Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

3 Reasons God's Love Will Never Let Us Go

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The doctrine that is called the “perseverance of the saints” states that what God has started God will complete, but he will do so through the obedience and the proven love expressed by the true believer. And that leads us to the lesson that is before us today. The first epistle of the Apostle John is concerned with expressing the doctrine of God’s love. In the passage before us, we have a particular aspect of God’s love that relates to our faith as believers and as his children. It is the truth of God’s abiding love. This abiding love is expressed in John 15:1-8, in the language of the vine and the branches. But in his first epistle, the apostle whom Jesus loved speaks without metaphor or simile. He speaks directly about the matter of “abiding love.”

The doctrine of God’s abiding love brings blessed assurance. Every believer is guaranteed not merely the saving love of God but the abiding love of God: a love that will never let you go. What are the characteristics of this “abiding love” that the apostle John teaches in these verses? 

Let us examine three foundational features of God’s abiding love:

1. God’s Abiding Love Begins with God’s Initiating Love

John writes in verse seven that “love has been born of God…” John also writes, “in this is love, not that we have loved but that he loved us…” (10).

When we speak of the love of God we do so in several ways. There is a universal created love of God. God loves his own creation. God loves the little sparrows and God loves the lilies of the field. I would like to add that I do not know if God loves mosquitoes, but in some unfathomable way, inconceivable to the mind of mortal man, I am certain that God has a purpose for those little insects and in some way he loves them. If God loves his own creation, the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom, how much more does he love you? It is impossible to deny the love of God if you have ever drawn a breath in this world. But there is also a particular love of God. This is the love of God that comes to you through the power of the Holy Spirit; it opens your mind and your heart that you might move from merely gazing at the heavens and saying to yourself, “there must be a higher being,” to actually confessing that this being is the one, true Almighty God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us that this is a work of God himself. It is a fallacy to assert that you discovered God and chose to love him. That is impossible. The Bible teaches that you are dead in trespasses and sins. It was John Calvin who commented on John 15 and said that we were dead branches until God resurrected us and then engrafted us into his vine. We cannot come alive to the reality of God without the initial activity of God in our souls. God is the great initiator.

As I considered this truth, I thought about every simile, every metaphor, and every possible illustration I could in order to communicate this essential truth of the Scriptures: that God loved us first. I can do no better than the inerrant and the infallible Word of God itself, which says that “love is from God” (1 John 4:7). And it says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us…” (1 John 4:10). In 1 John 4:19, John writes again, “we love because he first loved us.” The Scriptures are absolutely clear on this point. This aspect of God’s being — initiating love — is replete throughout the Holy Scriptures. For instance, Israel is called the chosen people because God chose them. Abraham did not choose God. The somatic peoples who lived along the Mediterranean coast did not choose God. The Almighty God revealed himself to them, and their response was hesitant at best. The whole of the Old Testament is taken up with God demonstrating his love for Israel and Israel demonstrating their obstinacy to God. And do we believe that it is any different with a believer today? Unless God comes into our lives, we remain lost. But the truth is God initiates his love.

Someone here might ask themselves, “I wonder if God would choose me to love?” My beloved, if you have asked that question, then you’ve already demonstrated the answer. The question itself reveals the spirit which is hungering after God and therefore unveils the recognizable presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. The third foundational feature of God’s abiding love is found also in 1 John 4:10: “… He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sin.” So let us say:

2. God’s Abiding Love Is Received through God’s Redeeming Love

Verse 10 really is the tenderloin of this passage. And perhaps the most flavorful part of that tenderloin is the theological word that appears in verse 10: “propitiation.” Propitiation is a word that is pulsating with meaning and yet may seem inaccessible to some. Indeed, there have been translations that have chosen to disregard this word. However, we should not ignore the difficult thing in order to understand it. We must investigate and embrace it. In this case, to embrace propitiation is to embrace the very ground of eternal life for mankind. Propitiation is an act whereby one grants clemency in the face of criminality. This is the way one scholar put it,

“To be propitious is to be disposed to forgiveness and favor. To propitiate is to render an aggrieved or offended party clement and forgiving. A propitiation is that whereby the favorable change is wrought. Hence the mediation or blood of Christ as a propitiation for our sins, and the ground of forgiveness, is an atonement. It is an atonement because a propitiation for sin in its relation to the clemency and forgiveness of the divine Ruler.” (Robert L. Thomas, and W. Don Wilkins. "New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated Edition,” 1998).

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran pastor and professor and martyr for the Christian faith during World War II, who wrote in his book, the Cost of Discipleship these words:

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace.…Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field.…Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”

I remember being in a particular congregation for the first time. I did not know these dear folks and they did not know me. But it was my responsibility to administer the Lord’s supper on this particular day. As the elements were distributed by the elders, row by row, I observed that there were toddlers taking the sacrament as they were being held on their mother’s knee. The little children had no concept whatsoever of the active participation in the sacrament that is required. Baptism is, in a sense, a passive response as we are the recipients of God’s grace through this sign of entrance. However, the Lord’s supper is an active participation requiring a cognizant understanding of the costly price of our redemption in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. After the service, I brought this matter to the attention of some of the elders. I said I am not for the imposition of rules for rule sake, but I am for godly instruction to bring about the honor and glory that is due to the name of Jesus Christ. Let the little children be trained and taught the meaning of the sacrament and so let them come.

