The Care and Feeding of the New Heart: True Love
Good-and-Godly-day, my race-running friends in Christ (Philippians 2:16)! Great to have you back at the Training Table to chow down on a feast for the born-again heart.
For the foreseeable future, we’re going to enjoy and seek to employ a smorgasbord of spiritual life-giving taste treats for our born-again, Spirit-filled, saved-to-serve… heart.
Life: What’s love got to do with it? In the abstract that’s not a bad question or theme to a love song, right? But since we as a culture have slipped so far down… E.g., off… the slope of degradation of what “True Love” actually involves, it’s a very hard question to answer.
Akin to the saying, “If you want to find out something about water, don’t ask a fish.”, today, we are so immersed in adulterated love—egotism, narcissism, scorn, lust, contempt, promiscuity—we have little basis whatsoever for knowing the authentic version.
The degradation of True Love is nothing new: Not long after God made Adam and Eve the first man and woman to, a) Love Him, b) Love each other and, c) Love creation, neighbor (Genesis 1, 2), they turned from God and loved self over God (Genesis 3)—which always spawns lesser gods: The sinful heart is an “fabricum idolorum”, an “idol factory”, as Calvin said.
Ever since this rather early time in the history of mankind, “In the Beginning…” (Genesis 3), all of mankind has had the nature of this same Original Sin of self-over-God love, AND the manifold, varied, ever-expanding and grossly creative habits of sinning which flows from it:
Substituting self love for God’s Love (Psalm 51; Jeremiah 17:9), by suppressing the True Truth (last week’s Training Table, Romans 1:18-32; 3:2) and Love of God (Exodus 20:3-6; Jeremiah 2) is at the heart of the matter of both “indelible Sin and everyday sinning” (Romans 7). It’s a sin problem so big, it needed a Savior like none bigger!
And I would be as cruel and culpable as your oncologist knowing you (or anyone) has cancer and call it the common cold because bad news it tough to deliver—and then prescribe an aspirin—rather than a plausible road to a cure. We have to face the Sin and sinning problem in order realize that God’s broad and deep True Love is the Good News, and the cure of the cross.
The Diminution of God’s True Love and Truth
Taking into account last week’s menu of ways True Truth is a feast for the heart (and a famine without it); and considering True Love for today, the fact that our Sin and our sinning so erodes BOTH, speaks to how Dostoevsky wrote of the organic nature of the problem:
“The man who [suppresses truth and] lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a place that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love [as God’s True Love defines], and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov—parentheses added; see Romans 1:18-32)
Looking… Unceasing Striving… for Love in all the Wrong Places
Like so many folks in this modern age, when I was a youngster, I was immersed in a pathologically narcissistic, shame-based, and highly critical home. The result was that I was insatiable in my hunger to find True Love—but I looked in all the way wrong and destructive places: Becoming a narcissist myself, I abused relationships of all kinds. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically… I was holistic in my appetite for satisfying my own selfish needs… My unmet need to be loved by True Love, and then to Truly Love left me making loves of many things… but not the real thing: God’s True Love.
As the example of the inset picture provides, as a love-starved, ultra-egotist, I was also an ultra-marathoner: Like all misplaced loves, I made GOOD things, ONLY things. I ran hundreds of miles; I made an excuse of praising the creation of the Colorado Rockies, but never knew the Creator; I gained the temporary approval of men, the world; I substituted eternal things for temporary, fleeting things; ironically, I set a world record [inset photo] hoping more than anything in the world I would be loved and capable of loving; it all came to an abrupt end when God revealed the well-formed idols of my heart—and in 1983 I saw the utter darkness of my heart, cried out for forgiveness and the True Love of God, was born again, and THEN… not until then… began the long, arduous, yet glorious journey of growing to love God, myself, and others too.
“What ever became of sin?” (Dr. Karl Menninger, M.D., 1988)
As a well-respected “science-based psychiatrist”, over time Menninger realized that moral and mental health were inextricably bound—and the cultural, humanistic eradication of the notion of Sin and sinning left human beings adrift in a sea of despair, self-help, over-medication, and ceaseless striving… to regain their health… which only made things much, much worse.
As the title and premise of Menninger’s book suggests, once any culture gets so “sophisticated” (anti-theistic, naturalistic, humanistic) it forgets the basis of what it means to be “divinely yet sinfully human”, there is no human activity that will not be confused for what it truly is: Blessed by God’s graces in many ways yet horribly blemished by our Sin and sinning nature—with but one cure for it all: Jesus Christ (John 3:16) and His sacred heart of True Love within us.
As C. S. Lewis wrote, “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves… invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long and terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”(Mere Christianity)
[What’s so troubling and problematic about the Sin problem and it’s only solution in Christ is that it wasn’t very long ago that our culture generally knew the problem and the solution as a matter of course. Today, if tested via “the man on the street interview”, it’s likely that a tiny portion of people would respond by identifying the real problem and only solution to the mess we’re in.]
So, even though the degradation of Love is nothing new, in Western culture the further we get away from the Fall (Genesis 3) the more sophisticated—in the most base way—we have gotten in debasing the embodiment, definition, and practices of True Love that glorifies God and blesses His creation—especially human kind. “True Lust”—the fruits of which really got hold during the Sexual Revolution of the ‘60’s, but took root much earlier in Enlightenment philosophy that freed us from a dependency upon God—has won out over True Love… in spades.
“10 Steps”: We Have to Go Back… to Remember, Reform, Revive, and Renew True Love in our Heart
Even though it’s not fun and easy in our hurry-scurry, do-all-things-so-fast-it’s-blurry… culture, we have to go back a ways, and be reminded of God’s Story and the foundations of the faith in order to be present in God’s True Love by reforming True Truth, reviving the Spirit within, and renewing our heart’s commitment to God’s view of True Love.
