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Father’s Astonishing Decision

Before anything was made the Father decided to adopt us into his family in Christ. We only know of this eternal decision because God himself makes it actual through his Son acting for us and his Spirit acting in us. We now know that we are adopted children sharing in the Son’s relationship with his Father in the Spirit. That means justification as a legal settlement is not front and centre in our view of salvation.   What is?  Reconciliation to love relationship as sons and daughters in Christ.

We are now called to live in the freedom of the Spirit as the Father’s dearly loved children in union with Christ.  For freedom Christ has set us free and his Spirit wants to take us into freedom so that we live for our Father with joyful assurance.  But how easily we slip into legalistic conformity to religious rules continually driven by guilt and shame before a mean and menacing Judge.

Our Father decided before anything existed to include us in the circle of love with his Son and by his Spirit.  He decided that we should share in this life with freedom and joy.  And he decided to make all this actual in his Son and Spirit.  With our eyes fixed on the Father’s astonishing decision to include us in the circle of shared life and love we must now decide to live in this freedom bringing joy to our Father’s heart.

 

God’s Ways with us are Relational

Some consider God primarily as Judge whose chief concern is his law.  In order for this “legal” God to be gracious towards us he must first punish his own Son in our place.  He then demands us to meet all his legal conditions for true acceptance.  Even though I try to meet his demands I cannot really be sure he accepts me. I have to constantly self-examine. Do I have enough faith? Is it “saving” faith? Did I repent correctly? Is God o.k. with my imperfect obedience?  If I were to go this way the result would be lack assurance.

Looking through the lens of Christ, we see that God’s ways with us are primarily relational rather than merely legal. For through Jesus, we learn that God is Father and that his purpose is to bring us into family relationship. He wants us to find our true being-in-communion as sons and daughters in union with his unique Son by the Spirit.

Allowing the legal to eclipse this relational vision results in a distorted way of responding to God.  We are workers trying hard to satisfy God’s demands rather than dearly loved sons and daughters. We are driven by guilt rather than drawn by grace. We endure condemnation and rarely enjoy communion.

In Jesus’ parable of the lost son, the father wanted his son home before the prodigal turned back.  And he did not wish for his son to relate in terms of work as a mere servant.  He wanted to welcome him back into the family with a warm embrace and joyful celebration.  So our Father in Jesus longs eagerly for us all to return home and when we do there is great rejoicing in the Father’s heart and all heaven.

Lowly Judge

Jesus is God as human living among us in humility.  As the One who loves, He doesn’t want to be high and exalted far above us; he wants to live among us as one of us.  Indeed, God as human is marked by the deepest humility as he goes to the very lowest place to lift us up to the very highest place in union with himself.

The “god” that we  humans imagine is so very different.  We project a deity  that is distant from us.  One that towers above us as the unapproachable high and mighty Judge who sits in his far-off court room eager to condemn.  In contrast, the God we meet in Christ is eager to know us in love; eager to cross the infinite chasm between the Creator and the creature; eager to stoop down to us bearing condemnation in himself for us; and eager to lift us up into union with himself so that we can share in everything that he is and has.  Not the Judge high in his heavenly court room, but rather the Judge who is prepared to humble himself handing himself over to be judged for us in order to bring us into living union with himself.

Behind this vision of God stooping to enter into union with us is God as three persons in One communion of love.  If God were a solitary being then he would have had no one to love before he created.  But the Triune God has always loved within the communion of love that he is.  His desire for oneness with us flows out of his own eternal Oneness in love.

 

The One Who Loves

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.

 

The One Who loves

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.

 

Father Before Judge

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.

 

God as Father; God as Judge

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.

 

Christ Our Holiness

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.

 

Christ Alone

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.

Free to Grow

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.