I will never forget that beautiful summer day when I saw cascades of bright light invade the auditorium through the rear center door of Friendship Baptist Church…
There in the middle of the light was Stephanie Anna Clayton, dressed in glorious white. From my anxious position at the front of the altar, I could see her radiating smile and sparkling eyes shimmering like diamonds behind the veil. Our eyes locked together and we never lost our gaze. As she drew closer and closer, my heart began to beat faster and faster. Could this be real? It seemed like an amazing miracle.
And then, suddenly, she stood before me in all her beauty. Her eyes stared deeply into mine as we joined hands, shared communion, declared our vows, and embraced for our first kiss (yes, it was amazing). She became mine and my last name became hers. Today, by the mercy of God, our gaze is still locked together and our love grows richer each day. Like a multivalent oil painting on a fresh canvas, God is brushing new strokes and bright colors that are forming into a beautiful portrait of love, ordained by His grace.
God’s Look of Love
In a close parallel, God in Christ brought each of us into a beautiful love relationship with Himself. He chose us in Jesus Christ before the world was even formed (cf. Eph. 1:4). He brought us into His family by the immeasurable and amazing kindness of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace (cf. Eph. 1:5-6).
Christ the Son poured out His life on the Cross so that we could receive His life in exchange for the eternal death we all deserve (cf. Eph. 1:7; 5:25). The Spirit sealed the relationship and gives us a sure and certain hope of final redemption, when we shall see the Lover of our souls face to face (cf. Eph. 1:13-14; Rom. 8:14-25). And God the Father looks at us with complete and unending love, more certain than the rising sun.
But we look away. We get distracted. We move on to the “important” things of everyday life. And Jesus Christ is left in the dust of a past-tense relationship that we hope will work out in the end but don’t really care about right now. We show up at a church building to look at Jesus, focus on His face, marvel at His grace, and maybe even give some money towards His mission. But as soon as we walk out the door we look away. Again and again and again.
The canvas of our lives so often looks like this: Sunday-in, Sunday-out, now let’s go do what everybody else is all about. Most of us would not say we don’t love Jesus Christ – we enjoy looking at Him and loving Him occasionally and sometimes even passionately. The big experience of a “worship concert” emotionally excites us… and we love looking at Jesus when everybody around us is doing the same thing. Relevant conferences, mission presentations, or rallies get us pumped-up to passionately pursue Jesus.
But then we go home, turn on the screen and watch violence-riddled or sex-soaked movies as if Jesus doesn’t care.
And our Savior and Lover is still looking at us with eyes of unending love, yet we choose to look away so that we can go and play.
Now don’t misunderstand me. God is not a cosmic killjoy wanting to rain down on our parade. Actually, it’s quite the opposite; God wants us to enjoy life to the full – experience true joy and love and peace even in the midst of a fallen world.
Furthermore, I’m not one of “those guys” who goes around yelling, “If you listen to contemporary Christian music, wear shorts above the knee cap, have a television in your house, go the theater, play euchre, or watch PG movies…then you better question whether you’re really saved – you need to be afraid of hell fire!”
What’s wrong with this riff? First, styles of music, cultural clothing preferences, and the subjectivity of television or movies are all personal choices that believers need to make individually. God’s Word does not give dogmatic, specific mandates for music, clothing, or entertainment. Instead, God makes it very clear what He does hate and the guidelines Christ-followers should follow in the grayer areas of life across all time and culture. Second, the motivating heart of the Gospel is not fear but faith, hope, and love. A Gospel that incites fear in people without the balm of grace is misplacing God’s love and merely manipulating behavior.
But don’t miss this: Loving Jesus Christ is the only way to true happiness. If you say you love Jesus but love what Jesus hates, you are missing out on the love and life He offers.
Many, many people in North American evangelicalism are living a 2-Faced Faith: we act like we love Jesus Christ more than anything this world has to offer, but as soon as we walk out of the church building we check to see if the next horror movie is in Redbox or who won the VMA awards.
If you find yourself laughing at and enjoying violence among human beings – who are all sacred image-bearers of God – than you need to ask yourself if you really love the God you claim to know.
King David, the Psalmist, wrote, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. (Psalm 11:5)
Violence and immorality always go hand-in-hand, and God hates both. If you have no check in your conscience or tinge of remorse, if you can freely enjoy violence, profanity, horror, and sexual immorality, then you need to question whether your know the God you claim to love.
The Savior and Redeemer is looking at you with eyes of love and He is calling for total love rooted in genuine belief, not two-faced faith that only shows up on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Jesus Christ echoed the central cry from the Father’s heart when He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). Every part of your life is to show your love and display your Lord, because your life in God is rooted in your love for God and God’s love for you.
Jesus is longing for us to love what He loves and hate what He hates so that the world will see His life in us. When we love what Jesus loves and hate what Jesus hates then we will be displaying a single face – an accurate picture of Jesus – to our friends, family, and co-workers… instead of a two-faced lie. And we will experience the true love, life, and joy that come through abiding in the love-relationship God offers to all who believe.
You see, obeying Christ is not a maintenance plan to keep His love but an expression of the love that has changed your life (see Galatians 5:6). Our life in God is rooted in our love for God and God’s love for us. The more you love and believe in Jesus the more you’ll want to follow His words and mirror His actions…and He’ll show His life through your life. So let’s return to God with focused love by reveling in His unending love, refocusing on loving Him through joy-filled obedience, and by reaching out to others with His love.
Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)