Last week we found that God expects and requires humanity to Love God and Love others. So the natural question to ask would be “Can you live up to all this perfectly?” Can you perfectly love God and perfectly love your neighbor? Now before you answer that question, let me define perfection for you. Psalm 18:30a says, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless.”
Perfection is another way of saying flawless; the word flawless is a term used in smelting gold and silver. Flawless silver is silver that has all the impurities removed, the dross and junk, the scum has been taken and all that remains is pure. Most of us have never seen metal being smelted, but another image that may help since we live near the coast is the image of ocean scum. The perfect ocean, the flawless ocean is the one where the sea is smooth and flat and that frothy scum is gone. All that froth, the stuff that looks like suds washing up on shore, those are like impurities that need to be removed in order to make the water pure.
Returning to the question, can you or I love God and our neighbor without any hint of impurity, any hint of selfishness, any hint of “what can I get out of this?” Can we love perfectly, always seeking God’s best interest and sacrificing our time, money, and reputation in order to seek what is best for someone else?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Since the entrance of sin into the world, human nature has been tainted to such a degree that perfect love for God and neighbor is impossible. Consider with me for a few moments the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5 Jesus says the following: “Anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment” (Matt 5:22). He says, “if anyone looks at a woman lustfully [he] has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). He instructs us to keep our word by “Simply letting your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’; and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matt 5:37). Those are hard enough for most people, to not get angry with others, to control their sexual thought life, to be people of integrity in our words, but then Jesus really starts getting into what it means to love and what perfection in love looks like. It means allowing others to strike you on both cheeks, it is walking an extra mile with an enemy, it is praying for your persecutors and after telling the crowds those 6 things, then he says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
We can’t live up to the Law of God and the standard of perfection God has established. There is always something lurking in our souls that chafes at these instructions of Jesus or finds excuses for not obeying them in this situation or that one, but that isn’t the way God intended it. He didn’t create humans with the inability to love. Quite the contrary, Genesis 1 records the words God used of his creation. Six times God said that his creation was good and then when he comes to humanity, he says humans were “created in his own image” (Gen 1:27). And after that when God looks upon everything that he had made he proclaims it “very good”.
Humans weren’t originally wicked or perverse. We weren’t made with a sin nature, rather we were created in God’s own image. There has been a lot of speculation about what being made in God’s image entails but personally I think the Heidelberg catechism does a great job defining it for us. The Heidelberg defines the Imago Dei as being made in “true righteousness and holiness so that [we] might truly know God [our] creator, love him with all [our] heart, and live with him in eternal happiness for his praise and glory” (HC6).
We were created to fellowship with God and relate to him unhindered. That is the story of Genesis 1 and 2. God made humanity and Adam and Eve interacted with God regularly and routinely. God walked in the garden with them, he taught them how to live, he spoke to them about the world they found themselves in, he loved them and they loved him back. Their actions were acceptable to God. Adam named the creatures and God didn’t object. He tended the garden and God was pleased. He and his wife’s thought life and internal character where pure and pleasing to God, there was not a hint of sin in their actions. They were both naked and the felt no shame (Gen 2:25). They could look upon one another in nakedness and not lust, not use one another but simply enjoy each other’s presence and God’s presence in their midst. They were righteous and holy at the beginning.
And if you are struggling with that definition of the image of God as being made in true righteousness and holiness, consider these Scriptures – Col. 1:15 “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” The apostle John calls “Jesus Christ, the righteous one” (1Jn 2:1); Paul refers to him as the “one who has become…our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30). Jesus is the image of God and he is described as righteous and holy. The author of Hebrews makes many uses of the sacrificial law to demonstrate the sinless perfection of Christ and his unsurpassed ability to relate to God and know him. Even the evangelists proclaimed that Christ loved God, obeyed him perfectly and taught God’s truth to the world.
