Translating the Gospel to Our Lives
Part 1: God’s Love for Us
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Recently in the women’s Bible Study at my church we were studying the Sabbath. And a quote was shared with us that really struck a cord in my heart. And as I read and re-read it, I felt it really spoke to what God had been putting on my heart for us this weekend. The quote is by Thomas Watson, who was a puritan preacher and author in the 1600’s, and he was explaining why God gave us the Sabbath. While we’re not talking about the Sabbath here, I want us to hear what’s behind what he’s saying…what it says about the struggle we face spiritually in this world. So if you can, while I read it, try to hear what’s at the heart of what he’s saying… (on the handout)
Thomas Watson quote:
“The Sabbath-day is for our interest; it promotes holiness in us. The business of week-days makes us forgetful of God and our souls; the Sabbath brings him back to our remembrance. When the falling dust of the world has clogged the wheels of our affections, that they can scarce move towards God, the Sabbath comes, and oils the wheels of our affections…The heart which all the week was frozen, on the Sabbath melts with the word.” (The Ten Commandments)
Isn’t that a great quote? Written in the 1600‘s but every bit as relevant to us today. Here Watson is talking about the tension between being spiritual but living in an unspiritual world, and how that affects us. He says our day to day lives “make us forgetful of God and our souls” and then he goes on to give us a picture of what that looks like. He says its like when dust clogs the wheels of a machine and so it fails to move as well as it was meant to, it fails to carry out it’s purpose with ease. And he offers a second picture of our hearts becoming frozen, or hardened, during our daily routines and tasks which he calls the “business of week days”.
As we think about this I want you to think about your life, what is the dust of the world that “clogs the wheels of your affections”? What makes it hard for you to move towards God? What about your life hardens your heart towards what is holy and spiritual? Perhaps you are a….
- Student, and it’s the demands of deadlines and the secular teaching and philosophies that you’re faced with day in and day out.
- Or maybe as a working woman it’s having to wake early each day to rush to be at a job that fills the majority of your day and exhausts you, leaving hardly any time or energy to spend with the Lord. Interacting with all sorts of co-workers and belief systems, maybe even dealing with people who are outwardly skeptical or aggressive towards Christians.
- Maybe you’re raising children and the falling dust are your duties in raising kids and keeping your home organized, you get a rare moment to yourself and when you do your mind is full of lists and worry over the balls that might get dropped…or perhaps blank because you are so tired!
- Maybe you’re an empty-nester and your life has become full with caring for your parents, travel, grandkids, volunteering, and simply trying to establish a new normal.
- Perhaps the things that distract you from God are difficult relationships, a desire to be married or to have kids, a difficult marriage, struggling finances…or even just TV shows and movies. The list goes on and on.
- Whatever it is, and whatever your life is like we all share this common struggle. We are busy, distracted, overwhelmed, and dulled by the stuff around us. We long for depth, intimacy, and purpose. But we are haunted by our failures and our inadequacies. We are in need of energy and silence. And all of this “dust” threatens us every single day making us “forgetful of God and our souls.” And making it difficult for us to “move towards God.”
But here, Watson says God has given us the Sabbath to help us remember God and our souls, oiling the wheels that get clogged with dust during the week so we are able to move towards God, melting our hearts. So, the question we need to ask here is:
- What is it about the Sabbath that brings us back, that helps us to remember? What happens on the Sabbath to oil the wheels of our affections and melt our hearts?
- The answer is very simple. On Sunday we are ushered to the foot of the cross through which we are meant to view our lives. We are reminded of what God has done for us and therefore what that means in our lives. God’s Word and Spirit does what we can’t do on our own, it oils the “wheels of our affections” with the gospel, giving us clarity and perspective. It melts our hearts, re-focusing us on the gospel, on God’s grace, and on what that means in our lives.
And the truth is, we don’t just need that on the Sabbath, we need that every moment of every day! The gospel is not meant to be a one time story that explains where we go when we die or our spiritual standing on earth. It is also meant to be applied to every situation of our lives. To transform every aspect of our lives….all of those day to day things I just mentioned. So tonight and tomorrow, this is what we are going to do, we are going to “remember” what God has done for us and what that means in our lives everyday. We are going to talk about how the gospel should transform our lives, helping us each day to move towards God.
