Showing posts with label Dynamics of Divine Love. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dynamics of Divine Love. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The Pattern of All Creation

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word, the Logos of God. Which is to say, Christ is the Logic, the Reason, the Purpose, the Plan of God. He is the Will and the Way of God, the meaning and pattern of all that is. All things are made through him, by him, for him and in him, and in him all things consist, cohere and hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). Everything that exists receives its being from him and in him.

The good news of the gospel is that he who is the Logos of God became human being (John 1:14), in whom all humankind participates. Jesus Christ defines human being, what it is to be human. He is at once the full revelation of humanity and the full revelation and glory of divinity.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth ... No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:14,18)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

The Cross and Resurrection is the full revelation of God and the divine glory. There we see not only what it means to be human but also what it means to be God. We understand what it means that God is love (1 John 4:8), that love is self-giving, other-centered and cross-shaped.

Christ Crucified and Risen is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. Indeed, through the Cross and Resurrection, he is the foundation of the world. For he who is the firstborn from the dead is the firstborn of creation (Colossians 1). In this way, he is the paradigm of the whole universe; in his self-giving, other-centered, cross-shaped love, all things find their reason and meaning. And so he is the fractal reality of all Creation, the recurring pattern, at every layer and level of everything that is.

Friday, March 1, 2024

What Great Love the Father Has Lavished

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us.” Lavished! I love that word. It speaks of generosity, abundance, extravagance and grace. It reminds me of the extravagant love of the father in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (see here and here). So, I like that the New International Version uses this word to translate didomi (in its perfect tense). The King James Version, too, renders the line very nicely: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us.” It is freely given to us.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

What manner of love is this? How magnanimous and strange and unexpected it is. See what God has done in his great love for us: He has called us his children — children of God. He is not unapproachable deity, for he has come and revealed himself fully to us in Christ the Son, for Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

The Father has bestowed his love upon us, lavished it upon us without condition and without boundary. God, who is love, has given us what and who he is — divine love. He has given us himself in intimate relationship.

Children of God is not what we must aspire to and somehow accomplish. Children of God is what we are — right here and right now, fully and completely. We will never be more the children of God, more loved and accepted by God, than we are in this present moment.

We are children of God not because of anything we have done, not even by our faith, but because of what God has done for us in Christ. That is the gospel truth about every one of us. But the world does not recognize the truth of this; it does not recognize our identity — and their own identity — in Christ because it did not recognize Christ himself.

When John says that all who have this hope purify themselves, he does not mean that they go to work, do the do and clean themselves up. That would be to miss the point about our identity in Christ. It would fold being back into doing and collapse everything down into moralism and legalism. We do not become children of God by our own doing, nor do we purify ourselves by our own efforts. We will be like Christ not by what we have done but because “we shall see him as him as he is.”

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Consuming Fire of Divine Love

The Scriptures teach us that God is love and that God is a consuming fire. That is not saying two different things but saying the same thing in two different ways. For God is simple, not a being of parts that must be held in tension or played off one against another.

To speak of God as love and as consuming fire is to say that the love of God is the consuming fire of God, and the consuming fire of God is the love of God. So, however the consuming fire of God is manifest, it has everything to do with the love of God, and has no expression apart from that love.

The consuming fire of God’s love is a refiner’s fire, purging away the dross and purifying the precious elements. It may be like the doctor’s laser burning away a cancer in the patient’s body. The doctor’s purpose is not to harm but to heal. Likewise, the purpose of the consuming fire of God’s love is not to harm but to heal and restore.

Christ is the perfect expression of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3), which is to say that God is exactly like the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, any interpretation of the Scriptures that portrays God in any way that is contrary to the revelation of God we have in Jesus Christ is an interpretation we must reject as being unworthy of Christ and the Scriptures.

In the New Testament, we learn the gospel-shaped truth that God is love. Love is not a possession, an item in God’s divine toolbox to be brought out as the occasion arises. Nor is love a choice God makes, extending it to some while withholding it from others. Nor is it an attribute that must be held in tension with or balanced out by other divine attributes. No, it is much deeper than all that: God is love (1 John 4:8). It is the nature of God to love — always. So, any interpretation of Scripture that portrays God as in any way contrary to Christ’s self-giving, other-centered love, or the New Testament teaching about love, is an interpretation we must reject as unworthy of Christ, of the gospel and of love.

God has always been the way he is revealed in Christ. He has not changed from the Old Testament to the New; he has always been the way Christ has revealed him in the New Testament. The understanding the Old Testament writers and prophets had about God was not full and complete. But Christ has now come, and he is the full and complete revelation of God, the perfect expression of God’s being.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
That really is a night and day difference, but it does not mean we ought to dismiss the Old Testament Scriptures, as if the revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ has done away with them. Quite the opposite, for Christ said that the Scriptures are about him:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me. (John 5:39)
We ought to read the Scriptures, then, but we ought to read them through Christ and the gospel, with a Christ-centered, cross-shaped understanding. Otherwise, we are liable to end up with ideas about God that are simply unworthy of Christ and therefore unworthy of God.