Humans weren’t created sinful, but because of the first Adam sin entered the world. Romans 5:12 “…sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” God created humans with the ability to relate to him and be pleasing in his sight, but when Adam and Eve chose not to believe God and instead believed the lies of the serpent, then sin entered into the world and thereafter all humans became corrupt. Humanity lost its original righteousness and holiness, no longer were humans able to think properly. They had exercised their own will and in so doing had chosen to call God a liar. Consequently, their actions became twisted with one another and God. Fear entered into relationships and mistrust. Listen to their words, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (Gen 3:10). And this is followed up by blaming everyone else, instead of taking personal responsibility.
Consequently, humans began killing each other. They began fighting and bickering. They refuse to worship God and in fact, don’t even acknowledge that God is the creator. Romans 1 lists a variety of sins, which have come to be considered a natural part of the world as evidence that human sinfulness is present in our world and idolatry is rampant. The list in Romans covers everything from idolatry, to sexual dysfunction, to greed, wickedness, envy, murder, slander and so on. Truly these aren’t the actions we think about when we imagine what loving our neighbor is like.
If we were to really did into that list in Romans 1, I think we would easily conclude that whenever we see any of these behaviors rearing their ugly head in our life that it is evidence of our corrupt human nature, changed from what God intended. In fact, David cries out in Psalm 51:5 “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” He understood that sin clings to every person from the very inception of their life. Sin has so marred human nature that we can never hope to achieve righteousness and holiness by our own efforts. We are lost.
But praise God the story doesn’t stop there. I began to hint at the perfection of Christ a few moments ago. Romans 5:18-19 goes on to proclaim “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
Jesus, as the very image of God, took on human nature and reclaimed it. He restored the possibility of righteousness and holiness to the human race. In his act of incarnating into this fallen world, dying on the cross for our sins and rising from the dead in order to return to God’s right hand, justification – or right relationship with God once again became a reality. In dying Christ paid the penalty for all our disobedience, Rom. 8:3 “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
In his justice, God punished human sin and let it reap the natural consequence of sin, death, but in his mercy he himself bore the cost by letting Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, take on the wrath of God. And so God once again opened the way for a relationship where righteousness and holiness were possible. And he did it by sending the Holy Spirit to indwell those who repent and believe that Jesus is our only hope.
In sending the Holy spirit, Jesus promised and assured his disciples that they would never again be alone. They would never again face the evil of this world and the lies of the serpent without the power of God dwelling within them. In promising that the Spirit would indwell believers and bring them from death to life, Jesus was assuring all who believe in his name and bow before this throne that Adam’s sin can never again be repeated in our life with the same disastrous consequences. For if it could, then his sacrifice would have not been sufficient, and the Spirit would be a powerless being. But that is not what the word declares. It says,
Eph. 3:16-19 “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
The Spirit is powerful and what brings us full circle to that restoration of the Imago Dei in humanity. That which we lost, righteousness and holiness, relating with God and neighbor, being God’s ambassadors in the world, experiencing him personally and vividly, has once again been restored to us when the spirit comes and makes us alive again.
For again the Word promises, 2Tim. 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. God gives us the ability to love himself and our neighbor when he grants the Spirit to us without measure (John 3:34). Our situation is not hopeless, if we have Christ and his spirit. Though the circumstances surrounding human nature may seem sad and despairing, the truth of the gospel is that in Christ and empowered by his Spirit it can be even better than the Garden of Eden.
For empowered by the Spirit we can Love God.
Rom. 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
1John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
Empowered by the Spirit we can love and serve our neighbor.
Gal. 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Empowered by the Spirit we have been given gifts that are unique and allow us to build up the body.
1Cor. 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Empowered by the Spirit we have a guarantee never to be forsaken or forgotten.
2Cor. 1:22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2Cor. 5:5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Empowered by the Spirit we have one who intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray for.
Rom. 8:26 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.
Empowered by the Spirit we are full of joy once again.
Rom. 14:17-18 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.”
And because of this Spirit, and the work of Christ, we are once again pleasing to God and the image of God is restored to us, never to be lost. Praise God for Jesus Christ.