Abundant Life in the Love of God

In their book, The Rest of the Gospel, Dan Stone and David Gregory begin by writing:

“Most people’s Christianity is like an old iron bed: firm at both ends and sagging in the middle. On the one end you trust Christ as Savior and get your sins forgiven. On the other end, one day you will die and go to heaven. In between, it gets pretty desperate. You have lots of questions that all boil down to one: Where is the abundant life Jesus promised?”

I like that quote—including the compelling question at the end. Where is the abundant life Jesus promised?

We begin our life as a Christian by believing that Jesus died for our sin and accepting Him into our life. Receiving Christ and experiencing His forgiveness is wonderful. We know we will go to heaven when we die. Then, after a period of initial joy and freedom in our newfound relationship, we set to work to live the life we see painted in Scripture. We try to keep the commandments, stay in communion with God and love God and neighbor.

But after a while we find this new life tiring and frustrating. Even with God’s help, we do not have what it takes to live it. We cannot do what we know we should. So, how does God intend for us to live our Christian lives on earth? How do we come to live as God created us to? What does the abundant life look like in everyday reality

God’s love is the foundation for living the life Jesus promised.

God is love.

1 John 4:8 and 16 proclaim: “God is love.” God doesn’t just give love; He is love. God has always been love and He will always be love. Unconditional, self-giving, other-centered love is the essence of God’s nature. All God’s other attributes are varied expressions of His love. Forgiveness, mercy and kindness are expressions of His love as are jealousy and anger. God is jealous for us because He knows it is in our best interest to desire Him above all others. God’s anger is poured out on sin because sin destroys the people He cherishes.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One in love.

We see God’s love in the bond between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our loving, relational God is Three in One. Each member of the Trinity has a unique role, yet each is love. Mutual adoration and self-giving bind the Trinity together in unbroken unity. We get a glimpse of this bond when the Father introduces His Son, “This is My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17) and when Jesus is praying to His Father just before the cross, and says, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

God loves us.

Because “God is love,” He shares Himself. Love needs to be expressed; it desires to give itself away. God created human beings in His image—so that we could know Him and be in a love-relationship with Him and with each other.

All human beings have a God-given need to be in kind, caring relationships. It is as if we were born with a hole in our heart that can only be filled with God’s love. At the core of our being, each of us needs to know that we are accepted and valued. Life literally depends on it. Children raised in institutions or with extreme emotional deprivation often die in infancy or suffer debilitating psychological problems throughout life. We were made to be loved.

However, what the world calls “love” contaminates our understanding of God’s love. Culture tells us we must measure up to some elusive standard (performance in school, athletic competence, promotions at work, body image …) to earn recognition and value. Even as Christians our tendency is to view God like Santa Clause. We think he is watching to see if we have been “naughty or nice” so he can reward or punish us accordingly. In this way, Life becomes a constant struggle to be “good” enough to earn the love our heart so desperately needs.

God desires to fill the hole in your heart with His unconditional love. He values you, not because of what you do or don’t do. His love for you is not based on your merits. No sin, past, present or future, can stop God from loving you. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God doesn’t love you because you are good; He loves you because love is who He is. His love isn’t dependent on you; it is inherent in Him

God loves you intimately and personally. He knows you better than you know yourself. All your strengths and weaknesses (even those you can’t admit to yourself), all your victories and sins (even those you don’t see), are known by God. He cherishes you to the depths of your being. God thinks towards you like a father who cradles, sings to and wishes the best for his baby. You are precious to Him. He treasures and adores you as his child.

God proved His love by giving us His son who died for us. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). Then He went to the cross.

In Romans 8:35, Paul asks a question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Then in Romans 8:38–39, he answers his own question with bold clarity: “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing—absolutely nothing—can separate us from God’s love; it constantly surrounds us. But that does not mean that we recognize and embrace it. We can choose to see God’s love for us in a golden sunset, in the taste of warm bread, in the hand of a friend pressed into ours. But we can also fail to recognize these as expressions of God’s love.

God wants us to know and believe His love.

God longs for us to receive His love; that is how He planned for us to live the abundant life.

