That’s the key phrase that changed everything for me. What is perfect love? It is God’s love. All of sin is the opposite of love. Even private sin, that we think only affects ourselves, like watching pornography. The question is: Can I live in perfect love? Can perfect love live through me? Because if God’s love can live through me then surely my sin will start to get rooted out of my heart?
In Dealing with Addictive Sin: How I Came to See Holiness in a Brand New Way pt 2 I highlighted how 1 Thessalonians 5:23 began to make me see that God promises that he will finish a completing work of holiness in this life. What does holiness look like, ultimately? It looks like Jesus – everything we know about him; his character, his life, his sacrifice, his resurrection. Holiness looks like perfect love. If Jesus lives in me, as the scriptures promise, perfect love lives in me. Because God is love. (1 John 4:8.) But I also want him, perfect love, to live through me.
And that’s the hard part.
But if there is a promise that he will, in fullness, in this life, then everything changes. And indeed, I’ve come to see that there is.
The grand narrative in this is one of inheritance. Throughout all the scriptures, God promises an inheritance to his people, that they come to in this life. Here are some details from the scriptures of what this inheritance looks like:
2 Peter 1:4
Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.
Hebrews 4:1; 9
Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it… Consequently a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God.
We can see two things here: one, our inheritance in Christ consists of becoming partakers of the divine nature. Two, that our inheritance consists of rest. I could quote a lot more but these will do. The crux of my “seeing holiness in a new way” is this: that we come into this inheritance in this life. Sure, there are things for the next life that we can also call our inheritance (like new bodies and a new heaven and a new earth) but the argument in Hebrews 3 and 4 shows us that God promises this rest as “long as it is called ‘Today,'” (Hebrews 3:13) and we’re exhorted to not harden our hearts ‘today’ in unbelief because the promise is coming. Just like Israel entered into their inheritance (the promised land) so we will enter ours (holiness of heart and mind). 1 Thessalonians 5:23 shows us that the plan is to keep us in this inheritance unto the return of Christ.
When I came to this conclusion my life changed. Because I finally found out what faith is really about – a relying on Christ’s work in me to make me into a partaker of Christ’s very own nature, in this life, so that he could live his perfect love through me. It no longer became about God ’empowering me’ to live the godly live, it became about God living through me to live the godly life. It became about, to put it in a crude way, being possessed by God to love his possession: people.
Instead of life being one big battle against what seems to be a dualistic nature within me (it isn’t really, but more on that some other time) it suddenly made sense that the time through the wilderness of sin, even addictive sin (borrowing from the narrative of Israel in the wilderness) was something God has done to get rid of my unbelief and my reliance on myself and my work for my own sanctification and my own self-righteousness, and rely on Christ’s full work (not just his death, but his life, his birth, his resurrection) for my sanctification. As justification is by faith, sanctification is by faith, and so is missional living. As perfect love lives in and through me, my very heart is really being changed, and the change will eventually be completed in this life, as far as it’s possible for it to be done in this body of mine – and that ‘far as possible’ is very far indeed!
For in his incarnation, Jesus brought man and the divine together; in my life in Him, he brings me and the divine together. My life can look like his in his humanity here on earth. In his death, Jesus dispossessed Satan’s hold on man so that He could make us into his very own possession. In his resurrection, Jesus was victorious over death and sin, so that in my life – in this life – my intimate union with Him would bring the same into actual reality.
It all put scripture together in such a cohesive way. But also, it brought great peace and joy to me in ways I can’t fully translate onto paper. I finally realised one other thing: for many years I wondered why, after having the most amazing experiences with God that shortly afterwards I would sin in some of the worst ways. Wasn’t God’s presence supposed to sustain me? Only now did I realise that this conundrum had made me reject God’s presence because I could not believe, due to how my old theology framed my experience, that he really could fulfill the deepest desire of my heart that he himself seemed to give me when I was in his presence: holiness. God’s presence would make me deeply long to be like him and be with him, and the Bible confirmed that I should expect that, but it seemed that holiness was never something I could really have in this life – so why would I want to get into God’s presence only to get desires that will never be fulfilled until I die? God’s presence kept leading me into despair, not joy! So I had started to avoid his presence. Rather than get back into this conundrum I had secretly decided that I was far happier living on the fringes of his glorious love.
But now I realised I could have my desire. And my prayer changed to “Lord, give it all to me! I’ll have as much of you as I can possibly have in this life! Take me to the very fringes of what is possible in this life! To the very edge of how much I can have of your holy presence without dying!”
Because I realised that God, indeed, saves to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). And my relationship with Christ, with myself, and with others has not been the same. A heart of worship returned to me. And, interestingly enough, so did my enjoyment of other things that I used to enjoy (such as music and nature and reading fiction).
If I could put it this way: I came back to the ordinary life. This has helped to deal with guilt and helping me to accept sin as normal to the human experience while, at the same time, knowing that a day will come when I will grow out of it because of the Holy Spirit’s work.
“God is love and all who live in love live in God and God lives in them. And as we live in God our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgement but we can face Him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world.” (1 John 4:15-17, NLT)
I’ve been writing a book on this subject called Holy Sin. More details of this will be released in due time 🙂