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WELCOME TO THE FAMILYWHAT TO EXPECT NOW THAT YOU'RE A CHRISTIAN
By JOHN MacARTHUR
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 John MacArthur
All right reserved.
Chapter OneONE LOVE
Before you were saved, mostly you loved only one person-yourself. Paul shows his understanding of this natural self-centeredness in Ephesians 2: "We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ" (verses 3-5).
You were dead! You may have been alive physically, but you were dead spiritually. Now you have a new life in Christ. God has made you alive to the spiritual realm and transformed you with a new capacity to love. Your one love above all others is for God, which is completely different from the kind of love the world understands and admires.
Luke 10 recounts a discussion between Jesus and a lawyer who wants to know what he has to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus asks the lawyer what he thinks is written in the law, the lawyer answers, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind," and that you should love "your neighbor as yourself." Jesus answered, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live" (verses 25-28; also Matthew 22:34-40).
The command to love God with all one's heart, soul, and mind was part of what Jewish people call the Shema, which contained the texts of Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; and Numbers 15:37-41. They were the most familiar and most quoted Scripture passages in Judaism, sometimes written and placed in boxes strapped on the arm and on a home's doorpost. Even in Jesus' day faithful Jews would recite the Shema twice a day.
The lawyer easily got the right answer. The way to eternal life is to love God with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds. Agape love, the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew aheb, is the love of the mind, will, emotion, and affection. It is the love Jesus describes, the highest kind of love.
The implication here is that to obey the greatest commandment-and to inherit eternal life as a result-Christians must love God perfectly with their entire beings. That is an impossible goal for sinful humankind. The lawyer knew he didn't love God like that. The religious leaders knew they couldn't either. And neither can you and I. So our eternal life comes only by God's grace.
THE MARK OF SALVATION
But to love God as fully as humanly possible, you have to deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus wherever He leads, as we saw in Luke 9:23. How can you love God when you're in the way? You can't. Salvation is not about self-fulfillment; it's about self-denial. It's not about self-love; it's about self-hate. When pride dominates the sinner's life, there's certainly no room to love God, let alone love Him perfectly.
That was Paul's point when he said, "By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). It is impossible for wretched sinners like you and me to love God as we should.
At one time in his life, Paul thought he was doing all he could to prove his love for God. By the standards of works-righteousness religion, his credentials were absolutely stellar. He was "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Philippians 3:5-6). According to the conventional religious wisdom of his day, Paul followed the right rituals, was a member of the right race and tribe, adhered to the right traditions, served the right religion with more than the right amount of intensity, and conformed to the right law with self-righteous zeal.
But one day while traveling to persecute more Christians, Paul met Jesus Christ (Acts 9). He saw Christ in all His majesty and realized that all he considered valuable was worthless, and the One he thought he loved, he hated. "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ," he cried. "Yet indeed I also count all things loss ... and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7-8). That is the essence of self-denial. In Paul's mind, his assets had become liabilities-nothing but trash. Why? Because they couldn't produce the righteousness and salvation he once thought they could. So they couldn't lead him to eternal life. He said, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells" (Romans 7:18). So he gave up all his earthly religious treasure for the heavenly riches of knowing Christ deeply and intimately.
Paul's example shows us that the distinguishing mark of saving belief in God is loving God. Faith in Jesus Christ that is not characterized by love for Him is not saving faith. The new creation that takes place at salvation produces a new will, desire, and attitude deep within you, an agape love for God that radiates out from the very core of your being. That love means a desire to please and honor Him above all others.
The apostle John also made love for God the true mark of the believer. He quoted Jesus, saying, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:23-24). In his first epistle, John wrote, "But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him" (1 John 2:5; see also 3:17; 4:12-13). You'll notice how these verses connect love for God with keeping His Word.
Where does this ability to love come from? John explained, "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). The source of our love is its very object, the One who is the essence of love, whether expressed in consolation or in wrath and judgment.
Jesus enabled us to receive His love because He died for our sin of hating God. Now He enables us to love God, because it is through Him that "the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5). First John 4:19 confirms this wonderful truth: "We love Him because He first loved us."
