“Gospel Love” by John Owen (Christian Unity, Eternal Good, Glorify God)

Gospel Love by John Owen

The Apostle Paul writes, ‘So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.’

All these things may be evident in your life, yet there may still be no genuine gospel love. These things – which seem to be the greatest and most practical fruits of love – may be practiced, and yet they may all be done without love. We may forbear without love, forgive without love, be kind to one another without love, and all to no avail, if over and above all these things we are not aroused and animated by love.

The sum and substance of all Christ commanded of us is love. The Apostle John, who lived a long life – indeed, he lived to see the Christian religion advance far in the world – very likely saw a decay of love among believers. It is probably for this reason that he wrote his first letter. He wanted to let us know that there is no real proof of salvation, nor evidence of our love to God unless we have a fervent and intense love for the brethren. No matter how much we say, if we don’t love fellow believers our words are mere empty professions.

Because this gospel love is so different from any other kind of love, allow me to clearly define what I mean by this expression.

Gospel love is a fruit of the Spirit of God, an effect of faith, by which believers, being knit together by the strongest bonds of affection because of their common interest in Jesus Christ, and because of their common participation in one Spirit, do delight in, value, and esteem each other, and are constantly ready to act for the temporal, spiritual, and eternal good of one another.

Allow me to explain a little further concerning my definition:

    1. This love is a fruit of the Spirit: ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love’ (Gal. 5:22). Some people apart from Christ may naturally have a great deal of love, kindness, and tenderness. This is especially evident when we compare people with one another merely from a human perspective. But this is not the kind of love that is the fruit of the Spirit. The thing that uniquely separates gospel love from natural love is that gospel love is a product of the Spirit of God in the heart of believers. This fruit is not produced or developed in unbelievers because regeneration is the seed which produces this, and unbelievers, by definition, are not regenerate, and thus, are not capable of producing or developing this type of love.
    1. This love is an effect of faith. ‘The only thing that matters is faith working through love’ (Gal. 5:6). But how does faith work by love? Or, put another way, in what way does faith set love to working? Faith works through love when it respects God’s command requiring this love, and believes God’s promise that He accepts this love, and when it practices this love to the end of glorifying God. I urge you to practice love on no other basis. You should love because Christ commands it, and promises to accept it, and because it promotes His glory. It is possible to love because of fleshly interests and promotions. It is possible to love only because of the reputation one will gain because of it. This is not gospel love. Gospel love is love that is the result of ‘faith working through love.’
    1. It is this love, and this love alone, that knits together the hearts and souls of believers. The apostle tells us of the communion that the body of Christ has by love: ‘The whole body is fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies’ (Eph. 4:16). What is it we supply to one another? Love. This is what promotes the building up of one another. As the Psalmist said, ‘As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight’ (Psalm 16:3). This is how much we should esteem one another: We should be willing to lay down our lives for the brethren. In other words, we must be willing to expose ourselves to difficulties, dangers, and hazards if this were to mean edification for the church. The Apostle Paul said of his afflictions, ‘I fill up the measure of the afflictions of Christ, for his body, which is the church’ (Col. 1:24). He bore his afflictions out of love for the church, as well as out of faith and love to Christ personally. He was unwilling that any offence, scandal, or temptation befall the church in order that their faith might be confirmed and strengthened. This is the kind of love we should display if we are called to such a thing. This is the kind of love of which the Scripture speaks. Not that careless, negligent, self-motivated and self-absorbed love which the world and, sadly, many in the church abound with. To truly describe all that this type of love requires would demand many sermons and not just this one! This type of love will affect all our lives and direct us in all our ways. All of our behavior – all that we do, say, think, act – should be influenced by this!

John Owen/ Wikipedia

To read John Owen is to enter a rare world. Whenever I return to one of his works I find myself asking “Why do I spend time reading lesser literature?”

—Sinclair B. Ferguson

John Owen’s treatises on Indwelling Sin in Believers and The Mortification of Sin are, in my opinion, the most helpful writings on personal holiness ever written.

—Jerry Bridges

I owe more to John Owen than to any other theologian, ancient or modern; and I owe more to [The Mortification of Sin] than to anything else he wrote.

—J. I. Packer

“Real Forgiveness”, Essay by C.S. Lewis (God’s Mercy, Forgive our trespasses)

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Essay on Forgiveness by C.S. Lewis

By Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc. N.Y. 1960

We say a great many things in church without thinking of what we are saying. For instance, we say in the Creed ” I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” I had been saying it for several years before I asked myself why it was in the Creed. At first sight it seems hardly worth putting in. “If one is a Christian,” I thought ” of course one believes in the forgiveness of sins. It goes without saying.”

But the people who compiled the Creed apparently thought that this was a part of our belief which we needed to be reminded of every time we went to church. And I have begun to see that, as far as I am concerned, they were right. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is not so easy as I thought.

Real belief in it is the sort of thing that easily slips away if we don’t keep on polishing it up.

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement.

It is in the Lord’s Prayer, it was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. No exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins, provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t we shall be forgiven none of our own.

