Through Jesus, God makes himself known to us as the One who loves. To understand this “love” we must not begin with our own ideas of what love is. We must rather pay attention to who God is as made known in Jesus. In him, we discover that the One who loves gives himself totally to create communion with us. God does not will to be without us nor to leave us without him. So he acts, in love, to restore us to himself in spite of what we are like. Yes, the One who loves pours himself out without restraint for those who reject him in order to take them up into the communion of his eternal love as Father, Son and Spirit.
However, when considering what God is like, too many allow God as Judge to predominate. Make no mistake, God is Judge. But when we see that God is love, the meaning of Judge is somewhat different. With God as love fully in view, we see that God’s judgement is an expression of the love that he is. The Triune One is an inexhaustible fountain of love that overflows and expresses itself in all he does. So the One who loves must expresses his love in the justice that makes everything right in his world. That includes pursuing restorative justice because he does not want to simply punish offenders. He wants to restore them to fellowship within his family. So, in love, the Judge himself is judged for us so that we might live with him.
As those who are so well loved our hearts yearn to live in ever closer communion with One of such beauty.
God is both Father and Judge, but should we put God as Judge before God as Father? If we do so we may see God as one who primarily seeks a legal settlement with us rather than a restored relationship. We may also gain the impression that God first needed to quench his righteous wrath before he could bring himself to love us. But this is plainly not so. Paul tells us that it was while we were yet sinners that God demonstrated his love for us at the cross (Rom 5:8). Christ cannot be thought of as the one who changes God making him merciful towards us.
Of course God is Judge and he must put everything right between us “legally”. But the legal aspect must never take centre stage. Rather than putting the legal first we must consider God as the triune communion of love who wants family relationship with us. And who desires this so strongly he became one of us to lift us up into his own life.
We must continually clarify this relational vision by always looking to who God is in Christ. In Jesus, we see God as Father who loves us even though we don’t love him in return. In him, we also see that the Father’s all-embracing purpose for humanity is relational rather than judicial. And what God is in Christ he ever was and is in himself. Christ’s coming among us in the likeness of sinful flesh is the very movement and expression of God’s Fatherly love towards us.
The good news announces that God is love and even though we reject his love he does not cease to love us. Rather, in Christ, he has acted to reconcile us to himself. That’s because God is love and he created us in love and for love as dearly loved children in the mutual relations of love.
But the message of good news can sound like bad news when it presents God as the Judge whose primary concern is our conformity to his law. The judge who deals with our failure to conform by granting us right legal standing before him.
Jesus unveils God to us as loving Father who is open, relational and self-giving towards us. The Father who restores love relationships with estranged people through his dearly loved Son. This loving Father that we meet in Jesus cannot be thought of primarily as a Judge seeking a legal settlement.
And so the good news makes family images central rather than courtroom images. God as Judge does grant us right legal status through all that Jesus did for us. Nevertheless, the Father’s primary purpose is to include us in the love relationship he has with his Son by the Spirit . Just as the Father is in love relationship with his unique Son, so we are called into love relationship with the Father as dearly loved children in union with his Son by the Spirit.
From time to time we are reminded that we can only be right with God through Jesus. These reminders fix our faith fully on all that Jesus is for us so that we are turned out of ourselves to Christ alone.
But all too often, we are told that we must now live holy lives. And the result is we are turned back on ourselves introspectively concerned to be all that God demands by our own efforts. We are no longer turned out of ourselves to Christ alone but rather preoccupied with our own performance. Against this, the New Testament calls us to see that Christ isn’t only our righteousness but also our holiness (1 Corinthians 1: 30). He alone is the holy one who is fully pleasing to his Father. And our holiness is sharing in his holiness. In union with Christ, his righteousness becomes ours and also his holiness. One with Christ we are fully set apart for God as his holy ones.
Nevertheless, we are called to become more and more holy in our daily lives. Does that mean that we are again thrown back on our own resources to achieve daily holiness ourselves? No! By the Spirit I am in Christ so that his holiness becomes mine. And by the Spirit, Christ is in me to work out his own holiness within me. I no longer live striving for my own holiness, but Christ lives in me to live out his own holiness in and through me. He alone is our holiness in every way. Turned out of ourselves we live in Christ as he lives in us.
The Father’s Son became one of us to take our place even unto death. Now, he stands before his Father in our place and by his Spirit we know that his abba is ours. There is no need for us to find our own place before God for Christ alone is our place with God. Our lives are hidden with him in God.
We affirm all this as wonderfully true and yet, in our daily lives, we feel under pressure to focus much more on trying to find our own place with God. This distorted and distorting emphasis upon our own independent religious activity leads to frustration, failure and a lack of real assurance.
In our daily lives before our Father we must fully embrace that it is not what we are or do that counts, but Christ alone. We continually trust in who he is for us, with us and in us. We rest only in what he has done and continues to do for us. It is by his grace alone that we are put in the right with God, and by his grace alone that we live day by day as abba’s children.
The living Christ indwells us by the Spirit setting us free to rest in his transforming power. Trusting in him alone rather than our own efforts we live and move in joyful freedom before our Father. I no longer live but Christ lives in me and the life that I do live is by faith in the one who loved me and gave himself for me. I do so because he goes on loving me and giving himself to me as he lives his own life in and through me.
