Sanctification is important. It is not enough for us to have a head knowledge of what Jesus has done for us. What He has done must be confessed. God wants it show in our lives. A change happens. The Christian does not live to please his sinful flesh. He lives to serve God. He serves God by serving his neighbor.
We’ve been studying sanctification for 3 months now during this Trinity Season. This is the 13th and final Sunday the Church has dedicated to teaching us about sanctification – how God is working in us and with us to make us holy. Today she sums it all up in a single word: love. You will love The LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. You will love your neighbor as yourself.
“You will love.” That’s not an imperative. It’s future tense. That’s a description of the Christian life. That’s what Christians do: we love. In love The Father and The Son send us the Holy Ghost. In love He works in us love. He leads us to love God. That love for God is seen in love for the neighbor. This is because God loves us by showing us mercy. We show love to others when we do good to them, when we show them mercy.
“You will love.” What is love? It’s not just a strong affection God has for you and that you have for Him and that He wants you to have for others. It’s more than that. It’s not just a stronger version of the word “like.” “I love God” does not simply mean “I like God a lot.” It means you show that affection in what you do.
We have an example of that in life. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” God desires spouses to love each other and their children. That love doesn’t just sit around and do nothing, does it? Of course not! Both husband and wife have their roles, their duties, their tasks in the married life and as parents. When they do these tasks, they show love for each other and their family, don’t they? This love is in action when they work out their struggles and disappointments, when they suffer together gain and loss and illness. It wouldn’t be love if we let our children harm themselves or didn’t lift a finger to help our wives or husbands.
God shows us love. He didn’t need to make us. He didn’t need a world or people or animals or plants. He didn’t need any of it. But He made it all anyway. He did this so He could show His love to everything He created. He doesn’t sit back and let things run. He sends rain and sun. He gives clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, land, animals, and all we have. He guards and protects us from evil. We don’t realize it or see it, but if He didn’t, everything would fall apart. The world would become extremely ugly. We would always be hurting ourselves and our loved ones. We would have nothing to eat or drink or wear. Life would be utterly miserable. God shows His love to us in this life, and life is good.
But that’s nothing. That’s not all that special as far as He’s concerned. That’s easy. The Apostle says: “God showed His love to us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died for us when we were sinners. We were utterly, completely unlovable. We were God’s enemies. We were constantly rebelling against Him with all our sins. What were those? We talk about sins in thoughts, words, and deeds. Our thoughts weren’t controlled by His will. Our words weren’t controlled by His Word. Our deeds weren’t controlled by His Law. Everything about us was opposite what God wanted. Without Him we are unable to please Him.
You wouldn’t love somebody who can’t please you. If you do, it’s very hard. But God loved us anyway. He sent His Son to earth to die for us for that reason. He loved us. He loved us so much He gave up His life. He actually suffered death on The Cross. It is great love for a nation that causes a soldier to lay down his life in war. It is great love that causes somebody to take a bullet for a leader. But it is much greater love for God to lay down His life for sinners. We did not love Him. He loved us. He is immortal. We are not. We are sinners. He can’t sin. Yet He died for us. He was punished for all our sins. Not one went unpunished. He paid the penalty. He died so we would not have to die. He died so we might live forever. And it wasn’t just any death but the worst execution available: crucifixion. How can that not be divine love in action?
He has not stopped showing us this love. He wants you to know about that love. If you don’t know about it, it won’t help you. So He has gotten the Word to you. He has caused you to hear and believe His Word. He has poured out the saving waters of Baptism over you. He cleansed you of sin in those waters and gave you eternal life. He rescued you from the devil’s power and from your rebellion. He sent you His Spirit to direct and rule your heart. He still gives you His Word to tell you how to please God, to remind you that you are a sinner worthy of death but saved by Jesus’ Death. He sends you His love through the Sacrament of the Altar, for there He gives you Jesus’ Body and Blood – He physically forgives your sins and gives you eternal life!
That’s God’s love for us. He’s always giving it to us. He’s constantly giving us forgiveness and eternal life. He doesn’t stop giving it. He doesn’t tire of giving it. As much as we sin, He still loves to give us His loving gifts. You stop giving gifts when a child gets to a certain age or if somebody doesn’t appreciate them or doesn’t deserve them. He doesn’t do that. We still sin. He still loves to forgive no matter how often we fall into sin and return to Him in repentance.
How should we respond? He loves us, so we want to love Him. What does that love look like? It’s centered on God’s Word and Sacrament and prayer. It is glad to go up into the house of the Lord. It wants to hear God’s Word. That means we come to church; we also are joyfully encouraged to read our Bibles a few minutes every day. We don’t come to The Sacrament because everybody else is doing it; we come because we desire to receive from Jesus in this physical way forgiveness, life, and salvation. We pray – not just here but at home too and even in the restaurant – because we want to hand over all our troubles and needs to God; we believe He will care for us and do for us not what we want, but what we truly need.
That love for God spills out into love for neighbor. It cares for family and friends and those in need. It helps people out when they need it and does no harm. It is faithful to the spouse. It gives to charity and missions. It defends people and does not betray or slander them. It is content with everything it has and does not envy. It even talks about Jesus, Christ the Lord, our Savior.
“You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. You will love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the heart and core of sanctification. This is what holiness is all about. Jesus our Lord has saved us from sin. You believe in Him. That’s why He’s your Lord – He’s your Savior. He loves you. You love Him and your neighbor. In your love for others, you show that your faith is living. You show that His love has won your heart, soul, and mind.