Love, by definition, can only be accepted willingly; it is a free choice. Think about your own life. If you really love someone, you want them to receive your love and love you in return. Yet, you can’t make them do that. Love doesn’t work that way. God won’t force anyone to believe or accept His love nor will He force them to be in a relationship with Him.

Infants are naturally wired to illicit and receive love from a parent or caregiver. But sometimes babies who spend their first months or years in an orphanage or dysfunctional family system remain emotionally and socially stunted throughout life. One of my friends adopted a child who resisted her care and affection. Her son would turn his face away and cry when she offered milk or changed a diaper. When my friend greeted the little boy in the morning the child would show no reaction. Rather, he seemed to look straight through his mother as if she wasn’t there. My friend cried as she recalled the pain. Not only was she being rejected, but in refusing to accept her, she knew the child was hurting himself.

Imagine yourself as a parent, being rejected day after day and witnessing the devastating consequences on your child of their refusing to accept your love. Imagine the pain and hurt God experiences when we refuse Him.

God longs for us to receive His love. Just before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed to His Father asking that we would know His love: “… that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me … that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:23, 26).

Paul echoed this desire when he prayed for the Ephesians to know the vastness of God’s love. “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge ”(Ephesians 3:14–19)

Jesus gives us the love by which we love others.

Since Adam’s sin in the Garden, God’s desire had always been to restore the love-relationship with and between His people. The Old Covenant law commanded that we love God and neighbor.

A Pharisee came to Jesus with a question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” And Jesus replied, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commands hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36–40).

But just as with the rest of the Old Covenant law, people were not capable of obeying these two commands. The law couldn’t make people love. Demanding love from someone doesn’t cause them to love you; giving love to them does.

The Ten Commandments described what people should do, but they did not provide the ability to do what was required. Following rules and regulations (whether they be the Ten Commandments or other modern-day, biblically-based suggestions), can only produce a religious, outward appearance such as had by the Pharisees.

However, the Law succeeded in its purpose. It showed that in our own strength, apart from God, we are incapable of living life as God intends. It showed our desperate need for a Savior. Sin, as highlighted by the Law, set the stage for God to demonstrate His sacrificial love for us.

Jesus, the perfect, unblemished Son of God, came to earth as a man to accomplish what we human beings could not. As a sinless man, He took the place of death we deserved and died on the cross in our place. In so doing Jesus established the New Covenant—in which God fulfilled both our side and His side of the agreement. The New Covenant is not based on the will of man and his failing obedience; it is based on the will of God and His unfailing love.

On the night of the last supper, just after He washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).

As I have loved you: it makes all the difference. The New Covenant is based on God’s love for us—not on our self-generated love for God or neighbor. In the New Covenant, God offers us a new heart so that we can live—not through obedience to external rules—but through love-relationship with Him.

In the New Covenant, God is the source of the love. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We love others with the love Jesus first gave to us.

We surrender and let God’s love transform and define us.

All that I have written above is true. But God doesn’t just give us love like a parent gives a gift to a child. Love is not something He shares apart from Himself. God is love. We know love by knowing Him. Love rules in our heart when we let Him rule in our heart. As we surrender and die to our old natures, Jesus’ nature—His life of love—becomes ours.

Romans 6:3–8 says, “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection… Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”

The abundant life is not about improving the old nature; it is about replacing it with Jesus’ new nature. Jesus provides for us to love others with His love. We take hold of that provision by taking hold of Jesus—by letting Him rule in our hearts. We die to ourselves and let Christ live His life of love in us.

Paul writes of his own life: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Knowing the Son of God who loved and gave enables us also to live by faith, surrender our lives and let Jesus live His life in and through us.

Because God is self-giving love, we know He has our best eternal interests at heart. This gives us the confidence to embrace the cross of Christ and die to our old sin nature. We give up the wants and desires of our soul and let the Spirit lead. The life we live is not our own; it is Christ’s.

This new life is deeply right; we are filled with God’s righteousness. Now we obey the Law, not because of self-improvement efforts, but because of the One who lives and has His way in us. Our spirit, soul and body are in alignment with the perfect will of God. In this way, the Old Covenant law is fulfilled. “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).

Our transformed life looks like Jesus’ life. He is the example of how we were designed to live. Jesus said, “I can of Myself do nothing…. I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10). “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The world saw God’s love in Jesus because in all things the firstborn Son surrendered His will to the Father. Similarly, God planned for the world to see Him in us—His later born sons/daughters.