The idea, then, that God should ever act in any way that is retributive or intends harm to anyone is thoroughly unworthy of Christ, and ought to be rejected — love simply does not act that way. Rather, we ought to see the consuming fire of God as the expression of God’s love, intended not for harm but for healing, not to destroy but to restore.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

God’s Anger is Not Forever
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will He harbor His anger forever;
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:8-12)
There are several striking things in this brief passage, and they are perfectly revealed to us in Jesus Christ. First, we see that the Lord is full of compassion and grace. There is nothing God has ever done or ever will do that is lacking in either of these. God, in his holiness and justice, always deals with us according to mercy. God overflows with love toward all, even to those who have turned away and consider God as their enemy. The Father loves them nonetheless. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)
What of God’s anger, then? The psalm writer tells us that the Lord is “slow to anger.” God is longsuffering toward us, exceedingly patient with us. Alongside God’s patience, there are a couple of other things the psalm writer would have us understand about God’s anger. The first is that, however we might think about the anger of the Lord, it is always for the sake of God’s love toward us all. See in these verses how it is couched in the middle of God’s compassion, grace and abounding love. God’s anger is always conditioned by his faithful love toward us. His anger is not at us but at sin and evil and darkness — how we break vital relationship not only with God but also with each other, with creation, and even within our own beings. By such dark ways, we do harm to others and to creation as well as to ourselves.

Second, however we might think about the anger of the Lord, the psalm writer tells us this: It will not last forever. It is never God’s last word about anyone. For the anger of the Lord does not come to condemn us but to deliver us. For God is forgiving towards us and does not treat us according to our sins. He does not hold them against us — he removes them from us! Such is God’s love and mercy toward us.

The people whom the psalm writer primarily has in mind as the object of God’s faithful and enduring love are the people of Israel. God made covenant with them and, through Moses, showed them wonderful deliverance. The Lord, “made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel” (v. 7). But in Jesus Christ, God reveals that this same love is not just for Old Testament Israel but for all the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

This calls for faith, for it is through faith, turning from our own darkness to the light of Christ, that we embrace this great reconciliation, come to know our forgiveness and find our true freedom in God. But if we embrace the darkness, the light of Christ will seem to us like the anger of God instead of the love that it is, for light is God’s judgment on the darkness. The anger of God will not last forever, not because God changes in his disposition toward us — God is ever and always disposed toward us in love, for God is love — but because our disposition toward God changes and we finally see Divine Love for who he is.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Random Thoughts

Thoughts culled from my random file, gathered from my Twitter tweets, Facebook updates and Instagrams. About faith, divine love, the kingdom of God and new life in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Offered as “jump starts” for your faith.
  • We do not overcome evil with evil — not even with the lesser of two evils. We overcome evil with good.
  • Do good and leave the results to God who knows how to redeem every situation.
  • The will of God for you and me, in one word: Love — to love and be loved.
  • God is love. The will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven is nothing else but the manifestation of love.
  • Jesus knew how to multiply five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand. He knows how to multiply His body and his blood to feed His people.
  • Wherever the will of God is done on earth as in heaven, there we find the kingdom of God. And there heaven and earth have become one.
  • The glory of God is not found in the will to power but in the will to love. The greatness of God is not found in the ability to take but in the ability to pour Himself out for love.
  • What counts, the apostle Paul said, is faith expressing itself through love. God is love, and faith in God looks like love.
  • Christ did not come to hold us accountable for sin but to set us free from the bondage of sin.
  • Love is unconditional, not co-dependent. Or controlling.
  • The gospel is not a sin management program.
  • The cross was not a management tool for God’s anger issues — and Jesus was not being co-dependent.
  • We are not defined by our faithfulness to God but by God’s faithfulness to us.
  • Father, Son and Holy Spirit, lead us all into the eternal bliss of Your divine fellowship. Amen.
  • We are holy not because of what we do or don’t do but because of whose we are.
  • I desire no other reason for doing good then that God is love and Jesus is Lord.
  • Christ became a human being that we might become our true selves and know real freedom.
  • Christ has irrevocably, inextricably entangled Himself with all humanity — the Incarnation cannot be undone. O Glorious Entanglement that saves the whole world!
  • The Cross was the inevitable consequence of the Incarnation, when He who is infinite life joined Himself to a humanity bent toward death — it could only ever result in Resurrection.
  • Teach me today, Lord Jesus, for You are my proverb and my psalm, my wisdom and my praise. Amen.
  • Christ, the True Light who gives light to everyone, has come into the world. Follow Him.
  • Neither death nor evil nor sin have any purpose, any rightful place in God’s creation. They are imposters, detracting from life and good and wholeness. But their power has been broken at the Cross, where they were shown to be the frauds they are, and they are destined for destruction.
  • Christ is the True Light who gives light to all the world. Look for His light in everyone you meet.
  • Faith in Christ looks like following him.
More random thoughts …

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sowing to the Spirit and Reaping Life
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:7-10)
It is a simple truth, one easily observed in nature and is applicable to life in general, even in the spiritual realm: we reap what we sow. What Paul has in mind here is the contrast between sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit, and he seems to be referring back to chapter 5, concerning the “acts of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.”
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
When Paul speaks of the flesh, he is talking about what we are apart from the Spirit of God. So the “acts of the flesh” are works done apart from the Spirit. It is important to understand that Paul is not addressing people who want to do corrupt things but people who want to do good things: they want to follow the Law of Moses. The history of Old Testament Israel, though, is largely a history of faithlessness and failure to keep the Law. So these are not works of the Law that Paul is describing but works of the flesh failing to keep the Law, for the Law was of absolutely no use against the corrupt ways and desires of the flesh and provided no means for producing what the Law required.

