Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Greater love hath no man than a man lay down his life for his friends. That's what Jesus said, and that's what he did. There is no greater love than the love of God through his Son, and that's a wonderful Christmas gift.
Stay with us. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, the old song said, What the world needs now is love, sweet love, and these days the world needs love more than ever.
Of course, Dave, that's absolutely true. We do need love, but that love has to be defined. It is the love of God. Today, the word love is oftentimes misused. It's applied to things that we should not love, but the love of God as given to us in Jesus Christ and his coming at Bethlehem is what brings joy to our hearts. Well, Christmas, of course, is just around the corner, and I know that you were thinking about Christmas gifts.
We have a very special resource for you that we believe is going to be very helpful, and it will enable you to worship God better throughout the new year. The title of the book is Have You Considered? Now, in a court of law, there are only two options. One is either guilty or innocent, and when we look at nature, we have one of two options. Either we were created by a powerful, intimate, knowledgeable, omniscient God, or the world just happened. This book is committed to helping us to understand how God is the creator so that we might worship him more effectively.
Tell you more about it and how it can be yours immediately after this message. What is the most difficult attribute of God to believe in? It's not hard for us to believe that God is a God of all power.
I mean, after all, if you see the stars, you know that God must be all powerful, most assuredly. It's not hard to believe that God is a God of justice. There's something within us that cries up for justice, and we want justice, and that desire is a good biblical desire because we are created after the image of God, and we desire justice, and we can somehow grasp God's holiness. But the attribute of God, which is the most difficult to believe, is the attribute of love. And the reason that it is so difficult is because we look at the world, and the love of God seems to be so contrary to everything that we know on earth and everything that we experience. For example, the love of God is contrary to natural disasters. We know that natural disasters take place in the world, and the horrendous hurricanes such as Sandy, the devastating earthquakes in Haiti, we could go on and on and on and indicate the tremendous suffering of the human race, and that seems to be so contrary to love because those are the kinds of things that God could very easily prevent.
And then we have crimes, horrendous crimes, the shooting of children. And even though we say, well, God didn't do that, human beings did, and yes, it is true that humans did it. God didn't.
The fact is it happened on God's watch. So the question is how do we know that God loves the world? What can we point to that says this is love without ambiguity and without question? One of the most beautiful passages in all the Bible on the love of God is found actually in the book of 1 John. If you have your Bibles, you turn to 1 John chapter 4, and we can see there the love of God.
And what we're going to do is we're going to find that love where it is best seen. Even in the midst of devastation, in the midst of unanswered questions, God's love will be there. 1 John chapter 4, verse 7, Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. Whoever loves has been born and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
And he repeats those words a few verses later. Now, of course, that doesn't say that all that God is. God is love, yes. God is justice.
God is all powerful. But God is love. And we say to ourselves, where then do we see it with clarity?
And John goes on to answer our question. What I'd like to do for the next few moments, and my remarks will be few, is to look at the love of God from three perspectives. First of all, God's love has acted toward us. It has acted for us.
Let's continue reading the text. It says in verse 9, in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him. God sent his son. We're talking Christmas. We're talking Bethlehem. Do you realize that Jesus is the only one who was ever born who, because he was God, the son of God, he's the only one who was ever born who chose where he would be born, what time he would be born, and who his mother would be. Jesus made all those choices along with God the father, because other children are born, but Jesus was sent into the world.
What a difference. And the reason that he was sent into the world is very clear. It says, verse 10, in this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins. So there you have Christmas, Jesus sent into the world. There you have Easter, Jesus Christ coming to be the propitiation for our sins. Now, that word propitiation means that he is the sacrifice. He is the atoning sacrifice. Old Testament times, the high priest offered sacrifices, and especially on the Day of Atonement, there was a sacrifice that was offered, and then he went into the Holy of Holies. And you know that whole story. And it is there that the Ark of the Covenant was, and blood was put on that Ark.
Why? As an atoning sacrifice, but it only pictured the coming of Jesus. It couldn't be the real thing. And so Jesus comes, and by one offering, he perfects all those who are sanctified, the Bible says, and his one offering takes care of it all. What a marvelous Savior we have, and therein is love. You know, sometimes the impression is given wrongly, that God is a very vengeful, angry God, and then Jesus comes along and Jesus is the benevolent one. He makes a sacrifice for God the Father, but God doesn't really love us.
But thank God for Jesus, who does? That's a wrong way to look at the Trinity. You remember the Bible says, for God so loved the world. The remarkable thing about Christianity, which is opposite to other religions.
