His Great Love

Message by: Leroy Surface

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) Ephesians 2:4-5

As I begin this message, the words of a beautiful gospel song come to my mind, “The love of God is greater far, than tongue or pen can ever tell.  It goes beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell.”  Certainly I realize that my efforts to tell of “His Great Love” must fall far short of that “love of Christ, which passes knowledge (Ephesians 3:19).”  Nevertheless, there are a few things about the love of God that every person, whether believer or unbeliever, should know.  It has become the common thought in this time that God is “all loving,” with an “unconditional love” that will cover sin, receive sinners into Heaven, and fulfill every desire of man’s heart, “if” he or she will only believe upon Him.  I have heard it said that God “will do anything to get you to believe on Him.”  The truth is, He has done everything; there is nothing more than He can or will do.  “His Great Love” in our text, speaks of the love “wherewith He loved us…”  It speaks specifically of the “love of God” that was spent at the cross at Calvary.  He gave it all; He “loved us, and gave Himself for us (Ephesians 5:2).” 

Those who seek to measure God’s love as a “quantity” will never understand.  True, as the song says, it “goes beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell,” but there somehow seems to be a contradiction.  It did not reach far enough to “spare the angels that sinned (II Peter 2:4);” neither did He spare the world that was before the flood (II Peter 2:5), nor the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha (II Peter 2:6).  Peter goes on to say in the ninth and tenth verses, that God will not spare the “unjust,” or “them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness.” 

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. I John 3:1

The love of God is a “quality,” and not a “quantity.”  If it were a “quantity,” He would be a whole lot of what every man has a little portion of.  As such, if an unregenerate man developed and increased his “love” he would be that much “closer” to what God is.  Such is the foolish and erroneous thinking of much of the world today.  When the Apostle John spoke of the “manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us,” he was speaking of the “quality” of His love.  He was speaking of Jesus, giving His life for us, suffering the cross for our sin.  When thinking in terms of “quantity,” it is strange that God’s love is not enough to accept even one sinner, but it is enough that He gave His Son Jesus to suffer and die for that same sinner.  It is no wonder that the Apostle marvels as he writes, “Behold, what manner of love…”  Such love had never been seen since the world began.     

Rich in Mercy

But God, who is rich in mercy…  Romans 2:4 tells us that God is “rich” in “goodness and forbearance and longsuffering.”  Our text in Ephesians 2:4 tells us that God is “rich in mercy.”  A common theological definition for “mercy” is, “God not giving us what we deserve.”  A better definition, based on the use of the word throughout the New Testament, is, “doing for another what they cannot do for themselves.”  The blind man, Bartimaeus, cried to Jesus for “mercy,” and Jesus healed him and restored his sight (Mark 10:46-52).  The man with a lunatic son came to Jesus, asking for mercy for his son.  Jesus rebuked the devil from the child and set him free (Matthew 17:14-18).  Ten lepers met Jesus and “lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Jesus cleansed them from their leprosy (Luke 17:12-14).  A fourth example is in Luke 18:13-14, where a “sinner” that would not even lift up his eyes, prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  Jesus said this man went home “justified.”  He came to the temple a “sinner,” but he returned home a “righteous man;” he was “justified.”  In every case, Jesus did for these people that which they could never do for themselves.  He “had mercy” upon them.

Man’s idea of mercy is something like this;  “I’ve got you down; I’ve got my foot on your neck; but if you plead for mercy, and make enough promises, I will be merciful and let you live.”  When a terrorist kidnaps an innocent man or woman with the intent to kill them; if, after they have tortured the captive and tormented their families, they suddenly release the captive; that is not mercy.  True mercy, like the “love of God,” is a quality that few can understand, but it always involves “doing for another what that cannot do for themselves.”

The proper definition of the Greek word translated “mercy,” is “compassion.”  God is “rich” in “compassion;” Jesus was “moved with compassion.”  He “did for man that which man could not do for himself.”  In His life He healed the sick, opened the blind eyes, cleansed the lepers, raised the dead, and forgave sins.  In His death He did so much more.  Mercy was shown at Calvary.  It was at Calvary that Jesus did for all of mankind that which they could never do for themselves.  He “died” for us.  He died for our sin.  We could never die that death for our sin; if we did, we would be eternally lost, for eternal death is the “wages of sin.”  It was because of “His Great Love” for us and for the entire world that He laid His life down for us. 

