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Where has all the agape gone?

 

"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Rom. 5:5 (NIV)

This verse from Romans is quite profound in that it describes the source of God's love and by whom it is administered. God's agape has been poured into our hearts, the word pouring implying an abundant provision. God's love is given to each believer as a gift from His natural nature, of Him wanting to give to His children. With this God-given agape, each believer should have all he needs to perform the God-given tasks he has been asked to do. God does not make requests to us unless He provides the means of doing it. St Paul said that love never fails, implying that this gift of love is also the final result of mature growth. Peter says we progress from diligence through faith and other aspects, right through to love.

"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 2 Pet. 5:7 (NIV)

In another place Paul tells the believer to be filled, the Greek word meaning continuously, indicating we can continuously be filled with the love of the Spirit of God. That verse is found in Ephesians where Paul is talking about believers being imitators of God.

"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. " Eph. 5:18 (NIV)

I often question my own spiritual walk with the Lord on the basis of these verses, particularly Romans 5:5, which clearly says I am filled with God's love – the Greek word for love being agape and meaning that I should be able to live my life quite unselfishly and entirely for the benefit of others. Have you ever thought of it that way, for that is what it really means?

I have wondered about Paul's leading by the Spirit of God in placing that verse in the wonderful book of Romans. Sometimes I really hope he had a bad day and misheard, for it is not always easy to see that agape flowing out of my heart. But that's my only attempt at a cop out, for the verse is there and I am sure was given by the Spirit for our guidance as to what we can receive. However, at other times I am really conscious of this Spirit-given gift and it does flow out of me without any effort at all.

I have also observed many other believers and notice that some at least have the same problems, of having the love of God consciously received to the point where it naturally flows from them, as it must in the truly Spirit-filled believer. Some even seem to act as though the Holy Spirit had missed on them, for self-effort and striving is the basis of most of their actions, instead of the easy peace and the Hebrews 4 rest that is the hallmark of the Spirit-filled believer.

I have both examined both myself and scripture to see why there might be a lack of agape operating out of present day believers. What follows is a look at some of the issues that either keep believers from a full knowledge and experience of the provision of the agape of God, or are indicators that their knowledge and experience of God is very limited.

Although this is a stand-alone article, it does relate very much to other writings of the teaching of the whole of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the whole Gospel instead of the portion that is normally taught well in evangelical circles. These articles are listed at a part of my web site at Fullness of Life in Christ at http://www.goodnews.org.au/life/index-gr.html where are also listed many other great web sites with a similar emphasis, an emphasis which is needed to light up the church of God in this day, to bring to it a fullness of life that is not possible in any other way.

So where is the Spirit-given agape that God has provided through His Spirit? I have observed that where there are certain deficiencies in scriptural belief in the lives of believers, then deficiencies of agape follow in the lives of those believers. Here is a basic outline of some of them. The first of these is also the most fundamental and necessary.

1 They will lack knowledge / teaching of the full gospel of Jesus Christ.

To be a full recipient and user of the provisions of Romans 5:5, we must have a full knowledge and experience of living out the full and entire Gospel of Jesus Christ. The evangelical church generally teaches well the effect of the spilt blood of Jesus Christ, the blood bringing forgiveness, freedom from guilt and eternal life, to sum it up briefly. However, that part of gospel teaching covers mainly the past and the future. Past sins have been forgiven and eternal future is assured. The part of the gospel which is needed for the current and present life of the believer is the body death of Jesus Christ and its effect on the believer's current life. Believers are generally aware that in some strange and wonderful way we were present on the cross of Christ and died with Him. Moreover, we were also present in the tomb of His burial and when He was resurrected we also rose with Him into eternal life. In my experience this part of the gospel is rarely taught. Romans 6, 7 and 8 cover it well, supported by the following verse in Paul's writings. This verse is a flagship verse for the true Christian life.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Gal. 2:20 (NIV)

My summary of this part of the Gospel would be.

• Our old life is dead and gone.

• The life of Christ now resides and lives within us.

• Christ is our actual life.

So, there is no struggle to live this life, as Christ lives His life in us and for us. However, we only get to internalize this by receiving it by the revelation of the Spirit of God.

It was the body death of Jesus that achieved this for us, and that is why in communion services His command was to remember both His blood and body, and to partake of the symbols of them in the form of bread and wine. It is the proper teaching of Romans, 6, 7 and 8 that provides the knowledge we need to have, to lead to the revelation of these things from the Spirit of God. However, what I am asserting is that, in my experience this teaching is little understood and rarely taught. The web page mentioned above provides these fundamental teachings. Without these fundamental teachings being taken on board by believers, they cannot expect to live with the fullness of the agape of God that scripture provides for in Romans 5:5.

 

2 They will lack a knowledge of the basic elements of the Christian life

I have written elsewhere about the basic three elements needed in the Christian life. Without these operating in our lives, it is quite impossible to be a full recipient and user of Romans 5:5. The three are:

• A conscious knowledge of the life of Christ operating within us.

