevertheless, it describes the love God has for us.

It describes the love God has for us as sacrificial love.

The writer points out that God has shown his love for us through the sending of his one and only son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

The way God has shown his love for us is through Jesus. The way God has shown his love for us is through the cross.

It is a cross-bound, life-sacrificing love.

God has such strong affection for us, he cherishes us so much, that he is willing to die for us.

This is a love that is deeply personal and a love that is of commitment and faithfulness to us. This love, this affection for us, is displayed for us through the action of sacrifice. He loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us. He loves us so much that he sent himself, in human form, to take our place on that cross.

This sacrificial love is the love that God has for us.

As one commentator has written, the term ‘atoning sacrifice’ is a phrase to “…emphasise that God sent Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice to remove the guilt we have incurred because of our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is the great expression of God’s love, and on this basis the author can say God is love.”

Due to our sin, both the sin we do as action and the sinful nature we find ourselves battling against as fallen creatures, we are in need of a saviour. Because of our sin we find that our hearts and minds are a mess. As we seek to deal with our own selfishness and brokenness and pain on our own we continue to place ourselves as king or queen over our own lives.

We become lovers of self, rather than lovers of God.

And so, we find God loving us through sending his one and only Son in order for our lives to be transformed. Transformed into life-giving, self-sacrificing, love-promoting hearts. Sin is forgiven, our hearts are changed, and we begin to be changed into creatures perfected by his love. All from him loving us first.

Ironically, Ed Sheeran’s song gets this. You may not remember but he sings,

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song
When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Did you see it? Do you get it?

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Through God’s sacrificing love for us, through God expressing his love for us through the cross, we find that we are transformed from people who are messy to people perfected by love.

It is through this truth that we can know that we are indeed loved.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Do you know the love God has for you today?
  • What is your impression of God’s expressing his love for you through sacrifice?
  • How will you hold onto this truth as you do what you do today?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed

Day 3 – You Are Forgiven

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7)

Yesterday we looked at the idea of sin.

It wasn’t pleasant.

You're More Than A Number - You Are Forgiven

Sin impacts each and every facet of our life. All pain, brokenness, selfishness, and hurt can be tracked back to it. And, more than impacting our life, it also effects our ability to have a relationship with God.

I’m not sure about you, but I’m constantly making mistakes. I make mistakes in how I think, in how I act, in how I make decisions, and in the decisions I make. It might be the way I communicate with my wife. It might be the way I treat my young daughter. It might be the attitude I have toward another person. It could be as little as taking the wrong way to a friend’s house, which means I’m late for dinner. I make mistakes. I suspect you do too.

When it comes to mistakes and exams the idea becomes clearer. Mistakes in exams can cost final marks. A mistake in the answer to the physics question can have damaging results for the final answer. A mistake in the Chinese language exam has consequences. And a mistake in the music performance exam will be costly too. The idea of mistakes and making them in tests and exams is something we can get our head around.

Thankfully life is not a test. Thankfully it’s not an exam.

But this idea of mistakes helps us understand our need for forgiveness. Because of sin and our sinful-selfish-selves we are unable to have a relationship with God. Our sin has consequences, costly consequences, on our ability to know God. Our sin means we have made mistakes that destroy any chance of us being able to relate, know, and commune with God. As today’s passage says, “God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him.”

Thankfully God has dealt with our mistakes. Thankfully God has dealt with our sin.

To do so God sent his one and only Son, Jesus, to provide forgiveness for us. In the final verse of today’s passage there is mention of being cleansed of all sin. Instead of being held to account for our mistakes and errors for our sin, God has provided a way for them to be wiped clean. It’s like he sees our final exam paper with all our mistakes on it and says, “Not to worry, I’ve forgiven you for all the mistakes here, you have full marks”. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we find ourselves forgiven of all our mistakes, of all our sin.

How unbelievable is that!?

Because of this we can say that we are forgiven!

You are forgiven!

I doubt that you’ll have an exam marker who gets your test paper, looks over it, sees all the mistakes you’ve made, and declares it 100%. It’d be nice. It’d help. But I don’t suspect that’ll happen.

But God doesn’t do that with an exam. God does that with our life!

He declares us 100%. He declares us perfect. Even though he knows we have made mistakes and sinned each and every day of our life. He sees this and declares us clean of it all because of what Jesus has done on the cross.

What an amazing gift.

What an amazing God!

Through this forgiveness we can have confidence in coming to God. We can come to him and worship him for his grace, love, and kindness to us. But even more, we can simply come to him and know him. We can know God in a true and real sense because we have been forgiven. Through his act of forgiveness I am no longer separated from God, there is no longer a barrier between us, he is no longer a distant and abstract figure. He is God and he is knowable. My sin and my sinful nature no longer stop me from being able to have a relationship with God, and everything stupid, silly, and wrong I’ve ever done has been wiped from my record. I find myself forgiven.

What an amazing concept.

What an amazing reality!

FOR REFLECTION

  • What are some of those mistakes you’ve made that stop you from knowing God?
  • How does this idea of forgiveness impact your life?
  • What is your reaction to understanding that you have been forgiven and can know God?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

Day 1 – You Are Created

Day 2 – You Are Sinful