Now it seems to me that we often make a mistake both about God’s forgiveness of our sins and about the forgiveness we are told to offer to other people’s sins. Take it first about God’s forgiveness, I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality asking Him to do something quite different.

I am asking him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.”

If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two.

Part of what at first seemed to be the sins turns out to be really nobody’s fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven. If you had a perfect excuse, you would not need forgiveness; if the whole of your actions needs forgiveness, then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call “asking God’s forgiveness” very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some “extenuating circumstances.”

We are so very anxious to point these things out to God that we are apt to forget the very important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves without own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.

There are two remedies for this danger. One is to remember that God knows all the real excuses very much better than we do. If there are real “extenuating circumstances” there is no fear that He will overlook them. Often He must know many excuses that we have never even thought of, and therefore humble souls will, after death, have the delightful surprise of discovering that on certain occasions they sinned much less than they thought.

All the real excusing He will do. What we have got to take to Him is the inexcusable bit, the sin. We are only wasting our time talking about all the parts which can be excused. When you go to a Dr. you show him the bit of you that is wrong – say, a broken arm. It would be a mere waste of time to keep on explaining that your legs and throat and eyes are all right. You may be mistaken in thinking so, and anyway, if they are really right, the doctor will know that.

The second remedy is really and truly to believe in the forgiveness of sins. A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor. But that is not forgiveness at all.

Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.

When it comes to a question of our forgiving other people, it is partly the same and partly different. It is the same because, here also forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive.

The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet that the excuses are better than I think.

One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one per cent of guilt that is left over. To excuse, what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness.

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night “Forgive our trespasses* as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.

*Trespasses=offences, being offended or offending.

“Being a Church that Loves”, written by Dave Todaro (Healing, Connecting, Confession)

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Dear Readers,  I would like to share this letter that was offered on our Church’s Community page online. I understand that there are not enough words to express the sentiments of our hearts at this time. I don’t even know where to start, myself. I am wordless and grieved. I pray for repentance, healing, deep change and revival. 

We need to live as Christians in an aching world. We are the Church walking forward. What does that look like, what does that feel like? These are the thoughts of one Christian, one morning during these troubling times. -L. Willows

Being a Church that Loves

Brothers and sisters, on this beautiful morning I’d like to share concern and hope with you. As unsettling events unfold and as I continue to interact with people who do not know Jesus, I am struck by the need for us to find ways to export the rich spiritual messages that I hear us preaching to ourselves. We each have been given a unique sphere of influence. In recent days, here is what mine has echoed back to me: confusion, anger, hopelessness, weariness. This from people we might expect to be rocks in a storm.

I am continuing to learn the impact that Christ-followers can have in people’s lives by letting our lives authentically touch theirs. Authenticity doesn’t mean perfection. Just over the last 24 hours I’ve been made aware of how powerful it can be for us when people see me stumble, and then ask for forgiveness. Tom has asked us recently about our “spiritual ceiling” – do I allow the Holy Spirit to guide my interactions with people in ways that raise my ceiling?

Paul called us letters. God’s love letters to the world. If I am a letter, I need to be readable. No letter with many sentences blocked out can be effective. I’d be suspicious of a letter like that, wouldn’t you? I hope my unbelieving friends, many of whom are full of questions and confusion in times like this, don’t look at my life and wonder what’s hidden underneath the block-outs. (Name of church member), thanks for your recent confession on this page. That’s what I call removing block-outs!

So here’s my challenge, perhaps you will join me in this: Am I making an effort to integrate my life into the lives of at least some people in my sphere of influence? Am I letting them see my life and know me, warts and all? Have I integrated my life into the lives of people in my sphere of influence so that I have touched them? So that I am a readable and impactful love letter from God?

You may find this controversial but it’s something to consider: We’ve been encouraged to isolate from people for much of 2020 for health reasons. I understand it. I don’t want to get sick or to spread an awful sickness. So I (however imperfectly) comply. Yet I am also aware that Jesus chose, quite intentionally and quite scandalously, to physically touch unclean people when he healed them. Physical touch is a powerful signal of community, acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation. However wise or foolish you believe the public policy response to the virus, it is a fact that many of us have been made fearful to use the powerful tool of touch. Without minimizing the sinful brutality or pattern of injustice that resulted in George Floyd’s murder, I wonder if the race and class divisions and fissures that have tragically beset our nation for its entire history, have been recently exacerbated by the precautions that have been urged on us. I was moved by the story of law enforcement officers in one Texas city who recently knelt with protesters and hugged them. And of the impact that had on people to bring about at least the start of a healing process. God created people to be made up of body, soul, and spirit – and he cares for every aspect of who he created us to be (1 Thess 5:23). I am not surprised that anger dissolves, tension dissipates, and dialog happens, when there is hugging.

So now, with our nation and world negotiating perhaps its most difficult passage since I was an adolescent in the late 1960s, I pray that the world will see us being the church. I hope that as the civil authorities tell us it is increasingly acceptable to physically re-integrate ourselves into our communities, that we who know Jesus will seize upon the opportunities we have to reconnect with those who don’t know him. And just maybe to give someone who really needs it, a hug.

© 2020 Dave Todaro

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