In Romans 7, Paul describes this problem and how easily it leads to desperation. He sums it up this way: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Romans 7:14). The problem was not the Law but bondage to sin, a problem that affected not only Israel but all of humanity. But God promised that the solution would one day come: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

The good news of the gospel is that, in Jesus Christ that time has arrived. For through Christ, God has not only broken the bondage of sin but has also put a new spirit in us — God’s own Spirit. So in contrast to the works of the flesh, and the inability of the Law in the face of them, Paul offers the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The Law of Moses is certainly not against this. Indeed, it is love, particularly, that fulfills the Law (Galatians 5:14). Yet what the Law was helpless to produce in us, God has given the Holy Spirit to bring forth in us.

Back to chapter 6, now, where Paul draws the contrast between sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit and the harvest each one brings. Sow to the flesh and you will reap destruction — ruin, decay, corruption. Sow to the Spirit and you will reap eternal life.

Let’s take a closer look at “eternal life.” We are accustomed to thinking of it as being outside the time frame of history and having very little, if anything, to do with this present world. But the Greek word for “eternal,” aionios, has to do with ages, particularly the age or ages to come. The truth of the gospel is that in the resurrection of Christ, the age to come has broken into this present age and God’s new creation has already begun. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining,” is how John puts it (1 John 2:8).

“Eternal life” (zoen aionion), then, is the life of the age to come. But since Christ and his resurrection have already entered into this present age, so also has the life he brings. It is available to us now and may be experienced now, for it is not merely a duration of life but, more importantly, a quality of life.

What does this life look like and how may we experience it? It looks like the fruit of the Spirit and it comes forth through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. It is a life of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When we sow to the Spirit, we reap the lively fruit of the Spirit. We can think of this fruit as the character of Christ manifesting the life of Christ in us.

How, then, do we sow to the Spirit? It is a matter of trust, of faith. For the fruit is not something we could ever produce in ourselves, otherwise we would be back in the same predicament as Israel was with the Law, trying to live up to a certain standard but without the wherewithal to do so. No, the fruit is the Spirit’s and therefore something only the Holy Spirit can do in us. So we yield ourselves to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit rather than to the flesh, and we do not try to accomplish by Law what can only be done by the Spirit of God.

“The only thing that counts,” says Paul, “is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Sowing to the Spirit is dependence on God. Yet even that dependence, that faith, must come from God — we receive it as a gift. We can no more work it up within ourselves than we can conjure up love from within ourselves. The nature of the faith that comes from God is that it is energized by the love that is the fruit of the Spirit. That faith and love, then, are the manifestations of the life of the age to come, and by them we do what is good.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Random Thoughts

Thoughts culled from my random file, gathered from my Twitter tweets, Facebook updates and Instagrams. About divine love, relationship with God and new life in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Offered as “jump starts” for your faith.
  • All humanity is connected, so in joining himself to humanity, Christ joined all humanity to God.
  • Jesus is the light of God who gives life to all and rescues us from our darkness.
  • The Father sends the Holy Spirit to bring forth in us the life of the Son.
  • The Incarnation was not a divine afterthought or merely a necessary solution to a terrible problem. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us because that was God’s desire from the beginning.
  • Faithfulness is faith working through love.
  • Faithfulness is faith lived out over time, turning to God in all weathers and every season.
  • Faith works through love. Love casts out fear.
  • Faith is like a seed. It must be planted before it can grow.
  • Neither faith nor doubt are fickle or fleeting. They are orientations of the heart.
  • When we focus on our faith, how small it seems. When we focus on Jesus, how great our faith becomes.
  • My paradigm is the God who is love and whose grace is far greater than any evil the world could ever produce.
  • God doesn’t distance himself from us because of our sin. He comes near and rescues us from it. So the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
  • Any time you think the Christian life is something you do for God, you’ve got it all backwards.
  • God is love. If he ceases to be love, even for a moment, he ceases to be God. God is loving in all his ways, always and toward all.
  • What if the love of God is deeper than hell? That changes everything.
  • Today I recklessly pursue the God who is love, whose love relentlessly pursues me.
  • Jesus is the perfect expression of God in human form. If we don’t see God as just like Christ, we are not seeing him as he is.
  • In the Incarnation, God became human so that we might become divine ... but also that we might become truly human.
  • By his love, by his Son, by his Spirit, God makes his enemies his friends.
  • Run wild, King Jesus, through Muslim camps and show them your great love for them. Through dreams and visions may they come to know you. Amen.
  • Today I contemplate my divinity in Christ, his divine life in me. It is a good day.
  • Christ in me changes the world.
  • In Jesus the Messiah, God has joined himself to humanity and broken the power of sin and death.
  • Jesus is the True Light who gives light to everyone in the world. What if today we looked for the light of Christ in each other?
More random thoughts …

