Love Means Backing Up What You Say (Even When You Screw Up)

I couldn’t tell you what the accurate statistics on divorce are, and I could post a bunch of links to studies that show different numbers on divorce in America, divorce in the church, divorce of this kind of couple or this kind.

I could just tell you that people say “till death do us part” and then don’t do that.

Maybe that will make my point. People swear love and faith and truth to one another on their wedding day and a certain number end up quitting for a number of reasons.Love-Fire

Then there’s the other side. The group that doesn’t commit to marriage because they’re scared of that level of commitment. What if I want to back out?, they ask. What if it gets hard? I admit that I find myself in that group sometimes.

I’ve been doing a study on love the last few days. And among the many things I’ve learned is that love isn’t about saying the right things or having the right emotional feelings. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do.

1 John is stocked with nuggets of jumbo truth about what love is, what love looks like, what love means, etc. I want to key in on two verses in particular.

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“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

John’s emphasis is on love being the action and not just the words. It’s really easy to love in words. It’s really easy to say the right things. It’s really easy for me to say to my brother, “Hey, I love you and I’ll always be there for you.” It’s really easy for me to say to my friends, “Hey, I love you guys and I’ll always be there for you.”

Thing is, they’re words. In the long run, they’re empty. In his spoken word “Refuge” on Alex Faith’s album ATLast, Christian rapper Odd Thomas says, “I need more than just words. I need God’s words. God’s word is the only word that brings me refuge.” He’s saying, in light of the words of God, our words are sometimes meaningless, oftentimes offered as a well-intentioned platitude during which people might mean well but have no real intention or discipline of trying to follow it up.

Unfortunately, I find myself saying those kinds of things often. God’s words are really the only words that have any lasting effect.

That’s not to dull the power of our tongue. Proverbs 18:21 notably says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” We can encourage or bring down with our words.

But John’s trying to saying our love is most notable in our actions. He gives an example.

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” – 1 John 4:20

John gives the example of someone who says he loves God but then hates another, calling him a liar. He’s saying his words are false and mean little. I think he’s taking it more in the direction of “how can you love something you haven’t seen if you can’t love something/someone you have seen?,” and that makes sense.

But this is an example of someone who says one thing and then acts out another. That’s not love. When the couples who stand on the altar pledge “till death do us part” and then part a few years later, they haven’t kept their word. They promised one thing and then acted out another.

When I tell my brother, “Hey man, I love you, I’ll pray for you,” and then I don’t pray for him, have I really loved him? Have I really?

When I don’t tell my friend that I think he’s in sin and doesn’t see it, even though that’s what I want to do and have told him I will do, have I really loved him? Have I really?

If I say I love God, but disobey one of His commands, have I really loved Him? Have I really?

No.

What a wretched man I am. Who can save me from this body of death?

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But praise God that we have an example in Christ. Not only is it an example, it’s the hope we have when we fall short of displaying true love.

“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. 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.” – 1 John 4:9-10

God’s love is best displayed in His sending of Christ to earth to die to give us life. It was something He said and then it was something He did.

Said:

  • “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Judah…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31,34b
  • “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

Done:

  • “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” – John 19:30
  • “In (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” – Ephesians 1:7-8a

Love is saying something, then doing it. It’s words that turn into action. Sometimes love doesn’t need words, but the most powerful example of love we’ve ever seen was something that was said and then done, accomplished by the God-man Himself, Jesus Christ. God’s the perfect example, once again.

Because of that love, I’m forgiven whenever I fail at loving others. But I’m also given the grace to get back up and try again. Let that sink in. Just think about it for a second. When (not if) we fail, if we’re in Christ, we’re forgiven and that’s not held against us. We’re forgiven so we can try again.

Whether it’s loving God or loving my wife (in the future) or my brother or my co-worker or my pastor or whoever, love is a word that requires some action. It’s a word that turns into an action. It’s saying you will do it/are that/are working to grow in that and then doing it.

God did it. Thank Him that He did.

Christians, We May Fail, But We’re Not Failures

How often do you disappoint yourself? Be honest with yourself. Be honest.

You don’t do as well on a test as you would have liked. You misplay a ground ball on the ball field. You say the wrong thing at the wrong time. You unintentionally hurt someone.

FailureYou sin. You disobey God. You ignore God’s promises for your life and you do something else instead.

I want to remind you of a beautiful truth. If you’re in Jesus, if you’re saved, there’s two words I want to remind you of:

YOU’RE FORGIVEN.

It’s so easy when I disappoint myself to think: “Well, there I go again. I failed. I failed God, I failed myself. I failed my friends. I failed everyone.”

It’s very likely I did fail in some way. But it’s so easy in those moments to translate “I failed” to “I’m a failure.” It’s so easy to make our identity wrapped up in what we do, actions we take, often because that’s what the world says we should find it in. For instance, more often than not…

  • If you get paid to be an engineer, you are classified as an engineer.
  • If you have kids, you’re classified as a parent.
  • If you get consistent good grades, you’re classified as a good student
  • If you can’t hit a free throw in basketball, you’re classified as a bad free throw shooter.

It’s so easy for me, in those moments where I see my failure, to classify myself as a failure. See what happened there? I translated my action into my identity. I do this way too often. Whether it’s sin in my heart, in my life, in the classroom, in the social world, I make my action my identity.

There’s two problems with how I approach this.

1. I forget the grace that’s already been given to me.

When we Christians begin to identify ourselves as failures, we are ignoring perhaps the most important thing we’ve been given: the grace of God. The grace of God means that, when we run away from God and pursue sin or we slip up accidentally, He still welcomes us back with open arms.

Perhaps the most beautiful picture of this is given in the story of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-24. Basically: the youngest of two sons takes his inheritance from his father early and goes off on his own, doing whatever he wants. Eventually, he gets broke and is eating pig slops, if he gets lucky. Desperate, he returns home to see if he could be a servant for his father. The father sees the son returning while he is still on the road nearing the home and runs out and embraces him, accepting him back fully as a son and throwing a big party in his honor.2013 January 1 watermark

When I translate my action of failure into my identity as a failure, I ignore the fact that God opens His arms wide-open to me, wanting to cherish and love me in spite of my sin. God ransomed me by the blood of Jesus! He spilled the blood of His Son on the cross so that I wouldn’t disqualify myself from spending eternity with Him, instead making a way so that I could! Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

If I’m in Jesus, I’m forgiven and I am no longer condemned. My sin is no longer held against me.

2. I make my own identity, ignoring the one God has picked out for me.

The second issue is that I try to define myself. Not a good idea.

When I see my sin, here’s what I say about myself: “Man, you stink. You’re a failure. You can’t do anything right. You’re awful.”

Here’s what God says about me: “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 will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

I am God’s child. That has so many implications that I could probably go on forever, but the basis is this: God loves me anyways. In spite of my sins, my mistakes, my slip-ups, my failures, God loves me still.

Even when I struggle to love myself, God loves me and wants better for me. That’s the identity He has picked out for me.

Now, this is no excuse for me to just sin and sin and sin and remember grace and grace more and more in light of that sin. “By no means” should we take advantage of grace in our lives, Paul says in Romans 6. Grace saves me to sanctification: “…how much more will the blood of Christ…purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). If we’re in Christ, we’re called to a higher standard: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).

But when you fail, remember the truths of God’s word: you’re forgiven and loved.

And that’s who you are. You’re a Christian who fails. I am. Every day I am!

But first and foremost, I’m a child of God who’s been covered by the blood of Jesus. If you’re a Christian, you are too.