This morning I ask the question: What is the link between God’s love for us and our love for others? This is a transitional message in the series on “The Greatest of These Is Love”.
For four weeks we have been talking about the depths of Christ’s love for us. The cost of it was infinite: it cost the suffering and death of the Son of God. The strength of his love was so great that he overcame the obstacle to it in our own ungodliness and unworthiness. The benefits of his love are as great as everything God owns in the universe. Nothing will separate us from him. And nothing good will be kept from us by him.
We are his heirs. And his love was free. Nobody took his life from him. He laid it down of his own accord. He loves his people — those who will have this love as their treasure — with a love that cannot be greater than it is. If you will receive it as your treasure and cherish it, Christ loves you more than you can comprehend. And yet it has been our goal to comprehend it in part. And we have been encouraged to pursue this because of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:17–19,
[May you be] rooted and grounded in love, [and thus] be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.
So he prays for us — and we are praying — that by sending our roots down into the depths of the love of Christ, we may comprehend it. Not by standing aside and merely observing it, but by rooting our lives in it. Drinking it up. Savoring it. Depending on it. Taking some risks on the basis of it.
Now today we ask more about this root — this link between being loved by Christ and our loving others. What is it practically that converts the love of Christ for us into our love for others?
There are two answers in the book of Galatians. One answer is the Holy Spirit. The other answer is faith. And then there is a text that links these two answers in a way that is full of practical implications for living a life of love this week.
Let’s begin with the first answer: the Holy Spirit. Look first at Galatians 5:13–16,
You were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
So walking by the Spirit is the way not to bite and devour each other but to serve one another through love. The Spirit is the key. Then look at verse 22:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The first fruit of the Spirit listed here is love. So it is plain that one crucial link between our being loved by Christ and our loving others is the Holy Spirit. Love for others is a fruit that grows in our lives by his doing. Somehow he makes it happen. It won’t happen without him. And when it does happen, we don’t get the glory for it, God does.
The Christian life of love is a supernatural life. It is not produced by merely human forces. It takes resources that we do not have. This is very crucial for us to admit. It is humbling. Left to ourselves we cannot love. But this is very encouraging. Because what it means is that, if you are sitting there and feeling: I am not by nature a loving person, you are not at a disadvantage, because in fact, nobody is by nature a loving person. If we were, love would not be a fruit of the Holy Spirit; it would be a fruit of our personality or our upbringing or our chromosomes. In fact, you may be farther along than a person who feels that love is a natural thing. They will have a harder time learning how to love because they may not look for the resources in the right place.
So the first answer is that the Holy Spirit is the link between Christ’s love for us and ours for each other. He works in us in some supernatural way to bear the fruit of love. We will see how — at least partly — as we look at the second answer.
The second answer is that the link between Christ’s love for us and our love for others is faith. The key text here is Galatians 5:6:
In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
What Paul is wrestling with here is the false teaching that getting circumcised will help a man merit or earn salvation. He says in verse 2,
If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
In other words, if you look to your own merit, or to the merit of the things you can do, then the all-sufficient worth of Christ in dying for your sins and obtaining your salvation will be of no use. When you depend on your works, you reject the work of Christ.
So if our works don’t merit the salvation Christ offers, then how do we receive it? What’s the connection? He answers in verse 6,
In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
What connects us with Jesus so that the salvation he accomplished becomes ours is faith — trusting his forgiveness; banking on his promises; cherishing his fellowship. But what makes verse 6 so remarkable is that the faith that connects us with Jesus and receives his justification is “faith that works through love.” In other words, it is a kind of faith that proves its reality by producing love. Love doesn’t merit our salvation. Love proves the reality of the faith that receives salvation.
But remember our question is: What is the link between Christ’s love for us and our love for each other? Well, here is one of Paul’s answers: it is faith that produces love. Faith is somehow a link between Christ’s love for us and ours for each other.
Now the question is: What’s the relationship between these two answers? If the Holy Spirit is a link between Christ’s love for us and ours for each other, and if faith is a link between Christ’s love for us and ours for each other, how do these two links fit together? If love is the fruit of the Spirit, and if love is the fruit of faith, then how do faith and the Spirit relate to each other in bringing about love?
Paul’s answer is given in Galatians 3:1–5. Paul is distressed over the report that the Galatian churches are turning away not just from justification by faith, but from sanctification by faith (cf. Acts 26:18, 2 Thessalonians 2:13). In other words, they are falling for the false teaching that you start the Christian life by faith and with the power of the Holy Spirit, but you complete the Christian life not by faith, but by other kinds of striving and working.
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected [or completed] by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain? Does he then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
So you can hear Paul’s passion here. The Christian life is supposed to be lived every day in the same way that it began. In the Christian life you don’t graduate from Spirit to flesh or from faith to works. The Christian life begins with faith and the Holy Spirit; and it is lived by faith and by the Spirit. Faith is the first grade of the Christian life and it is the graduate school of the Christian life. And the Holy Spirit is the teacher and the power at every level. We never graduate to something else. It’s always faith and the Spirit.
So here we have the Spirit and faith brought together. Remember, this is our question: if love is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and love is a fruit of faith (Galatians 5:6), how do these two relate to each other? What practically does it mean for us when we want to be more loving people?
Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
So he says that at the beginning of the Christian life the Holy Spirit was received by faith, not works of the Law. The Spirit comes through the channel of faith. That’s how we got started in the Christian life. If the Holy Spirit is the sap, then faith is the root. Then verse 5 says that this is the way we go on in the Christian life as well:
Does he then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you. . . .
Both of those verbs (“provides” and “works”) are present tense, which in Greek means that the action is ongoing, and continuous. So God is supplying or providing the Spirit to you in and ongoing way and working miracles among you in an ongoing way. How? Paul asks. The verse ends,
[Does God] do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
And the answer is clearly, “by hearing with faith.” So both verse 2 and verse 5 emphasize the answer to our question: the Holy Spirit is received the first time and is supplied for ongoing work in our lives not by works of law but by faith. The Spirit and faith relate this way: faith is the channel or the pipeline or the conduit or the aqueduct of the Spirit. Love is the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of faith because faith is what receives and depends on the Spirit. God supplies the Spirit. He does this through faith. And love is the fruit of the Spirit released or received by faith. The love of Christ is the deep, nutritional soil where we are planted; the Holy Spirit is the sap that pours that love into our lives; and faith is the root that we send down into the soil.
So if you ask yourself, what can I do to become a more loving person, you answer, experience more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But then you will ask, yes, but what can I do to receive or to release more of the fruit-bearing work of the Holy Spirit? The answer from Galatians 3:5 is: believe God, trust God, bank on God. (See Stephen and Barnabas as examples of men “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of faith” Acts 6:5; 11:24.) But how do you do that? What practically does that mean from day to day — or for this afternoon, so that I will be a more loving person this afternoon?
We get help in answering that question from the way Paul expresses himself in verses 2 and 5. He doesn’t just say that we receive the Spirit “by faith” or that the Holy Spirit is provided and works “by faith;” he says the Spirit is received “by hearing with faith.” Both times (in verses 2 and 5) he says that the Spirit comes and works “by hearing with faith.” This gives us a focus in fighting the fight of faith and the fight for love. It involves a hearing of something to be trusted, something to be believed, something in which we have faith.
So if you ask, what can I do to become a more loving person this afternoon, the first answer is have the Holy Spirit fill your life with his power and fruit. Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is not the product of our hard work for God. It is fruit.
But how do you do that? How do you bear this fruit? What receives and releases the fruit-producing power of the Holy Spirit in your life? The answer is faith. God supplies the Spirit to us and works miracles among us (of which love is the greatest) by faith.
But faith in what? What practically do I do? Paul says it is a hearing with faith. That means there is a message that you need to hear and believe. There is a word that you need to hear with faith. So if you want to receive and release the Holy Spirit in his love-producing power, listen to the word and believe it, rest in it, bank on it, rely on it, depend on it.
But practically what word? No doubt the word of God, the Bible, especially the promises of God. But we can be more specific here because of verse 1.
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
This was the message they had “heard with faith.” A message in which Paul had painted a picture for them of Christ crucified. He had publicly portrayed Christ as crucified in his preaching. Paul couldn’t believe that they could turn away from this to their own flesh as a way to make progress in the Christian life.
So what he is saying is this. Do you at Bethlehem want to be a more loving people? Do you want more manifest and visible demonstrations of love among each other? Do you want to be more open and winsome to outsiders who visit you? Do you want to have hearts that are more free to care for the hurting? Do you want the heart to love your enemies and bless those who curse you? Do you want to be less self-absorbed and less enslaved to things, and more free to take risks and make sacrifices for others?
If so, then make it your aim day and night to be filled with the fruit-bearing Holy Spirit. For the fruit of the Spirit is love. And to that end, make it your aim day and night to be filled with faith, trust, confidence in Christ, who loved you and promises to forgive you and cleanse you and take you all the way to glory. And to that end, make it your aim to be filled day and night with the word of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Especially with powerful pictures of the love of Christ for you—like Christ crucified.
So here is the answer to our question: What is the link between Christ’s love for us and our love for each other? The answer is the fruit-bearing Holy Spirit, released in our lives by faith, which is begotten and sustained by the word of God. And at the center of that word is the portrayal of Christ crucified for our sins — all the promises contained in that love.
So even though I will be turning now in this series to talk more and more about what biblical love looks like, don’t ever leave this truth. This is where we live. We don’t ever grow beyond this. Our aim is love, which is the fruit of the Spirit, who is supplied through faith, which is sustained by the Word of God that portrays the depths of Christ’s love.
Let me close with a wonderful confirmation of all this in the Old Testament. There are two texts in the Old Testament that bless the person who does something so that they are like strong trees planted by streams of water that go on bearing fruit. One is Psalm 1 which says,
Blessed is the person . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on it day and night. He will be like a tree planted by a stream that bears fruit in season and does not wither.
The other is Jeremiah 17:7–8:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
There you see it again. The word delighted in and meditated on day and night, producing strong trust in God — confidence that God is for us, that he loves us and will be for us all that we need — and the strength to bear the fruit of love, even in the year of drought.
Let us be a people of the word, and a people of faith, and people of love, by the power of the Spirit.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.