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Random Thoughts

Thoughts culled from my random file. About divine love, relationship with God and new life in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Many have been my tweets and Facebook updates. Some have been my Instagrams. Offered as “jump starts” for your faith.
  • Faith in God is relational, more about trust than certainty.
  • Today I repent of the prides and arrogances I know about ... and ask forgiveness for the ones I have not yet realized.
  • The humility of Christ and His cross exposes evil for what it is: pride against God and one another.
  • Biblical justice is relational, about readiness for community.
  • The justice of God is not about retribution but about restoration to fellowship.
  • The judgment of God does not come to condemn us but to transform us.
  • The cross was not a penalty Christ paid but a victory Christ won.
  • The cross was not the reason for God’s forgiveness but the revelation of God’s forgiveness.
  • In Jesus Christ, God forgives our betrayals, removes our shame and leads us back to holy community with God and one another.
  • In Jesus Christ we become part of the new creation. The whole cosmos cries out for this revelation.
  • What is God showing you about what he wants to do in the world? Pray that!
  • Thank you, Lord, for your healing presence.
  • Forgive me, Lord, for baptizing bitter fear as righteous anger, for being quick to take offense and slow to love. Teach me the strength, gentleness and humility of Christ. Amen.
  • The resurrection of Christ exposes the truth about death: it is a helpless and defeated foe, and cannot stand.
  • The abundantly available grace of God transforms sinners into saints.
  • In Jesus Christ, sins are forgiven, shame is removed and new life begins.
  • Remember today that your blessing is not rooted in your job but in God.
  • Remember today that your significance is not found in your work but in the love God has for you.
  • How deep the love, how wide the mercy, how abundant the grace, how joyful the fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • God doesn’t do “pay back.” He does “pay forward” ... and he does it with grace.
  • God is love. Love casts out all shame.
  • There are no boundaries to the grace of God. He is always working for our good.
  • DREAM ~ A communication from a deeper realm, a vignette from the spiritual dimension.
  • We live in between the great things God has already done and the greater harvest yet to come.
  • Don’t worry about your significance in the world. God has already taken care of that. Just go on and live your life in him.
More random thoughts ...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Gospel According to John the Baptist

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:15-18)
This is how John the Baptist preached the gospel, or at least how Luke summarized his preaching of the gospel. It is all about the Messiah, the Christ, and there are two main points to his message. First, while John baptized the repentant with water, Messiah would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.

In Ezekiel, the Lord had promised that he would sprinkle his people with clean water, cleanse them from all their impurities, give them a new heart and put his own Spirit within them (Ezekiel 36:25-27). At Pentecost, the promise of the Father was fulfilled and the Church received this baptism when the Holy Spirit came upon each of them as “tongues of fire.”

This fire of the Spirit burns with the love of God, for the God whom the Scriptures call a “consuming fire” is also the God who is love. His love is a refining fire that burns away the dross so that the gold may shine brightly. In this sense it is a judgment, separating what is good from what is evil. So also, the baptism of divine fire refines us, burning away what is worthless so that the light and life of Christ may shine brightly within.

The second point of John’s message flows from the first: There was to be a winnowing, a judgment that would separate the wheat from the chaff. Messiah would gather the wheat into the barn and the chaff he would burn up. As the Holy Spirit is doing in us, so Christ is also doing in the world. The fire of God’s love through Christ burns away what is evil and worthless so that what is good and fruitful may be safely gathered into his own.

The good news of the gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ comes to judge the world — with the consuming fire of his love. For as Paul said to the Athenian philosophers, God has “set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed [Christ]. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

God’s purpose in Christ is to “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20). So shall Christ make all things new, with the fire of the Holy Spirit and the love of God.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Divine Love is a Fine Madness

On my Facebook page the other day, I posted a quote by George McDonald: “In low theologies, hell is invariably the deepest truth, and the love of God is not so deep as hell.” And I added a thought of my own: “What if the love of God is deeper than hell? That changes everything.”

A friend of mine saw the post and commented, “Much study hath made thee mad” — I’m not really sure how he meant it. It is a quote from Acts 26:24. Apostle Paul is preaching the gospel to Festus, the Roman governor in Judea, after which, Festus says to him, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” Paul answered, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.” The revelation of Christ sounded like truth and reason to Paul but madness to Festus.

Another friend commented, “Sounds like universalism to me.” Indeed, it does, and there is good reason for that: George McDonald was a Christian Universalist. He believed that the love of God will ultimately prevail over hell because it is a truth deeper than hell. Let me hasten to add, however, that it does not happen apart from Christ, who is the only way. It does not happen apart from the cross but, rather, because of the cross. And it does not happen apart from faith in Christ, for in the end, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).