His Great Love

…for His great love wherewith He loved us…  First, let us notice that “His great love” in this text is used in the “past tense,” hence, “wherewith He loved us.”  Does this mean that God no longer loves?  Absolutely not!  “God is Love (I John 4:8);” He is eternal; He never changes.  All that He is, He always was, and will be eternally.  God was “love” when He destroyed the “world that then was (II Peter 3:6)” in the days of Noah.  He was “love” when He turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes.  He will be “love” when He casts an unbelieving and ungodly world into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:15, 21:8).  God’s love is never manifested by “accepting” sin; instead, love’s manifestation is in redeeming the sinner; in “saving” the sinner “from” his sin (Matthew 1:21). 

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

This is “God’s Great Love” to us, and notice once again the past tense, “Christ died for us.”  He died once; He will never die again.  Though ten billion souls would be lost, Jesus will never suffer that cursed death of the cross again.  He offered His own body and blood “once for all (Hebrews 10:10).  That one bloody death is sufficient to save ten billion times ten billion souls, if they will only look to Him and believe.  

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

“For God so loved the world” does not speak of the “quantity” of God’s love, but the “manner,” as the Apostle John exclaimed in I John 3:1, “Behold, what manner of Love is this…” To under-stand this in John 3:16, we must first understand John 3:14-15:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:14-15

These two verses and John 3:16 are saying the exact same thing, the sixteenth verse is simply repeating and summarizing the fourteenth and fifteenth verses.  Numbers 21:5-9 tells the story.  The children of Israel were in the wilderness with Moses.  There, they murmured against God and Moses because they had no bread and water.  The sixth verse says that God sent “fiery serpents” among them and they began to die from the serpent’s bite.  The people cried to Moses and repented of their murmuring.  God told Moses to make a “fiery serpent” of brass and put it on a pole.  When those that were dying of the serpent’s bite would look upon the serpent of brass, they would live.  Moses did as God said, and the scripture records that as many as looked upon the brazen serpent, lived.  Jesus gave this as an example of how God would save lost humanity from the “serpent’s bite,” sin.  Sin is the reason the world is perishing.  Sin is the “poison” from the “serpent” that deceived Eve and brought the transgression of Adam and the “fall” of man.  Jesus is the remedy.  Jesus said, As (just as) Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so (in this way) must the Son of man be lifted up...”  It is the next verse, John 3:16 that says, “For God so (in this way) loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…to be lifted up on a cross in the same manner that Moses lifted a serpent of brass up on a pole…that (in order that) whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  The “magnitude” of God’s love to the world is beyond human capacity to comprehend, that He would give His own Son to die for sinners, but John 3:16 does not express “how much” God loved, but rather the “manner” of God’s love to the world.  In “seeing,” we can say with the apostle, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us…”

The “manner” of God’s love to us was not to give us “things,” if we would serve Him.  If “prosperity,” or “power” or “fame” were the way God loved us, how petty and self-serving that would be on the part of God Himself.  These are not, however, the manner of “His Great Love.”  His “manner of love” was to die for us; to be our “substitute” in death; to be “made sin” for us that we might be “made righteous” through Him.  “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out (Romans 11:33)!”

…even when we were dead in sins… It was not for the righteous man that Jesus died; there was “none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10).”  It was not for the “strong,” for we were “yet without strength” when Jesus “died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).”  He died for sinners (Romans 5:8); He died for enemies (Romans 5:10).  Why did He do it?  The common answer would be, “to take the penalty of their sin,” but no, the scriptures do not say that, nor do they teach that common doctrine.  Jesus died for sinners to “save sinners (I Timothy 1:15).”  He died for the “ungodly” that God might “justify the ungodly (Romans 4:5).”  He died for “enemies” to “reconcile them to God (Romans 5:10).”  All this He did “…even when we were dead in sins…”

