When our shepherds set a vision for this year they also added a corresponding theme, and this year’s theme is “Renewing God’s People.” At some point this year we’re going to consider who are the people of God we’re talking about in that statement. For the present time we’re just going to make the messages apply to all people.
What I want us to focus on this morning is the first part of the theme: the Renewing part. This is going to be something like Extreme Makeover: Life Edition. And if you want to restore or renew your life, the first place to start is in your relationships.
So when we say that our theme for CCC in 2007 is Renewing God’s People, that means that the place to begin is in the renewal and restoration of relationships. The Apostle Paul says that Christ came so that we could be reconciled in our relationship to God. “This is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” (2 Cor. 5:18, 19).
The Bible is clear when it tells us that there are only 2 important relationships in our lives. Jesus said it, but even He was repeating what the Father had already told the people of God years before. The two most important relationships can be summarized like this: love God, love others. Jesus said that these were the two greatest commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul said in Romans that loving God and loving others summed up the law and the prophets.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to rediscover some of the important attributes of our relationship with God and our relationships with others. Let’s begin by looking at our relationship with God.
I. Accept that God loves you
In renewing our relationship with God we need to begin with the most important, and yet the most basic principle in any relationship: we’ve got to accept that we are loved.
A. Some of you may feel that this is almost too basic. Yet, what I hear people saying, both believers and unbelievers, goes something like this: “I don’t believe God could love me after all the things I’ve done.”
1. For unbelievers this is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to their faith. How could God ever love me after all the terrible things I’ve done in my life? It doesn’t seem possible that a just and moral God could love people who are so selfish and so immoral, so just plain nasty. People cannot comprehend just how much God loves them. Most unbelievers have heard John 3:16 at some point in their lives. “For God so loved the World that He gave his one and only son.” But in their minds there is a huge difference between God loving the world, and God loving them.
The only way for unbelievers to comprehend that God can truly love them is for God’s people, the church of Jesus Christ, to love them. And honestly, we’re not very good at it. We’re not very good at loving the homosexual, or the prostitute, or that strange guy with all the piercings, and that Goth girl with all the black nail polish. We’re not very good at loving people who are different than us.
Listen to something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. 43″You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons 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. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
For unbelievers to comprehend that God can truly love them we’ve got to truly love them. That’s how we become like our heavenly Father.
2. Believers also find it difficult to accept that God loves them. Many of them have accepted, by faith, that God loves them and that Jesus died for them. Then, as people are sometimes wont to do, they made some bad choices and screwed up their lives. I’m not talking about what we often view as the small sins, I’m talking about what we think of as “the big ones”. Many of these believers end up with a strained relationship with God because they don’t think God can love them after what they’ve done.
People are people and the believer often thinks just like the unbeliever. How can a just and moral God want to have a relationship with someone as selfish and immoral as me? Despite the fact that we can mentally agree with what the scripture says about God loving us, we often find it difficult to accept this fact on an emotional and spiritual level. It’s difficult for us to wrap our brains around the concept of a God who would love something as wretched and worthless as me.
But listen to Paul’s words in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And here’s an even more difficult concept to understand. Romans 5:10, “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!”
God didn’t love us when we were the good guys, He loved us when we were His enemies, while we were still sinners. Just because you were once a good guy, but fell off the wagon, doesn’t mean that God still can’t love you. God’s grace and God’s love didn’t become bankrupt just because you made some bad choices and messed up your life. God still loves you.
Listen to some of these truths from the NT writers.
· Ephesians 3:17-19: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
· Titus 3:3-5: “3At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…”
· 1 John 3:1: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
· 1 John 4:9, 10: “9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
· 1 John 4:16: “16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”
· Jude 1:21: “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
How do we keep ourselves in God’s love? We accept that God loves us. Not a love based on performance. “When you’re good enough, moral enough, humble enough, etc., then I’ll love you.” Not a love based on achievement. “When you give enough, study enough, succeed enough, etc., then I’ll love you.”
II. Accept that God likes you.
Another objection I often hear is people who may finally accept that God loves them, “but I doubt very much that He likes me.” I have good news for you. God not only loves you, He likes you.
In the Greek there are many words that are used to describe what we weakly call love. There is agape love, which is the altruistic, God-like love that puts others first and loves without measure. There is phileo love, which is the love of friend to friend, for no other reason than because they like one another. There is eros love, which is the sexual, erotic physical love.
Most often when love is mentioned in relationship to God, it’s almost always referring to agape love. There is one exception, however. In John 16 Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he is trying to express some very difficult truths to them about the relationship between Jesus and the Father, and between the disciples and the Father and the Holy Spirit. They weren’t getting it. Finally, Jesus says in v. 25 he says, “25″Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. 26In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
Did you hear what Jesus said? In v. 27 he said, “The Father himself loves you…” That word for love is not agape, it’s phileo. In other words, Jesus was saying, “My Father likes you, because you loved me and you believe in me.”
Not only does God love you, God the Father likes you.
The reason we are beginning with renewing our relationship with God, is rather simple. Until we can accept that God loves us, we can’t really accept that anyone else loves us. Until we receive the love of God, we can’t truly love others.
It is time to remove the obstacles that have kept us from receiving God’s love. We must remove the wall of shame. We must remove the weights of guilt. We must remove the pains and wounds of hatred. We can’t remove these obstacles alone. They can only be removed by Jesus. Only by His blood. Only by His love. We, as God’s people, are here to love one another as Jesus loves us. We can experience the love of our Heavenly Father as we experience the love of our Christian family.