Understanding God’s Love and the Sin that Changed the World
ATTENTION: You are reading the 7th chapter in a blog to book series about Genesis (God in the Garden). I recommend starting with the introduction if you haven’t read it yet. If you are interested in learning when the book will be released or discussing anything said in these posts, please reach out through the contact page.
A relationship with God sounds nice, but what exactly is that? How does one grow in a relationship with an unseen God? Is it just going through the motions, attending church, praying at dinner, and making Bible reading a habit? Is it acting blindly your entire life, hoping, in the end, it all works out? How does a relationship even work if you can’t hear or see the person you are in a relationship with? Are Christians the spiritual equivalent of the nerd at band camp who says they have a girlfriend that doesn’t exist?
I’ve compared a relationship with God to many things. I said that God is our coach, boss, and parent, but none of these things really communicate the incredible love he has for us, nor the power of that love. The sacrifice that Jesus made points us to that incredible love, but until we submit to the fact that Jesus is the son of God, we will never receive it because a wall remains around our hearts. We can’t feel the warmth of the sun on our skin as long as we refuse to leave the house. We have to walk outside first.
Submitting to God and confessing Jesus is Lord is also about much more than words. Faith is about more than wearing a cross necklace, praying in front of other Christians, or addressing your emails with God bless you. Starting a relationship with Jesus is nothing less than suicide. It is total annihilation of the self. It’s like pulling the pin from a live hand grenade, jumping out of a plane with no parachute, or stepping into the lion’s den. Submission is a total rejection of the person you were.
You don’t just put on Christianity for a little while and try it out like you do a new suit or dress and see how it feels. That type of Christianity will do you no good. You don’t put your old self on a shelf to pick back up later. That kind of Christianity doesn’t last. When you submit to Christ, you not only give God permission to destroy your old self, you ask him to obliterate it. To burn it up in his refining fire until there’s no trace left. That is what submission to Christ looks like. Until we tear down the old, the new can’t take its place. We like to think of Jesus as this peaceful, gentle spirit. But he was more than that. God’s love is powerful. It tears down the old. It destroys the forces that act against it. It’s a blazing supernova, burning away every atom of darkness from our souls.
Out of Options
Ultimately, we have a choice. We can hide from this love and go on as we always have. Maybe we don’t need it. Perhaps we are strong and already have peace. Maybe there is nothing in our lives that serves as an idol. We have been the perfect parent, spouse, child, or worker. We are in control of everything, give love unconditionally, and have no need for salvation. Thanks, but no thanks, Jesus. We’re already a good person.
Or maybe we’re not so great. Maybe we are just weak human beings trying to hold it all together as more and more things slip out of our control. We hide behind a mask in hopes no one sees the real us. We are just trying to keep it up. How long can we do this? Can we hold out the rest of our lives? If we can, is that the way we always want to live? Do we want to struggle until the day we die?
What if that wasn’t our life? What kind of freedom would that be? Is it possible? Could we live a life where the pressure wasn’t on our shoulders but God’s? Where our thoughts and actions were led by God’s eternal love and grace instead of our worries and desires? What kind of man or woman would that be? What kind of blessing would they be to their family and friends?
You see, it can only happen through the recognition that there is no other way and there’s no other hope. Jesus is the only option. It’s all or nothing. You either let your selfish nature slowly destroy you and everyone around you, or you betray it. Submission to Christ is really an outright betrayal. It’s disavowing allegiance to a lifelong partnership with sin. It’s switching sides in the middle of a battle. This is no minor affair. This is treason. You leave yourself vulnerable on two fronts. All you can do is hope your new ally has your back. If they don’t, you’re in trouble.
When we are almost ready to submit to Christ and invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts, the full realization can hit us square in the face. What about all of our family and friends that aren’t saved? Betraying sin is one thing, but betraying them is another. We may be willing to sacrifice ourselves, but it’s much harder to sacrifice our relationships. What will those that we had connections with think? The relationship won’t ever be the same again, and what do our new beliefs say about them? Are we now better than them? By our very beliefs, are we relegating them to hell? Because of our loyalty (love of our relationships), we can convince ourselves it’s more honorable to reject Christ (eternal life). This is probably one of the greatest lies and tragedies to keep people from the faith.
Some come to Christ because of heaven, but for others, it’s an obstacle. The thought of a place that excludes people (friends and family) simply because of what they believed can be appalling. We might conclude a good person would choose hell over heaven. It would be more loving to be in hell with those we cared about rather than submit to Christ only for only our own selfish preservation.
