I don’t know if it’s helpful for everyone to make a distinction between “loving Jesus” and being “in love with Jesus.” That might sound a little funny to some people. And that might sound a little too mushy or sappy for some people, especially dudes, but I’m way beyond the point of that bothering me at this stage in my life. It’s the truth for me. I’ve had Christian faith since I was baptized. I loved Jesus throughout my life. But it wasn’t until I got into much more intense Bible study and involvement in church work later in life that I really fell in love with Jesus (by the way, I hate that expression, “fall in love,” but it’s true when it comes to Jesus. Who he is simply compels you to love him.) And this is something that I pray for every Christian to know.
Now, I want to make something clear here. I’m not at all trying to establish myself as some higher class of Christian citizen or someone who through a clearly devised plan has made himself closer to God, like “I’m ‘in love’ with Jesus and you only ‘love’ Jesus. So there!” Not at all. I’m simply saying that I enjoy being a Christian so much more now than I used to. And I want every Christian to enjoy Jesus.
In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit makes a distinction in verbs that talk about “knowing.” You can know something to 1) be true on the basis of facts, or you can know something to 2) be true on the basis of experience. Perhaps as I’ve grown, and sinned more, I’ve come to more and more appreciate who Jesus is and what he’s done specifically for me (i.e. to know him in the latter sense). The truth is that today, I just admire the man so much that I can’t seem to take my eyes off of him. I want to be like him and I want to be with him. I’m in love with him.
And again, if you think you’re too much of a guy to be in love with another guy, double-check your sports memorabilia case and look for the autographs of your childhood heroes. We’ve all got role models, heroes, or significant others that we make the objects of our affection – people that we appreciate and venerate so much that whether we call it this or not, we’re in love with them.
So…..I want to share with you today some of the truths that led to me falling more in love with Jesus:
1) Christ’s Justice
When I was younger, I was terrified of God’s wrath and punishment. I knew Jesus had taken away hell for me. But I thought this current lifetime was to be filled with punishment for any inappropriate acts. I was consistently riddled with guilt and afraid of disappointing authority. As a child, if you looked at me funny, I cried. I was that fragile. And while I probably appeared pretty squeaky clean on the surface, I was still a sinner, and I knew it. I tried to keep that as secret as possible, but it still haunted me. That guilt, the reality of my imperfection was overwhelming at times. I couldn’t stand those shortcomings in myself and I assumed God couldn’t stand me as a result of those shortcomings either. Every sickness I got, every poor performance in sports, and every check mark on every classroom exam I interpreted as God’s hand squashing me for my unfaithfulness.
Somewhere along the line I came to a more thorough understanding of God’s justice at Jesus’ cross. Somewhere along the way the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to passages like 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” You see, what’s amazing is that God didn’t just dismiss our sins. He paid for them through Jesus. And once a debt has been paid, legally, no more payment can be collected. If we’re in God’s courtroom and we’re on trial for our sins, God CAN’T sentence us to any more punishment for our sins because Jesus already paid our debt in full. Consequently, if God punished (in the true sense of punishment) us for our sins today, it’d make him an unjust God, which would make him unholy. God, the author of holiness and justice, is incapable of such a thing. God’s justice is pure beauty for Christians, something that relieves them of any fear of punishment for who and what they are.
Now, this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t provide correction in our lives, nor does it mean that there aren’t natural consequences of my sins. But God can’t hit me with a lightning bolt if Jesus has already been hit with it. In Christ, and on the basis of God’s justice, I don’t have to worry about lightning striking twice in the same spot.
2) Christ’s Boldness
If the Gospels are accurate (and obviously I believe they are), Jesus is the most loving and least politically correct man I’ve ever known.
