Perfect love for imperfect people

Adapted from Perfect Love: A + Living in a C- World

Kevin and Jennifer show up at every youth meeting. Whether it’s for pizza or prayer, roller skating or revival, movies or missions, you can count on then to be there. But Kevin and Jennifer don’t want to just please their youth sponsor. They sincerely want to please God. But both are discouraged.

Kevin has "committed," "recommitted," "totally committed," and "totally recommitted" his life to Christ–at least five times. He’s really trying to live a disciplined life for the Lord, but it seems he fails almost daily.

Jennifer really trusts God to work through her. "Hey, just keep in the Spirit and let the Lord has His way!" But she, too, seems to find herself with the wrong crowd doing the wrong things.

Kevin and Jennifer are looking for perfect love in two different ways. Kevin believes holiness comes from discipline and commitment. He’s right. Jennifer believes that holiness is a gift from God that we ask for in faith. And she’s right. But both are only half right.

Churches have a tendency to stress God’s part in "entire sanctification (purity, power, and perfect love) or our part (commitment and faith). But both are essential! God’s perfect love comes through a combination of our willpower and His power.

In fact, the word "sanctification" has a two-part meaning: set apart for holy use and cleansed.

Let’s say a priest wanted to sanctify a bowl for use in the Jewish temple. That bowl was dedicated for temple use–and only for temple use. Never again could it be used to serve snacks, pot a fern, or set under the chariot when he changed the oil. It was only for God’s usage. The priest then gave it a good scrubbing and set it in the temple.

In the same way, we need to set ourselves apart for God’s sole use. That’s the human element in sanctification. God helps us see the joy and privileges we’re missing by not experiencing perfect love. He will show us areas that need His lordship. But He can’t dedicate us to himself.

We can’t do God’s part either. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can purify our attitudes and motives. Only He can give us power to live purely. And He alone can fill us with His perfect love. Let’s take a look at how we obtain God’s perfect love.

Our part

When we first come to Christ, there is the same cooperation between God and ourselves.

God first loved us and sent His Son to buy us back (John 3:16, Romans 5:6-8), and sent His Spirit to show us we need His salvation (John 16:8). He loves us, reveals himself to us, and convicts us our sins.

But that’s as far as God will go, unless we confess our sins, believe on Him, and repent (Acts 2:38).

But once we do, He eagerly forgives us (Acts 2:38), makes us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), adopts us as His kids (Romans 8:14, 15), and gives us His Spirit to live inside us. We accept all this by faith.

Unfortunately, that’s where many Christians stop. But in Romans 12:1 and 2, Paul writes to his Christian friends:

    Therefore, I urge you . . . brothers and sister, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The first step to experiencing God’s perfect love is salvation. The next step is to be:

1. Set apart for holy use

When we come to personally know Christ, His Spirit begins revealing areas that need attention. We then begin allowing Him access to those areas of our lives:

"Jesus, I need Your help in getting along with my kid brother."

"Lord, please help me pass Algebra."

"God, I’d like to use my talent for You in some way."

As we grow in Christ, we discover new areas that need His help and guidance: our thought life; our relationships; our drives and desires; our goals; our ambitions; our dreams.

Dick Wynn speaks of this process as "Giving all you know about yourself to all that you know about God."

But in our growth in Christ, there is usually a part of ourselves that keeps crawling off the altar—or that can’t seem to get on the altar at all. (That’s the troublewith "living" sacrifices!)

You may have seen Kevin really struggling at the altar with that one area of his life. He knows he should turn it over to the Lord. He wants to be "holy and pleasing to God." But there’s something that holds him back. It may be he’s lacking in trust that God’s way is really best. Often, it’s a selfish attitude: "Look, Lord, You’ve got everything else. Let me have ownership of this one area."

But often, we act like the problem is God’s. "Please, Lord, please sanctify me! I’m begging you!" God must be frustrated, too. He want to pour out His power and perfect love into our lives, but we refuse to accept until we have completely surrendered ourselves to Him.

We need to ask ourselves an old question, "Is everything on the altar? Our "body"? Our "mind"? Our "spiritual" area? Our social area? Or are we conforming "to the pattern of this world"?

Don’t become discouraged, though. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, claimed this process of commitment generally takes "a long time, even many years."