I put some scripture references on your handout where the gospel is briefly summarized. But, we all know basically what the gospel is. If someone asked you what the gospel was, you might say something like. We are all sinners who have turned away from God so we are unable to uphold the law or do anything about our separation from God. No one can be declared righteous and we will all be held accountable to God. So God sent His son to be our sacrifice of atonement so that we could be made righteous. Jesus did what we were unable to do for ourselves so that we could now have a relationship with God, gain eternal life, and live our lives for Him. And all this is a free gift to those who put their faith in Christ.
That is a condensed version of the gospel, the good news of the revelation of Jesus as our savior. But when we talk about living out the gospel in our lives, what exactly does that mean? What does it mean for the gospel, for that message, to transform our lives? How does the gospel speak to our day to day lives? These are the questions that we’re going to be addressing this weekend and we are going to look at three ways the gospel is meant to transform our lives.
God’s Love for us
So, we are going to start tonight by looking at our first point, what the gospel tells us about God’s disposition towards us and how that is meant to transform our daily lives. I’m going to read for us three verses that refer to the gospel. But these verses go beyond the condensed version of the gospel I just gave us, and they address where God was coming from when He sent His son. They basically answer the question, Why did God save us? (on the handout)
John 3:16 “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.” (NIV)
Eph. 1:4-5 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—” (NIV)
Eph. 2:4-5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (ESV)
Why did God save us? So often we get caught up in complex doctrine and theology, and we lose sight of this most important and foundational truth that we see in these three passages: Christ died for us because of God’s love for us. The gospel teaches us not only about our own state and sinfulness, but even more about God’s love towards us. I think one of the reasons we struggle to understand what it means to live a gospel centered life is because we tend to look past God’s love for us as if it’s not that big of a deal.
Example: “God is Love”
After I had been a believer for about 10 years my father heard the gospel and put his faith in Christ, he was in his late 50’s. At some point that next year he bought a little wooden plaque for myself and my two siblings that simply said “God is Love”. And I remember thinking, “oh that’s sweet, he’s new to the faith and that’s what you do at first is talk all about God’s love, but eventually he’ll understand the deeper truths and theology as I do.” Can you believe I’m admitting this? But it’s true, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, especially in our reformed circles. We see “God Loves You” on a church marquee and roll our eyes and think about how simple they must be and much more theologically sharp we are.
But the truth is, the joke’s on those who think this way, because If we are called now to live our lives in the light of the Gospel, then the first thing we must do is learn to live our lives daily in light of God’s incredible and unfailing love for us.
Living in Light of God’s Love
So what does that look like to live in light of God’s love for us? Sounds like something that is easier said than done, so let’s talk about what it looks like. We are going to be in Romans a lot this weekend so go ahead and open up your Bibles to Romans chapter 5 or follow along on the handout.
1. God’s love is the same everyday – Romans 5:6-11
5:6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (NIV)
Looking at this passage, how does Paul describe us here before Christ died for us? Look at the passage, what descriptions of us do you see here?
- First in verse 6 it says we were powerless. Or if you have the ESV, it says weak and another translation, the NASB, says helpless. The point being, we could do nothing to save ourselves, we were unable to live for God.
- Verse 6 also says we were ungodly
- And verse 8, that we were sinners
- And then in verse 10, Paul says we were enemies of God
Think about this description. Do you relate with it? Have you ever felt the depth of your sin and your helplessness in it? Can you remember a time when you acted as an enemy of God or that you would describe as ungodly? I’m afraid that if I answered those questions right now for y’all no one may show up tomorrow morning. The fact is, we all relate with this. We know this description is true.
The point that Paul is trying to make here is that apart from the grace of God, before Christ, we were utterly and completely worthless and hideous. We did nothing to deserve or earn God’s love, attention, forgiveness, sacrifice, or grace. In fact, he says we did the opposite, instead we acted as enemies of God.
But verse 8 tells us that while we were in that pitiful state, Christ died for us. As hideous as we were, God still loved us, and He showed us His love for us by sending His son to die for us. And Paul explains that Christ’s death was a demonstration of God’s love for us. Think about that word “demonstration.” When we look at the cross we see this great love demonstrated for us….but that wasn’t the end of it, it is ongoing, God has that same love for us today. That means His love for us isn’t confined to the cross – God’s love for us is abiding, always there, given freely to us. The same love that sent Christ to the cross to save us is the same love God has for us every single day. Think about that. Let it sink in. Imagine how changed we would be if we woke up each morning basking in the beauty of that truth. It would be life altering.
2. Nothing can separate us from God’s love
But there is something, for most of us, that gets in the way of us living in this reality of God’s incredible love for us. Let me illustrate this with a recent example from my life.
Example: A Mother’s love
When Michael and I began announcing to our friends and family that we were pregnant there was one response that we heard over and over, especially from friends who had also had babies recently. They would say, “You’re not going to believe how much you will love your child!” I have to admit that I was a little annoyed after awhile because my response in my head was, “Well, duh, she will be my child so of course I will love her.” But of course, they were right, could there be any stronger love than the love of a mother for her child? And that love just continues to grow, it really is crazy and now I understand why people kept saying that.
But, I also have to admit that this love I have for my child isn’t perfect. Probably about a month or two ago Michael and I were talking about how much we loved Maggie and I laughed and told him honestly that despite this love I felt, I had to admit that it might be a little conditional….that if she weren’t so cute, and such a good sleeper, and such a good eater, if she didn’t smile so much, that I wasn’t sure I would love her so much! There have been many moments in the past 5 months when my love for her turned on a dime when she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to do. And in those moments I had a very hard time feeling or showing my pleasure and love for her….but the second she shaped up and did what I wanted her to do, I was pleased again and easily showed my love for her.
The truth is, none of us have ever loved another person perfectly. We have all had times when we struggled to love someone because of a way they had failed us or disappointed us. And because of this, the obstacle we face stems from the fact that God’s love for us is very different than the human love we know.
Often we understand that God loved us enough to save us but then, and perhaps because it’s so ingrained in us, we think that now, on this side of the cross, we might lose His love when we’re not living as He calls us to….as if God loves us less at times based on our failure to live up to His Word. Or as if the pleasure He felt to save us is diminished as He sees us fail to live for Christ and maybe He might even regret choosing us and saving us. Perhaps subconsciously, we believe we have to earn His love by living for Him and being good Christians. So many of us walk around with this guilty, condemned feeling because the truth is we do fail, often, and we will continue to fail.
But Paul’s message to us in the passage we just looked at in Romans 5 says something very different. Think of one of the worst moments of your life, when you were at your worst, hideous and truly sinful. Romans 5 tells us that that person, and so much worse, is the person who God loved enough to send His own son to die for. His love is so big that He can love the worst and most despicable soul. His love for us is so great and unfailing that He can love us utterly deprived, apart from Christ, at our worst. Can you grasp that?
This means that there are no failures in your life that can ever change that. None. God still loved David after he had Bathsheba’s husband killed! He loves you just as much the moment before you mess up as He does the moment after you mess up. He isn’t sitting up in heaven shaking His head at your failures and poor decisions, regretting what He did for you. His love isn’t like ours. His love is unfailing. Which means even in light of your continued sin His love for you doesn’t waver or change.
Look at Romans 8 starting in verse 35. Obviously the people in the church in Rome were struggling with the same thoughts, because as I said, it’s only human that we struggle with this. So Paul says to them….
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… verse 38 I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As Paul says here, there is nothing that can separate you from God’s love for you! There is nothing that can change or diminish God’s love for you. This truth is meant to transform the way we live. If we understand and truly believe that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us, then imagine the joy and peace we would have each day, imagine how our hearts would melt in light of this unbelievable truth, imagine how it would promote holiness in us. Our last point tonight will speak to this…
3. God’s love empowers us & gives us perspective
Look at Ephesians 3:17-19. Speaking to the believers in the church in Ephesus, Paul says…
“17 I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (NIV)
Paul says in this passage that if we would know God’s love fully, if we really understand how much God loved us and how unfailing that love is, then we would be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That means that when we know God’s love, when we grasp how big it is, we are filled with the fullness of God. We are filled with all He has promised us, with all the blessings of Christ that are ours. What Paul is saying is that when we understand God’s love for us and live in light of that reality, we are changed, we are transformed.
