"Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame." (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Do You Love Me?

I wasn’t sitting on the seashore warming my hands by a charcoal fire like Peter.  But I was confronted with the same issue, and just like Peter, three times.

Actually I was at the duck club.  A company with which I have a close relationship owns a duck club on property it leases in Northeast Arkansas.  When the old farmhouse that is there is not being used, I can go there to spend some time in prayer and solitude.  (I am re-discovering the “spiritual disciplines” which include fasting, prayer, solitude and silence.  I’ll write more about that later.)  The duck club is a perfect place to pray, and perhaps more importantly, to hear God’s quiet and gentle voice.  I go there alone; there’s no TV or radio – just the wind and several thousand birds enjoying the rice fields that surround the farmhouse.

You’ll remember that about a week after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His closest disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21).  This was the time when Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  It is interesting to note that just a few days earlier, while warming his hands at another charcoal fire, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

On one particular trip to the duck club, I was studying John 14, and the Holy Spirit (Jesus-in-Spirit living in me) was confronting me with the same issue.  Do you love me?  My immediate response was, “Yes!  Of course I love you!”  But then He challenged my answer...three times:

First, it was verse 15: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  “Okay,” I said, “I understand that.  I will do that.”

Then it was verse 21: “He that hath my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”  This changed the whole issue.  In verse 15, the condition was “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Now the “If” was different:  If you keep my commandments, you are someone who loves me.”  At that moment I could think of some places where I wasn’t living in total obedience.

Finally (and the third time), the Holy Spirit drove it home in verse 23: “If a man love me, he will keep my words.”  There it was.  My love for Jesus is clearly and unmistakably defined and revealed by my obedience.

At that moment, God’s quiet and gentle voice was loud and clear. 

At first my mind was flooded by memories of the many, many times I had been disobedient.  But those memories were quickly laid aside as sins that God had forgiven and remembered no more.  So I wasn’t going to remember them anymore either.

But I was confronted with my repeated failures, the recurring disobedience.  I’m not fighting new battles, just the same old ones over and over.  Those instances brought my love for Jesus into clear question.

My mind went to the Apostle Paul’s classic description of the battles he fought and lost. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, ESV).  And I thought about the many times I had laughed when repeating what I had heard someone else say, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh has it surrounded.”

How could my love for Jesus be challenged when my spirit is willing, but my flesh is so weak?  But, without question, the Holy Spirit was challenging my love for Jesus.

This happened months ago, and it was been a matter of frequent prayer and study for me since.  Here’s what the Holy Spirit has been teaching me.

First, it was true that my spirit was willing and my flesh was weak.  And I was doing the things I hated.  That was the state of my condition, but it was not where God wanted me to stay.  And it wasn’t where I had to stay.  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh has it surrounded” was just a sorry excuse for my recurring disobedience.  (The best definition I’ve ever heard for an excuse is “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie,” and that applied here.)

Second, God can grow me to where both my spirit and my body can be brought into submission to Him…not perfectly in this life, but a lot doggone closer to it than I was!  This growth is known as “spiritual transformation.”

Spiritual transformation into Christlikeness…is the process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it takes on the character of the inner being of Jesus himself.  The result is that the “outer” life of the individual increasingly becomes a natural expression of the inner reality of Jesus and of his teachings.  Doing what he said and did increasingly becomes a part of who we are (italics added).[1]

In other words, as Jesus is formed in me (which I so desperately desire) then how He would act in my circumstances and situations becomes the natural expression of how I will act in those circumstances and situations.

For instance, in His Sermon on the Mount in phrases such as “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” or “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” these are not as much commands that we must obey as much as they are descriptions of how we will act automatically when Jesus has been formed in us.

This is why I have become an apprentice of Jesus, which is another way to say I am a disciple of Jesus.  I am learning how to live my life as He would live it if He were I.  And that means I must be transformed – and I am being transformed.

This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20).  As Dr. Willard precisely explained it,

We take action to accomplish the will of God in his power.  Our tiny “willpower” is not the source of our strength.  We hardly notice any exercise of it, though it is fully dedicated to carrying out God’s purposes in every respect.  But we are carried along by the power of the divine drama within which we live actively engaged.  So far from struggling to resist sin, we are devoted to realization of righteousness all around us.[2]

This is where those “spiritual disciplines” are becoming such an essential part of my life. Jesus spent 40 days after His baptism in the desert in solitude, fasting and prayer, and He frequently withdrew from everyone to pray, sometimes all night.  After his conversion, Paul spent three years in the desert of Arabia in solitude, silence, fasting and prayer (Gal. 1).  How can I possibly expect to live in obedience and submission to the will of the Father without doing the same things?

This is about “putting off the old man” and “putting on the new man” (Colossians 3).  It is about the transformation that comes by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).  Here is the exciting fact!  I can put off the old man and put on the new!  My mind can be renewed!  My mind is being renewed!  I am being transformed!  All, entirely, by the grace of God as I cooperate with Him.

How I long for the day when I can bless those who curse me without having to think about it.  I so want to get there before I transition into heaven.

[1] p. 159
[2] p. 152

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