"Controlled by Love": Pleasing God Unselfishly
ESV 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Am I controlled by the love of Christ in my Christian walk? Are you controlled by the love of Christ in the Christian life? Or are we living ultimately for ourselves, even as those who profess the name of Christ?
In 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, the Apostle Paul teaches us that we either live for God out of love for Jesus Christ or we live for self. As I have been reading and meditating on this scripture and some of the works of Jonathan Edwards, I have been forced to think about how believers please God in their obedience.
In this blog, I would love to have more thoughts from you, some healthy sharpening, and your own experience on pleasing God from the heart. This is presented here as some thoughts in progress that I am attempting to formulate for a study.
The issues that I am trying to get at in my ponderings and in how these thoughts would influence my sermon preparation as a pastor are: "How do I get myself to think more deeply about my own heart before God?" "How do I obey God; that is, what is my motivation for obedience to God?" "As a pastor how do I biblically motivate myself and other believers to seek to please God through obedience?"
We know from Ephesians 1:4-6 that we have been predestined from the foundation of the world to be adopted in Christ and to be "holy and blameless" before God. How do we achieve this holiness and blamelessness rightly? We know that God requires us to be holy, without holiness no man shall see the LORD (Heb. 12). We know that God is working in us to will to do according to His purpose and will, and that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13).
Yet we can seemingly do this merely in an outward, external fashion. Many folks can falsely show forth what seems to be religious fruit and merely behave a certain way on the outside without taking a look at their hearts (Matthew 7; 15). I know that in my own life experientially that I have been obedient to God on the outside but inside my heart was far from Him at that particular time or instance.
Our only righteousness is found in Jesus Christ alone as Christians. We love God because he loved us first (1 John 4). We also learn from 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 that it is the love of Christ in his completed work for us that should control us and motivate us to obedience.
Yet how do we avoid "living for ourselves" ultimately even in our obedience and in our seeking to produce fruits of obedience for God? We want to avoid Antinomianism, that is disregarding the Law of God, as well as Legalism, which is merely appearing to keep the law outwardly. We know that God has called us to love which is the ultimate fulfillment of the Law (Rom. 13:8-10). But how are we to have real and true love that will produce real and true fruit of the Spirit? How then should we seek to obey God? Here are my thoughts, and again, please take a look and feel free to sharpen these and enter the conversation with me.
It seems to me that the Apostle Paul summarizes our walk with God in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 that could help us. If we are controlled ("constrained" KJV) by the love of Christ for us, then we will no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died and was raised.
What would this look like? The Bible teaches that if we truly are trusting in Christ alone and have a right standing before him that is by faith alone through grace alone, then we are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). If we are new creations we are loved and have a new disposition that has been created within our hearts. This new disposition to love God and to live for him is not something we could ever accomplish on our own efforts.
As Christians must rely on God's grace alone to create in us new life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-10), and we must rely upon God's grace to continue to transform us by His grace and love throughout the Christian life: "Having begun with the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" Paul asked the Galatian churches (Gal. 3:3). We cannot conjure up God's love in our hearts; we must be continually changed.
Our hearts must be continually transformed. Think about a continuum or line where on one end you have the Biblical teaching of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 of the love of Christ controlling a believer. On the other end of the continuum or line you have worldly ways of thinking about pleasing God (that are "flesh" produced).
When God calls us to obedience ("holiness") in the Christian life if we take this line as a model, in what ways could we potentially obey God? If we begin on the worldly or fleshly end of the line, we would respond to God's commands with "I won't" and this is how unbelievers live. "I won't obey what I hear God saying in the Bible because I will do what I want most to do."
Moving away from the worldly end toward the Biblical end of the line, we might hear: "I can't obey" as a response to God's commandments. Our obedience here might be what has been called "Antinomianism". This is the Christian who just can't seem to understand and realize the love of God for them in Christ, or sin has caused them to refuse to repent in a particular area of their life.
Moving closer to the Biblical end, we might then hear the response to God's commands: "I better". This response is much better than "I won't" and "I can't" but it could be motivate by a kind of slavish fear for God. The person might be saying something like: "I better obey or God might send me to hell or my life might not be healthy and happy, etc". Although this is moving toward a Biblical response, it seems faulty and half-hearted.
Moving one step closer to the Biblical end of the line, we might hear: "I should". This is a response to God's commands out of duty. This is one's response to God's commands that sees obedience as an important and vital aspect of Christ's saving work, but their obedience is merely out of duty (although duty is not bad in and of itself). An example of this would be if I brought my wife some flowers on her birthday and she said: "You are so sweet!" And I responded with "Well, I'm your husband, I'm supposed to love you, and therefore it was my duty to do this for you." Something is missing here.
Moving closes to the Biblical end of the line is the response of love: "How can I NOT do it?" "How can I NOT do what God has commanded me?" "How can I not obey God since he has loved me and he has died for me, and he has given his life for me so that I could no longer live for myself for His glory?" This seems to be the best and most biblical way of obedience to God.
It seems that the others (and we'll take out the "I won't" because that is not the response of a growing Christian), "I can't", "I better", and "I should" are all lesser ways of serving God. The "I can'ts" might be young Christians and need to grow in their understanding of the completed work of Christ for them.
The "I betters" seem to know what is right and the consequences for not doing God's will, but their motivation seems self-centered and fearful. The "I shoulds" seem to know their duty before God as King, but their motivation seems that it could also be self-centered and could lead to pride ("I should do this so that I will not end up being a sinner like "those people out there").
I wonder if all of the responses except "How can I NOT live for him?" are responses too concerned with self, centered on self, and not as Christ-centered as they should be. It seems to me that the "best" "self-responses are "I better" and "I should" but they are still self-centered, and they could be motivated by self-interest. In fact, these are the two that could be faked the easiest.
The "I betters" and the "I shoulds" could be serving God and producing a behavior that seems Christian but might not necessarily be truly Christian. They could be serving God and acting a certain way for their own reputation, regard of other men, and living for God's blessing and not for God himself. They could be loving something or someone more than God; they might be seeking the approval of men rather than God (see Galatians 1:10: "Am I now seeking the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ").
I think that the reason why this is important for us to consider is that our hearts deceive us and they are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:9ff). God is the searcher of our hearts (Heb. 4:12-13), and if he is working in us, then Biblically he would be working in his children not merely slavish fear or militant duty, but a child-like love and wonder that would control us and make us live no longer for ourselves but for Christ who died and was raised again.
If we can deceive others and even ourselves, we should remember that God cannot be deceived. If we are to be controlled by love, then this will be by grace and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Only a transformation of our hearts and the desires of our hearts can cause us to be truly controlled by the love of Christ. This is not attainable except in a close walk, communion and fellowship with the Living God.
Am I controlled by the love of Christ? Are you controlled by the love of Christ? Or are we living for ourselves, even as those who profess the name of Christ? Jesus says that many will say to him on Judgment Day that they performed great miracles, preached powerfully for him, and even cast out demons. He responds by saying to these many: "I never knew you; depart from me..."
If we have a right standing before God in Jesus Christ by faith alone, let us understand that this is because of the love of Christ for us, and ultimately not for ourselves. If we are to grow in sanctification, let us seek God's help through the Gospel and the power of His Holy Spirit so that only His love will control us. And let us no longer live for ourselves but for him who for our sake died and was raised.
I still have more to think and write. I submit this for your thoughts...and for conversation...
Pastor Charles R. Biggs