Can you remember times in your life when you grasped His love for you? A time when after encountering God you felt full, content, overjoyed, at peace, weak yet strong? There are so many times in my Christian walk when I have felt this, and it is humbling yet exhilarating all at the same time. And knowing that love that “surpasses knowledge” gave me the strength and perspective I needed at that time in my life. That’s what Paul is talking about here. And that is also what Paul was talking about in Romans 8:37 when he said,
37 …we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
The literal translation of this verse is, “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” When we grasp how big God’s love for us is, when we “know” it as Paul says here, then we are filled with the fullness of God and we overwhelmingly conquer all things in our lives. God’s love empowers us and gives us a clear perspective on our lives.
Example: Hinds Feet on High Places
One of my favorite books to read every year is Hannah Hurnard’s Hind’s Feet on High Places. It’s an allegory about a girl named “Much-Afraid” who becomes a believer and she begins her “journey” with the Shepherd. The picture given is one of climbing a mountain and her Christian life is represented by the valley’s, plains, and cliffs she comes across. One of the things I love about this picture is that she is always challenged to continue viewing her journey in the light of the Shepherd who loves her and wouldn’t harm her, no matter what comes her way. And when she doubts His love for her she slips, falls, and loses her way. But, when she remembers His love for her and reflects on it, it gives her the strength she needs to keep going and the perspective she needs for the journey.
Whenever I have friend struggling with an unwanted situation in their life…perhaps a breakup, or infertility, or an illness, the one thing I always come back to to encourage them is this. That no matter what they are facing, one thing remains the same, they can trust always in God’s love in their life, even when they can’t “feel” it. In Psalm 23 David reminds himself of this during a time that he describes as “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.” He says despite this circumstance in his life he will have no fear because….
6 “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (NAS)
The essence of the Hebrew word here for lovingkindness, is steadfast love. Steadfast means, resolutely firm and unwavering. God’s love for you is steadfast, firm, and unwavering…it will always be there, pursing you the rest of your life. Can you think of anything better than to know that as you go through every day of your life the goodness and love of God will be with you forever, no matter what your circumstances may be?
In close, let’s return to the question that we’re asking tonight. What does it mean to live out the gospel in our lives in light of God’s love for us? What does it mean for the love of God to transform our lives?
- It means grasping and understanding God’s love for us…that love that saved us while we were apart from Christ, that pursues us and will never leave us throughout our lives.
- It means learning to live in light of that truth every day. Dwelling on and being in awe of His love for us and not moving on from it. Keeping the gospel at the forefront everyday.
- It means no longer walking in guilt or shame, feeling like God loves us less when we fail or regrets saving us, but instead walking in the joy and peace that comes when we realize that there is nothing we can do or not do to change God’s love for us.
- It means allowing God’s love to fill us with His fullness, to strengthen us in Him, and to change how we view our lives, so that each day we view our lives through the lenses of a shepherd who loves us and will never leave us…preventing our hearts from becoming hardened.
Tonight as you get into bed I want you to think about this, let it be your last thought as you drift off to sleep. Think about God’s love for you personally. Despite your sin and selfishness, despite the ways you feel you have failed, think about how He loves you as much today as He did the day He sent His son to die for you. Think about the fact that His love for you will never fade, that it will follow you all the days of your life. And let those truths begin to oil the wheels of your affections, melting your hearts, reminding you of God and your soul, drawing you back to Him.
Questions for Group Discussion and Personal Application:
- Remembering the Thomas Watson quote we looked at, what is the “falling dust” of your life? What threatens to harden your heart and make you forget God and your soul? What in your day to day life makes it hard to move towards God?
- On a scale of 1-10 how loved by God do you feel in your life right now? Why? What is it that makes you feel most/least loved by God?
- What are some of the ways you struggle to really understand and receive God’s love for you? When do you feel God’s love for you diminishes? Confess that to God and ask Him to help you know how big His love is for you everyday.
- Read back through the passages we looked at in session 1. As you do this, respond through journaling or prayer, sharing with God how those verses make you feel.