I’ve reached a point, for a while now I must admit, where I no longer feel “spiritual” anymore.
It’s not that I’ve changed what I believe about God or anything, but it’s that I’ve realized even more so that what we are taught that is the “form” of Christianity doesn’t actually encompass what truly is Christianity.
I mean to say that all the externals of what we believe “ought” to be part of the “Christian life” don’t paint an accurate picture of what Jesus lived.
Some people live out their Christianity as if there were a list of appropriate things to do when you are married. It’s as if there’s a general consensus to follow and if your marriage doesn’t look just like everyone expects it to look, then there’s something wrong with how your marriage works.
It’s like.. you should go with your spouse on dates, make love, cook for each other, have children together, remember each other’s birthdays, remember the anniversary, yadda yadda ya, and if you don’t do some or most of these things, then apparently there’s something “wrong” with your marriage.
But the whole point of marriage is one thing, love your spouse. Everything described in the previous paragraph are demonstrations of love, but it’s as if we emphasis “make sure you do these things” rather than “make sure you love.”
Because it’s possible to “do these things” because you know that’s what you should do or what is considered “normal” in a marriage. But if you actually love your spouse, you don’t need to be told “do these thing.,” If it’s genuine love, there should be room for it to look different. And so long as love is still at the core of it, who cares what it looks like?
Obviously we’re assuming the definition of love is based on the love that God has demonstrated.
That brings me to what I really want to say.
Marriage isn’t about a certain “form.” Marriage, at the heart, is about loving your spouse. The form of it will look similar for some couples, and different in other couples. If you emphasize what a marriage “ought” to look like, you’ll likely have people “doing” but not actually understanding the heart of it.
In the same way, we’re all taught what the “Christian life” should look like. Whether it’s explicitly taught or whether it’s just a byproduct of being surrounded by a particular “Christian culture,” we have an ideal of what “ought” to be the “Christian” way to live.
But I’m starting to think differently.
Just like marriage shouldn’t be put in the confines of “Oh this is just what married couples do, it’s what married couples have done for years!” Christianity shouldn’t be put in the confines of, “Well this is what we’ve known as the Christian life for years! We’ve gone through the extent of what it can look like!”
Just like marriages should have the freedom to grow in whatever way possible, evolve into any expression it wants in the confines of “love.” So should our idea of what the “Christian life” should be like. It’s not set in stone. You can do whatever you want, express it the way you want — in the same confines of “the Love of Christ.”
The reason why I no longer feel “spiritual” is because what I believed to be “spiritual activity” as I grew up in church, I no longer do on a regular basis. But the heart of it hasn’t changed. I still have a life given to demonstrate Jesus to people in a radical way, to love the hell out of people, to lay my life down to serve, build, edify, add value to other people’s lives.
But for me, it doesn’t look like going to church every Sunday. It doesn’t look like going to prayer meetings. It doesn’t look like being part of a young adult group. It doesn’t look like going to conferences or winter retreats. It doesn’t look like going to praise nights. It doesn’t look like going to outreach events. It doesn’t look like listening to Christian music all day and having Christian t-shirts and bumper stickers.
It looks more like pursuing relationships regularly throughout the week with fellow believers because I consider them family.
It looks more like a conversation with God throughout the day, whenever, anytime, because He’s my Dad, not a “superstar” that we have to crowd around and try to get His attention.
It looks like being a part of a community of close friends who would die for each other, who have given our lives to build each other up, sharpen one another because we are truly brothers and sisters by the DNA of God.
It looks like taking Jesus’s commission seriously to make disciples, to train, to equip, to build, and to help mature each other in the context of everyday life, rather than waiting for a meeting/conference/retreat.
It looks more like a life laid down to re-present Jesus to the world, not just in songs sung.
It looks like showing that I care to homeless people that I drive by. It looks like healing people who are sick and ill as I walk past them in the grocery store. It looks like setting people free from the bondage of lies and liberating them with the Truth of Jesus and the freedom He came to bring as a present day reality, not some far off answer in the distance, years down the road.
It looks like just caring for people because they’re my friends, being there for them in whatever way that they might need, not because I have an ulterior motive to “evangelize” them.
I no longer consider any of these things as “spiritual activities,” I consider these as an overflow of, “How can I show people that I love them?”
Just as no married couple thinks of engaging in “marital activities” but rather, “How can I express my love to my spouse?”
Again.. if your definition of love is skewed, you might take what I’m saying the wrong way. Ask God to teach you what His love is like, or you can read what God’s taught me in the past few years about it here, here, here, and here.
With that said, I’m not trying to create another “list” of things of what I believe “ought” to sum up what the Christian life is about.
I’m saying that the emphasis should be to live from the heart of Christianity, not live Christianity like a cookie cutter mold of what we’re taught “is” the Christian life.
It makes sense, the emphasis of a successful marriage is one that is founded on, “Love your spouse,” not an attempt to religiously copy and imitate what everybody believes is a “good marriage.” Likewise, to get your definition of what a “good Christian” does based on “church activities” is to put the unlimited Power, Love, and Kingdom of God in a very small box.
Being a Christian isn’t about how many “spiritual activities” you do, it’s about living from a place of wanting to impact people (discipleship) and serve people (love) because God’s love has taken root in you and now compels you in every way.
And when you live from that place, it’ll no longer be about whether something is “spiritual” or not, whether you have the “right” form of Christianity and it’ll be more about living from the core-heart of it.
I used to hear a lot of girls say, “Ooh, I’m so in LOVE with God!”
It always bothered me…but I couldn’t really put my finger on it. For some reason I just had a very hard time believing that girls would say that the exact same way I heard other girls talk about their new boyfriend.
I loved God. But, it didn’t make me react like that. I didn’t have that tone to my voice that made it sound like I had some romantic relationship.
I think that romantic love stuff sells the love of God short of what it really is. Most people who “fall in love” eventually “fall out of love.” They “fall in love” with certain aspects of that person, and then they “fall out of love” when they find aspects they don’t like or can’t deal with.
This kind of love is still about finding a reason to love someone, rather than the kind Jesus demonstrated.
Sure, it makes sense; God is so perfect, what’s not to love about Him? But to think that’s the same unconditional and raw love that He demonstrates toward us and that Jesus demonstrated, is a serious understatement.
Why is this important? Because the way we love people reflects how we believe God loves us. So if we believe God has a hard time loving us because we mess up, then we’ll also have a hard time demonstrating unconditional love towards people when they mess up.
God’s kind of love is much different.
He IS love. (1 John 4:8)
It’s who He is. And He’s unchanging.
That’s why even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). He loved us even when we didn’t love Him. He laid down His life for people who crucified Him and said, “Father, forgive them.” He treated them better than they deserved. He was able to forgive the worst offense.
It was the father who gave the lost son the best robe, a ring, and sandals on his feet, even when he deserved punishment.
It was the forgiving King who cleared all the debts of the servant.
It was Jesus who forgave and healed the paralytic – he didn’t deserve it!
It doesn’t make sense in our culture today….
How can we love someone so unlovable? How can we love someone who doesn’t deserve it? How can we love our enemies like Jesus said? How can we forgive someone that has hurt us intentionally?
It feels impossible because we don’t understand what kind of love this is. We’ve been raised with this carnal love that changes based on whether someone deserves it or not. Worse yet, we secretly believe that God sees us the same way.
We believe that God is “far away” if we sin, God hides from us if we do something bad to “punish” us. We believe that God can’t bless us if we have sin in our life; we’re taught that God withholds it to “teach us a lesson.”
This is not God’s heart. He isn’t affected by our failures. He doesn’t treat us any different based on our performance. He’s doesn’t have criteria we need to follow or a list of requirements we need to fulfill. He treats us according to His love towards us, not according to our love for Him – our behavior doesn’t sway Him.
Because He IS love.
He will never treat us otherwise, because we cannot change who He is. That’s why grace is called unmerited favor. It’s favor towards us that we never deserved.
That means your actions can’t earn it, or disqualify you from it.
That’s why in the light of sin, God gives grace (Rom 5:20). He constantly keeps no record of wrong (1 Cor 13:5), He covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), He remembers sin no more (Heb 8:12 & 10:17), and He doesn’t count sins against people (2 Cor 5:19).
He wants reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19). The father wanted to have restored relationship with his son (Luke 15:21-23).
Why was he able to simply disregard offenses?
Because He is love. And love gives grace.
That’s why “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
That’s why it says, “for God so loved the world that He GAVE His Son” (John 3:16).
For God so loved, He gave grace to an undeserving world – it came in the form of His Son!
And that’s why God never stops giving grace toward us – even in our sin (Rom 5:20). He so loves that He extends grace to people who don’t deserve it. In fact, He loves those who don’t deserve love.
Because He IS love.