We are meant to radiate the Father’s love just as Jesus did. 1 John 4:16–17 says, “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us … because as He is, so are we in this world.”

In this world we share God’s heavenly love in practical, earthly ways. You are His hands that give a cup of cold water to one who is thirsty. You are His feet that walk with a neighbor to the market. You are His voice that encourages others of their value and worth. In this sense, your occupation or station in life is not important. What matters is that you do what you do with love.

1 Corinthians 13:1–3 says. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Doing miraculous things, even doing works that appear to be caring (like giving all one’s resources to feed the poor), gain us nothing.

The love of God in us, coming forth through us—to our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and enemies—defines us as followers of Jesus. John 13:35 says, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” The abundant life Jesus promised is characterized by love

We abide in God’s love and let Him live His life through us.

We rest in unity with God and let Him live in us. In this way, God’s love flows from us bringing life wherever we go. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

Galatians 5:22 tells us, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” The fruit of the Spirit is God’s love in all its varied expressions: joy that overflows, peace that calms and soothes, long-suffering that endures, kindness in action … These qualities are produced by the Holy Spirit living in us and expressing Himself through us. The Spirit in us produces the fruit. Nowhere does scripture say, “The fruit of a self-disciplined life is …” It does not say, “The fruit of our hard work and law-abiding life is …” It says, “The fruit of the Spirit is …”

As we abide in God’s love, the fruit comes naturally. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love (John 15:9). We are willing, vibrant branches bearing the nature of God. The life we live—the works we do—don’t come from us. They flow through us in connection with the Vine. The abundant life is living as branches in seamless unity with the Vine.

In loving others, we are loving God.

People have different ways in which they like to be loved. Some like to receive gifts. Others feel loved when someone spends time with them. Still others may especially like being affirmed by another’s words. God too has a special way in which He likes to be loved. It warms God’s heart to see His children loving others.

Jesus told a parable in which a king commended those who treated others with kindness—who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and visited the sick and imprisoned. Then He went on to say, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). God accepts our caring for others as our loving Him.

In Jesus’ last recorded interaction with His disciples, He took Peter—the disciple who had denied Him three times—aside and restored him to his original calling. Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (John 21: 15, 16 and 17). And each time, after Peter answered, “Yes,” Jesus responded, “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15), “Tend My sheep” (John 21:16), “Feed My sheep” (John 21:17). God wants us to love Him by loving His sheep—His children. He accepts our feeding, sheltering, teaching or comforting His people as us loving Him.

When we love others, we are loving God. In this way, the two greatest Old Covenant commands (to love God and neighbor) are fulfilled in Jesus’ one new command (to love one another as He loves us). In God’s amazing plan, when we care for a fellow human being, we are loving God. In this way, God’s love flows from Giver to receiver and back again so that the two become one.

What a joyful, free way to live. We surrender our will and let God direct our steps. We abide in Him and let His life of love flow out to those around us. He put us on this earth to love in our unique, God-ordained way, those in our unique God-ordained niche of the world. Your humanity is the earthly showcase for God’s perfect, heavenly love. God’s love finds expression, fulfillment and completion in you. Letting God live His life of love through you is the abundant life!

Using the headings from each of the sections in this article, the chart below serves as a reminder that God’s love is the foundation and source for living the abundant life Jesus promised.

God is Love

1 John 4:8

. . .

Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One in love.

Matthew 3:17; John 17:24

. . .

God loves us.

Romans 5:8; John 15:13; Romans 8:38–39

. . .

God wants us to know and believe His love.

John 17:23, 26; Ephesians 3:14–19

. . .

We surrender and let God’s love transform and define us.

Galatians 2:20; 1 John 4:16–17; 1 Corinthians 13:1–3; John 13:35

. . .

We abide in love and let Jesus live His life through us.

John 7:38; Galatians 5:22; John 15:5, 9

. . .

Jesus gives us the love by which we love others.

John 13:34; 1 John 4:19

. . .

In loving others, we are loving God.

Matthew 25:40; John 21:15–17

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All Scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version ®. Copyright© 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Italics included in Scripture quotations have been added by the author for emphasis.