But here is something that is curious to me: If the love of God is greater and more powerful than hell, and that sounds like universalism, then I can’t argue with that. And I don’t, because it certainly does sound like that to me. However, what does it sound like if hell is greater and more powerful than the love of God? It sounds like God’s plan to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth to himself through Christ by the blood of the cross (according to Colossians 1:19-20) ultimately comes up a failure. And it sounds like hell is more powerful than God, because God is love by his very nature. And it sounds like, in the end, it is hell and not God that wins. But here is what it does not sound like: It does not sound like what I hear or read in Scripture about hell or about God.

So, which view is madness — the view that hell ultimately wins out over the God who is love, or the view that the God who is love ultimately wins out over hell? If the latter, then it is a fine madness, a divine madness, and one I can embrace with all my heart.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Holiness, Love and the Cross

Holiness is set-apartness. God’s set-apartness is his uniqueness. He is not merely a being, not even the greatest of all beings. He is being itself, the cause of all beings. The holiness of God is expressed by the line in the Shema, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Whatever God is by nature, there is none else like him. Love is something God is by nature; holiness tells us, then, that there is no other love like God.

As I wrote about yesterday, there are some who imagine a tension between the love of God and the holiness of God. “Yes, God is love,” they say, “but he is also holy.” It is that “but,” an adversative, that indicates the distance they see between God’s love and holiness. They do not seem to think that “God is love” can adequately stand by itself, that it must be balanced out by something. “God is love” seems to them to diminish his holiness, so they must quickly correct it — and thereby do they diminish his love. And diminishing his love, they also diminish his holiness.

It has been my experience that what they often mean by God’s holiness is his offendedness at sin. They associate it with wrath — “holy wrath,” they intone — and imagine it an offendedness so great that some sort of payment or penalty or retribution must be rendered to appease him before he can, in love, forgive and embrace. The narrative of the cross then becomes how God so loved the world, he sent his one and only Son to satisfy God’s honor and appease God’s wrathful holiness in our place. But that misunderstands God’s honor, holiness and wrath, mistaking it for the feudalistic sort of justice of medieval times. That is not God’s brand of justice, however. God’s justice, which is the same as his righteousness, is not about retribution but about restoration.

God’s love has never needed to be reconciled with his holiness. That would suppose an artificial distance between them, a distance that has never existed. What God does in his love does not disrupt his holiness in any way or create a problem that needs to be solved. God’s love perfectly manifests his holiness and his holiness perfectly manifests his love.

The cross, then, was not about Christ satisfying the demands of holiness so that the love and forgiveness of God could thereby be legitimated. It is about the love of God, perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ, reaching down to free us from sin and death, making us holy by setting us apart from them and reconciling us to the one true God.

Friday, November 6, 2015

God’s Love and Holiness are Not in Competition

Over the years, and especially with the advent of social media, I have come to realize that no matter what I say, there is always going to be someone somewhere who will take issue with it. I find this to be true even with the simple, biblical declaration that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).

When I affirm that God is love, as I often do because I think it is one of the most profound truths of Scripture, there are, curiously, Christians who will respond with something like, “Yeah, but God is also holy” — as if God’s love and holiness are in some sort of tension or competition, or that God’s love needs to be counter-balanced by his holiness. That seems to me a poor theology.

The Bible says that God is love. It also says that God is holy. Now, notice that, grammatically, love is a “noun” but “holy” is an adjective. As you might recall, an adjective describes or modifies a noun. So, “God is love” is a different kind of statement than “God is holy.” The Bible does not simply say that God is loving — that would be an adjectival statement — but rather, God is love. Love is not simply something God does. Nor is love merely an attribute of God, a quality God has. It goes deeper than that. “God is love” tells us what God is in his very nature. Love is fundamental to his being.

Holiness is about the otherness of God, the otherness of his nature and attributes. God is holy in that he is entirely unique and there is no other being like him in all the universe. The psalm writer declares, “For you, LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods” (Psalm 97:9).

Love is what God is by nature, fundamental to his being in a way that the word “holy” can only describe. It is quite correct to speak of God’s “holy love,” and the word “holy” tells us something important about the love of God — the love God is — that it is unique, set apart, surpassing all other love. It is also quite correct to speak of God’s “loving holiness,” where “loving” is the adjective that describes the holiness of God.

But whether we speak of God’s “holy love” or his “loving holiness,” we are essentially saying the same thing. There is no tension whatsoever between the love of God and the holiness of God. The love of God does not pose any sort of threat or problem to the holiness of God. Nor is the holiness of God a throttle that keeps the love of God from being too extravagant. Indeed, it is the utter lavishness of God’s love that makes it so holy, so totally unlike anything else in the universe.

