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Life Compelled by the Love of Christ

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

    As we begin 2019, we’re going to learn from 2 Corinthians, a letter the Apostle Paul wrote as he was being heavily criticized for the way he was living his life as a follower of Jesus.  And the criticisms – often filled with serious accusations – came from people in a church that he loved, a church he had founded at great cost to him personally. 

     So, why did Paul live as he did after meeting Jesus?  To get the answer, we’re going to start in the middle of Paul’s letter instead of at the beginning because, in 2 Cor 5:14-15, we find Paul explaining what it was that directed every aspect of his life.  It’s all summarized in this phrase: Christ’s love compels us – i.e., urges us forward – because we are convinced that one died for all…!” 

     My approach will be a bit like the way a photographer goes about his or her work.  When a photographer takes a picture, it is very important to get the right thing into focus.  It might be that you want the entire picture to be in focus as much as possible.  But, at other times, there is one thing that the photographer was to put in hyper-focus – into the center of the viewer’s attention.  That one thing is the important thing.

     That one thing that compels and directs everything else is the love of Christ.  For the next 9 weeks, we are going to consider how an experience of the love of Christ should compels us -- guide and direct every part of our lives.  This will be a very practical and down-to-earth series of messages.    But today, we are going to focus in on just one thing, i.e., the one thing that changes everything else.

     So, as we begin 2019, I will be asking you to look at many aspects of your life – including your attitudes, relationships, your hopes, your stewardship etc.  But, once you have become a Christian, there should be one thing that directs all those other things in your life.  Today, we will put our focus on that one thing by asking this question: What does it mean to live a life compelled by Christ’s love?  Let’s see what 2 Cor 5:14-15 says.

  1. The Discovery of Every Genuine Christian: Jesus loves you. Christ’s love compels us… (5:14a).

     This declaration that Jesus loves all people is where our Christian faith starts. I have no good news to give you today if this is not true.  God knows everything about you – even those things that you do not love about yourself and you try to hide from others.  God knows.  But, knowing everything about you, God loves you with an everlasting, unrelenting love.  Whatever you are facing today, know this:  God has not given up on you.  He loves you.  Hear the Word of God, “I pray that you… may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and that you will experience that love that goes beyond human knowing (Eph 3:17-18).” So, whatever else I ever preach here at LAC, I pray that you will grasp the message and then experience it: God knows you and loves with a depth of love that goes beyond anything you could ever ask for or even imagine.

  1. The Outworking of Jesus’s Love: Jesus died for you. We are convinced that one died for all… (5:14b).

      There is a hard and cold truth about us all that we all simply have to own up to, i.e., Jesus had to die for us or we would have no eternal hope.  This is a message that I dare not ignore or even soften when I speak to you, i.e., that there are things in your life that you know are not pleasing to God, that separate you from the holy God who loves you.  That’s true of me too – and it was true of the Apostle Paul too.  In the eyes of everyone in his society, Paul would have looked very righteous – very religious.  He wrote about that in Philippians 3.  Paul had worked hard to keep God’s law and to do what he thought was right.  But, in his heart, he knew he had not done so, not perfectly.  In fact, when Paul met Jesus he had his eyes opened to that fact. 

     But, once he saw himself as a perfect God saw him, Paul owned up to those flaws he had hidden or ignored.  When he did, he heard God say to him, “Paul, Jesus died for you.  When your faith is in him, your sins will be atoned for.  Your sins I will remember no more.”  Do you see it?  Paul’s sin was met by and exceeded by God’s love and grace. For the rest of his life, Paul considered himself the worst of all sinners – but a sinner saved by the grace of a God who loved him and never gave up on him.  And, that was what compelled his daily living.

     As I’ve spoken with a number of people this week about this message, I have been asked this question: “I see that experiencing the love of Jesus transformed Paul but how can I experience the Christ’s love the way that he did?”  It’s not an easy question to answer.  The deep experience of his love may come in different ways.  However, for the Apostle Paul, the depth of his experience of Christ’s love flowed his conviction that because of the seriousness of his sins he had no hope of earning his own way to God.  His only hope was for someone to take his place and atone for his sins.  He was in awe that Jesus loved him enough to do that.

     Jesus himself spoke profoundly about this in Luke 7.  He was in Simon the Pharisee’s house when a woman, whom everyone knew had been living a life of prostitution, broke into the house, weeping at the life she was trapped in. She wet Jesus’s feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and poured perfume on them.  What a scene that must have been in the Pharisee’s home!  When Simon the Pharisee saw this, he criticized Jesus saying, “This man couldn’t be from God or he would know that this woman is a prostitute, a sinner!”

    Jesus said to him, “Simon, I came into your house and you did not welcome me.  You didn’t even give water to clean my feet.  But this woman has wet my feet with her tears and has not stopped honoring me.  Therefore, her many sins have been forgiven as her great love shows.  But, whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.” 

     Now, let me tell you, that woman did not need forgiveness more than Simon did.  But, she recognized her need to be made clean.  She longed for a new life and saw Jesus as the only hope to receive it.  She was overwhelmed by Jesus’s readiness to see her with love, to value her as no one else had, and then to forgive her.  She experienced the love of Christ as Paul did.  She was a woman overwhelmed by the love of Christ. Our experience of God’s love is directly proportionate to our awareness of our need of forgiveness, a forgiveness made possible only by the death of Jesus for us.

