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.
I spent years thinking that the process of “renewing your mind” was something that just naturally happened and was beyond my control. I used to think that it was something God was in control of. I didn’t know that I could actually intentionally do something to renew my mind — that I could “consciously” renew my mind. I used to think that if you just go about your Christian life, some way, some how, your mind is suddenly renewed.
But, in the last few years, I’ve discovered that it’s actually not that complicated — you can do it intentionally and it isn’t hard. I’m going to show you how it works, how you can use it intentionally, and how you can use it effectively.
How it works:
Imagine that you’ve lived at your house for 20 years of your life.
You’ve memorized the fastest ways to drive back from your work, from church, from your friend’s place, from school, and from the gym. You’ve developed a route that you take every time. You don’t think about it, that’s just the way you go home because you’ve done that for 20 years. You know the correct turns to make. You know the best time to take which route based on how bad traffic is. You know which roads have the most cops. And you know all the ins and outs of getting yourself home.
Then imagine if you move 10 minutes away.
The next day, you’re about to head back home from work. You get in your car as usual, and you start driving. Out of sheer habit and muscle memory, you take the same old highway, the same old exit, and the same traffic all the way until you get home, only to realize that you no longer live at your old house. You slap yourself on the forehead thinking, “How could I forget?! I moved! Gotta make sure I don’t do this again…what a waste of time!”
The next day is similar, you get into your car and you begin to take the same route you’ve taken for the last 20 years. It isn’t until about halfway home you realize again, “Shoot! I moved!” You pull a U-turn and head towards the new home you recently moved into.
So by this point, you’re consciously making an effort to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You create a reminder in your head, “Alright, when I reach this street, I have to make a left where I used to make a right.” You know it will take a conscious effort to forge a new pattern because the old pattern was so familiar, natural, and comfortable. But you know you have to do it because you no longer live at the old house – none of your belongings are there. Plus, the new house is much bigger, with a lot more freedom to move around.
The next day, as you leave your house for work, you make another mental note to remind yourself that you’ve moved so that you won’t forget at the end of the day. The time arrives, and you get into your car. Confident, reminding yourself that you have a new home, you get all the way home without taking a wrong turn. When you arrive, you breathe a sigh of satisfaction, knowing that you took the right route and you’re confident it’ll be easier next time.
Over a period of a few weeks, what started with lots of errors and mistakes starts to become second-nature and natural. The muscle memory and old pattern of thinking was undone and now it’s hard to imagine ever taking that old route again. In addition to that, you’ve done the same exercise with your church, school, friend’s place, and the gym. All the old routes were reprogrammed and redesigned to fit the location of your new home.
Months down the road, it’s nowhere near a struggle. You’ve forged a new routine — a new habit. You arrive at your new home every time. And every once in a while, you’ll be at an intersection you used to use when you were at your old house, and you’ll get a familiar feeling of when you used to slam the pedal to try to make the light…you reminisce on the memories. But then you’d snap back into reality remembering, “Well…I don’t live there anymore.”
This is the life of the believer. This is the call of Romans 12:2, to “renew your mind.” As a believer you have a responsibility to renew your thinking, to rewire your brain as a result of understanding the fact that you have become a son of God, an heir of God, an ambassador of a King. As a result of understanding that you have been bought at a price (denoting worth) and that you have been given a new nature (new tendencies), it should cause you to make different choices. It is a different path — a different life than you once walked.
The old house had its own set of ways and its own set of patterns. If we find ourselves veering off into the old paths, it’s only because we’ve forgotten that we’ve moved to a new house that’s more glorious.
How to use it intentionally:
“Renewing your mind” is definitely not just about reciting a list of facts. Nor is it about confessing a phrase in an effort to try to persuade yourself to believe it. When you renew your mind, it should renew the way you do things. A new perspective should result in a new set of actions, just like moving to a new house will cause you to take new directions. Taking new directions aren’t a requirement, but it’s a natural byproduct of understanding that you have a new house.
Say for example I’ve dealt with jealously for many years of my life, and if I hear that a friend has achieved something that I’ve been trying to achieve, I get jealous and I have a hard time celebrating with them.