Tell me about the unbridled love of God, and I will tell you about the holiness of God. For it is the unbridled love of God that is holy. Any time we feel like we must put limits to it in the name of God’s holiness, we are actually denying God’s holiness and have failed to understand either God’s love or his holiness — likely both.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Fast God Desires

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
God has no problem with fasting. He is not against rituals and symbolic expressions of faith. What he hates, though, are empty symbols and hollow rituals that are not joined to the life and faith they are intended to express. What he is after is the heart. Earlier in Isaiah, God complained against his people, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their heart are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29:13).

In the New Testament, Paul shows the way of the gospel in regard to ritual. In this case the ritual of circumcision, but it is applicable in all things: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Whether or not one performs the ritual is secondary. The primary thing — the only thing that ultimately counts with God — is faith expressing itself through love. That is the kind of “fast” God desires from us.

In the false fast God denounced in Isaiah 58:1-5 (see Is This What You Call a Fast?), the people had the ritual down cold, with all the right moves. But it was empty because it was not connected to how they were actually living their lives. They continued exploiting and oppressing their workers. They continued quarreling and fighting and even coming to blows with each other. They were accusing and slandering each other (see vv. 9-10). They were abusing each other instead of taking care of one another.

What they were doing, God was looking for the exact opposite. The fast God desired from them was one in which they would act justly toward each other. Releasing each other instead of enslaving each other. Helping each other instead of exploiting each other.
  • The fast God desires is to treat people justly.
  • The fast God desires is to set people free from bondage
  • The fast God desires is to share our food with the hungry.
  • The fast God desires is to provide shelter for the wanderer.
  • The fast God desires is to clothe the naked.
  • The fast God desires does not turn away from those who are in need — for they are our flesh and blood.
In short, the fast God desires is nothing other than faith expressing itself through love. It is the fast God expects and the only one God honors. It is also the fast God enables — by Christ, who supremely revealed the love of God for us at the cross, and through the Holy Spirit, whose fruit in us is love. As we journey through this season of Lent, then, let us consider how the Lord Jesus desires to live out this fast through us.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Radical: A Life Rooted in Jesus

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7)
When we hear the word “radical,” we often think of someone or something that is extreme in some way. Edgy. Maybe even off center or out of balance, because of being on the edge.

“Radical” comes from the Latin word, radix, which means “root.” It is not about what is out on the margins somewhere but about what is deep down at the root. You can’t get more basic than that. The real question about being radical is not about what is on the edge but what is at the root. What is the foundation upon which it is grounded? When you change that, you change everything.

In Ephesians 3, Paul’s prayer for believers is that they will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, so that Christ might be quite at home in their hearts through faith. The result is that we would be rooted and grounded in love. In Colossians 2, Paul urges believers to keep on walking in Christ, having been rooted in Him and continually being built up in Him.

Living radically is about living in a different way and on a different basis, with a different center and a different focus. It is life from a different root and it produces a different fruit.

Jesus calls us to be rooted in Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches,” He said. “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:8). And what is the fruit? Love. “By this all will know that you are My disciples,” Jesus said, “if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

A life that is rooted in Jesus is a radically different life. It is not about doing extreme things. It is about living life centered on Him. It may seem extreme and out of balance to the rest of the world. This is because the kingdom of God turns the expectations of the world upside down — the last come first and the first end up last, and it is the servants who are considered the greatest of all, manifesting the life and love of God. Those who live according to God’s kingdom may seem upside down to the world, but they are the ones who are right side up in the world as it was meant to be, and will be, when the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.

A life rooted in Christ is a life rooted in love that reveals the kingdom God. You can’t get more radical than that.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Paul and James on the Same Page

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-9)

Faith without works is dead. (James, in James 2:19)
Some have wondered if there is some discrepancy here between Paul and James. Paul says we are saved by grace through faith, not of works. James says that faith without works is dead. Martin Luther, the great Reformer, was all about Paul but could hardly stomach James. Luther infamously called the book of James “a right strawy epistle.”

Faith, not works, is what saves, says Paul. And yet, there are works, and Paul is never very far away from them. In Ephesians 2:9, he declares, “not of works, lest anyone should boast.” But then in verse 10, which invariably follows verse 9, he adds, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Works are not left out of the question. What is left out is boasting — there is never any place for it. No, we are not saved by works. But yes, we are saved for good works. Good works enter the equation not as a means of salvation but as a result of salvation. More importantly, these good works are not our own works but God’s works being produced in us. For we are His workmanship, His new creation in Christ, and the good works He now produces in us reveal Christ in us.

So, for Paul, faith does not leave out works. We can see this again in his letter to the believers of Galatia, in which he is very clear that we are not justified (counted as right with God) by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16). He is very adamant on this point, as we can see again in Galatians 5:4-5.
You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
If we attempt to be justified by the law and its works, we have fallen away from God’s grace and are alienated from Christ. The only righteousness we can have before God is purely by faith.

And now look at what Paul has to say about this faith in the very next verse: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6 NIV). The NKJV has this as “faith working through love.” The only thing that counts, that has any value or is of any use, is faith expressing itself through love. That is the nature of faith in Christ, the kind of faith that justifies us before God — it expresses itself through love. Faith that does not work through love is dead, which is very like what James says.