     So, if you feel you are not deeply experiencing the love of Jesus, it may be that you have not yet acknowledged how desperately you needed Jesus to die for you.  As Tim Keller says, “We are more wicked than we ever dare to think.  And, we are more loved than we ever dare to hope.”

     Hear again the Word of God: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn 4:9-10).

  1. The Response to Jesus’s Love: You die too. One died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him… (5:14c-15a).

     I know you may find this teaching that all genuine Christians somehow die in order to live to be confusing – or even off-putting.  And, I will tell you, what the Bible means by “all die” is something that doesn’t come naturally to us.  So, let me explain: The death that the Bible speaks about in this case is a death to self, i.e., to a self-directed life.  Do you see how Paul defines it in v.15?  “We no longer live for ourselves.”  No, we die to that hopeless way of life that most think is real living, i.e., fulfilling my personal bucket list, building my dream house, succeeding in the eyes of the world in all I do. 

     Let me be clear here:  Many Christians actually do succeed in the things we do.  But, success as the world views success – though it often comes to Christians – does not define us.  That is not what we live for.  Not what compels us.  Paul wrote that, when we have experienced Christ’s love, we now live for the only one who died for us and rose again.  When that happens to you, you will find that your fear of failure is taken away.  You won’t fear the things you once feared, i.e., losing a competition or undergoing hardship.  Why?  Because those things are not what you live for!  You live to please the one who died for you. When you die to self all the fears of perfectionists are taken away.  The only fear you will have is displeasing God and he is the one who has already said, “There is nothing that can ever separate you from the love of God that comes in Christ Jesus (cf., Rom 8:35-39).”  That kind of fear of God takes away all other fears.

     We will come back to this point again and again in this series.  But, right now let me simply say this: This point of dying to self and living for Christ is what baptism is all about.  When you are baptized, as Romans 6 says, you tell everyone that you are buried with Christ in his death.  In other words, that old life that was always urged forward by what you want or by your desire to please others is put to death.  The sins that were a part of that life are all washed away.  Then, you come out of the water as one risen to live a new life – one compelled by, urged forward by, the love of the one who died for you and rose again for you.

     I must now ask you this:  Have you been baptized?  Perhaps today is the day that you declare, my life belongs to the one who loved me and gave his life for me.  My former self-directed life is cleansed and gone.  I want to live a life compelled by Christ’s love.  And that point brings me to my last point today:

  1. The Difference Jesus’s Love Makes: You begin to live a new life. In Christ…, the old has gone; behold, the new has come (5:17)!”

     Jesus did not die merely to forgive your sins.  He did that for sure.  But, not only for that.  Jesus died to rescue you from a life of sin.  He died and rose again for your remaking.  Tomorrow does not have to be the same as yesterday was – because Jesus can and will change things.  That’s what we will be thinking about in very practical ways over the next 8 weeks.

      Before we go to communion today, I simply want to tell you that this changed life does not happen instantly.  It is a process, a process of growing that often feels like it is going too slowly.  As I was speaking about this with some of my ministry colleagues last Tuesday, Chris Ramsey began drawing a diagram to illustrate this.  I’ve modified Chris’s sketch just a bit:

     What this diagram shows is that, in our life’s journey, God’s goal for us in sending Jesus was that all of us would become more and more like Jesus was.  It’s what the Bible speaks of as becoming complete in Christ or conformed to the image of God’s Son.  But, before we place our faith in Jesus, we live our lives as well as we can.  We have been made in God’s image so there are many hopes, and longings and actions that are consistent with the life of Jesus.  You see that at the bottom left in the diagram. But, self-directed lives cannot grow for they are not yet alive to God. In fact, usually they move farther and farther from God. 

     But, when we place our faith in Jesus, we experience the love of the one who died in our place and who makes us alive to God.  In that new life, we are to grow.  What the Bible says is that every aspect of that growth in your new life is compelled by the love of the one who gave his life for you

     So, let me ask you this directlyHave you ever experienced the love of Jesus and responded to it by saying, “Lord Jesus.  Here is my life.  I ask you to forgive whatever sins need to be forgiven.  I now turn from that life I have been living and give my entire future in faith to you.  Jesus, I entrust my whole life to you.”

     And, for the many who are here who long ago began this journey compelled by the love of Christ but have gotten stuck along the way – or even feel you have gone downhill, let me tell you what you need to move forward again:  You need a fresh experience of the love of Christ.  You must remember that without Jesus being willing to die for you, you would have no hope.  Don’t be like Simon the Pharisee who thought the woman needed God’s love and forgiveness more than he did.  You too need to be forgiven much.  And Jesus loves you so much that he is ready to forgive you much – and to start again with you.

     So, let’s pull out our kneelers for a few moments of confession and prayer.  To guide you, here is 1 Cor 5:14 again:  Christ’s love compels us because we are convinced that one died for all…! – Meditate on that and then we will receive communion together…