In a similar way, you and I must study the means through which God for his sacrifice on the cross is the very ground God has been offended by your sin. God is estranged from his own creation because of the wicked and vile disposition of the human heart. Jesus Christ came to be a propitiation for our sins, that is, he came from heaven to earth to live the life we could never live and die the death that should’ve been ours. This act of Christ, in both his active and passive obedience — his life lived to produce the necessary righteousness and his death on the cross as the satisfaction of punishment against sin—has brought about the fulfillment of the terms of the covenant of grace. The propitiation is even more than that. For when John says that Jesus Christ is our propitiation, we come to see that it is not merely the act of Christ but it is the person of Christ himself. We are saved by a sacred bond in blood in the very person of God’s only begotten Son. To ignore this and to seek a Christianity without this is to enter into “cheap grace” that is, indeed, the deadly enemy of our church.

The fourth foundational feature of God’s abiding love, according to this passage, is this:

3. God’s Abiding Love Is Demonstrated by Our Reflective Love

John writes in 1 John 4:11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” He continues, “No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (verse 12).

Upon an initial reading of the text there seems to be a non sequitur. We understand when John says that if God loves us, we should love one another. But what does verse 12 mean? When John says that no one has ever seen God that seems to be a truth dislocated. What does this have to do with abiding or with loving each other as a result of God’s love? The answer is this: John is saying that no one has ever seen God but we do see evidence of God. How?

  • We see the evidence of God when we gaze into the heavens nobly.
  • We see the evidence of God when we see a sparkle of light in the eyes of the newborn babe.
  • We see evidence of Almighty God in an act of kindness extended unconditionally.

Thus, John is saying we see evidence of God in the love that transforms us and causes us to reflect the Lord’s redeeming love to others. So, the question comes to each one of us: “Is there evidence of the presence of Almighty God in your life by virtue of your love?” For Christ’s love begets human love.

It may be that you are, in fact, a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, but someone has hurt you. Pain can be like a logjam in a river. The river cannot flow as long as the impediment hinders the flow. The logjam creates a black backwater, murky, lifeless. One of the reasons we come each and every Lord’s Day is to hear God’s Word and to keep the river of faith running freely. And when the river of faith is running freely there is life and spiritual health. And there is love. This free flow of purified life is how Christ alone affects authentic and sustained human flourishing. Maybe this day is a time where you reflect on the love of God in forgiving another person. Perhaps, you will even receive the forgiveness of God for yourself.

Abiding love is the essential character of God, which tells us He will never let us go. This truth is our blessed assurance of God's unending love. The features of this abiding love include his initiating love, his redeeming love, and his reflective love. What does this look like?

A Picture of Abiding Love

One could hardly imagine that a biblical lesson on the abiding love of God could be found in the isolated, criminal, and horrific surroundings of the North Vietnamese prison camp notoriously labeled “the Hanoi Hilton.” But I could think of no greater example of abiding love than the story of my late friend, an American hero, Colonel Roger Ingvalson (1928-2011), United States Air Force – Retired. Col. Ingvalson was also an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga Tennessee where I was senior pastor. During my years there as the senior minister, I was deeply honored and humbled to be his friend. One time we went on a trip together to investigate the possibility of a church plant in Colorado. I’ll never forget that trip. For one thing, we took in some skiing, and this former fighter pilot still had the Moxie and daring that caused him to ski all black diamonds. He enticed me to come with him up the ski lift to the highest point on the most difficult downward course. I remember that as we took off Roger looked like an Olympian skier. I fell over and began to cling to the side of the mountain in complete fear. Roger was pushing close to 80 years of age and I was in my mid-40s. But he had pity upon me, did not make fun of me, came back up the hillside of the mountain, rescued me, and led me to a lower level where I could be more at home on the “bunny slopes.” But it was also during that time that I got to hear Roger’s famous testimony which he has told Billy Graham evangelistic crusades and in speeches around the country.