• Walking by faith – real biblical faith.

• The presence of the Holy Spirit operating within us.

See http://www.goodnews.org.au/life/truthgr-12.html for the full teaching on these items. Here is a brief introduction of the three aspects.

2.1. A conscious knowledge of the life of Christ operating within us.

In many of his writings St. Paul told us of a mystery that had been hidden for all previous ages, until the time when it was revealed to him personally by the Holy Spirit. As there are at least 12 mentions of this particular mystery in the New Testament, it is a very important aspect of doctrine for everyday life. Simply expressed it is that the life of Christ is the life that is being lived in every Christian believer – not the old life of the believer or a recycled life, but the actual life of Christ has been exchanged for the old man who previously ruled the believer's life before regeneration. These verses explain two points – that Christ is in us – and He is our life.

"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Col. 1:27 (NIV)

"When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Col. 3:4 (NIV)

Again, it is impossible to receive and operate one's life under the full benefits of Romans 5:5 without a knowledge that Christ is within and is our very life.

2.2. Walking by faith – real biblical faith.

This few words about faith just briefly introduce the idea that faith is vital and a true believer cannot function without it. A few years ago the Lord took me into deep studies in faith and prayer. As I learn to live in and with real biblical faith, I have found that it is a central aspect of the Christian life. Faith is the doorway into everything else in the Christian life. Without faith we don't get too much of what God offers. Jesus Himself said that all things are according to our faith. Consider this wonderful description of real biblical faith.

"To do and suffer God's will is still the highest form of faith, the most sublime Christian achievement. To have the bright aspirations of a young life forever blasted; to bear a daily burden never congenial and to see no relief; to be pinched by poverty when you only desire a competency for the good and comfort of loved ones; to be fettered by some incurable physical disability; to be stripped bare of loved ones until you stand alone to meet the shocks of life--to be able to say in such a school of discipline, "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?'- This is faith at its highest and spiritual success at the crowning point. Great faith is exhibited not so much in ability to do as to suffer."

Dr. Charles Parkhurst (An entry in Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowan

2.3. The presence of the Holy Spirit operating within us.

Likewise, these few words about the Holy Spirit are not provided here in any detail. The reader will need to examine the complete presentation at the web address provided here. However, some might argue that all we need is the written word of God to guide us in our daily life. But the Bible clearly expresses another view, which is written word and the Holy Spirit. The following verse typifies the primary importance of Holy Spirit teaching, revelation and guidance in every life.

"But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." John 16:13 (NIV)

How could we possibly do without such communion with the Lord and rely entirely on the printed word? Surely, both are needed.

 

3 They will lack knowledge of God's use of adversity in life

Scripture abounds with both examples of God's use of adversity and statements reminding us that He does use adversity to refine us and teach us His ways. The following three scripture are good representative examples.

"It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. Psalm. 119:71

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Pet. 5:10

"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Pet. 1:6-7

God uses adversity to sharpen us up and refine us into the sort of person He wants us to be, to bring about an increased level of faith. The Bible teaches those principles in many places. Believers who know and realize this is how God works, normally after asking God lots of "whys", eventually come to realize that the many clouds of misfortune will probably have a silver lining. Of course, any adversity caused by our own stupidity is exempt from this good. God does not reward us for doing stupid things. But genuine adversity allowed by God for our own benefit, will bring benefit if we take notice of the point being made and change our attitude and behaviour accordingly. This last paragraph is an extract from a full discussion on the subject which is found at: http://www.goodnews.org.au/life/truthgr-11.html

God's use of adversity in our lives is in fact a process or His own design that he employs widely. He hopes, that as He brings negatives and other things against us to test our spiritual capabilities, that as we struggle and fail, that we will realize our deplorable state without Him directing our lives and that we will want to rush to Him, trusting that He, through the indwelling life of Christ in us, will be permitted by us to organize and run our lives for us. Man simply has no place in trying to conduct and live His own life.

So how does this relate to Romans 5:5 and the agape that Paul says we receive from the Spirit of God? It is this. Christians who find that their lives seem to include one adversity after another, often believe that they do not receive love from God, despite what Romans 5:5 says. However, it is best if they see the adversity as a part of God's love, God's tough love that requires some change in us – as per all or one of those three scriptures - one from Psalms and two from Peter, and many others. So I am saying that if the believer is confused about adversity and suffering that might seem unfair, that they may not realize the benefit of Romans 5:5. As can be seen, the full and true operation of Romans 5:5 in the believer's life has many aspects.

4 They may be blind to many spiritual truths – and not know it.

• Christian doctrine needs to be known and in my personal experience of my own life and in the observance of the lives of others, where doctrine is not known, then all manner of difficulties are present to inhibit life. They may be in spiritual error in doctrine and practice and not know it. Spiritual Depression by Dr. Martyn Lloyd – Jones is an excellent starting point to correct such deficiency.