You can go on the internet and you can find out, oh, Christianity is like other religions, because there are other religions that have sacrificed, et cetera, et cetera. But only in Christianity is it true that God becomes the sacrifice. God loves the world. The decision that Jesus Christ should die was a voluntary decision, but it was made by God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in fact God created in order that he might redeem, because redemption is the sparkling jewel of his glory and of all that he is. And that's why we love him, because he first loved us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The big issue between us and God is sin. And if you don't acknowledge that in your life, you cannot be redeemed, because Jesus came to save his people, the Bible says, from their sins.
That's why he came. And of course the Bible says that he did this even before we loved him. Even when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, the Apostle Paul says.
I think of little Martha coming into a room and saying to her, Mommy, as she had one doll under one arm and another doll under the other arm, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, I love them, but they never loved me back. God loves us back, but God loves us even when we didn't love him back. Here in his love, God's love acted for us. Could I say also that God's love from another perspective acts in us. God's love acts in us. You'll notice that in this text, we should read verse 12 and following.
It says, no one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us. His love is perfected in us. By this, we know that we abide in him and he in us because he has given us of his spirit, and we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him. Verse 17, by this is love perfected in us, that we might have confidence for the day of judgment.
Over and over again, John uses the word abide. The love of God abides in all those who know God. And of course, that is proof that you are born again. Let me say here today that if you don't love God at all, if you are indifferent to him or don't care about him, or you are tempted to say that you don't owe God anything, that would be proof that you have never been born again. That's what John says here in the text. You see, when we are truly born again of the Holy Spirit, God creates within us a love that we do not have naturally. And this love is created within us. You know, it says in 1 Peter regarding Jesus, whom having not seen ye love. Now let me ask you a question. Is there someone whom you have never seen or connected with that you love?
I don't think so. You might be kindly disposed to other people. You empathize with their problems, with their sins, with their sorrows. But the fact is that we do not love unless we know people. And when we love someone whom we have never seen, whom having not seen ye love, that is really proof of the work of God in the human heart creating within us a love that we do not naturally have. And that is proof that we know God. Do you love God? I'm not saying that we love him perfectly, but we do love him because he first loved us, the text of scripture says.
So let's keep that in mind. God's love works in us, but God's love also acts through us. And for this, I'm going to go all the way to verse 19.
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar. Thirty years ago, when all of you were a little bit younger, I preached a message here from this pulpit entitled Three Big Lies. And they're all really from the Gospel of John here. In chapter one, he says, if you say that you walk in the light and yet there's darkness in your life, you lie. Chapter two, he says, if you say that you know God and don't accept the divinity of Jesus, you lie. John is very, very upfront, isn't he? And he's saying, if anyone says, well, I love God, but I hate so-and-so, your brother in the church, you're a liar.
He says, because he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, once again arguing it's easier for us to love people whom we know and see, how can he love God whom he has not seen? When you get married, and some of you have learned this possibly too late, you not only get your mate, but you get the family too. I don't know of any instance, though perhaps it has happened, where someone says, I want to marry you, but I don't want your family. I don't want your relatives.
I just want you alone. When you receive Jesus Christ as your savior, the truth is, like it or not, you get all of us. You get all of his brothers.
You get his sisters. You get everybody who's related to Jesus. And here we are in all of our perfections and imperfections, which should really be highlighted.
And here we are in all of these shortcomings. And the Bible says, I'm putting you together that you might love one another. That's why there's emphasis today on the computer and how you can go to church on the computer. And I suppose that all throughout the world there are people listening to this message today because we stream live all over the world and have heard from at least 80 different countries. So we're glad for that.
And sometimes if the time zone is right, I listen to church services on the internet too. But there's nothing that can really take the place of individually getting to know other believers and showing them love, despite the fact that perhaps they hurt us or they perhaps are so imperfect that we find it very difficult to be around them. And of course, they feel the very same way about us.
The Bible says, don't tell me that you love God and you hate your brother. Because if you love God and you've received his divine forgiveness and you've received his grace, you will be kindly disposed even to those who have done evil against you, because the love of God is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given unto us. I've often said it and I'm saying it again. The world can out entertain us. The world can out give us.
The world can outnumber us. But let it never be said that the world can out love us, because we have within us the love of God that has been shed abroad in our hearts. And so what John is really saying is, is that the love of God is lived out in our hearts.
