• Desperado, come down from your fences
  • His Law is Love: Romans 8.3-4

    “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did:
    sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin,
    He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be …”

    Partly filled? Barely filled? Half filled? Three quarter filled? 99 44/100% filled? No. No. No! What does it say?  

    “He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
    (Romans 8.3-4, NASB)


    I’ve been thinking about a song lately. And when I start thinking about a song, I really mean I have allowed it to play on repeat for about two weeks now everywhere I go. Our friend and brother Ed Poole sang it for our dinner table a couple of Wednesday nights ago at the community dinner. The song is "Desperado," by Billy Graham. Wait, I think it was officially the Eagles. But it sure could have been Billy Graham. 

    At any rate, Ed has a beautiful voice, and he did the song justice. I believed he owned every one of those words:

    “Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
    You’ve been out ridin’ fences for so long now
    You’re a hard one, I know that you’ve got your reasons
    But these things that are pleasing you can hurt you somehow.”

    Isn’t that what life is like apart from the shelter of God’s love? Our hearts are outlaws, prone to wander, prone to harm others, prone to harm ourselves. The things that please us can hurt us somehow. And the things we know we should do, we are too weak to do. We are all, without the love of God, desperados.

    Is there any hope for us?

    “Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
    Come down from your fences and open the gate
    It may be raining, but there’s a rainbow above you
    You better let somebody love you … before it’s too late.”

    You Better Let Somebody Love You

    “You better let somebody love you.” How true that is! And not just any “somebody” -- there is only one love that can bring your desperate heart off the fence and open the gate. Only one “somebody” can blaze a new trail across the high sierras of faith, hope and love. Only the love of God, a Holy love, displayed decisively at the atonement at the cross -- only this kind of love can accomplish that kind of change in you and me.

    Praise God! Jesus Christ came in the flesh -- Immanuel; God with us; God for us -- to lead our sin in the flesh to the gallows. Verse 3 says that God sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin.” But he did not take on such an adventure so that we would remain at the feet of the gallows in shame; rather that we might live -- that we might ride again in freedom on His highest trail; the high way of Holy love.  

    Begun by Grace through Faith

    Now this is important. To make this forgiveness real in your life, you must partake of it. Just as a gift under the tree is not yours until you open it, this gift of God is not yours until you receive it. And what must you do to receive it? Simply ask Jesus Christ to come into your life and be Lord of it. All we must do is come down from our fences, and open the gate, and allow His love to flood our hearts. Jesus himself says:

    “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” (Matthew 7.13)

    We call this act of humble obedience “faith”. Faith is acting on what you believe to be true -- even if you don’t understand how it all works. I married my wife in faith -- I didn’t know everything about her, but I still married her. I acted on my belief that she was the one. And I have not regretted that decision for a moment since. She is the one. I still don’t know everything about her. But I love the journey together. This is what faith is like -- acting on a belief. You believe Jesus is the One? Fine. So do demons. It means nothing until you act on that belief and crown Him King of your cowboy heart.

    That is how faith opens the gate. Now, the gate itself and the high way on the other side were built in love by God’s grace alone. It is by His grace; through your faith that you have been saved from your old life of sin, Desperado. He does all the work. You simply respond by opening the gate of your heart and letting Him in. It is like getting a second shot at life; like starting over; being born all over again.

    But forgiveness and new birth are only the beginning of the ride God has planned for you. Look very carefully at verse 4:

    “He condemned sin in the flesh, so that …”

    “So that …”  Aha! There is a reason and a purpose -- a “so that” -- for all of this! So that what? So that we can keep sinning and claim forgiveness, like pigs who worship their own filth? So that we can be even bigger jerks than we were before?  So that we can keep on drawing the queen of diamonds? So that we can walk according to our old desperado ways that leave us barefoot and cold in the wintertime, like senseless fools?  What does the Scripture say?

    “He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

    You Better Love Somebody.

    So then, we have established that we are loved and forgiven and made new when we receive the gift of God: the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We are saved, born again, forgiven, regenerated, renewed, rebooted, cleaned up, saddled up -- all of these things by grace … through faith. But what happens after that? Do we just sit on our horses in the corral? Or do we ride?

    You know the answer: we ride!

    Fulfilled by grace through faith.

    Once we are saved from our old life by grace through faith, we can finally begin to see the real purpose in all of this. God saved you by grace through faith in order to fulfill you by grace through faith. He did not rescue you from wandering to make you feel better about being lost. He plucked you out of your old life so that you would establish a new one. He pulled you down from the fence so you would get off the fence for good.  You were not washed clean to dirty the tub again and again. And shame on us for bragging about the ring of scum we left on the tub. There is no glory in how bad your old life was, only in how thoroughly He cleansed you.