Now let’s take a look at what James said. In James 2, he is talking about love, particularly as it relates to showing partiality between rich and poor. His readers have played up to the rich but have dishonored the poor. He admonishes them:
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Loving your neighbor as yourself fulfills the law of God. This is the same thing Paul said in Galatians 5:14. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” James’ point is that, if you do not love your neighbor as yourself, you have broken the law just as much as if you committed adultery or murdered someone. His exhortation, then, is to live as those who will be judged by the “law of liberty,” which turns out to be the “law of love,” because it is fulfilled by love. No mercy will be shown to those who have not shown mercy — love — to others.

James continues. In this next section, his concern is still about showing love and mercy, but now he begins talking about it as a matter of faith:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18)
The example he brings is about faith expressing itself through love. It demonstrates no love to say to one who is naked and destitute, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” but give them no help to do so. There is nothing of faith in that because there is nothing of love in it. It is dead. Useless. Counts for nothing. You might as well just bury that thing because it does not do anybody any good, not even you.

The nature of faith is that it works — it expresses itself through love. And now James assesses the kind of faith that cannot be shown without works:
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:20)
Whatever belief in God the devils may have cannot rightfully be called faith. It has no saving value, or else even the demons would end up well. It is dead. And so it is with faith that does not express itself through works of love.

James then offers Abraham and Rahab as examples of faith expressing itself through works:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:21-26)
See how the faith of Abraham and Rahab expressed itself through their actions. Their actions demonstrated the reality of their faith and in that way completed their faith. But a faith that does not result in works of love is not just incomplete — it is dead. Son, then:
  • “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” — Paul
  • “Faith without works is dead.” — James
James and Paul end up saying the same thing. They may say it in different ways, but they are both on the same page.

(See also, Faith That Expresses Itself Through Love and Faith Without Love is Dead)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Emotions of God

Is God able to suffer, to be grieved, to experience emotions? He cannot be manipulated, overwhelmed or unexpectedly overcome by emotion, nor is emotion something to which He is involuntarily subject. However, God is fully able to enter into personal relationship with humanity. And in His sovereignty, He is fully able to allow Himself to be emotionally moved — to experience joy, anger, grief, suffering, etc. — by those with whom He is in relationship.

As people who have been created in the image of God, our emotional capacities reflect our likeness to God. So the emotions of God are very real and not merely anthropopathic projections. This is different from speaking of God in anthropomorphic ways (the “hand,” “arm,” “finger,” “eyes” of God, etc.). God is not physical, so to speak of God in terms of physical forms is purely by analogy. However, God is spirit, and the emotions are immaterial qualities (even though they may also have physical manifestations in the human body). So, although we cannot speak of an immaterial being in terms of material characteristics, except by analogy, we can speak directly of an immaterial being in terms of immaterial qualities such as love, joy, grief, etc.

Human emotions are out of whack. They have been affected by the Fall, humanity’s rebellion against God. So they are as much in need of redemption as are human minds — and God’s purpose is not to eliminate our emotions but to renew them, bringing them into line with His own.

God’s emotions are in perfect harmony, perfect alignment, and His work in us is to conform us to the image of the Son, Jesus Christ, in whom the divine emotions are perfectly expressed. That includes our emotions as much as anything else. God has given us the Holy Spirit to bring forth His fruit in us — love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). All these reflect the character and qualities of Christ and can be summed up in one word: love.

Within the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the emotions of God are perfectly balanced and expressed, even apart from God’s relationship to creation and humanity. We can sum up that relationship as love, for God is love. In creating the world, God also chose to love the world — how could He create anything and not extend His love toward it?

When we love others, we are opening ourselves up to them, allowing ourselves to be affected by them. Likewise, in choosing to create and love the world, God opened Himself up to us and allowed Himself to be affected by us. Through the redemption we have in Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, God is bringing our fallen human emotions into alignment with His own divine emotions, so that, as God is love, we may be love, too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Grace and the Remnant Echo of Unworthiness

When we focus on our unworthiness before God, we slip into the legalistic mindset just as much as when we focus on our worthiness. But love does not think like that. So, God, who is love, does not weigh us out as to whether or not we are “worthy.” That simply has no place under His grace. “I am unworthy” is the remnant echo of an old human-wrought system that never did hold sway with God, and was disproven by the Incarnation and the Cross.

Yet there is something in us that wants to keep pointing out our sins to us, however many or few we may think we have, and we often want to compare them against the sins of others. However, that is not the voice of the Father but of the accuser.

But the Holy Spirit is in us to reveal to us the things of the Lord Jesus, things that Jesus has received from the Father (John 16:14). The Spirit is always directing our focus to Christ, and Christ is always revealing the Father to us. When our attention is on Him, not on us, then what other aspiration do we need?

