Love in Action
The circle is now completed. From God to God. Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, the beginning and ending, the Alpha and Omega. All is circular. God went out from Himself in creation, only to return to Himself, as He gathers together in one all things in Christ, when the “Son Himself shall be subject unto Him, that God may be all in all.” Prayer is the same, and faith the same. Each proceeds from God who is working all things after the counsel of His own will. It is He that puts us in situations in which He can arouse in us a sense of need expressed in prayer, and quicken in us the assurance of supply expressed in faith.
It is God’s intercession and God’s believing, consummated in God’s appearing in a situation, reconciling some part of His lost creation to Himself. We commonly call it our work of intercession, or service to Christ. But it is not that. It is God in action, love in action, God reconciling the world to himself by us. He is the intercessor who stands in the gap, but doing it “by the hand of” His servant David or Moses or any of us. The divine imperative that impels us is His. The vicarious sacrifices by which I take the place of those for whom I intercede are His. The faith which “commands” the deliverances is His. The spirit of a person expresses itself through the activities of soul and body; so also the Divine Spirit expresses Himself by us, the Body of Christ.
God is love. Love is permanent debtor to all, the servant of all. That is love’s nature. Can God live in me and not love? That profoundest passage ever written on love by the apostle of love–1 John 4:7-21–takes us to the one source. We must love, we do love, let us love, because if we are born of God, we are born of love, we have a new love-nature. The ever invisible God is only made visible when we love. Here is God incarnate again. And if our confession of faith is the indication that He dwells in us, then we are world-lovers, for “the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” Can there be passivity in us then, or merely spiritual self-interest? A contradiction in terms! God is an outgoing God, for love is outgoing. God is self-giving, for love is self-giving. Then so are we (1 John 4:17). Freedom from self is freedom to love. There is no other freedom. God only is free, because God is love. Service is freedom. Sacrifice is freedom. Self-denial is freedom; that is why Paul warned us not to use our liberty “as an occasion to the flesh,” for that would mean immediate bondage again: “but by love serve one another.” We are a people with a purpose, for we are people of love. Love is dynamic, love is unresting, love is action.
The Law of Love
But there is a law of love—a principle—that royal, that kingly law of Scripture. Not in our love service, any more than in the other grades of spiritual life, can we go any way about it but one. Once again we have to get a clear grasp of the interaction in service between the redeemed human spirit and the divine indwelling Spirit. We examined that same delicate balance in the daily life of the believer, the relationship so perfectly presented in the “nevertheless I live,” and the “yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” of Gal. 2:20. We saw that while we are still on earth, we still have a distinct dual consciousness which cannot be transcended: we are continually conscious of ourselves in all our reactions to our daily environment: we are also Christ-conscious, both by a constant subconscious sense of His presence within, and by the conscious contacts of faith, as we directly relate ourselves with Him on numberless occasions. We have to await the final resurrection of the body to experience a permanent unification, where there is no further division between the renewed self and the Indwelling Self.
We saw that the reason for this is that we are still members of a fallen humanity, and a fallen humanity means a humanity separated from God. The fall, separating the self in false independence from the eternal Self of God, gave humanity its name of shame–the flesh. Flesh is helpless humanity in its conscious separation from the One who alone is its help and strength: and being helpless by nature, if it is not abiding in Him, it is at once subject to its own instincts and appetites, a self-loving flesh. Even the Saviour Himself, as we have seen, had to be in the flesh if He was to identify Himself with humanity. But in His case it was “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” not in actual sinful flesh: that is to say, as being in the flesh, He was conscious of being a human self distinct from the One who indwelt Him. But he so continuously abode in the Father, and lived and spoke by Him, that there was never one moment in which the instincts or appetites of the flesh could dominate Him, and thus the egoistic spirit of Satan enter Him. The flesh of the Saviour was real flesh, conscious of a human selfhood apart from the Father within, necessitating a constant series of obediences in the flesh throughout His human life (Heb. 5:8), a choosing of the divine will against the natural human shrinkings of a human will, but never descending to the disobedience and rebellion of fallen humanity.