And then let’s say that I hear a teaching and I realize that I’m just like the disciples arguing and competing to be the greatest. I’m jealous because I’m actually performing for the approval/praise of man instead of understanding I already have approval from God. I realize the simple truth that my worth comes from what my Father has already said about me, not what other people say.
When that new revelation is received, that’s when I get a new house. Immediately, I am “free” from my old house, and I am free to not “drive back” to the old house of jealousy. I am free to celebrate with my friend instead of getting envious. I am free, but the rubber will have to hit the road.
So the next time a friend has achieved something I’ve been wanting to achieve, I have a choice to drive to the old house that I’ve been used to (jealousy), or I remember that I’ve moved on to a new house (celebrating my friend). The problem is that it will still feel natural and I will be tempted to take the old route toward the old house if I believe I still live there. I will allow the habit and the muscle memory to dictate my direction if I never realize the fact that I have a new house. But if I’m truly convinced that I have moved, I will make every conscious effort to take the new route every time. Why? Because I’ve moved. The new house is better than the old house, and all my belongings are in the new one.
So, suppose that I failed to make it to the new house. The muscle memory and habit got the best of me the first time.
Do I deem myself a failure, feel condemned and think, “You’re so horrible for driving back to your old house, what a failure“?
No, I just write it off and think, “Wow, how did that slip my mind?”
Do I think, “Man…I guess I’ll never remember to make it to my new house, it’s just so hard to remember“?
No, I just make a few more conscious reminders to make sure that I make it the next time. I’ll think, “Alright, when I’m at this intersection, I no longer take a left…I make a right. Left is the old house. Right is the new house.”
Do I think, “I just feel so stuck. I just somehow can’t get to my new house…I feel bound to drive back to my old house…every time. I’ll never make it to my new one, this is hopeless“?
Ridiculous. I will only feel bound to my old house if I still believe I live there. I will only be bound to the same old habits and same old routes if I believe I still have the same old “home base.” When I’ve renewed my mind to the fact that I have a new “default,” a new “home,” a new “building”...I will make the effort to get there every time, because it’s a better house!
So to answer the question: “How do I intentionally renew my mind?” It’s a moot point. The same way you change the routes you take when you move to a new house is the same way to renew your mind (re-read the parable if it hasn’t clicked yet).
Using it effectively:
Naturally, when you move to a new house, it’s not just one route that has to change. All the routes change. You have to ask yourself, how do I get home from the store now? From the bank? From my friend’s house? From the restaurant? All the “courses” of action change as a result of your new “‘home.”
Every one of your old behaviors will change based on the revelation of your new house, but they will all take a conscious effort. Only you can do that for you.
Whether it’s about your poor temperament, a struggle to be patient, a habit of gossiping, getting free from addiction, thinking poorly of yourself, worth issues, dealing with fear of man, struggling with jealously like I did, or struggling with pride… it doesn’t matter. It’s the same process.
You need to understand that you have a new house, and you need to figure out what the path to that new house looks like. What does it look like to no longer gossip, but speak life and encouragement? What mindsets need to change so that you don’t get angry so easily? What lie are you believing about yourself that you need to diffuse in order to stop the self-loathing and sense of unworthiness?
If you keep digressing to your old paths, it’s because you haven’t forged a new path. If you feel like you’ll never escape your old habits, it’s because you believe that you still live in your old house and haven’t moved yet.
The Process of Growth:
You’re probably realizing now that this is everything in your Christian life.
This is how you walk out the fruit of the Spirit (even fruit takes time to mature).
This is how you walk as Jesus walked (babies have to learn how to walk, and then run).
It’s all a result of understanding that you’ve become a new creation.
You’ve been cut off from the old. The old has gone. The old has died. It has been put off.
Here’s the beautiful thing…
It gets easier.
The more you take the new route, the less you’ll feel prone to take the old. The more you take the new, the less of an effort you’ll need the next time.
Soon, after a few months, it’ll hardly cross your mind. You won’t even be tempted to take the old route. It might cross your mind and you might reminisce, but by then, you’ll have forged a new habit and living reality. You’ll have a new walk, a new path, a new way, and by then, it’ll be an effort to go back to the old.
(1 Peter 1:13-14, 4:1-3, Col 3:5-10, Eph 4:17-23, 5:8-10, Gal 5:24, Gal 5:13)