It’s not that we are not important. But we don’t focus on our importance any more than God focuses on His own importance (Philippians 2:5-8). God is love, and the nature of love is to give and serve. In other words, love focuses on the one who is loved. So God focuses on us and we focus on God. We are important to God, significant to Him, because He loves us. And we in turn realize God’s importance, His significance to us, by loving Him.

On what shall our hearts dwell? Shall we look at our unworthiness and count all our sins? Or shall we not rather focus on Christ and have faith in Him? Let us appreciate His love by focusing on God, who is love, revealed to us through Christ by the Holy Spirit. For His grace shatters the remnant echo of unworthiness.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Revelation of Love

God is love. (1 John 4:8)
The Lord Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. He is the “express image of His person,” the exact likeness of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Jesus said of Himself, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Jesus is the revelation of the Father, the revelation of all the fullness of God. He is, then, the revelation of love — because God is love.

The Holy Spirit is the revelation of Jesus. He is the Spirit of truth Jesus promised would come (and has now come). Of Him, Jesus said, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14-15).

Jesus is the revelation of God, who is love, and the Holy Spirit is the revelation of Jesus. So, the Holy Spirit, also, is the revelation of love. And, indeed, Paul tells us, “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22). The Spirit is at work in us to reveal that fruit through us.

The nature of the Trinity is love, and the love of the Father is revealed to us through Jesus the Son by the Holy Spirit. And by the Holy Spirit, this love is to be revealed in the world through us.

So I offer you this blessing:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Corinthians 16:14-15)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Learning Jesus, Learning Love

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8)

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
Correct theology is important. And yet, according to Jesus, it is by our love for one another that all will know that we are His disciples. In 1 John 4:8, we read that God is love. Theology is something that is about God, but love is something that God is. If we do not have love for one another, I wonder how correct our theology actually is. John puts it bluntly: “He who does not love does not know God.”

Truth is important, and, indeed, Jesus said that He is the truth. This shows us that truth is not merely propositional but personal — that is, it is revealed to us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Theology, as we usually speak of it, is propositional. In that respect, then, correct theology (propositions about Jesus) is not necessarily the same thing as the Truth (Jesus Himself), just as a map is not the terrain it represents.

Love, however, is not merely a proposition about Jesus. Love is what Jesus is. And it is when we love one another that we demonstrate that we have not merely learned about Jesus but have learned Jesus Himself. For when we love one another, we are displaying who Jesus is in a way that correct theology never can.

Theology is not God and God is not theology. A man may know correct doctrine about God, but that does not mean that he thereby knows God Himself. But love is personal and relational. Jesus is the “Word” that John spoke about. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). However, Jesus the Word is not just a word about God. To know Jesus is to know God Himself, for Jesus is the expression of God in human form. Jesus said that whoever has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14:9). But we cannot say anything like that about propositional theology or correct doctrine.

The Lord Jesus is the expression, not of propositions about God, but of God Himself, who is love. To whatever extent we encounter love, then, we encounter God through Jesus Christ. And to whatever extent we express love, we express God through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Faith Without Love is Dead

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” That is what Paul said in his letter to the Jesus believers of Galatia (Galatians 5:6). We are not justified — that is, identified as being in right relationship with God — by performing certain rituals, such as circumcision (which was the issue of the day for the churches in Galatia). No, we are justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The nature of faith is that it expresses itself in love, and it turns out that love fulfills the law of God. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).

This is also essentially what James says in his letter to scattered Jewish Christians, though some in the Church have had difficulty seeing it. Martin Luther, champion of “justification by faith” in the days of the Protestant Reformation, thought the letter of James to be “a right strawy epistle.” However, he had gotten so tightly wound up in his own rhetoric that he missed the meaning of James. But see how James speaks about faith:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. (James 2:14-19 NIV)
In James’ mind, there are two kinds of faith. He draws the contrast between a faith that is alive and one that is dead. You can tell the difference by the action that accompanies it, or does not accompany it. And the accompanying action James has in mind has everything to do with love. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well” (James 2:8).

To be clear, James is not telling us how to be justified before God by our deeds. Nor is he telling us about a sort of faith that justifies us before men that is different from the faith one that justifies us before God. But what he is telling us is something about the nature of the faith that justifies us before God — it is a faith that is accompanying by action. This is very like what Paul taught, as we can see in Galatians 5:6, and also in Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
A faith that never goes beyond acknowledging propositions about God or Christ or the cross is a dead faith. Even the demons have that, and it causes them to tremble. But that is not the same thing as trust. A dead faith is devoid of life and is completely useless. The only thing left to do with something that is dead is to bury it. Such is a faith that is without love.

Look at the example James gives. Suppose a brother or sister who is destitute comes along, and someone says, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but does absolutely nothing to aid them in their need, even if it is in his power to help. Is that faith? Hardly. The man who does that doesn’t even believe his own words, much less have faith in God.

Faith that is alive and real actually makes a difference in how we live and how we respond. It is accompanied by action. Faith without action is dead. So is faith without love. Yet even love, if there is no accompanying action, is dead.

Paul and James would both point us to the same thing: It is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that saves us. But the nature of that faith is that it expresses itself through love and is accompanied by action.