What the atonement did III: Defining love

What the atonement did I
What the atonement did II: Simon’s second speech
What the atonement did IV: Only because of the atonement

In 1 John 4.7-21 we see the heart of reconciliation, we see the why of Jesus’ life, death, and living again. In these verses we see what has been told to us from the beginning: God wants us to be in a good, deep, healthy and whole relationship with Him.

We are first welcomed to believe this life shaping truth in the second chapter of the Genesis story:

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens… the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, formed a man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner…’ So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.’

And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed…

Genesis 2.4-25

Genesis 1.31 records God as looking over the finished work of creation, complete with the crown jewel of humanity, and being satisfied and pleased:

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

 

God walked in the garden with all of humanity. Adam and Eve lived deeply with God and had a whole relationship with Him and each other. In fact, the fact that there was community between people was and essential part of God’s very good creation. Everything was as it was suppose to be… for at least a few lines of the story. Then the original shalom was broken, and from Genesis 3.6 on the situation we find ourselves in is where reconciliation is needed.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths

Genesis 3.6-8

Our first action in this state of need is ashamedness and fear: we are ashamed of our naked self before other humans and we now fear the presence and intimacy of Yahweh.

Living Naked

Unashamed nakedness in the Genesis story is not about clothing. It is about acceptance, or (more accurately) communion in love with others.

Before the need of reconciliation, man and woman were naked and unashamed. Moments after entering the state of sin, they were self aware of the exclusion they risked in others eyes. The need to hide our nakedness is the need to preserve the image that we are acceptable, that we are OK. It is a self-oriented awareness that will attack others when their nakedness and flaws show in the hopes that no one will notice how naked and flawed I am.

But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3.9-13

We hide. We point and blame. We excuse and justify ourselves, all in hopes that someone else will suffer exclusion so that we can still be OK, still be accepted.

This is the state of companionship humans now share, and this is not what God called good. We were meant to have communion with each other, not to engage in this self serving posturing trying to preserve what good image we think we have fooled man and God into seeing.

A life that has been reconciled to God is called to commune with other people in a way that teaches the world the shalom that God originally established. To put it another way, we who have been reconciled to God are now to live in love with people.

This thought bookends the passage we are looking at in John’s first letter.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4.7-11, 19-21

As we look at this call to love one another, we need to keep two things in mind:

  1. Every time the word love is used in the entire passage, it is always agapao (verb form) or agape (noun form) and carries with it the notion of relentless, un-earned love.
  2. To love people with agape is the antithesis to the broken communion we see in story of the fall and feel in our every day.

These verses create a sound and echo (so to speak) with which we start and finish this passage.

Verses 7 and 21– Love is issued from God and commanded by Him, therefore we should love-one-another.

Verses 8 and 20- Whoever does not love-one-another does not love/know God.

Verses 11 and 19- God has loved us therefore we should love-one-another.

I write “love-one-another” as one word for a reason: the command to love is never given in as ambiguous, unspecific command. We are not given the option of “faceless love”. God calls us to love specifically each and every single one of our neighbors. Never fall into the habit of reading love passages without thinking about the faces you live with, work with, are friends with, go to church with, etc… God does not say “go and love.” He has issued a command, “go and love-one-another by name.”

Now, the argument can be made that “love-one-another” of this passage is referring to fellow believers as the intended recipients of our agape. That may be the case, and to be sure the world knows the agape of God because of how the believing community models agape in our communion (vs 12). However this passage is not to be read alone. It must be heard with the first and second commandment and the definition of my neighbor in mind.

This command to love-one-another is God’s call for the reconciled to begin to live out the wholeness of shalom. We do not do this based off of a small idea of love, as if it was a warm fuzzy or some stoic action of discipline “for their own good”. We are called to love-one-another as God has loved us. The word for this is agape, and it has been displayed before us in the death of the incarnate Son of God: Jesus the Christ. This is the revelation of agape just as it is the reality of our reconciliation.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4.9-10

These two verses are central to our understanding of reconciliation. They tell us why God didn’t write us off (agape), why Jesus had to die (agape), and they give meaning to God’s command spoken and echoed thought this passage: love-one-another (agape).

Loving-one-another is God’s command to His people. Loving-one-another is equated with knowing and loving God. Loving-one-another is the reconciled response to the ashamedness before others and is based upon the manifestation of agape that is Jesus’ accomplishment of the reconciliation of us to God.

 

Agape is God’s answer to both issues raised in the garden: ashamedness and fear.

Perfect intimacy

Just as our fig loin cloths did nothing to heal our ashamedness, hiding could never take away the fear we have of intimacy with Yahweh. We were made to abide in Him and to have Him abide in us. This cannot ever happen if we fear.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4.13-18

Jesus reconciles us to God, and that reconciliation ushers us into the reality of the un-earned, relentless love that Yahweh has toward humanity. John is urging us to stay here, to abide in this agape. Put down your bags, take off your coat, and just stay for this is the home you were created for. Fear? There’s no place for that here. Remember how we have any idea what true love is:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

This isn’t just some theological jargon to prove one camp over another. This isn’t some exclusive truth that only those properly taught can rightly understand. No, this is God taking away the fear of His children.

We fear intimacy with God because He is judge and we know it. I can’t even handle judgement from people, let alone God excluding me from His table. And this is the heart of our fear: exclusion. Adam hid in the garden God had planted for him because he couldn’t face up to the fact that he was cut off and had no place to abide. He tried to pawn his exclusion off on Eve by passing the blame in hopes that judgement would fall on her instead. She in turn passed it off to the snake, and we all have been passing around the blame ever since. We saw Peter address this human trait in Acts 3 and here John whispers hope to our hungry hearts.

Jesus accomplished reconciliation between God and man. In other words, there is nothing to fear because Jesus took our sins away, opened the way to our home, and made us friends with the Most High God! We have nothing to fear because God is not waiting to punish us for our bad deeds, and neither is He waiting to see if we are good enough to get into the cool kid click. He is offering us what he created us to have: intimacy with our creator.

This is reconciliation, and it is because of the imposable-to-earn, relentless love that Yahweh has for you, me, and everyone who has ever had the spark of life. When we are talking about how salvation works, we can’t ever forget that salvation is based only and completely upon the agape Yahweh has for us.

  • Rebecca

    Thank you, Aaron. To hear this multiple times daily.

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