What I finally understood when I came to Christ was that submission was about more than my self-preservation. Even though I now realize that the eternal is far more important than the temporal, I needed to see another reason first. I needed to see a reason beyond my own benefits (of eternal life). God gave me that reason in my wife and future children. I knew who I was. I knew the secrets that I hid in my heart. I knew the evils that existed there, and God allowed me to see what my future would be like without him. He allowed me to see the pain that was ahead for those that I pretended to love. Those that I thought I loved but never really did. My love would always be inadequate. It was like a bad knockoff, a terrible reproduction. It would never be enough.
It wasn’t just the pain that I would cause them, though. It was what that would do to their hearts and their kids’ hearts and on and on. I might be able to sacrifice my chance at eternal happiness, but was I willing to be responsible for theirs? Don’t get me wrong, we all have choices, and we can’t control anyone else’s, but could I bear to be a link in that chain that separated them from God for all eternity? The answer was no. I couldn’t bear it.
There is an element of self-preservation in Christ, I can’t deny that, but to fixate on that one element, misses a far greater reason to submit. That is the people we are supposed to love. We can never control their choices, but we can direct them to the truth (in word and example). We can point them to an inheritance far greater than anything else we can ever leave them. It’s an inheritance that doesn’t begin in the next life but begins here on this earth.
For if Jesus is truth, and we fail to accept that (because of others), we aren’t doing anything noble. We aren’t doing anyone any favors. All we are doing is denying them an opportunity to experience God’s love through us. All we are doing is allowing them to experience the lesser at the expense of the greater. If they are antagonistic toward that greater love or decide to cut off the relationship, then at least we offered it (there is always a chance they can change their mind later too). Whether or not we come to Jesus, there’s always a chance a relationship can end. If it ends, it was never that strong and would’ve ended some other way anyway, but if it persists, how much more beautiful can it be with Christ at the center? By failing to come to Christ, we are only perpetuating the cycle that has been going on since the beginning. Instead of standing in the pass for those that we love. We are only giving them over to the same cycle of death that has claimed so many.
If someone we loved were in a burning building, we wouldn’t hesitate to give up our lives to rescue them (even if they didn’t want rescuing). Is it instead nobler to forgo the rescue attempt because they might not like us anymore? Is it better to perish along with them and enjoy the limited time we have on this earth over eternal communion with God? We might convince ourselves that it is more loving, almost romantic in a way. We are making a grand sacrifice for them. But is it really a sacrifice or selfishness? Your eternity aside, what about theirs? Is it more loving to never point them toward that same gift so that you can hold onto your temporal relationship with them? Is it more loving to deny them the opportunity of knowing Christ (through you) so that you don’t have to worry about possibly losing the relationship? It’s not more heroic to stand in a burning building with someone when you could lead them out. There is nothing romantic about allowing somebody to die because you’re afraid of being alone. In fact, there actually might be nothing more selfish.
We can’t rescue everyone from the burning building, but to do absolutely nothing because of that doesn’t make our refusal to save ourselves or others any nobler. If some should perish, then all should perish doesn’t make much sense. In saving ourselves, we also can save others. We can ignore the reality, but that won’t change the situation.
In the end, accepting Christ is self-destructive. That destruction affects everything. Who we are, what we do, and even our relationships. It’s a risk. It’s a huge risk, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. If we put all of our attention on the few cons instead of the exceedingly great pros, we will never take that risk. We will always be where we are now, and so will those people we tell ourselves that we love.
In accepting Christ, we invite the Holy Spirit to live inside of us. As a result, we gain an inheritance of peace, strength, wisdom, love, hope, and charity. There is no material possession or any amount of money that can match that gift. Money doesn’t bring eternal joy and peace, but the Holy Spirit does. It changes everything. That’s the kind of inheritance you want to leave your children so that they can leave it to theirs, and they can leave it to theirs, and they can leave it to theirs. It’s an inheritance that will echo through time long after anything you left behind in your will is rusted and full of moth holes.
He Loved Us First
Finally, we commit this treason for others, but more than anything because he loved us first. He gave up his life for us. He gave up his life for your sins. We never deserved grace, and we still don’t deserve it. Yet he did it anyway. God erases our debts. When this is truly comprehended (the price of our full debt), how can we ever go back to our old ways? How can we demand someone else pay for the pain they caused us (injustices, insults, and offenses) when we had a far greater debt forgiven? It turns the universe upside down.
