"But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."(Rev. 2:4)
What was it that fueled our first love?
If we lose the first love we will find ourselves in serious spiritual peril.
Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically; we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence. But no position, influence, or involvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.
Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for God. Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is in my heart.
It is all too possible, in these different ways, to have the form of genuine godliness without its power. Only love for Christ, with all that it implies, can squeeze out the love of this world.
How can we recover a new affection for Christ and his kingdom? What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin.
Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God ... all filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.
The way in which we maintain “the expulsive power of a new affection” is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still “amazing” to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.
And there is no right living that lasts without it.
-- Sinclair Ferguson
link to full essay
This preacher dovetails Ferguson's words so well on how the gospel fuels our ability to love:
Audio: 3 min. 45 sec. (If audio does not show, click on the individual post title.)
Audio link for smartphones: Audio Link
The law comes with the power of coercion, it comes with the power of fear, and of punishment. And it says essentiall this:
Do these things and you will live. So in other words, if you will: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you will live.
But never in a million years can mere external force, mere commandment, produce that. The gospel comes along different (gospel means good news), and it says not, do these things and live, but it comes along totally free, totally unilateral and says:
Done! ... Now you will be able to live.
[But] we are very uncomfortable with the freeness of that gospel of grace. But unless you get that freeness, you'll never be able to understand the power the gospel. You'll never be able to understand the power of love.
I'm just reading [Chalmer's] here: The freer the gospel, the more sanctifying is the gospel. And the more that it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more that it will be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the christian life.
What he means by secret is that this is absolutely, utterly counter-intuitive. You would think that the more the gospel came at you and said:
You better do these things. You better be a godly person. You better start obeying the law.
The more you would be motivated to do it. [For] Chalmers, [he's] right on. He's right in line with Paul. He says, "No". It's the exact opposite of that. The freer the gospel, the more sanctifying its force. The more gracious the gospel, the more a power for godliness it is in our life. In the gospel (he goes on), we so behold God, as we may love God. It is there, and there only, where God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners. And where our desire after Him is not chilled into apathy by the barrier of human guilt. For this purpose the freer it is the better it is.
That very peculiararity, which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, that is, lawlessness ... You know, that idea where we can preach grace, we can preach the grace of the gospel, but you still need to tell people [that] they've got to be good people, or ... you won't be as good a christian as other christians if you're not (you know) living up to all these standards and keeping up with all these things.
... and Chalmer's says, "No, Absolutely not". We know of no other way by which to keep the love of the world out of our hearts than to keep in our hearts the love of God. And there's no other way by which to keep our hearts in the love of God than by building ourselves on the gospel of grace.
You can't even begin to really obey the law until you have no fear of punishment from the law. Listen to John, in 1st John 4: By this love is perfected in us, so that we may confidence in the day of judgement. Confidence in the day of judgement!? What could be more terrifying than standing before all mighty God as the judge of the universe who knows, not only the things that you've done externally, but your thoughts?
[John] says: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears has not been perfected in love. (And then he says). We love BECAUSE He first loved us. You see? There's the power of love.