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[The following article is an edited transcription of the March / April 2001 audio teaching by John W. Schoenheit, Reaching Out with the Love of God Or Christianity: The Come as You Are Party.]
In this teaching, we are going to be talking about reaching out with the love of God because God reaches us with His love.
If I had a second title for this teaching, I would call it “Christianity—the come as you are party.” Why would I call it that when the subject is reaching out with the love of God? The answer is that Christianity is a come as you are party. When I think of myself and when I got born again—when I got invited into God’s family, I was eighteen years old. I had been an unbeliever for 18 years. When I became a Christian, I brought my unbeliever self—with all my hang-ups, all my faults, all my failures, and all my bad habits. I brought these into Christianity, and as I read the Bible and as I interacted with other people, I saw that I needed to change. A driving force was there behind that change. Something was there that motivated me to change, and that something in the Bible was love.
Sometimes as Christians we forget, especially when we are older Christians and have been in the faith a little longer. We exercise our senses to discern good from evil. We get so sharp on what is right and what is wrong. We see things that are wrong in other people’s lives, and it is so easy to go up and tell them!
Christianity is the come as you are party. They come to Christianity as they are, with all their faults and failures, and what do they sometimes get? “Well, you ought to change this. You ought to do this.” It sounds like criticism, and it is hard and harsh. That is not what we primarily get from God! The Word does speak reproof. Absolutely it does—no question about it speaking about correction; however, the way that it is done or the way that God motivates us is so powerful. He motivates us with love.
Let us take a look at this and see how it works. This verse is one of the defining verses of the Christian experience.
1 John 4:19
We love because he first loved us.
Wow, what a powerful verse! How many times in my life do I reflect on that—that my energy to love or my desire to love comes from the fact that I am loved. I know that God loves me, and He loved me first. He did not command that I love Him, and then when I did, He kind of warmed up to me. Not at all! He did not say, “Okay, you love Me,” and then He watched me with eagle eyes, and when I finally decided to love Him, He finally decided to become closer to me. Not at all! God pours out His love on people that are hard hearted, unforgiving, self-centered, and selfish. He pours out His love on all people, and then that love begins to warm people up and awaken them. It begins to get them to the point that they are willing to respond.
We are going to see this pattern in a couple of places in the Word. It is very important that we understand that God is constantly reaching out with His love.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Notice it says that Christ died for the ungodly. It does not say that he died for the godly or the Christian or the blameless one or the righteous one.
Romans 5:7 and 8
(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.
When I was still a sinner, an unbeliever, God reached out for me with His love. What kind of love? It is the kind of love that would send His Son to die. Why do I love Him now? Why did I love Him 30 years ago? Why? Because He first loved me. Look at the pattern there. God extends His love to unloving people, and that love warms them up, and they change.
I think of the number of times in my life that I have set up walls or set up barriers where I set up requirements of only extending myself just so far until I see that somebody is going to be kind or loving or friendly or gentle or at least like me, and only then do I begin to open up. Well, that is simply not what God has done. That is not the pattern that God has set. God demonstrates His love for us while we were still sinners in that Christ died for us.
Again in 1 John 4, we read that we love because He first loved us. Think of the Christian circles in which we move. Think of extending ourselves to see if we can witness to bring people into the faith, and when they come into the faith, they come in just as they are with all there unbelieving stuff, their attitudes, and their bad background. We do want them to change, and God wants them to change. How are we going to get them to change? How is that going to happen? It is going to happen when they feel loved. You see, people need to be understood, accepted, loved, and encouraged. They do not need to be judged. They do not need to be frowned at, scorned, and criticized.