It sometimes drives me nuts that virtually every statement you make today has to be accompanied by a qualifying statement so that no one gets offended. We’re that sensitive. We’re that proud. We’re that drunk on our own beliefs and ideals and self-righteousness that we’ll get in a fist fight with the first person who seeks to provide any correction, because “how dare they find fault in the great and mighty me.” Much of the time we get so offended because we’re so full of ourselves. At other times, we almost apologize to people for who we are because we know that they might get offended by who we are, since they’re probably full of themselves too. We take our shoes off before walking on carpets, we sanitize our hands after every sneeze, and we handle everyone with kid gloves. Quite frankly, we all just need to not take ourselves quite so seriously.
I just don’t see this problem in Jesus at all. He’s radical, revolutionary, and incredibly refreshing in this way. If I were to sit at Panera with a known prostitute, gang leader, pedophile, and ruthless businessman over a cup of coffee, people would talk. And I probably would care about what they had to say. Jesus didn’t. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2) The people he talked to were desperate and hurt and sick and broken. It raised more than a few eyebrows that he, supposedly a “teacher” could associate with such people in any way. He just didn’t care what people who measured him with their own self-righteous measuring stick thought. Can you imagine that? People making derogatory comments and absurd judgments about God’s perfect Son because they were so blinded by their own stupid selves!
I’ve made a million unwarranted judgments about people. I’ve inappropriately worried a million times about other people’s opinions. And I’ve never cared about people a sliver of what Jesus did. And I’m not a sliver of the man who Jesus was/is.
When appropriate, Jesus called people names (both pagans and the super religious, cf. Matthew 7:6 & Matthew 23:33). Jesus was very, very exclusive and intolerant in his belief system (John 14:6). Jesus called people to standards and hated sin (Luke 13:3). To many, Jesus was super offensive and if he was the pastor at a church today I’m not sure how many people would actually attend his church because Jesus was brutally honest, and brutal honesty, while it attracts people to immoral talk radio and tabloid magazines and television, doesn’t seem to attract as many people to church. But Jesus seems to be okay with that, because he doesn’t seem nearly as concerned about getting people to like him as much as he is about expressing love to them. And that brings me to my final point.
3) Christ’s Selflessness
My whole life I’ve wanted to be loved. All humans want this. We can get very needy and unhealthy about it. And many people spend large chunks of their life searching for love. It probably comes from the fact that we don’t, by nature, know the truth. The reality is that we humans, who are created in the image of God, inherently are loved by God. God created us not to seek love, but to understand that we already are the recipients of love, and then to express that love to others.
Jesus, by whom and through whom we were created (John 1, Hebrews 1, Colossians 1), knew this and demonstrated that he knew this in his time on earth. He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Jesus washed the feet of those lower than him (John 13:1-17), and made time for those who would not benefit him (Matthew 19:14), and even cured those who would not thank him (Luke 17:11-19). He just walked around expressing love constantly. And while it seemed like these casual expressions of love to the lowly maybe weren’t doing anything for him in life, truth be told, he is the most famous figure in the history of this planet. There’s no close second. More importantly, he did more for the people of this planet, including me, than anyone in the history of this planet. There’s no close second.
This is fascinating. I (and most humans) have generally always operated with the mindset that if I truly want to accomplish something in life, I’m going to have to carve out time for me, put energy into me, educate me, promote me, and love me. It’s clearly very “me” focused. God forgive me for that. Counterintuitively, Jesus was the most “successful” and “important” man in the world’s history, and yet he didn’t make a single decision that was primarily for his own benefit. Every move was an expression of love to God above all and love to others more than self. I just can’t get over that.
Obviously, we’re not Jesus and cannot be. But I find these truths about him and about who God also created us to be in Him as so beautiful and so enthralling, that it’s led me to be more in love with him – a hero, a role model, an object of affection, but most importantly, my Savior.
Since falling in love with Jesus, Bible study has become not just an academic exercise, but a bonding experience with my best friend. Public Worship has become not just about marking off the checklist of my Christian duties, but encountering my Lord within the body of Christ. Prayer has become less about just asking for what I want, and more about unloading the baggage that I’ve already got. I love Jesus. But I thank God that I also now am more in love with Jesus. Being a Christian is more enjoyable now. And I’d like to think that I wouldn’t be willing to go back even for all the love of the world.