And when we understand His grace toward us, it shouldn’t make us want to take advantage of grace, but instead it should change how we see (Rom 2:4), and as a result, keep us from wanting to abuse it (Rom 6:1-15).
Being Like Your Dad
When you realize how He loves, that becomes the reason why YOU love (1 John 4:19).
You’ll stop finding reasons to love people because you realize God didn’t find a reason with you.
You’ll stop trying to love people who don’t deserve it because you realize God didn’t try to love you.
You’ll stop loving people because they deserve love, and you’ll start loving because it’s the love of God that has taken root in you. You’ll love people because you’ve become part of the Vine. You’ll bear the fruit of the love of God because you abide in His love (John 15:9).
“Loving people” is no longer a spiritual chore that God “commanded” you to do, or something your pastor drilled you on how “you need to ‘love your neighbor’”, or “you need to forgive this person.” Now, you love people because you are love.
You no longer need to try to bear the fruit of love. You just understand that the love God has expressed toward you is too good to keep to yourself, so you want to freely give to everyone what you’ve freely received.
You’ll understand that you’ve been made one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17), and His nature has become YOUR nature. You’ll understand that God’s kind of love has become a part of your identity.
What’s the Point?
The whole point of the Christian life is to demonstrate love to the world the same way God has demonstrated love toward us.
It’s laying yourself (your life) down to serve, to benefit, to build, to add value to someone else’s life…freely. (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16)
It’s showing people that they are worth our time, they are worth our attention, and they are worth our care.
They can see in your eyes that it’s real, raw love, and not some hyped up fluffy love with common clichés. It’s a love that gives regardless of what is deserved or expected.
It’s a love that expects nothing in return. It’s a love that does not change based on the response of others; that isn’t offended by first impressions, reputations, or accusations.
That’s why I’ve never liked the term “full-time ministry.” We all are full-time re-presenters of God’s audacious, unchanging, furious love.
Your love for people is paralleled by your understanding of God’s love toward you.
The “ministry” is to love as He loved.
That is the distinguishing mark of the believer.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Love is in it for what it can give, not what it can get.
Love isn’t looking for a “thank you”; it isn’t looking for recognition or appreciation (though, it won’t turn it down).
Love is a no-strings attached, no conditions, no hidden catches, “I want to help you and serve you” way of thinking.
Love doesn’t feel required to give, love is compelled to give; it’s not a have to, it’s a get to.
Love gets to express grace. Gets to express kindness to those who don’t deserve it. Gets to be patient… It’s supposed to be a privilege, not a chore.
The Good Samaritan is the perfect parable.
Jesus was a perfect model.
Jesus perfectly represented the Father.
Jesus sent us to re-present Himself.
We are to be examples of what love looks like and how love treats people .
We are to be examples of what it means to be Christ-like, and how He would treat people.
All these failed marriages? They are missing love.
Broken relationships? They are missing love.
The reputation of the church today? It’s missing love.
The hurt, the offense, the unforgiveness, the hate, the envy, the jealousy, the anger, the bitterness, the insecurity, the brokenness, and all the grudges people hold against each other are a result of not understanding love and therefore, not understanding how to love.
They justify it all by saying “look at what they did,” or “look at what happened to me,” because they do not understand how God has loved them.
God loves because that’s who He is! He forgives, keeps no record of wrong, trusts, and covers a multitude of sins because that’s who He is!
YOU ought to love because that’s who you’ve become! You’ve been grafted into the Vine (John 15), you are a partaker of the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:3-4)!
Friends, this is the great call. This is why Paul prayed that we would be “rooted and grounded in LOVE” (Eph 3:17).
When we understand God’s perfect love toward us, we’ll no longer have any fear and we’ll boldly approach Him (1 John 4:18; Heb 4:16).
When we learn to model that same perfect love to the world, the world will no longer have any fear in coming to us, hungry to know and experience the love we’ve been given.
Let’s grow and mature in the love that Jesus demonstrated to sinners and tax-collectors. Not this fluffy, romantic love that is erratic, unpredictable, and unstable. We’re doing everyone a great disservice by “dumbing down” God’s love to some cliché and a “nice feeling.”
This love is bold, this love is a rock, this love results in compassion, this love brings action (1 John 3:18). It’s what compelled Jesus to heal the broken, free the oppressed, help those in need, strengthen the weak, encourage the disheartened, and it’s what should compel us to do the same for those around us.
This love “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5)
By this love “all will know you are my disciples” (John 13:35)
What love is this?
God’s kind of love.