I have more to say about grace in community. I know that probably comes as a shock! My awesome church family at Bread and Wine Fellowship is teaching me more and more how this works, and I could not possibly be more genuinely grateful for these incredible people that have come together in the risk of scandalous grace to really try believing the unbelievably good news of the gospel — together.
In Ephesians 1 we find this incredible gem:
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us.
It does not say “In Him I have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of my trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on me.” It does not say “In Him you have redemption through His blood. I’m past all that because after all, I’m the APOSTLE PAUL. I’m sanctified.” We have redemption through His blood. Our sins, together, without regard for ultimate individual responsibility, have been forgiven. He has lavished grace on us. And it turns out, this is most important, and it is incredibly important that we see this.
Going back to the crucial verse — 1 John 4:10 — we find that John, in talking about horizontal (person-to-person) relationships, says “In this love, NOT THAT WE LOVED GOD, but that HE LOVED US and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” Are you catching that? Love for one another is found not in being an enlightened and personally holy individual who is the source of love, but in God’s love for us in Christ. This is in the Bible folks.
If you want to press upon people the importance of loving people and loving God, you are looking for love in all the wrong places. It isn’t there. All it does is make everyone feel guilty for not loving “people” enough. It is essentially law. What does it even mean? Who knows? Does it mean being really nice? Maybe. But this is not the gospel grace-driven way to love.
Real love for one another is found in belief in group redemption and lavish grace. It means thinking, concerning everyone, that Jesus has died for us. He has loved us together and redeemed all of us with His blood. And this becomes the new way of doing community – belief. To put it a different way, belief in lavish grace in Christ and the concomitant love for one another that comes with it is what Christian sanctification actually is. Not only are all of the imperatives in Ephesians 4-6 preceded contextually by the indicatives of Ephesians 1-3, you’ll notice that they are all relational imperatives. You’ll also notice that Paul is careful in every case to draw out attention back to the lavish forgiveness we have in Christ as the basis for the imperative.
When Paul thought of people, he found the gratitude for them (Ephesians 1:15-16). He relished their faith in Christ. He believed what Jesus thinks of them: they are worth dying for. He did not put on some fake love feeling thing all of the sudden for them. He recognized the love that was already established for them by God – and that is the real context in the book of Ephesians in neon lights with confetti streaming down. So when I am around a fellow believer, this is the way of love: relish the fact that I get to have a tiny little part in their ocean of belovedness. They are already far more beloved in Christ than I could ever know – and gratitude for that fact is the doorway into love for them. Because of my faith in Christ for myself and for them, I can rejoice without embarrassment in the lavish grace that defines them without worrying that I haven’t loved them enough in the past personally. Of course I haven’t loved them enough — and there is lavish grace for that! Do you see it? It isn’t important that I love perfectly because love isn’t in that. Love is in God’s sacrificial resurrection eternal love for us. I’m drinking in His affection for you through my faith in Christ, and that is how Christian love works. Through faith I’m instantly in the realm of genuine affection for my fellow believers and they for me, because we already know that we haven’t “been there” enough for each other. But through lavish grace, we’re able to enter into that presence now.
If I don’t believe in complete lavish scandalous grace, in redemption through the blood of Jesus plus nothing, there is no basis for this kind of love. We are left parsing out justice, expecting perfect holiness, and deciding each others’ deservedness for receiving the blessing of our attention and help. The awkward fact is, we don’t deserve it. If you try to love people under any other rubric than lavish grace and rich mercy, it will fail. It has to fail. Blessing each other transgresses justice apart from Jesus’ blood.
If we believe in the redemption through Jesus’ about each other, it is a complete game changer. Offenses and slights and sins are no longer what define us. The unbreakable stubborn persistent eternal love of God will outlast all of it. His love defines our relationships. But, only lavish grace that forgives everyone for everything is capable of this kind of community. We believe in Jesus for ourselves, and we believe in Jesus for each other. We have forgiveness for our trespasses. Otherwise our whole attention is diverted to parsing out the justice in our relationships. Our attention is averted from love to figuring out who is responsible for what, and what our boundaries ought to be, and how we ought to treat each other. But in Christ, it is not just that we are implored to love one another. We are beloved, together. It is simply a matter of being mindful about that.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.