But God doesn’t ask us to load all our lives on the altar so He can douse them with lighter fluid and turn them into a pile of ash. Read again that last sentence of Romans 12:2. He asks us to commitment everything to Him so we can discover His good, pleasing and perfect will.

2. Set apart from sin

Paul doesn’t give us a chance to catch our breath. Right after instructing us to be living sacrifices, he hits us withdo not conform any longer to the pattern of this world. (J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, "Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.").

That’s Jennifer’s problem. She figures that Christ is in her life, so it’s His problem to keep her safe from sin. But in Colossians 3:5 and 8, Paul makes it clear that best set apart from sin is partially our responsibility:

    Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

    But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

There are some things in our lives that we need to put a match to. After the evening service, the folks in Ephesis had a big bonfire to destroy their occult paraphernalia. There may be some magazines, paperback books, TV programs, or DVDs that do need some lighter fluid. There may be some places that a living sacrifice shouldn’t go. But, again, the purpose of setting ourselves apart is not to live a dry, burned out life. God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect. But these adjectives just aren’t compatible with some nouns:

(1) Visible sin

In Romans 6:11-14, Paul writes:

    Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master . . .

Visible sins are pretty easy to spot, Galatians 5:19-21 lists them as “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft . . . drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” But right in the middle of those obvious sins, also lists “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy.”

(2) Invisible sin

Wow, that’s the toughie! Most new Christians immediately realize that sexual immorality and drunkenness are not part of God’s will. But jealously, selfish ambition, and envy can hide in the cracks and crevices of our souls for weeks, months, even years. There are the sins, hidden from public view, that are the hardest to keep on the altar.

John Wesley taught that inviting Christ into our lives was the start of growing more like Christ, a gradual process of dying to sin.

God’s part

We need to point out that even in the process of presenting ourselves as living sacrifices, God is working in harmony with us.

As we read and concentrate every day on Word, God reveals areas in our lives that still need to be put on the altar. The Bible is essential in pointing out these concerns. Jesus prays for you and me in John 17:18: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

His Spirit also shows us areas that are (or will be) destructive in our lives (John 16:8-10, 13). He will keep revealing, and we will keep discovering, more areas that need to be turned over to the lordship of Christ.

But once we let go of that last part of ourselves we’ve been holding onto, God is able to have total access to our lives. Then—and only then—can God entirely sanctify us.

First Thessalonians 5:23 and 24 promises that:

    God himself, the God of peace, [will] sanctify you through and through. Your whole spirit, soul and body [will] be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

This total commitment may bring about a new sense of purity, power, and perfect love. It may create a feeling of special peace. But it may be accompanied with absolutely no feeling. People have different reactions after receiving Jesus as Savior. and there are different feelings when He becomes Lord of all your life. You accept salvation by faiths, not feelings. Accept this special experience by faith also. Whether you feel anything or not, you can be assured of His:

1. Purity

Jennifer had a bad reputation before she became a Christian. Because of this, she sometimes thinks "holiness" and "purity" can’t be for her. But look at some of the backgrounds of the First Church of Corinth:

    . . . the sexually immoral . . . idolaters . . . adulterers . . . male prostitutes . . . homosexual offenders . . . thieves . . . the greedy . . . drunkards . . . slanderers . . . But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

God is able to take corrupt people and transform them into holy people. Part of this change is in purifying (getting the garbage out of) old thought patterns, habits, attitudes, and motives.

John the Baptist speaks of separating the good from the bad in our lives:

    "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire . . . burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:11, 12).

Paul calls this the transforming of your mind. The Spirit cleans up our attitudes and motives and gives us the mind of Christ!

Does this mean, then, that we’ll never again fail God? Unfortunately, no.

There will be times when we fall short of God’s perfect love, simply because we’re human. Our motives can be absolutely pure, and so can our desires. But, we don’t have perfect wisdom, perfect maturity, perfect diplomacy, or perfect knowledge, so we’re bound to say imperfect words and do imperfect acts.

And purity does not make us immune to temptation. In fact, the closer we get to Christ, the more we’ll be tempted by our enemy. Remember when Christ was severely tested? It was right after He spent forty days alone with His Father, fasting. Now that’s getting close to God! But that’s also when Satan really poured it on. So, look out! The more you become like Christ, the more intense—and the more subtle—temptation will become!