I am beginning to see that it is instinctive that when somebody is doing something wrong, we want to run over and tell them how to get it straight. You have somebody you are working with in the faith or even around you—it works with your children or with your spouse or it works with your friend, and they are doing something wrong (even if it is a little thing), and instinctively we feel “if I tell them what is wrong, they will change.” The amazing thing is that what comes up inside of us as instinct can actually be counter productive. Think of yourself, you are doing something and you are blessed doing it. You are trying to do a good job; okay you are doing it wrong, but you do not really know it. Somebody comes over and gives you a rebuke, and tells you off, “You are doing it wrong, and you need to be doing it this way.” How do you feel? Do you say, “Well, great, this is super! I needed to be yelled at today because I really wanted to be right.” No, you will not do that. Even though you might appreciate the fact that you want to do that thing right, the way that it was handled as a reproof or a rebuke will only produce what? For most it produces defensiveness, and occasionally that defensiveness even shows up as anger. For others it produces a desire to withdraw or pull back from the person. It may even produce a defeatist attitude in some people. They would say, “Oh gosh, one more time—everything that I try is wrong, nothing ever works out.” It steals their energy and their strength. God does not do that to us. He sheds forth His love to us. When God does reprove or when God does instruct us, it is always in meekness. The Bible specifically says that we are to instruct gently.
Ephesians 5:1 tells us that we are supposed to imitate God. We are supposed to be like God.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
I am here living my life, and I realize that an area exists in which I am not very close to God. I read this exhortation that I am supposed to be an imitator of God, and what does God put right in the verse as a motivation to me? He puts in there that I am loved. He tells us to be imitators of God because you are a dearly loved child. What does that do to me? How does that make me feel? It makes me feel like “Yes, I want to imitate God.” You see, the warmth of that love is so powerful that I feel so accepted. I feel so safe that even before I am an imitator of God, I am dearly loved, safe, protected, and encouraged. I can now reach out and stretch myself. I can bring myself to a new level of imitation because I know that even before I reach that new level, I was loved.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
An exhortation is here for us.
and live a life of love,…
How am I going to live this life of love? Well, an example is there for us.
…just as Christ loved us and gave himself up
How is the love of Jesus Christ exhibited? How is it shown forth? It is shown forth because he gave himself. Nobody had more right from an individual perfection and righteousness point of view to stand off from the crowds than Jesus Christ. Nobody was in a better position to kind of put his hands up and pull back from people and say, “Whoa, whoa, nobody’s touching me. I’m totally righteous. I’m totally without sin. Come over there and talk with you, touch you? You might pollute me!” Jesus Christ never did that. If you think about how he walked with people, he was constantly showing forth God’s love; of course, the primary way that he showed forth God’s love is that he gave his whole life for us.
An exhortation is there for us. God does not say, “Be imitators of God; therefore, and go around reproving people so that they are straightened out. By golly, be an imitator of God by just watching out for everyone’s sins and make sure that you tell them about it loud and long because that way they will be obedient.” God could have done that; but of course, God does not work that way. You would not be an imitator of God if you did that! The point is that God is not saying to imitate Him by going around and pointing out other people’s faults and failures. They have got them, we do too, but we do not need to go around pointing it out. That is not the way to be a child of God.
Christianity is a come as you are party. Lots of people have lots of problems. We are not going to primarily help the Body of Christ if we walk around with our spy goggles on trying to find everybody’s problems. People are going to change when they realize that they are loved. We love Him because He first loved us. When I get His love, when I really understand how much God loves me it empowers me to want to please Him.
Have you ever thought about the natural instinct inside people to want to please? Have you ever seen little children and how they want to please? We are communal people. God designed human beings to be communal people. We like to be in community. We have an innate thing inside of us that makes us want to please. That is one of the reasons, by the way, that when you come down on somebody and reprove them harshly and shout at them, even if you are right, it just takes that person’s energy away and makes them defensive, but if you love them, show them that you love them and accept them. Do they want to please? Absolutely they do.
Think of God: “Gosh, if I just pour my love forth on these people, they will do their own thing. They will never be like Me. They will never be like Christ. They will not ever care.” No, God realizes that if He pours His love out on people, then they will feel safe. They will feel secure. They will feel confident. They will feel blessed. They will want to please Him. They will want to connect, and obedience will not be a problem because they do not have any turf to defend. They will just want to be like God, so that is the example that God sets. He constantly shows His love to people.