Let me nail this down for all of us by making two concluding statements to help us to understand the implications. First of all, love is very costly. Love is very costly. The Bible says that God gave, and I read it too quickly, didn't I? God gave his one and only son. This is verse 9. God sent his one and only son into the world. Cost God. In Italy, there is a church with a painting that I think represents very good theology. The painting is of the crucifixion of Jesus with the nails through his hands and his feet. But there's also a shadow behind Jesus, and that shadow is God the Father, and it is as if the nails have gone through him as well.
He also suffered. You know, in theology, there is a disagreement. There are those who say that God cannot have emotions because the argument is that if you say God has emotions, then you're saying that God is changeable, and I am the Lord, and I change not. I disagree with that theology. I read the Bible, and I find that God is a God of deep emotion.
That's why in the Old Testament it talks about God loving and God being angry and God responding. Let us say it categorically that when Jesus died on the cross, considering the love between the Father and the Son and the relationship of the Trinity, considering all that, it is God who suffered. It is God who suffered. Now, he suffered voluntarily.
That's the thing. Some of us suffer, and it isn't voluntary at all. It's imposed upon us. But God chose to suffer to redeem us and to show us love, and love is always costly. Jesus said in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, he said, love your enemies, be kind to them, do good to them, because then you are like the Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Father, for he also is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
You want to be God-like, love your enemies, do good to them, pray for them. Bless those who curse you, said Jesus. And you see, that love costs us something. It costs us something when we exercise it.
It also costs us something when it is withheld from us. You know the price of love, to be in love with someone, and then they reject you, and it hurts a lot more. Love has within it a cost. And when we ask ourselves the question, where is God, when we look at natural disasters and when we see evil on the world, what we do is we hurry to the cross, we hurry to Jesus Christ, and there we see love very clearly manifest. Wasn't it a man by the name of Frederick Lehman who wrote the words, could we with ink the ocean fill, and where the sky of parchment made, where every stock on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade to write the love of God above would drain the oceans dry, he wrote.
And even though the scroll went from sky to sky, I didn't practice that particular quoting it before I came here, so it ended a little roughly, but you do get the point, don't you? God loves you, and it's costly to him, but he loves you anyway, and we should love in return. There's a second lesson, and that is that love actually heals.
Love actually heals. You'll notice it says this in the text, verse 17, by this is love perfected within us so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is, so also we are in the world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. What John is saying is this, that if you are not sure of God's love toward you, you're going to live in fear of judgment. And of course, only those who are born again have that great sense of confidence, another word that John likes to use and uses throughout his book.
But what John is saying is that God loves you so much that if you knew as a believer that his love toward you was totally unconditional and that he loves you and loves you and loves you anyway, imagine the confidence that you would have in God's presence. Imagine how that would free you in your life. No need to magnify what you're able to do. No need to try to build up your image.
No need to try to be the richest person on the block. No need for that because you're loved by God. Yesterday, those of us who were here at the women's luncheon, we heard a marvelous testimony of a young woman who grew up and knew something was wrong in her family, something about her. She was treated differently. The age of 18 before she goes to college, she is told that she is adopted and her aunt actually turned out to be her biological mother.
You can imagine, and her biological father was in prison for selling drugs. You can imagine this great sense of identity, this identity crisis. And over and over again, this young woman used the word love, how love healed her, God's love, the love of other people. Look at what the Bible says in 1 John, we're still there, chapter 3, verse 1. See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God, and so we are.
The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we shall be has not yet appeared, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And I want to say wow. And my friend, I'm sure that in your heart today, you also say wow.
Isn't it wonderful that during this time of year, we have the opportunity of letting people know that we have a God who accepts us through Jesus Christ, our Lord. I'm holding in my hands a book. It's a resource, hardback resource, 365 readings for the brand new year. Have you ever heard of a bird by the name of Curlew?
I hadn't. But in the May 23rd section of this book, I learned something, and that is that this bird hatched in Alaska. The parents abandon it after about five weeks, and they fly off to Fiji. And you know, later on these little birds, they grow up and they become strong and they find their way to Fiji as well. A miracle.
Who programmed them to be able to do that? God. The intention of this book is to help all of us to worship God better. Now for a gift of any amount, this book can be yours. And by the way, as we think about this Christmas season, remember that we are listener supported.
Hope that you have a pen or pencil handy, because here's what you can do. Go to rtwoffer.com. That's rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. By the way, this is the first time we're offering this special resource entitled, Have You Considered?
Go to rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. God bless you as we work together. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you find God's roadmap for your race of life. Jesus said, Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed. Next time, why freedom is only found in living without the shackles of sin. Thanks for listening. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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