What does God’s love really feel like then? It’s incomprehensible if you haven’t experienced it before. Describing it is like trying to describe the sunset to a blind person or the sound of music to a deaf person. We can only know it through the power of the holy spirit. It fills us with unimaginable love, peace, joy, strength, humility, and thankfulness. In it, we understand and communicate with an unseen God. Initially, the Holy Spirit comes into us through faith, but it is also strengthened through prayer, fellowship with other believers, fasting and reading the Scripture.
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;
The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
In the end, all of this depends on our faith. Without faith, we can never access God’s grace. Could God give us grace without faith? Sure, but that would not be loving. We go back to the same problem Adam and Eve had (and God keeping them from the Tree of Life). God denied them access to eternal life because their hearts weren’t in the right place. If God gave us grace without faith (our heart not in the right place), it wouldn’t be a gift at all, as we would still be separated from Him. His grace would only condemn us to eternal separation. So what would be the point? It would be a fake gift, the equivalent of a back alley Rolex. It might look nice but have no actual value.
Through the death of Jesus on the cross and the resurrection, however, God reconciles the relationship. He opens a door for us to accept his will above our own. In doing so (accepting his son Jesus as our savior), we can die to our own will and accept His. We are washed clean in his blood (sins forgotten). We can open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and walk with God as we were meant to in the garden. The reflection of his first plan comes into view (what he was trying to teach Adam and Eve in the garden). That in relationship with Him, we can be like Him. We can become mirrors of him (in his image).
Here are some of the main points from this chapter.
- What is a relationship with God like? What’s the starting point? People that come to Christ are people that are out of options. They have lost faith in themselves. It’s more than submission. It’s suicide. Coming to Christ is betrayal and treason to a lifelong partnership with sin.
- It begins by rejecting your spirit’s rule, submitting to Christ, and inviting in the Holy Spirit to take over. It’s asking God to annihilate the old self and replace it with the new. If you haven’t done that, imagine what you would be like if it weren’t your spirit in control but God’s. Then, imagine the blessing that person would be to their family and friends. Can you ever get there on your own?
- Even with such a wonderful gift available, many reject it for fear of betraying friends and family or hurting their relationships. Betraying sin is one thing, and betraying our relationships is another. Because of our loyalty to them, many walk away from grace.
- The big question is if a relationship ends because you come to Christ, what kind of relationship was that, to begin with? If someone refuses to talk to you because you don’t live up to their standards, or act how they want you to act, then it was never genuine love. It was only an illusion. Christ doesn’t break up relationships. He only exposes the truth.
- It’s also not loving to give up a relationship with God to hold onto a relationship with a person. In fact, it is selfish. You deny that person the opportunity to know Christ through you. You are sacrificing their opportunity to have an eternal relationship with God for a temporal relationship with you. There’s probably no more selfish act than that. We can tell ourselves we are loving, but that’s a lie from hell.
- Coming to Christ isn’t about our self-preservation either (securing a spot in heaven – though that’s a huge plus). Ultimately, it’s about God working through us. It’s about receiving an eternal inheritance that we can give to others. It’s an inheritance of wisdom, joy, peace, and strength that begins on this earth. There’s no greater gift we can leave our children and future generations. It is far greater and lasts far longer than any amount of money we can ever leave behind.
- We do this all because Jesus loved us first. He gave up everything for us. How can we ever go back to our old ways and demand the world repay us (or owes us) when all of our debt is forgiven? How can we not take up our cross and live a sacrificial life for those that we love? How can we not lay down everything for them?
- Could God give us grace and eternal life without faith (without us ever coming to Christ)? He could, but our hearts wouldn’t be in the right place. We would still worship our will. It would still separate us from him. In that scenario, grace wouldn’t be a gift at all. It would cement our eternal separation. Our submission through our faith in Christ is the key to the most cherished gift in the universe (eternal union with God).
- That’s what heaven and hell ultimately are about. We choose union or separation from God. God isn’t putting people in one location or the other over something trivial. He’s clearing a path for us to get to him.
- Some will reject God, and others will seek him. The next life will only be a continuation of that choice: union or separation, heaven or hell. We can choose to ignore that reality. Because some will perish (go to hell), we can choose to perish along with them. We can tell ourselves this is noble or courageous, but it is arrogance and foolishness.
- No firefighter would refuse to rescue some people because they can’t save everyone. No firefighter would stand in the blaze and refuse to lead some out because they know some will die. Yet when we refuse to come to Christ because some will go to hell, that’s exactly what we are doing. We are standing in the blaze, letting ourselves, and as a result, others perish in our pride and arrogance. “If some should perish, then all should perish.”