God is determined to have His way with His bride. Correspondingly, this means that believers, as they grow in faith and love, will actively pursue Him and His will more and more. But when it comes to discussing this kind of conscious activity in the believer, we must not get here too quickly, for there is something even more foundational to discuss – namely that God’s performative – not just informative! – word is always working in His people, and not only when we are conscious of making active responses to it (see I Thes. 2:13: “the Word of God… is at work in you believers“). In other words, His beloved baptized children may indeed find themselves “caught up” in doing that which is good – that is, realizing only after the fact what it is we have been doing because of His grace and power. It is like Luther says in his introduction to Romans:
“This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace.”
When we recognize things proceeding this way in us, it is sometimes a very welcome surprise. We rejoice that it happens, for it is also true that sometimes we are only aware of the mixed motivations that war within us (the old man vs the new man – see this post for more) as we go about living our lives in Him.
In any case, in order for there to even be a possibility of being “carried away” in this fashion, we must certainly have the One Good thing that can “set loose” all the other goods – in other words, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, as detailed in the previous posts this is something that God works in us wholesale – as our will finds itself under the sway of His love. Like the happy and cooing baby who cuddles up to his mother’s breast. Or perhaps even like – brace yourself – the woman caught up in a torrid romance with the lover, it “just happens” (unless it doesn’t – there are times people reject God’s advances, for reasons we cannot fully understand). Really and truly, the whole idea of “falling” under the sway of love, either as children or adults (“falling in love”) is impossible to avoid.
To build off that second idea, God is perhaps like the Romantic Hero who is not tamed, but rather tames us… Naturally, we are not attracted to Him, but actually find, as He points out what is wrong with us, that we want to kill Him. But as we see Him and hear His words, His Holy Spirit reveals to us that He possesses what we lack and need (John 16:8-11). And here, the scales fall from our eyes as we see He is indeed the One for us – the One who loves par excellence, treasuring us more – giving us more – than any fellow human being ever could. Though He moves quickly in the relationship, he has no intention of simply “using us” for His own purposes – this Lover of our soul enjoys us, commits to us fully, and never leaves us “high and dry”. Here, there is no dichotomy between romance and marriage, for God fully commits. This means that all of our other earthly desires for this kind of love are simply an echo of this relationship of love God had planned with His people from the very beginning! Further, in, with, and through the one flesh union that God creates, He is looking to spread His “seed” and create good fruit… Even the lust and untamed perversity of fallen men is a distorted echo of something that is in reality good and beautiful (for more, see this post).
But wait a minute, we might say… what about the parables of the “treasure in the field” or “counting the cost”? It is true – on the other side of this banquet of grace, the parables of Jesus also call us to recognize that this love interest is going to cost us everything. The church cannot fail to see that being the bride of the King means “losing our earthly lives” – relatively speaking, we must see that they are, in a very real sense, “dead to us”. When He leads us to the treasure in the field, we see that the things on this earth really are – and must continue to be left behind – “buried” in the ground like the treasure was. After He finds us and brings us into the banquet this is the cost that Jesus demands we recognize and actively participate in. In his small catechism, Luther said: “that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness…” (see more on this here, from the most excellent Lutheran blog Pastoral Meanderings). This can mean nothing but a radical change – as He exchanges His righteousness for our sins, we also see that our world has been exchanged for His world.
We are in but not of the world – all our earthly loves must now be seen in the context of our relationship with Him. It is only when faith in Christ is supreme that we can see all our earthly loves and commitments in a new light, loving those around us not with a “worldly” love, but with the beginnings of a proper kind of love – a love that flows from our hearts in which our Savior is residing.
Again, we who trust in Him fall under the sway of His love. This is what all “decision theology” must admit. That we even want to believe in Him – put our trust in Him – is evidence that He has been for and not against us, and is fighting with us on the plain with His good gifts and Spirit, as a “A Mighty Fortress” states!
Part IV coming after the weekend
Image: “Like an apple tree… is my lover”, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1851-1860, accessed at http://www.biblical-art.com/artwork.asp?id_artwork=725&showmode=Full, Fall 2012