The God of grace began his good work within us and he will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Of course, we work out the good work of God in our daily lives but only as he works within us by his Spirit in union with Christ. We are liberated to become all that God wants us to be because of what the Triune God of grace has done, is doing and will do.
In living union with Christ, we are assured that we are the Father’s dearly loved children free to grow into the reality of who we already are. We have confidence to grow up into Christ as we share in his intimate relationship with the Father by the Spirit . We are not turned in on ourselves engaged in a long, gruelling battle with sin that we must fight in our own strength. No, turned out of ourselves to Christ by the Spirit, we work out daily our transformation freely and joyfully as we share in God’s triune life of love.
T F Torrance points out that too often we are thrown back upon ourselves to become the kind of persons we ought to be by our own efforts. In contrast, the New Testament continually throws us onto the grace of our Father in union with his Son free to grow into ever deeper likeness to Jesus by the power of his Spirit.
Why does God bother with us? We all reject God shattering any sort of relationship with him. Nevertheless, God acted in Christ reconciling us to himself.
We cannot provide a “why” for all this. We simply say God is love and he must always be true to who he is. He is love and he loves us freely. So, he would cease to be the God he is if he was not with us and for us bringing us back home.
In his triune activity, God does a new thing that takes us by surprise and yet he does everything according to who he always is. He is holy and righteous and yet, in his Son, he calls those who are his enemies his dearly loved children. He does not compromise himself in this. Rather he shows constancy to himself as love. He is true to himself as the one who loves in freedom.
The only “Why” is Triune Love.
Why do we now bother with God? Naturally we are not interested in him. Indeed, we are opposed to him. Well, Having sent his own Son as God for us the Father sends his Spirit as God in us. It is the Spirit who opens our hearts to all that God has done for us in Christ. And in the Spirit we respond to all that God has done in Christ with simplicity of heart. We open to his free turning to us as new every morning. This responsiveness to God is a gift, not an accomplishment. God gives us all that God asks of us. Our response is, therefore, a response to grace by grace.
The only “Why” is Triune Love.
The God who reconciles us to himself is truly different from us. He is the Creator and Lord of all. He exists in majesty beyond all. He is right and true in all his ways. In contrast, we are mere creatures who are naturally opposed to God. There is a yawning abyss between God and those he wants in fellowship with himself. But in sheer grace God crosses that gulf to bring us close. We do not cross the chasm to God. He alone moves among us reconciling us to himself in Christ by His Spirit.
The God who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see emerges from the impenetrable mystery that he is to be known personally by us. We are incapable of knowing this God. We have nothing within us enabling us to relate to him. But God gives himself to us enabling us to know him. We do not even know why or how this happens to us. We certainly cannot point to anything that God found in us to draw him to us. We simply know that by God’s own free intervention we find ourselves belonging to the Father with Jesus. We know we are received by him and reclaimed as his possession. Indeed, we are hidden in him with Christ and treated as his friends and dearly loved children. All because God himself crosses the yawning chasm drawing close to bring us home.
The risen and exalted Jesus encounters us personally as the one who is our salvation. Through this living encounter with Jesus by the Spirit we come to know the true God. And as he repeatedly encounters us we know ever more deeply who God is as the mystery of Father, Son and Spirit. We do not seek to know the “real” divine being above or beyond Jesus. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1: 18). Jesus is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2: 3). We, therefore, know God only in him and not above or beyond him.
Jesus is not the starting place for knowing God that we must move beyond into deeper and fuller knowing. Jesus alone is our knowledge of God: it’s unique content and entire scope. It is, therefore, only at the risk of going far away from the mystery of the Triune One that we move beyond Jesus trying to discover greater depth and height in other spheres.
We move into deeper and fuller knowing of the true God as Jesus himself encounters us again and again by the Spirit. In this living encounter he opens to us the mystery that is Father, Son and Spirit. And as he repeatedly opens himself to us in this living way we gaze on his glory and are transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory.
Before anything was even made God decided to have us in relationship with himself. He alone decided this for us. He also decided to act in Jesus by his Spirit to achieve his aim. That means all the action of God with us in Jesus is the fulfilment of his eternal decision.
We humans reject God’s intention. We want to live out of ourselves and for ourselves independent of our Creator. Since this is what we always wanted, God might easily have allowed us to perish without God. But God acts with faithfulness to his and his own purpose for himself with humanity.
When we humans rejected him did he need to go on loving us? He certainly wasn’t meeting any lack within himself. Nevertheless, in love, he would not to allow us to perish. He stuck to his original decision. In loving us this way he was faithful to himself. He was being true to who he is as love in spite of everything.
The faithfulness of God to himself is our only confidence before him. We do not put any confidence at all in our faithfulness to him. That would be very shaky. Our only assurance lies in God’s faithfulness to his original decision made actual among us in Jesus by the Spirit. With our eyes fixed on Jesus in the Spirit we rest in the constancy of God’s YES to us. And in response, we say YES to our Father through Jesus in the enabling of his Spirit