I Can’t, He Can
The fact, then, that we have to realize and never forget is that humanity in this alien world with its divided knowledge of good and evil, even if it is redeemed humanity, not the old man in Satan, but the new man in Christ, is still flesh: that is to say, we shall always be conscious of ourselves as distinct from the indwelling Other Self–Christ: we shall always, as Paul says, walk in the flesh, though not war after it. And because we are flesh we are always conscious of our innate weakness, insufficiency, inability. It is not wrong to feel like that, for that is all human nature can ever be, for it is all that it was created to be. But it does mean–and here is the point of supreme importance–that every summons to us by our indwelling Lord, to action, to service, to witness, to love, meets immediately with a reaction from our self-conscious selves of “I can’t,” “I fear to,” “That is impossible,” “Who is sufficient for these things?” and so forth. The first reaction of our renewed selves is opposition to the call! That does not mean that it is wrong for us to have such a reaction. It is inevitable: indeed it is right that we should thus react, for human nature is the great “I can’t.”
The only wrong can be if, constrained by the inner compulsions of the Spirit to this or that act of service or witness or sacrifice, we pass on from “I can’t” to “I won’t.” If we do that, we are not merely walking in the flesh (normal human nature), but after the flesh. We shall be allying ourselves to the weakness of the flesh instead of to the power of the indwelling Spirit: and the moment we do that, we are temporarily enslaved again to the sinfulness of the flesh: natural weakness and fear then become dominated by sinful unwillingness and disobedience. Instances like Moses and Gideon show us the human responding to God’s call by its natural recoil of “Who am I?” “I can’t,” “I am the least in my father’s house.” But in neither case did the human reaction, the natural flesh, descend to the sinful, satanic response of rebellious self—not only, “I can’t,” but “I won’t”; although Moses came near to it when he said, “Lord, send someone else,” and God was angry with him.
How then, in all calls to service, do we avoid the pitfalls of descent to rebellious flesh, and remain on the uplands of the Spirit? Once again by participation in what Paul calls the “bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our bodies.” It is the death of Christ and His resurrection operative in service. The cross for the new man, not the old. The cross which Jesus said must be taken up daily, denying self, if we are to be fruit-bearers as our Master. The cross implicit in those words, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake will find it.”
But we must be careful here, for it is very easy to step from grace in salvation and sanctification to works and self-effort in service and regard service as something we do in the way of self-sacrifice, self-dedication, a giving and expending ourselves for the world. It is this, if the true basis is understood: if not, it becomes painful and barren self-effort.
Paul speaks of “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” That is not my dying. “That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” That is not my life. We still, in service, as in salvation and sanctification, know only one Saviour, Sanctifier, Doer of all saving deeds in the world. Service is based on what we may call a third principle of death and resurrection in action; but it is still His, not ours, or only ours by the identification of faith.
The Dying–Rising Life
The first work of the cross was His alone, the shedding of His blood for the remission of sins, and the acceptance of the blood atonement as the propitiation for the world by Him who both provided a Lamb, bruised Him for our sakes, and raised Him again for our justification. It was the blood sacrifice offered unto God.
The second work of the cross was shared with us. It was the body of Jesus broken for us, crucified, dead, buried and risen, that we might be one bread and one body with Him, broken by repentance, crucified by faith, dead unto sin, buried and raised to newness of life in Him.
The third work of the cross is the dying-rising life He lives in and with and by us in our priesthood ministry for the world. It is the only way by which humanity, separated from God by the fall, can experience the resurrection life of Deity in and through it– by death in the flesh. “Put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” is a law.
Jesus Himself, the perfect human, had to die in His humanity all the days of His human life, that the life of His Father might be manifested in and through Him. He died when He returned and was subject to His parents at twelve years of age. He died when He refused those solicitations of Satan on the Mount of Temptation. He died daily as He lived the life of self-denial and took up His daily cross long before He hung on the cross of Calvary: when He did not have anywhere to lay His head, when He was thirsty and weary, when He fed five thousand in what was meant to be a rest-period, when He bore with His disciples, when He endured the contradiction of sinners, when virtue and wisdom, not His own, flowed from Him.