“In 1968, Roger was flying the F-105D with the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Korat Royal Air Force Base, Thailand. The air war over Vietnam was in its third year . . .On 28 May, Roger took off on his 87th combat sortie, leading a mission to destroy a bridge in North Vietnam. (Roger once told me, lightheartedly, ‘Mike, it is very important to keep the number of mission takeoffs and landings equal.!’). With 1600 hours in the F-105, he was confident that this mission would be a success. As he pulled off the target, an air controller requested that he hit an enemy truck convoy nearby. Roger’s tactical preference was for high speed and low altitude engagement in order to assure accuracy. At about 0900, he located the convoy of Soviet-built trucks near Dong Hoi and rolled in at more than 500 knots. At 50 feet above the hard deck, he fired a long 20mm burst into the convoy. Moments later, Roger recalls, I heard and felt an explosion and my cockpit immediately filled with smoke. I hit the afterburner to gain valuable altitude, then pulled the canopy ejection handle to get rid of the smoke. I rocketed up to about 600 feet before my aircraft went into an uncontrollable roll. I pulled the ejection seat handle and squeezed the trigger. As I was catapulted out of the burning aircraft, the wind blast knocked me out, and I didn’t regain consciousness until just prior to landing on a dried out rice paddy.”

As he hit the ground, Roger’s first reaction was to feel for broken bones. “With 15 years as a fighter pilot, I was fully aware of the fact that there is very little chance of survival during an emergency ejection at high speed and low altitude, without a multitude of injuries. To my amazement, I had no broken bones or other injuries.”

Roger had regularly attended church for 40 years, but he says his relationship with his Savior really began when he realized he had survived the ejection. He prayed and gave thanks for his survival as his would-be Communist captors were running toward him. For the next 1,742 days, Roger endured torture, starvation, desolation, disease, and one stretch of 20 months in strict solitary confinement.”

Roger and his fellow POWs, which included a young naval officer named John McCain, departed for Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. That was 14 March 1973. Roger told me that when he was in solitary confinement, without any light except the small amount of daylight which would find its way through cracks in the wall, his mind began to be comforted by his childhood years in the Lutheran Church back in Austin, Minnesota. Roger had been an all-American kid. You wouldn’t say that Roger’s mind was set on the things of God, but his parents were very faithful to bring him to church each Sunday. If you want to ask about the power of the liturgy in Christian worship, you could ask a man like Roger Ingvalson. Every Sunday in his hometown church he joined the other parishioners and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles' Creed, and occasionally the 23rd Psalm, and the Ten Commandments each month at Holy Communion. He had professed faith in Jesus Christ according to the customs of the Lutheran Church in his confirmation. He believed Jesus Christ was Lord. But between that confirmation class as a boy and the solitary, beaten and bruised figure of a famished Air Force officer in the Hanoi Hilton, he lived the fast-paced life of a hedonistic young pilot. 

But he told me that when he was in solitary confinement, he began to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles' Creed. He sang the Gloria Patri. Roger had all the time in the world, and he used it wisely. He carefully spoke each phrase, each word. This intrepid Air Force officer went through his new holy ritual like a pre-flight protocol. Roger used the unforgettable phrases and the unswerving doctrinal formulae as a means to pray to God. For prayer was a vapor stream left behind in his high-flying world. Dissipating in the far-flung sky of a childhood memory, the broken streams of a long-ago reality reformed quickly. What Roger discovered in the Hanoi Hilton, in the very worst place you could imagine, was that God’s love never lets you go. As a result, Roger’s faith in the resurrected and reigning Christ grew. The words he learned in worship as a boy were building blocks that erected a new, stronger faith. 

What was so amazing was Colonel Ingvalson’s innate ability to faithfully uphold his oath to the Constitution as well as his renewed faith in Jesus in the midst of such deprivation and hardship. What is even more astonishing is the love that he sought to show those who were acting as hostile animals towards him and his fellow servicemen in captivity. Roger was the toughest man I’ve ever known. He was, also, the most gentle man I’ve ever known—the golden light of kindness accentuated by the steelyard shades of deep resolve. After he was released, Roger spent the remaining years of his life ministering to prisoners. I have never known of the greater example of the abiding love of God: initiated by God, redeemed through Jesus Christ, and reflecting the love of God to his enemies.

You and I don’t have to go to the Hanoi Hilton to discover the abiding love of God. We have only to read the truth of it here in God’s Word and to believe it. And to believe in Christ is to receive the promise of his Word: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, and other scriptures). Here, then, is Jesus’ saving love and his abiding love. I invite you to receive this love today.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

References
Roger Dean Ingvalson Collection: Veterans History Project" (Library of Congress).

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ipopba


Dr. Michael A. MiltonMICHAEL A. MILTON (Ph.D., University of Wales; MPA, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; MDIV, Knox Theological Seminary; Cert. in Higher Education Teaching, Harvard University) serves as the Provost and James Ragsdale Chair of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine College and Seminary. A Presbyterian minister (PCA, ARP), Milton has penned more than thirty books, hundreds of articles in journals, magazines, opinion columns, and newspapers. As president of the D. James Kennedy Institute and Faith for Living, Milton has served as a public theologian. His work has been cited on numerous national media outlets as he provides historic Christian insights into faith and life in a changing world. Dr. Milton's record of ministry includes seminary chancellor, president of three seminaries, senior minister of one of America's historic churches, founder of three congregations, and a Christian academy. A composer and artist, Mike and Mae Milton reside in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Learn more at michaelmilton.org/about. [from a press release by McCain& Associates.]




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