How God Saves Sinners

Ask the question, “Why did Jesus die for us?” and another common answer will be “to show how much He loves us.”  Again we must remember, His love is not known by “quantity,” but by “quality.”  If Calvary were only a “show” of love, then again, how empty and shallow it would be.  It would be like a daddy committing suicide to “show” his children how much he “loved” them, yet leaving them neglected and alone to struggle to “return” daddies “love” through their life.  Oh how foolish some theological thought can be.  There was a reason for the great love God bestowed on us.  John said it was “that we should be called the sons of God (I John 3:1).”  Not only that we would be “called” sons, but that we would “be” the sons of God, for John continued in the second verse saying, “Now are we (we are) the sons of God…”  How is it that the death of Jesus would cause us to be the sons of God?  Paul gives that answer in the gospel as revealed to him.

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all… II Corinthians 5:14

The literal translation of what Paul said is that if one died for all, then all died.  This brings in the concept of “proxy.”  Adam, the first man, was a “proxy” for all humanity when he disobeyed God and fell from His favor.  Paul spoke of Adam when he said in Romans 5:12, “…by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin…”  In Romans 5:19 he spoke of both Adam and Jesus, saying, “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”  God judged, and justice required, that if all of humanity was made sinners by “proxy” by the disobedience of the “first man,” then there must be a “second man,” a “proxy” by whose “obedience” we would be made righteous.  Paul further tells us that Jesus is that “second man.”  In I Corinthians 15:45-47, Jesus is called both the “last Adam” and the “second man.”   It is the “obedience” of that “second man” that would “make many righteous.” 

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:8

In this verse Paul reveals the “obedience” that “makes many righteous.”  It is Jesus’ obedience “unto death, even the death of the cross.”  It was the only “death” that God had cursed (Galatians 3:13), and Jesus was “obedient” to that death.  When doing so, He was our proxy.  We were all sinners; we were ungodly, and enemies, and the sentence of death was upon us all.  When Jesus died on the cross for us, in that He was our proxy, we died.  If we had hung on that cross for our sin, we would all have been in hell’s torment even now and forever.  Jesus our proxy died for us, and death could not hold Him, for He had no sin, but in that He “died for all,” we all died with Him. 

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him (in union with Him), that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin.  Romans 6:6-7

The purpose for Jesus’ obedience to the death of the cross is that our old man would be crucified “with (in union with) Him,” and further, that “the body of sin” would be destroyed.  When speaking of the “body” of sin, the reference to the body may bring the wrong images to mind.  In this place the word “body” is used, not as a human fleshly body, but as when speaking of a “body of water.”  In this case we would not be speaking simply of water, but of the lake, or the sea, or the ocean; the “entire body” of water.  This is the way Paul used the word in this text.  He was not speaking of the destruction of just “sin” as some personal weakness or transgression, but rather he spoke of the destruction of the “entire body of sin,” the “fallen, sinful nature” that every one of us was born into this world with.  The wonderful mystery of the gospel is that when the Son of God died on the cross, our old man died also, and the very source of sin, the “sin nature,” here called the “body of sin,” was “destroyed,” and “rendered entirely idle (Strong’s Concordance).”  Paul says this another way in Romans 8:3: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned (includes the verdict, sentence, and execution) sin in the flesh.”  God’s purpose in sending His Son to die for us was to destroy the “body of sin,” called in this place, “sin in the flesh.”  The result is that the “believer” is no longer a slave to sin, as Paul concludes in the seventh verse, “For he that is dead is freed from sin.”

Quickened With Christ

…hath quickened us together with Christ… In Romans 4:17, Paul speaks of  “God, who quickeneth the dead…”  This means that He gives “life” to the dead.  Jesus came to “save sinners.”  In that He saves sinners, He saves no one but sinners.  In that God “quickens the dead,” he quickens no one but the dead.  Neither does he quicken all the dead.  It is only those that are “dead (crucified) with Christ,” that are “quickened with Christ.”  Being “crucified with Christ,” the believer is no longer dead “in” sin, but rather we are dead “to” sin.  Being “quickened with Christ,” the believer is “alive unto God.”  Paul instructs the believer to “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed (in fact) unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:11).”  It is a “fact” that a child of God is dead unto sin.  Paul says to reckon it to be a fact.  Most people erroneously “reckon” themselves to be “dead unto sin” only as a “confession,” or as their “position” but never as their “experience.”  You must reckon death to sin through Jesus Christ to be your “fact.”  It is your “fact” if you believe the gospel, because Christ, your proxy, has died for you.  Being dead with Christ, God gives life to you.  You are a “new creature.”  The “old man (creature)” has “passed away (crucified),” and you have become a “new man.”  This is exactly what Paul is saying in II Corinthians 5:17-18: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ…”

