Sometimes it seems that we’ve reduced the love of God to a few clichés and sound bites. The result distorts the nature of God and robs discipleship of its passion. If we are to understand and experience the magnitude of God’s love that is essential for spiritual maturity (Ephesians 3:14-17), we must break free from such reductionistic and shallow thinking.
In a previous blog “Getting Our Minds Around God’s Love,”
I suggested that God’s love is like refracted light. In its unity it appears as white light, but in its complexity (multi-dimensional expressions) it appears as the colors of the rainbow. When the white light of God’s love touches the prism of broken humanity, it is refracted into its various colors.
Before we look at the colors of the love of God, let’s briefly look at several foundational principles that help us see God’s love more clearly.
1. Love is known by the actions it produces.
2. Love is experienced by responding to the love offered.
3. Conditions and merit are distinctively different; grace and conditions are not mutually exclusive.
Principles 1 and 2 are fairly self-evident and reciprocal sides of the same concept. Love may exist but remain unknown without some form of expression. The familiar statement by John illustrates the point. “For God so loved the world that He gave . . . ” (John 3:16). Love here is expressed in giving. In the familiar 1 Corinthians 13 passage, Paul also connects love to various expressions.
On the other hand, to be experienced love requires a response. The response required in John 3:16 is to “believe.” Our response of belief does not create or change the reality of either the love of God or its expression, but it does allow us to experience it.
In principle 3 there seems to be the greatest amount of misinformation, resulting in confusion and the marginalization of key biblical texts on the love of God. Merit is the idea of gaining something by effort or work and it is opposed to grace. We work for an employer to get wages that are paid in exchange for the effort—no grace involved. Spiritually, we merit or deserve death because of our sin. But in His grace God offers us eternal life.
Conditions, though, are not the same as merit and do not contradict grace. Conditions are like the trigger that fires a rifle. Loaded and primed, the bullet waits for the action of the trigger. Pulling the trigger does not earn the response of the bullet’s power, but it does release it.
Our lives contain many examples of grace, requiring action that would never be confused with merit. Recently my wife and I were given tickets to a concert at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center in Kansas City. The tickets were a gracious, unmerited gift. Yet before they were effective, we had to pick them up and present them at the door. Both grace and conditions coexisted in our concert experience.
God’s promises in Scripture are unmerited, yet most of them include conditions. When we equate merit and conditions, we apply promises out of context or marginalize them altogether. Consider promises like Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” The promised outcome is peace, but the condition is steadfast trust in God. We should not expect the outcome if the conditions are not met.
Maintaining the distinction between merit and conditions is critical to our understanding and experiencing the iridescent love of God. The refracted colors of God’s love are linked to conditions—but never to merit.
Do you agree that conditions and merit are distinctively different, that grace and conditions are not mutually exclusive? What examples from Scripture and everyday life come to mind?
Contact Ron or learn more about his and his wife Mary's work with Navigator Church Ministries here