That’s why we need:

2. Power

Kevin’s big problem is lack of power. He’s trying to live the Christian life by his own effort. But there’s plenty of power available for Kevin to keep his commitments. And there is strength for Jennifer to keep pure.

(1) Power to obey

The perfect love life is a life of obedience—doing what God commands us to do. If we love Him completely, we will want to obey Him completely.

You’ve probably heard Jennifer testify by blubbering out something life this: "I just looooove God so much. He means everything in the world to me, and even though I fail Him so often, He still loves me."

It’s true that God still loves Jennifer, even though she fails Him and sins. However, the question is: How much does she love God? It doesn’t fit to say, "I love Him so much" and in the same breath say, "I fail Him so often." If we love Him, we want to obey Him. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments."

What Jennifer should have said is: "God loves me so much, but my love for Him is so weak that I often fail Him and sin. Pray that I’ll learn to love God more, so I can obey Him better."

See the point? We can try harder to love God, and we can try harder to obey Him. Neither will work. Our only hope is in God. Perfect love comes from Him. And when He gives us perfect love and we love God completely, then we can obey Him completely.

The perfect love life is living about deliberate disobedience to God.

(2) Power over sin

When the Spirit cleanses and fills us, the hunger to sin is cleaned away. Certainly we all know what this hungering is–that deep down desire to disobey God.

My dad had an old pickup truck with the front wheels sadly out of alignment. It constantly pulled to the left whenever I drove it. Just to keep it out of the ditch, I had to grab the steering wheel and crank it to the right. That’s the way I drove down a straight path.

This is the way we humans are. There’s a rebellious hunger deep within us. Left alone, we are inclined toward the ditch. We hunger for sin; and after we are saved, there’s still a desire to get over into the ditch and play around with the sinful gunk from our past lives.

But when the Holy Spirit cleanses and fills our life, this rebellious hunger is corrected. It’s as if your heart gets an alignment job. We’ll be "hungry" then to love, not just for love—and we’ll want to obey God.

(3) Power of wisdom

God’s wisdom is available to His children through our transformed minds.

But even at this stage, we need to keep our thought life on the altar. Romans 5:8 warns us to keep our mind set on what the Spirit desires. Philippians 4:7-9 promises God’s protection for our minds and emotions if we dwell only on those things that are “true . . . noble . . . right . . . pure . . . lovely . . . admirable . . . excellent . . . praiseworthy.”

(4) Power to witness

Acts 1:8 promises you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses

Witnessing becomes a normal, natural part of your life as you witness with your actions, attitudes, and words.

(5) Power to overcome

Paul must have been a great sports fan. Throughout his letters, he talks about the Christian life as running, boxing, and even wrestling:

    We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9).

Hard pressed is a grappling term in the Greek. It means "pressed flat on the mat." And there are times we feel like the enemy has body-slammed us onto the canvas.

There are times we feel "punch drunk"—Satan’s rights and lefts leave us confused and perplexed. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been knocked clear out of the ring.

Paul gives hope, though, with two little words: but not. We’re pinned but not crushed. We’re confused, but not in despair. Persecuted, but not abandoned. Knocked out, but not destroyed.

The life of holiness is not a spectator sport. It’s not even "sporting." It’s a life-and-death struggle. But His Spirit gives special power to each committed Christian.It’s one rough game, but not a losing one!

(6) Power in prayer

During those times of disorientation or perplexity, we have special help form the Spirit. Romans 8:26 and 27 promise:

    In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

    There are times when we feel depressed, confused, or just empty, and we have no idea where those feelings are coming from. We could pray about the cause if we just knew what it was! During those times, God the Spirit takes our needs directly to God the Father. The Spirit knows exactly what’s wrong, so He prays for us when we don’t know what or how to pray.

    (7) Power to love

    That brings us to God’s third area of transformation:

    3. Perfect love

    And that is what "total commitment," "sanctification," "holiness," "second blessing" or whatever your group call it is all about!

    Kevin and Jennifer discovered that the Spirit-filled life comes from cooperation between God and themselves. He can only act when they allow Him access, by faith, into their lives.

    They’ve experienced an increase in purity, power, and perfect love in their lives. There will be times of "falling short" of God’s perfect love, but they are on their way to growing more and more like Christ each day. God has promised to do His part. And they are determined to do theirs.

    Copyright © 1987 James N. Watkins


Author and speaker

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