The passage already referred to in 2 Cor. 4:7-14 is Paul’s clearest definition of this principle; to which we can add such references as Col. 1:24, “filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ for His body’s sake,” John 12:42, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”; and much of the letter to the Hebrews in its earlier chapters on the human life of our great High Priest. It is the key to the triumphant ministry which Paul reveals so plainly in his Second Corinthian letter to be shot through with the cross, yet enveloped in glory. Trouble, perplexity, persecution, frustration, he calls “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” Why? Because nature, flesh, must yield itself up and die to its own reactions. It is the dying of the Lord Jesus, because it is He who, living in Paul and us, deliberately takes us into adverse circumstances that He may share with us in spirit his own continuous dying to flesh-reactions.
We die as we recognize ourselves as dead with Him to our own ways, praise Him, and count our adversities “all joy.” Immediately we do that, the risen, ascended Christ is free in us to express Himself in His peace, love, power, guidance, and concrete actions. The dying, therefore, has been the prerequisite to the rising, “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” Our attitudes, countenances, words and deeds, then radiate the reigning Christ. No man lives unto himself, and when the human life is watered by the inner well of the abundant life, it reproduces its kind in others: “So then death worketh in us, but life in you.”
The daily cross, therefore, is not, as so often presented, a grim and unwilling endurance of adversities. It is the sole principle of fruitfulness, the law of the harvest. It is not the cross for sanctification, nor the efficacy of the blood for daily cleansing. It is the continual transmuting of weak human flesh and shrinking human reactions into co-operating channels of the Spirit. We must die all the time, “always bearing about the dying of the Lord Jesus.”
By no other means can weak, separated selves, confronted by all kinds of overwhelming situations, be the soil for the spiritual harvest. The supernatural life only manifests itself through the yielded natural life, and the yielding is identification with Christ in His daily dying in us. Then, Paul says, we are “perplexed, but not in despair,” knocked down but not knocked out: for in our inner man rises the spirit of faith (2 Cor. 4:13), the recognition of our identification also with an ascended Christ, seated with Him on His royal throne, victors with Him far above all opposition, and dispensers, by the authority of faith, of His gifts to men.
It means action, for no life is so dynamic, so vitalized as a Spirit-filled life. He who created, upholds and consummates all the activities of the universe, the unmoved Mover, has made us His body. A person does not have a body to feed, clothe and cleanse. Those are incidentals. A body is to use, and to use at full stretch. Is it not obvious that He who is love and who gave His only Son for the world, will likewise give us, His sons by grace? He that spared not His own Son, will He spare us? He who said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day,” will He work any the less urgently through His newly-acquired body? Nobody works like a Spirit-filled disciple. Every fibre of his being cries out, “To me to live is Christ,” therefore, “I am debtor” to all the world. The zeal of God’s house consumes him. The world can only go a certain distance, for it works from a centre of unrest and insufficiency: the servant of God has no limits, for his centre is the rest of faith, the endless resources of God.
Nor is there an ounce of passivity in him. “My Father still works, and I work,” said Jesus, “workers together with God.” God does His work by our minds, our hearts, our words and deeds. He sets us in action. Certainly it is dying and rising action, as we have seen. It starts by saying no to independent self-reactions, self-activities, self-inhibitions. It dies with Christ to them. But in the risen life we are altogether active. It is our travail, our sacrifice, our obediences of faith, our labours, our witness: yet it is really His. The paradox is true. “It all depends on God: it all depends on me.” We go in the strength of the Lord God. It is never easy, and never will be, in the sense that there are always the steps of obedience we must take against feelings, against appearances, against natural reactions, against the tide. To that extent there is a preliminary step we take: at least it appears so, though actually even that is the constraint of the Spirit. That is the daily death which leads to resurrection. “Launch out into the deep…at Thy word I will.”
Of the things which we have spoken (to quote the writer to the Hebrews), this is the sum: Not God first, but God only.