I grew up in the air force and attended public school most of my life. I also grew up in church. So my experience and time with non-believers were more often than not. In the denomination I grew up in, “good works” was the standard and supposedly was a reflection of the heart. Good works meant that you were a good Christian and you were close to God. If the outside looked right, then the inside must be right…with God. It was encouraged to serve, serve, serve the church and save, save, save the lost. It was known that if you were a fully surrendered young person that you would go to Bible college right out of high school. I rebelled (hehe) and worked my first year out of high school to earn money for college. In fall of 2001 I was headed to Jacksonville, FL to attend Bible school. I had such great expectations of what that would actually look like. I had gone to school for years with the lost. To be able to be surrounded by other brothers and sisters in Christ would be surreal. We would worship, serve and pray together as we dug deeper into God’s word and got to know our King together…right!?
You can imagine my SHOCK to find that I was in school and in a dorm room with all these other sinners. People who claimed Christ (and some who didn’t at all) but were, lying, hurting, stealing and tearing one another down right in my own personal space. I expected that from non-believers, but from Christians!? That was the first time I had ever realized how much easier it seemed to love a non-believer than to love the brethren, and how we are still a broken people slowly being changed into the image of our Savior. I am SO thankful that we Christians aren’t the standard for holiness, only God is! Though I had grown up in church for years, I didn’t have much scripture knowledge, just law knowledge, or knowledge of the “rules”. Why is it that we are surprised when believers sin? Well, come to find out Paul addresses unity in the church body in many of his letters in the New Testament. How are we to coexist with other sinners saved by grace & love one another well?
Let’s look at what Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: Ephesians 4:1-3 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
I laughed when I read that we were to bear with one another, clearly we must not be the easiest people at times. Bear, endure, and be long suffering with one another in love, that we maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This reconciliation and love acts as a BOND to unite the believers together in Christ. The BOND of peace.
Let’s also look at what Paul wrote to the church of Colossae in Colossians 3:8-11 in these you too once walked, when you were living in them. (Before we were believers) But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Colossians 3:12-14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Ahhh the law….the list, the formula. So much familiarity and false security as we are tempted to achieve these good things alone. But as I read these, I instantly felt defeated because I KNOW I can’t love perfectly like we are called to. I am (and have always been) just like my other Bible college roommates, broken and in need of rescuing from myself as well. Though I am redeemed in Christ, I will fall short, I will disappoint, I will mess up, and I won’t live up to the expectations of others. Ever. And If I can’t achieve these perfectly, then that means I’m sure others can’t as well.
So how in the world can we display these virtues toward one another and put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony as verse 14 says?
We can’t forget (Ephesians 1:7-10) IN HIM (In Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his GRACE, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Oh the riches of His grace that He lavishes upon us. We have redemption through His blood and He is faithful to give us the wisdom, the insight and means to accomplish His purposes as we faithfully pursue Him. As we are intentional in beholding our King, and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts like Col. 3:15 says, He WILL renew us in knowledge after the image of Himself. It is His word and the work of the Spirit in us that changes us and gives us any ability to love well at all. We will be renewed in knowledge as we become familiar with His word and keep our eyes solely on Him.
Because of our sin nature, we aren’t naturally focused on others wellbeing so much as our own, and we don’t just naturally become holy because we decided to. We can’t do any good thing aside from Christ. I love how D.A. Carson explains it…
People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace driven effort people do not grow toward godliness, prayer and obedience, to the scripture, faith and delight in the Lord. Instead we drift toward compromise and call it tolerance. We drift toward disobedience and call it freedom. We drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation. We slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking that we have escaped legalism. We slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves that we have been liberated. –D.A. Carson
The ONLY way we can possibly love well is by a grace driven effort as D.A. Carson explained. It isn’t by trying to obey the law alone in our best efforts, because we will quickly fail. And it isn’t by solely resting on grace without any effort, and use it as an excuse to not love others as we are called to because it’s covered. It is only by the grace of God that we would show any of these virtues toward one another because though we are saved by amazing grace, we are still broken here on this earth and God is faithfully changing and renewing us bit by bit. We are called as believers to love each other this way but we won’t live it out perfectly, because there was only one person who could live this out perfectly. It was Jesus, and He lived it unto death. For us.
How freeing to break the bondage of expectations with one another and KNOW that we all will fail each other, we all will disappoint at some time or another, and we all as believers are on this journey of sanctification. May we be gracious with one another as we are all growing and are in different parts of our life story.
Charles Spurgeon once said “He who grows in grace remembers that he is but dust, and he therefore does not expect his fellow Christians to be anything more. He overlooks ten thousand of their faults, because he knows his God overlooks twenty thousand in his own case. He does not expect perfection in the creature, and therefore, he is not disappointed when he does not find it.”
We could try and muster up enough willpower and determination to just do it, and love each other well with all our best effort. Or we could by grace focus on beholding our King, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, with faith that He will continue to do a good work and that all of these things will be added unto us for our good and for His glory. One way only leads to complete exhaustion and failure, while the other leads to perfect peace in Christ.
I am soooo thankful that God took me, this legalistic Pharisaical “good” girl and showed her, her own pride and wretched heart and is faithfully transforming her into a “grace” girl. He faithfully continues to show me that only He can be the perfect standard for us, and that He is happy to use the weak and broken. Even a Bible School drop out for His honor and glory.
Colossians 3:15-17 (sisters) and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I love the song by: For King and Country-Fix My Eyes. It is a perfect prayer for the body and for us sisters…
Love like I’m not scared
Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another
Take time for a brother (or sister)
Fight for the weak ones
Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle
Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on You, On You
May we fix our eyes on Christ and love with a radical love like we have been loved and may we boldly and confidently love one another imperfectly, laced with grace as He is faithful to perfect us.