    Paul says that God saved you  “so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled” in you. What does this mean? What is “the righteous requirement of the law”? It sounds complicated, but it is actually very simple. So simple that a kindergartner could explain it to you. Paul makes it clear what he means in Romans 13.8:

    “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law...” (Romans 13.8)

    And just in case you missed it, or would like to spin it a different way, Paul doubles down and says it again in verse 10:

    “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
    (Romans 13.8,10)

    In case you think Paul was just rambling here, that this little epistle to the Romans might be a fluke, behold what he says again without a hint of ambivalence in Galatians chapter 5:

    “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’...” (Galatians 5.14)

    And again, for emphasis, in Galatians 5.22:

    “But the fruit of the Spirit is love…”

    What is “the righteous requirement of the law”? Love. But what kind of love? Human love? Never! We are too weak to love in this way. The love Paul stakes everything on here is of a different sort then the love of man; this is the love of God; working in us first, then overflowing outward as love for one another. This is the kind of love that showers scoundrels with unmerited mercy and embraces the diseased and broken hearts of this world. This is the kind of love that is so absolutely central to the life of a follower of Jesus Christ, that John the beloved disciple has the boldness to say:

    “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4.8)

    And Paul concurs with John with even greater audacity, saying:

    “Though I may speak with the tongues of men and angels,
    but have not love … I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13.2a,3b)

    If we are redeemed and justified by God’s love, only one response is appropriate: to reciprocate; to love God, to love neighbor. His law … is love.

    We are “belov-ed” yes. But that is not the fulfillment of the law. God’s righteous requirement is only fulfilled when we move beyond belov-ed and become belov-ers.

    Fulfilled as we walk in the Spirit

    But we have to ask, how far can you take this idea? To what extent is love for God and others possible? Can we ever really be-lovers? Can the righteous requirement of the law -- can Holy love -- ever be fulfilled in our lives? Can we really love the way God loves, as Paul and John so clearly declare? Can we love perfectly as we are loved perfectly? Or perhaps another Scriptural term besides “perfect love” will clarify the question. Let's us the word “complete” Can you love completely, as you are loved completely? Can you love fully as you are loved fully?

    Let us return to today's text… Just how “filled” is that requirement of the law, the law of love, in those who “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit?” Is it Half-filled? Three-quarter filled?  No. What does it say: full filled. Not partially or inadequately filled, but fulfilled. Completely. Wholeheartedly. As we walk in the Spirit, God’s complete and perfect love for us becomes God’s perfect and complete love through us. By His grace, through our faith, we receive Holy Love, and by that grace we express that Holy Love to one another and to Him. And this is what the word of God calls sanctification; going beyond the cross and on to perfection -- not necessarily perfect in thought and deed, but perfected in love, completed in love, wholehearted in love for God and one another.

    Isn’t this the sum of the law and the prophets? Isn’t this the whole point of the message of God revealed in the Scriptures?  When we speak of the cross, we are speaking about perfect, complete, and wholehearted love: the Father’s love for all mankind. When we worship arght, we are expressing perfect, complete, and wholehearted love for God. When we put the commandments and the sermon on the mount into practice, we are demonstrating perfect, complete and wholehearted love for one another. And when we do this, we belong to Him and no other. And we are, if I dare say it, perfected, complete and wholehearted in love.

    Becoming a holy people is not a battle to eradicate sin, but to manifest God’s perfect love. For when God’s love is complete in you, sin is eradicated. Stop trying to stop sinning, and start walking in love. Give up your good Christian life and follow Jesus. You sin should never be the focus of your attention; God’s Holy Love alone deserves that position. If you love God and one another wholeheartedly, sin is edged out, there is no more room in the Inn for it.

    In 1945, it wasn’t enough to stop the advance of evil Nazi Germany, a new government had to be installed. And so it is in our hearts. We do not wrestle to merely contain sin -- that is an endless task. We must get at the root of sin, topple its government in our lives -- and the only way to do that is to manifest the Holy Love of God through communion with Him. Not partially manifest it, but fully manifest it. The love of man will always attempt to negotiate a settlement with sin. But the love of God will not accept anything but the full, complete and unconditional surrender of sin. When we speak of entire sanctification, which I firmly believe to be the central theme of the Gospel, we are speaking of full surrender to God. That is all. Nothing more, but nothing less. No effort is required, other than to say these words: I surrender all. And then… communion with God is complete, and love finally wins.

    Taking it Home

    We were bought at a price; beloved for a reason. It was God’s design all along that we might be a holy people, fully transformed by His Holy Love, and fully sanctified to return His Holy Love back to Him, and to channel His Holy love with one another. This is what Moses says in Deuteronomy 6.4-5: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one ... and you shall love Him … with your whole heart.”

    Jesus says it too in Matthew 22.36-40:

    “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

    And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

    Beloved: be sanctified. Beloved: be lovers... of God, and of one another, and so fulfill the righteous requirement of the law. His law is love, and His gospel is peace.  
    Closing Christmas Carol: “O Holy Night” (Especially “His law is love and his gospel is peace”)

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