Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love… In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins… We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us… We love, because He first loved us. – 1 John 4:7-8, 10, 16a, 19
These words, from the pen of the Apostle John, are excerpted from a longer passage, 1 John 4:7-21, which I regard as the most full, beautiful and powerful statement of the gospel of Jesus Christ to be found in the Bible and that’s saying a lot! They are the mature fruit of John’s reflection on the meaning and mission of Jesus whom he had personally known and followed during Jesus’ earthly ministry. In verse 14 John writes, “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” The “we” is John and his fellow apostles, those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection appearances. The world, indeed, needs saving! Wars, poverty, greed, corruption, pride, lust and injustice are just some of the manifestations of the world’s moral sickness. The world needs saving and that means that you and I need to be saved.
One of the traps we fall into in our thinking on this problem is we suppose that if only a certain subset of the world’s population would do the right thing then the world’s troubles would be over. These subsets are a long list but how about… Republicans, Democrats, the rich, the welfare cheats, the bankers, the government, religious people, atheists and so on. We each have our own ideas about who the villains are. Our panacea for the problems of this world essentially boil down to this: get rid of the trouble-makers! That way, the rest of us “good people” can make the world a tolerable place to live. But this is not what the Bible teaches. It says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We all need to be saved and we cannot look down on others as though we are superior to them. They have done wrong and so have we. They have offended against God and their neighbor and so have we, in different ways, and to different degrees but we all fall short. Moreover, we can’t wait for others to get right with God before we do. This world will never be perfect, but it could be whole lot better! The ultimate fulfillment of our God-given yearning for a perfect healing of this wounded world will only be found when Christ returns in glory. Until then, we live, work and pray in the spirit of Christ’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
God’s salvation plan may be compared to completing an electrical circuit. I don’t know much about electricity and I’m afraid to say something about it that may be wrong but I do know that an electric current needs to flow in a circuit to power all the many devices upon which our lives now depend. A break anywhere in a circuit immediately cuts off the power. Many hearings in Congress have taken place in recent years about the security of our electrical system. At least two possible scenarios have been addressed. First, there is the danger that a nuclear device exploded above the United States could destroy the transformers and transmission lines of our electrical system. Also, the space satellites upon which our phone and GPS systems depend would be rendered inoperable. The same could happen if the sun were to have a “coronal mass ejection” event as happened in 1858 that fried telegraph lines. A CME today of that magnitude could send us into a mini “dark age” until the infrastructure could be replaced. This has fueled the concern that we provide sufficient protection against such a catastrophic collapse
All of that to say that a moral and spiritual dark age has enveloped this world since man and woman first listened to and believed the lie of the serpent (Satan) that God is selfish and not to be trusted with our welfare. It was not a total collapse for the light still was shining in the darkness and was never entirely put out. (John 1:4, 5) Nevertheless, violence, oppression and injustice soon proliferated among humans. What is the answer to this problem? John twice says in this passage “God is love”. (vss. 8, 16) This does not mean, as some suppose, that “love is God”. We do not worship a principle or an ideal, much less a feeling. We worship “that Being than which no greater can be conceived” (Anselm) Love is God’s innate character. All genuine love comes from God. He is the eternal, infinite fount of unselfish love. In electrical terms, He is the great dynamo of love without whose current love would cease to exist in us His creatures.
We were created to be conductors of the power of God’s love. Like electricity, there must be a completed circuit. Any break in the circuit and the power ceases to flow. The Bible says, in effect, that all of us have broken the circuit of God’s love. And even if the circuit is intact, we need an upgrade on our conductivity. During medieval times, there were certain persons called “alchemists” who sought ways to change base metals like iron, tin and lead into precious metals such as gold or silver. The alchemists were not, of course, trying these experiments because they wanted something that could better conduct electricity but, as it turns out, the top three conductors of electricity are gold, copper and silver whereas lead, iron and tin are not as good. So, to bring us back to the analogy, we have all broken the circuit of the flow of God’s love and even when we do let it flow there is a good deal of resistance in us that it has to overcome. We need to complete the circuit and upgrade our wiring! But this is something we cannot do without God’s help.
So what has God done to repair and upgrade our moral circuitry? He sent His Son, the embodiment of His love, to die on the cross as the atonement for our failure to fulfill the purpose of our existence, that is, to provide an unimpeded flow of the current of God’s love. That is why John writes, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (verse 10) Since the beginning the problem has been that we do not trust in God’s love for us. We think that we must look out for ourselves because God is not going to do it for us. But once we truly “come to know and have believed the love which God has for us” (vs.16a) we begin to experience freedom from the self-protecting, self-seeking and self-aggrandizing spirit. Being full of confidence in God’s love leads us to love God and others as God has loved us. That is what the cross of Jesus is all about. His sacrifice there for our sins is the greatest possible demonstration of God’s unselfish and costly love for us.
This is how the circuit of our hearts is repaired and upgraded. It is not by knowing that loving others is the right thing to do but by experiencing that love for ourselves in the gospel of Jesus and the revelatory power of the Holy Spirit. If you want this repair and upgrade, look to Jesus, look to the cross and trust in His love for you. Then you will “love, because He first loved” you!