A beautiful situation of this can be found in Luke 15. It is very important to understand the content before we get into the parables. I think that sometimes we jump into the parables too quickly before we understand why the parables are placed the way that they are. By the way, the wording here is very powerful. We will look at some of the Greek words and what they mean.
Luke 15:1 and 2
(1) Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him.
(2) But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The picture is a little different if you read the Greek text. It says, “Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering.” This is a pretty good translation of the Greek. They were all gathering or perhaps a more picturesque translation would be “kept gathering.” If you get the picture of Christ with two sinners, let us say that he is with a prostitute and a tax collector and then a thief came and joined them and then a robber came and joined them and then someone who embezzled money came and joined them and then someone else who was a sinner came and joined them. So Jesus is here with this little crowd of sinners, but they kept gathering and kept gathering. That is Jesus. He was so exuding God’s love that he was surrounded by sinners who wanted this love, so the sinners kept gathering around him.
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The Greek text says, “They kept muttering.” The tax collectors and sinners kept gathering and the Pharisees kept muttering. The more the tax collectors and sinners gathered the more the Pharisees muttered.
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
They could not call him by his name. They said “This man!” Who did Jesus’ heart go out to? His heart was so full of love for people that his heart went out to both groups. He so wanted both groups to change and to recognize God’s love for them, to open up their hearts. He so wanted both groups to see how much God loved them. He has these two groups, the one group is the Pharisees, and are they sinners? Certainly, they are sinners. They do not have the obvious flagrant sin of a prostitute or a thief or a robber or an embezzler, but they have sins like arrogance and haughtiness and pride and holier than thou attitudes. Two groups of sinners are here, and Jesus Christ loves them both, and he is going to try to reach out to both of them.
(3) Then Jesus told them this parable:
(4) “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
(5) And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders
(6) and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’
(7) I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Let’s look at that and analyze it a little more deeply. A couple of things are going on here. The title in my New International Study Bible, and a lot of other Bibles too, is The Parable of the Lost Sheep. As you know, that is not God breathed. It is not part of the Greek text and I think it misses the point. When you have a Parable of the Lost Sheep, where is the focus? The focus is on the lost sheep. Well, we all like sheep have gone astray. How many sheep have wondered off? They did shepherding for a living here in Luke and shepherds were all over the country. Also, sacrifices occurred daily in the Temple and everybody was familiar with them. How often do you think that somebody had heard of a lost sheep? A lost sheep was no news! That is not the point. Jesus Christ was not trying to obviate that somebody messed up, that somebody got lost again! That is not the point. The point of the parable is that this is a compassionate shepherd. This shepherd would leave the 99, and believe me, in Israel, it is hilly, rugged, hot, and dirty. That shepherd would so care for that one sheep that he would leave his flock and tromp over the hillsides, walk through the thorns and thistles, traverse the hillsides and the valleys, extending himself and causing himself hardship and pain. Why? He does this because he has compassion. He has love. He is going to find that one sheep. You bet he is.
What makes this parable so powerful? It is not that a sheep got lost. You and I, we sheep, are getting lost all the time. We make mistakes so frequently but here was a compassionate shepherd. Why did Jesus Christ tell the parable of the compassionate shepherd? Remember that two groups of sinners are here. It was to show these two groups that God loves them, and He will search for them.
Even if the Pharisees were not including themselves, even if the Pharisees were so haughty and so arrogant that they would not understand that God would come and look for them and love them, they should at least begin to see the value to God of one sinner. If one sinner leaves the group and goes off by himself, God does not say, “Well, it is only one; I have a bunch more.” God is so concerned about the value of that one sinner that He would search and search and work to get that one sinner back. Maybe, just maybe, that parable would show the Pharisees how much God will extend Himself—that God would really show His love and have love for that one sinner.
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