• Although they may have heard they are supposed to be dead to sin, they may be confused as to the experience of their current sin, because they do not know and have not experienced by revelation that they are indeed dead to sin, so they cannot live their lives in faithful believe that they are in fact dead to it. And if they do not realize they are dead to sin, they will not know and experience that they are alive to God through Christ Jesus. In effect they are stuck in the apparent confusion of Romans 7:14-25 and not realize the truth about that scripture – that it was a temporary state in Paul's life, which from A.D 43 was lived in fullness of life and no confusion about his state.

• Although they may be well read of their Bibles, they may not realize the severe limitations of just having intellectual knowledge of the written word – and that the truth needs to be received by revelation from the Spirit before the Spirit word becomes a part of them and is KNOWN, rather than just intellectually believed.

• They may not know that the Christian's rest of Hebrews 4 is available in this present life – simply by belief and obedience. Also, they may not really know the difference between soul and spirit and what it means in everyday life.

• They may not fully realize who they are in Christ and the abundance of blessings that have already been bestowed on each believer and are available by faith.

• They may not realize that the surrender to Christ that occurred on the occasion of their entrance into salvation by the regeneration of the Spirit is not just a once and only event. The Spirit of God only brings fullness into the lives of those believers who live their lives on a more or less continuous basis of daily surrender.

• They may not know or have been taught that Christians need to be able to lay down their lives for the brethren in the service of Christ, using the love and power He provides.

• They may not understand that the legalistic following of the dictates of the words of scripture, entails the use of their personal self-effort, whereas walking in faith in obedience to the Spirit of God, will bring the full benefit of what God intended. Legalistic striving has no place in Christianity.

Obedience to living right according to these principles of scripture, by means of the Spirit, becomes a very important factor in being able to receive the agape of Romans 5:5

5 They will make many fundamental errors in the living of their life

• Their evangelistic efforts will be limited, unsuccessful and attempted by self-effort.

• Their practice of the Christian graces of forgiveness and confession will be poor, along with their awareness of personal sin.

• If the importance of self-surrender is not known, then there may be self-seeking, self-love, self-assertion, self indulgence, self-justification, self sufficiency and self will operating, all in opposition to living and walking in the Spirit and by faith. The un-surrendered self needs to be surrendered.

• They may be unequally yoked in relationship or business without realizing the dire consequences of such relationship. In proper relationship, God said He would be with them and would receive them. So the converse must apply if they are unequally yoked in some way. There is also the danger of the effect of close association with unbelievers and the detrimental effect they can have on you. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 and 2 Peter 3:17.

• Their lifestyle may be carnal and fleshly because the Spirit will not be in full control of their lives – as their mind will be set on flesh and fleshly ways instead of Spirit.

• They may find themselves complaining about many aspects of their life, rather than being thankful for everything - as scripture commands.

• Christians are still subject to the same worldly temptations as non-believers. Still subject to materialism, physical distractions and busyness of the world. Working and 'getting by' seem to take precedence over real living, full life and spiritual things. Christians are also still vulnerable to tricks of the mind - man's logic versus God's. It's too easy to compromise. Tolerance and feelings of one with another (not one with God) are confused with agape.

• Within marriages, spouses may be blaming each other for the difficulties they face, rather than looking to God for all things, so that they may serve their spouse in better and more godly ways. (They need to realize that the difficulties that occur may well be the Lord taking their marriage through the Cross, as he refines both them and their marriage)

• It is entirely possible that a believer or nominal churchgoer may in fact not be regenerate. The Bible says that we will know believers by their fruit. I suppose we have all seen believers who on the surface appear not to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. However, this is something we ourselves cannot judge with any absolute accuracy. Ultimately that is the Spirit's domain.

Conclusion

The points made in this article are not exhaustive by any means. There is much more detail that could be added. However, sufficient has been presented to make the point that the workings of Romans 5:5 in the life of a believer is a good indicator of their union with God. (or otherwise)

By Biblical design, the manifestation of the Christian life, should be one of receiving the love (agape) supplied to us by the Holy Spirit – as per Romans 5:5 and using that love to live the life of Christ here on this earth, bringing redemption to those who as yet know not of Him and enlightening those who are already His children into the fullness of life which He intended.

The most common reasons why believers are not able to receive and fully utilize the benefits of Romans 5:5 in grateful service to the Lord are that they have not been fully taught of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ, not knowing the basic elements of the Christian faith, nor enough about its doctrines. This results in them not having sufficient knowledge and truth to live as God intended, nor to keep out of the many fundamental errors that can easily prevent their life being fully lived.

The studies listed at the Fullness of Life in Christ web address, along with the many other wonderful writings of great Christians who live with Christ as their life, are all valuable aids in learning these things, so that we may perfectly do the will of God in our lives.

Ken Walker

August 2003