God does not give eternal life to sinners.  That is not the way of salvation.  Sinners are “crucified,” and the crucified are “quickened,” and the quickened are the “sons of God.”  This is what Jesus called being “born again” in the third chapter of John.  It was Peter that told us that God has “begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (I Peter 1:3).” 

Rooted and Grounded in Love

I have known several people in my lifetime that seem to have what is commonly called a “green thumb.”  Such people are extremely successful in raising all varieties of plant life.  My grandmother was one of these, and so is my wife.  Many times I have seen them take what seemed to me to be nothing more than a “twig” from a tree or plant and place it in a glass of water until roots would form on it.  This is what is called “rooting.”  After the “twig” was rooted, they would prepare a soil bed for it in some small pot or container and keep it in a good environment until the tender roots adapted to the soil and began to draw the plants life from the soil.  This was called “grounding.”  After the plant is well grounded, according to the variety of plant, it is usually ready to be “transplanted” into a flowerbed, the yard, are even the open field. 

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

Our text for this chapter begins with “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith…” and ends with “…that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”  What a vast difference between these two positions.  In between these positions is the matter of “…that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge…”  A lost man or woman is convicted of sin.  They “repent” of sin, surrender their life to God, and “receive Jesus Christ” as their saviour.  They “trust” their life and their soul’s salvation to Jesus, and He “dwells in their heart by faith.”  If they are to “survive,” and become a “fruitful Christian,” they must immediately be “rooted and grounded in love.”  Of course, they need the love of the church body surrounding them at all times, but the love Paul is speaking of in this text is same love I am telling of in this message; “His great love wherewith He loved us.”  It is the love of God that was “bestowed upon us” in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It must be their steady diet and environment until they “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of the “great love wherewith He loved us.”  Forget about the “doctrines,” and the “ordinances,” the “creeds,” and the “principles;” they must be both “rooted” and “grounded” in the “flesh and blood” of Jesus.  Jesus told us, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him (John 6:53-56).”  Strangely, many “Christians” believe these things are too “deep” for the newborn child of God.  No!  These are the “words of eternal life (John 6:68).”  It is the diet of every child of God.  It is the “sincere milk of the word” that is given for “growth (I Peter 2:2).”  They must know immediately that they are a “new man.”  They must also know the “old man is crucified with Christ;” that the “entire body” of sin is destroyed (Romans 6:6).  They must hear that they are “freed from sin (Romans 6:7),” and that Jesus has called them to “rest” in Him (Matthew 11:28).  If they “abide (stay) in Him” they will “bring forth much fruit (John 15:5).  They must be so “renewed in the spirit of their mind (Ephesians 4:23) that they know they are, in fact, that “new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:24),” that they are “dead indeed (it’s not a fable, it’s a fact) unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:11).”   This is what it means to “know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge…”

Filled With All Fullness

“… that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” 

The “prerequisite” for being “filled with all the fulness of God,” is to “know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.”  Peter greeted the believers in his first epistle with these words: “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue (II Peter 1:2-3).”  It is the will of God that you would “know” Him; that you would “know” His love that “passeth knowledge;” that you would “comprehend” the “breadth, length, depth and height” of that love that put Jesus on the cross for you.  It is His will that you understand why Jesus suffered the cross for you; that you, who were a sinner, having received Christ by faith into your heart, would yet be “filled with all the fullness of God.” 

To “know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” is to “know the unknowable.”  It is “knowledge” that can only be received by “revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12, I Peter 1:13, Revelation 1:1).”  It is to those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6).”  Jesus said, “They shall be filled.”  It is to those who seek His face in the secret “closet of prayer;” that seek him in brokenness and with tears.  It is to those who prayerfully “continue in His word (John 8:31-32),” for they shall “know the truth, and the truth shall make them free.” 

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7