THE SOURCE OF JOY
As a result of your salvation, a love for the Lord Jesus Christ is the driving priority of your life. Peter summed up this priority when, speaking of Christ, he said, "Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8).
It is normal to love someone you know well. But Peter was writing to Christians who, like us, had never met Jesus face-to-face. They had never touched Him, walked with Him, shared a meal with Him, heard His voice, felt His hands, or gazed into His eyes. Yet they loved and trusted Him, which resulted in inexpressible joy. As a Christian, loving Christ becomes the great passion of your life even though you can never meet Him this side of heaven.
Peter understood this principle from personal experience. Except for Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, Peter demonstrated the least degree of trust of any disciple, denying Christ on three occasions (Matthew 26:69-75). And Jesus repeatedly questioned the validity of his love, once specifically asking him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31).
I feel sure that as Peter implored readers to love and trust Christ, whom they had never seen, he was mindful of his failure to do the same thing after spending three years in His presence! Peter failed, yet the Lord graciously forgave him and restored him to ministry. Peter learned to love and trust Christ deeply. In the same way, God's Spirit patiently teaches us to love and trust the Lord.
In 1 Corinthians 13:7, Paul says that love "believes all things." We see how love and trust are inextricably linked in the cycle of Christian growth: God grants you faith, and by faith you grasp the biblical teachings about Jesus Christ. As your knowledge of Him increases, your love and trust grow deeper and stronger. Increasingly you desire to glorify Him by serving Him wholeheartedly, talking and reading about Him, communing with Him, thus getting to know Him better and becoming increasingly like Him.
Seventeenth-century Anglican archbishop Robert Leighton wrote:
Believe, and you shall love; believe much, and you shall love much; labor for strong and deep persuasions of the glorious things which are spoken of Christ, and this will command love. Certainly, did men indeed believe his worth, they would accordingly love him; for the reasonable creature cannot but affect that most which it firmly believes to be the worthiest of affection. Oh! this mischievous unbelief is that which makes the heart cold and dead toward God. Seek then to believe Christ's excellency in himself, and his love to us, and our interest in him, and this will kindle such a fire in the heart, as will make it ascend in a sacrifice of love to Him. (Commentary on First Peter [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972 reprint], 55)
Leighton's words reaffirm that love and trust are at the heart of our relationship to Christ and the joy it brings. Peter referred to "joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8). The Greek word for "inexpressible" contains the sense of a divine mystery exceeding the powers of speech and thought. Even on a human level it is difficult to communicate the joy of loving others-look at the countless thousands of love songs that have made the attempt. But beyond that level is the inexpressible joy that comes from loving Christ. It is a heavenly joy, full of glory, because our love is a heavenly love.
THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY
It's no wonder that Paul expressed his love for Christ so profoundly:
I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)
The heart and soul of the Christian life is our love for Christ. Our salvation begins with Him, our sanctification progresses with Him, and our glorification ends with Him. He is the reason for our being, and thus He is more precious to us than anyone or anything.
Paul knew well that the heart of the Christian life is building an intimate knowledge of Christ when he said, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:8 NASB). That was both his passion and his goal (verse 14).
The essence of salvation is an exchange of something worthless for something valuable. That's what happens to those whom God chooses to bring into His kingdom. The person who comes to God is willing to give up whatever He requires, no matter how high the price. When confronted with his sin in the light of the glory of Christ-when God takes the blinders off his eyes-the repentant sinner suddenly realizes that nothing he held dear is worth keeping if it means losing Christ.
At some point in your life, you discovered that Jesus Christ was far more valuable than anything you had. All possessions, fame, and desires became worthless compared to Christ. So you trashed them all and turned to Him as your Savior and Lord. He became the supreme object of your affections. Your new desire is to know Him, honor Him, serve Him, obey Him, and be like Him. Those are the fruits of your new relationship with Jesus Christ, Lord of the universe, which result in righteousness, power, fellowship, and glory.
The One you are commanded to love is worthy of that love. God has given you a new life centered on Christ that changes everything else.
Excerpted from WELCOME TO THE FAMILY by JOHN MacARTHUR Copyright © 2007 by John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission.
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