- The Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the beginningless beginning of a Love relationship. Not some version of self-congratulatory, ego-based self-love in admiring one another, but True Love based on the glory each person of the Trinity brings to the love relationship and the praise due their nature, names, and Triune “independent-yet-interdependent” relationship.
- The first “overflow of Trinitarian Love” (that we know of) is their partnership in Creation whereby God the Father thought creation; God the Son spoke creation; and God the Holy Spirit hovered and fluttered creation into existence “ex nihilo”, out of nothing (Genesis 1, 2).
- There was no reason whatsoever for the Trinity to create outside its own perfect ecosystem of True Love other than a manifestation of the God’s sovereign Love and Truth extending itself for the love of another. The Trinity hadn’t gotten bored or lonely. It expressed itself outside of time, and initiated time and all life, purely out of God’s Triune True Love and Truth.
- The consummate, highest, best, “very good-est” (Genesis 1:31) manifestation of God’s (True Truth) and Love is the first man and woman—Image Bearers of God—created to, a) love God, b) love one another, and c) love, care for creation, and neighbor as self.
- Since God’s Love—and all love—requires the giver and receiver of love to respond in love… To reciprocate in Love… Or not… Adam and Eve were provided the free will choice to love or NOT to love God, in return for His providential, indefatigable, and sovereign Love of them.
- They failed the test (Genesis 3:1), disobeyed God (Genesis 3:6), loved self over God, made of themselves lesser idol-gods, and infected by spiritual inheritance the entirety of the human race after them (Genesis 3:16; Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; 5:12; James 4:17).
- But, God’s Love didn’t quit—even though it was clearly within His justifiable right to do so (Exodus 20:1-26; Ezekiel 25:17). And at just the right time (Romans 5:6), God sent His one and only Son (John 3:16) to suffer and die for the Sin (inherited) and sins (of habit) of the whole world (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 9:6; Luke 2:7; John 1:14)—for those who would repent, turn, and place their trust and faith in Jesus as Savior (salvation is needed first) and as Lord (disciples—beginning as spiritual babies, relearning to love—can then follow Jesus) (Luke 13:3; 1 John 1:9; Acts 3:19-20; Revelation 2:5).
- THEN, and only then… has any human being been made a New Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and is made capable (John 14:23) of recouping the Love and True Truth of God the Father and the Son—by means of the person, power, and work of the Holy Spirit (John 13-17: please read it all)!
- The simplest yet most complicated (due to how twisted Sin and sinning had made things) concept God ever made in True Truth and True Love is this good news of the gospel, “We are more sinful than we could ever dare imagine, and yet more loved than we could ever hope for”. (Jack Miller)
- The Gospel of Jesus Christ—Who died once and for all Sin and sinning—has made the Way, the Truth, and the Life for any fallen Image Bearer to be reformed (back to True truth, doctrine), revived (by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit), and sent out on mission as a constructive revolutionary (to help transform the world as the light and salt of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The consummation of God’s plan or redemption will bring Eden back to earth, make all things new, and perfectly restore God’s perfect True Love and Truth (Revelations 21)!
The Father and the Son come to indwell the repentant, forgiven Believer—regenerated, born-again, raised from the deadness of Sin and sinning, purely by God’s costly and unmerited grace and the re-creative power of and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ (John 16:14), and takes what belongs to Christ—given Him by the Father—and shows it to us: How to love God, love ourselves, and love our fellow man—beginning in the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman… As Christ loves the Church.
ERGO… the persons, power, and potential of the Trinity’s Love (and True Truth) is now re-created in the heart of the Disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no possibility of God’s Love being spread abroad in the heart and in the world… in any other way (John 14:6).
Don’t knee-jerk to the “exclusivity argument”, Beloved: All religions claim exclusivity. Since it’s logically impossible for all of them to be True Truth, will we do the work to see which are true and which are false?
Praise God He has most mercifully made a way at all… that releases His True Love and True Truth back into a dark and decaying world—in order to usher in the New Heavens and New Earth when Jesus returns— first, one heart at a time, and finally, in the Second Coming, in person once again (Revelation 1:7)!
Without the True Love of the Father, the coming of the Son, and the regenerating person and power of the Holy Spirit, there simply could be NO salvation and sanctification (being conformed into Jesus’ loving and truthful likeness):
God’s True Love and True Truth is restored by the Gospel—and is the beginning (Galatians 2:20) of our living in complete forgiveness (Romans 8), gracious obedience (John 14:15), ongoing repentance (1 John 1:9), fellowship with the Trinity (John 17:23), serving in the unity of The Body (the Church, 1 Peter 3:8), and God’s Love and Truth expressed to all we meet (1 John 4:7)… each “Today…” (Psalm 95:7-8), until Jesus returns or we’re taken up to him in eternal life!
Please notice… “Jesus paints an exquisite picture to express the beauty and intimacy of union with the Father and the Son, by the Spirit IN THOSE WHO BELIEVE. It involves nothing less than the Father and the Son making their home in the heart of the Believer (John 14:23). Significantly, Jesus does not require believers to do a dozen things—BUT ONLY TO BELIEVE AND TO LOVE.” (Sinclair Ferguson)
“For [the] freedom [to love God, self, and neighbor] Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1—parentheses added)!
See y’all next week as we will chew on, The Care and Feeding of the New Heart: Gratitude—as I am so completely full of… for God and each of YOU!
Spiritual Growth / Love, Ligonier Ministries
Recouping True Love and Community, Redeemer Presbyterian Church