“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.” Joel 2:32, NIV
Many public beaches and pools have lifeguards who dedicate their time to making sure that swimmers are protected from the hazard of drowning. Constantly aware of what is happening in the water, they are alert to signs of anyone having trouble. Someone gasping for air and waving their arms is sure to spark a rescue attempt. Those who have been rescued through the years are many. However, lifeguarding is not without its danger for the lifeguards. Panicked swimmers often try to cling to anything that might save them, including the lifeguard. They can cling so tightly that the lifeguard can no longer swim. When that happens, both are in danger of drowning. If the rescuer cannot save himself, he cannot save the victim either.
Paradoxically, it is exactly the opposite for the person drowning in sin. His or her only hope is to cling as tightly as possible to Christ. Just as the clinging drowning victim can actually drown the lifeguard, the clinging sinner assured the death of Christ on the cross. Except that death made possible the sinner’s salvation. Fortunately, in this case, the One who died was able to live again. This certainly isn’t true of regular lifeguards, but it is true of Jesus. That ability to give life brought Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:43-44) and is the earnest of our own resurrection.
So what is this sin that causes us to drown and brought about the cross of Christ? The Apostle John tells us that sin is breaking the law. (1 John 3:4) That moves us a little farther along in our understanding, but still leaves us questioning. What law is the sinner breaking? At this point, some might say that maybe it’s stealing or lying or some other of the Ten Commandments Moses brought down from Sinai. (Exodus 20) However, the problem is much deeper than that.
A lawyer who was concerned about what it means to be law abiding came to Jesus and asked Him which law was most important.(Mark 12:28-34) Jesus answered him with Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Perhaps the lawyer expected Jesus to recite one of the precepts of the Decalogue. However, Jesus called these two the greatest of the commandments. By definition then, the Decalogue must be inferior to these two. So what makes these two special? It is simply love. We might therefore say that a failure to love is the very essence of sin. To lose sight of this is to set oneself up for a religion that is about rule keeping without regard to the motivation for observing the rules. It is possible to hold to the Decalogue and observe all its precepts without feeling a single ray of love in one’s heart. But it is impossible for a heart filled with love to fail to observe all that the law requires.
As simple as that might seem, it is impossible for any sinner to achieve. Our selfishness keeps getting in the way. Sometimes we take a perverse delight in pointing this out to one another. But when we do this, we are no better than the one we are rebuking. We only demonstrate our own failure to love. This should be no surprise to the Bible student, because Paul’s Epistle to the Romans tells us that everyone has this problem. (Romans 3:23) Because this problem is universal, it makes the world we live in a very cold place. It is tainted with the smell of death like a global lazar house. The despair this engenders is so overwhelming that many attempt to dull their awareness of their condition with alcohol, drugs, entertainment, and a descending spiral of depravity. They seek anything as a distraction. Ultimately, when they run out of diversions, they come face to face with the reality of the bleakness of their existence.
When they reach this point, far too many choose to end their lives in a meaningless final gesture of futility. However, some, against all expectation, find the will to ask the void if this is really all there is. At that moment, a spark, however faint, inflames their heart with a glimmer of hope. It tells them that in spite of all the effort they have put forth to achieve only death, there is a beautiful hope that still waits for them. (Romans 6:23) If they begin to seek that flame and follow that light, they will come to Jesus. The Holy Spirit, who lights the way, will not fail to lead everyone who willingly follows that light safely home.
The Bible tells us that God’s goodness is what draws us. (Romans 2:4) If you have ever been in a dark room and lit a single match, you know how powerful even such a small light can be in the darkness. It immediately draws our eyes to it. When we experience the light of God’s love in this darkened despairing world, we are immediately drawn to Him. As we feel that love bath the coldness of despair with loving warmth, we feel a desire to be completely enveloped in that warmth and to have it fill us completely.
Perhaps you remember as a child the joy of Christmas and opening a gift to find exactly what you had hoped for. The joy of discovering God’s love is like that only infinitely more joyous. Perhaps this is so because instead of simply being what we want, it is exactly what we need, and it is not only what we need, it is also what everyone else needs. This is why loving God leads to loving our neighbors. Until we have exactly what we need, we have little to give to fill anyone else’s need. We cannot love our neighbor before we love God. If we try, it will only be marred with our imperfect ability to love. It will be tainted with our selfishness. (Isaiah 64:6 & Jeremiah 13:23)
So if we accept a relationship with God, then our loving acts will be perfect? No, as long as we try to love, we will fail. We can only be a conduit for God’s love. We cannot even desire to love much of the time. Someone cuts us off in traffic or cuts in line in front of us at the store and our love flies right out the window. A neighbor’s dog digs up our favorite rose bush, or their teenage son turns the neighborhood into an outdoor rock concert and we find love hard to come by. If we can avoid bad language, we might pat ourselves on the back for being good Christians. However, we still find that our smile is made with gritted teeth.
So if this is the reality, how can love come into play? The Bible tells us that not only do all righteous acts come from God but that even the will to love comes from Him. (Philippians 2:13) We do not desire to love on our own. That desire comes from God when we allow it. It is like this. When we want water to drink in our homes, we do not try to become water. We simply turn the faucet handle until the water flows. Why wasn’t it flowing before? It could not clear the obstruction in the pipe. When we turned the handle, it opened the pipe. In the same way, God’s love cannot flow through us until we clear the obstruction preventing it. How do we do this?
The Apostle Peter put it very simply. He gave us three steps. Two of those steps we can take, and the third God controls. First we must acknowledge that what we have done so far isn’t working and stop doing it. The Bible calls this repentance. Second we are called to be baptized as a public profession of death to our old way of life and rebirth to a new life. Peter says that if we do this then God will do His part and give us the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38) This is what clears the logjam holding back the love. Once God lives in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit, then His love can flow from this presence into our hearts and minds and into the lives of those around us, our “neighbors.”
This is the answer to the cold darkness of this world. No amount of neon lighting can drive that darkness away. This is because the darkness rests in our hearts and minds. Despair can only be driven away by the hope that love places in our hearts. We can believe. We can have faith in God’s love. It is real, tangible and inexhaustible. We only need to make the decision to turn the faucet handle so it can flow.
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