Trinity Two Sermon 2006
Love, Hate, Life, and Death
“Come on, people now, smile on
your brother, everybody get together, try and love one another right
now.” So sang the singer
of the popular song. But
there’s a problem. You
have no brother to smile on and you have no love to give until you have
passed out of death into life. Life
comes first. Then love
comes with it. To attempt
to love without first passing from death to life is futile.
It won’t work. It
won’t be love.
“We know that we have passed
form death to life, because we love the brethren.”
So says the apostle. We
know. But we don’t pass
from death to life by means of loving the brethren.
We pass from death to life by being born from above.
It is as the Holy Spirit penetrates the hardness of our hearts
and regenerates us that we pass from death to life. We see this. We
recognize this. We know
this as we love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The love that God pours into our hearts doesn’t originate in
us. It comes from God. It is the love of Jesus laying down His life for us.
This is a hard love that will tolerate no opposition.
Jesus loved Peter when He scolded him with the words, “Get
behind me, Satan.” Jesus
could not tolerate anything that would stand in the way of His love for
us. Peter had said that
Jesus should not have to suffer and die.
Jesus called Peter Satan for opposing the requirement of divine
love. God’s love demanded
that Jesus suffer and die, bearing the sin of the entire human race.
God’s love is no sissy love that runs away when faced with
opposition. God’s love
embraces the pain, the suffering, and the rejection. It faces hell itself in order to deliver His beloved from her
own well deserved punishment.
When this love comes to us and
becomes ours it changes us from the inside.
When we talk about the love of God that brings us forgiveness of
sins we use the word justification.
When we talk about how this love changes us on the inside we use
the word sanctification. First
God justifies us. He
renders a verdict upon on. For
the sake of Christ’s obedience, God declares us to be righteous.
He reckons Christ’s righteousness to us, even as He reckoned
our sin to Christ. What is
Christ’s is now ours, just as what is ours became Christ’s.
This love is complete. It
is perfect. There is no way it can improve.
This is because Jesus is completely innocent and His
righteousness fully satisfies the demands of divine love.
His love lacks nothing. There
is no selfishness, no hatred, no lust, and no malice. There is nothing impure at all in His love.
He laid down His life for us.
This is the ground of our justification.
The righteous act of obedience that Jesus Christ offered up to
God for the world is what justifies us.
We are justified by Christ’s blood.
We are justified through faith because faith is the only way to
receive the righteousness of Christ.
Those who are justified through
faith are also sanctified. Faith
receives love. It receives
the forgiveness of sins. This
forgiveness changes us on the inside.
This change is called sanctification.
God replaces hatred with love.
He changes the way we think and feel.
We learn to love one another.
The love that comes to us from Jesus laying down His life for us
moves us to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians.
The perfect love of God then becomes perfected in us.
It is perfected within us but it is not entirely perfect within
us in this life. It
competes with our sinful flesh. Our
flesh selfishly refuses to love. Our
love fails because of our own sin and weakness.
But God’s love does live within us.
It makes us holy, that is, it sanctifies us.
Only in heaven will our sanctification be perfect as we are
completely conformed to God’s love in every respect.
God’s love drives our love.
It is never the other way around.
St. John makes this crystal clear.
We love because He first loved us.
His love comes to us and brings new life with it.
Only then can we love. Only
when we are justified can we become sanctified.
And this justification is perfect.
It is complete. It
is flawless. Jesus compares it to a good tree that bears good fruit.
Only a good tree can bear good fruit.
Only when we are justified can we be sanctified.
The change that God works in us He works in us through the very
same love by which he justifies us.
Our love doesn’t bring us out
of death to life. God’s
love in Jesus does that. But
if you are filled with hatred you remain in death.
“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no
murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
We know this text. We learn it as children.
We learn at a very young age to deny that we hate anyone at all.
We will sincerely dislike someone, loath him, despise him, and
wish him every kind of evil, but we will deny that we hate him.
We cannot confess to murder.
It is too painful to do.
But hatred is hatred regardless
of what you call it. And
hatred is a poison that kills Christians.
Hatred is murder. No
murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Love is joined to life. Hatred
is joined to death. Hatred
cannot bring life. It can
only kill. When we choose to harbor bitterness against those who have
done us wrong; when we bring to mind again and again the sins of those
who have hurt us; when we repeat judgments against our brothers instead
of defending them and explaining their actions in the kindest possible
way we hate. We murder.
We deny that we have passed out of death into life.
This is no minor matter.
This is a matter of life and death.
The love that justifies us is the love that forgives us our sins.
This love is at the center of our lives.
More than that, this love defines our lives.
The death out of which we have passed is hatred.
The life we have entered is love.
The love of God is given to us in the forgiveness of our sins.
Our love for our brothers is the same.
It is given in the forgiveness of sins.
When we forgive we give. We give all that we are and have. Now here we must point out that God calls us to love certain specific people. We are called to love fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers. We are called to love people we see every day. There is a certain abstract and unreal love for mankind that really means nothing more than to serve as a platform for moral posturing. Love doesn’t impose. Love doesn’t exalt itself. Love does what the beloved needs and it does so in humility.
To hate what is evil and to
cling to what is good is first of all to love.
It is to love those who do us wrong and who refuse to acknowledge
that they have done us wrong. God
didn’t wait until we repented of our sin to love us and to send His
only begotten Son into the world to rescue us from our sins.
God didn’t wait until we loved Him to proclaim His love to us.
He didn’t require us to do a thing before He came to us in love
and forgave us all our sins.
Only God’s love in Christ can
cure us of hatred. And we
need to be cured. True love
is always in deed and truth. God’s
love is true. There is
nothing insincere about it. The
deed and the love are identified. The
famous passage every Christian learns in Sunday school or around the
dinner table at home tells us in what way God loved.
“God so loved the world” means “This is how God loved the
word.” In what way was
that? He gave.
He didn’t offer. He gave. He
didn’t just talk. He did. And so we do. We
bless. We pray for those
who do us wrong. We ask God
to forgive them. Just as
God has covered our sins by the blood of His Son, so we cover the sins
of our brothers and sisters by confessing that Christ died for them.
We treat them as if they are saints.
God has blessed us with this
world’s goods. He has
given us more than we need. When
we give to help those in need we love as we have been loved.
Charity begins at home. Caring
for those that God has entrusted to our care is the most wonderful work
a Christian can do. God
accepts the humble care we give to those who need our care.
He accepts this as a wonderful gift given to His own glorious
majesty. There is nothing greater than this. Those who bask in the praise of the world because of their
self-appointed and quite public displays of goodness have their reward.
The Christian’s reward is the approval of God.
The Lord Jesus set aside the glory that belonged to Him and in
humility joined the human race. In
His living – and especially in His dying – He revealed God’s love
to the world. When we love
as He has loved us we offer the greatest gift we could offer.
True, all of our offerings are tainted by sin.
We remain sinners living in a sinful world.
We are not fully sanctified in this life.
But God has covered our sins by the blood of His Son.
He sees only the pure saint that He has declared us to be.
When we love our brothers and sisters in Christ – especially
those with whom we live and work day by day – we are loving God.
This is the new life, the abundant life, the eternal life to
which we have been called.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus