daily biblical sermons


IS IT POSSIBLE TO STAY IN GOD'S LOVE AND JOY?
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, Fifth Week of Easter, May 23, 2019
Acts 15:7-21, Psalm 95, John 15:9-11


 

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

 

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:9-11).

 

 

Today Jesus explains one of the most beautiful aspects of the Christian faith. He tells us that he himself abides in the splendid stream of his Father’s love and that with that love of his Father in him, he loves us and begs us to abide in his love. But how can we do this? We can do it in the same way that Jesus manages to abide in his Father’s love, namely by keeping the commandments of God. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

 

 

This is a matter of joy. Joy should be the underlying foundation of our Christian life. Jesus lives in joy, because he lives in the love of his Father and always does his will. He keeps all his Father’s commandments, and, even more importantly, he offers his whole life for us to save us from our sins. Doing this brings him great joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” St. Paul also speaks of the joy of the Christian life, “I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all” (2 Corinthians 2:3).

 

 

The problem is that always obeying God’s commandments and Jesus’ commandments is a difficult challenge, for there are many obstacles that get in our way and cause us to fail to always and perfectly fulfill what Jesus asks of us, namely the keeping of his commandments in order to abide in his love so that his joy may be in us, and that our joy may be full. If we veer off even slightly and commit some small (venial) sin, this can often dim our experience of God’s love and joy in our heart so that we do not fully enjoy a life lived in the same splendid stream of divine love that Jesus himself abides in and invites us to abide in with him.

 

 

Jesus is true God and true man, and so we can see how he lived and what he taught us in the gospels. Therefore through him we know how he wants us to live in obedience to him so that the love that he abides in from the Father we may also experience and abide in through Jesus’ love of us.

 

 

The Father loves Jesus. Jesus abides in that love, and in the strength of that love he reflects his Father’s love and his own love to us so that the stream of divine love flowing from God the Father through Christ the Son now flows also through us if only we will abide in that love by obeying him. When we do so, our life is filled with joy, and we are at peace with God and with ourselves. This gives us deep spiritual joy, the joy of Christ himself, so that our joy becomes full.

 

 

We can better understand the beauty of abiding in Jesus’ love, which is his Father’s love, if we compare this gift with how we feel when we disobey him, even in something very small. It puts sadness into our heart and fills us with guilt, regret, and sorrow. And it’s not easy to get out of this feeling and feel restored again in God’s love, assurance, peace, and joy.

 

 

So when we fall out of the fullness of this love and joy that Jesus wants us to have with him and tells us how to have by obeying his commandments and imitating his way of life by giving ourselves totally to his ministry, to preaching his gospel to as many as we can reach, we need to repent and entrust ourselves to the justifying merits of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross for our sins, whereby he vicariously suffered our punishment for our sins for us, as our substitute, so that when we put our trusting faith in him and in what he did for us on the cross, God might once again declare us ungodly sinners righteous and restore us to the fullness of his love and joy. This restoration, called justification, is solely the work of God through his Son Jesus Christ, which we receive through faith and in no way earn by our own merits or works.

 

 

One of the greatest gifts that Christ has given to his Church is the sacrament of reconciliation, whereby the apostles (and after them their successors) are given the power by the Holy Spirit to forgive sins by the merits of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, for he said to them after his resurrection, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). This sacrament gives us the deepest peace and assurance that our sins have been fully forgiven, for it communicates to us the merits of Christ’s atoning death so that we can walk away feeling assured that our sins are forgiven and that we are now completely restored to God’s love, peace, and joy.

 

 

So we see that there are two poles to the good news that we proclaim: 1) we emphasize that justification and salvation from our sins is only the work of God through Christ’s atoning death on the cross that we only receive by faith in Christ, not by any good works of our own. And 2) we also emphasize that if we want to remain in this state of justification, whereby we are declared and made righteous by God, abide in Jesus’ love, and live with the joy of Christ in our hearts, we must be seriously concerned with keeping has commandments.

 

 

This second point is the work of sanctification, which requires our concentration and serious effort to do God’s will, to live a life like Christ’s, pouring ourselves out in love to God through service to others and carefully avoiding all sinful actions, even sinful thoughts and sinful looks, for we can sin even in our thoughts and in seeing things that are harmful to our spirit. This requires much vigilance lest we fall out of sync with God and become alienated from him, rather than reconciled with him.

 

 

JC Ryle, the 19th century British preacher and Bible commentator says, “Assurance of our own interest in Christ, and our consequent eternal safety, is one of the highest privileges in religion. To be always doubting and fearing is miserable work. Nothing is worse than suspense in any matter of importance, and above all in the matter of our souls.”

 

 

This lack of assurance and lack of the joy of abiding in the love of Christ that many Christians experience is our own fault, for it is the result of not sufficiently living in strict obedience to God’s will in all that we do.

 

 

Ryle continues to say, “Would we know why so many professing Christians have little comfort in their religion, and go fearing and doubting along the road to heaven? The question receives a solution in the saying of our Lord we are now considering [John 15:10]. Men are content with a little Christianity, and a little fruit of the Spirit, and do not labor to be holy in all of life. They must not wonder if they enjoy little peace, feel little hope, and leave behind them little evidence. The fault lies with themselves. God has linked together holiness and happiness; and what God has joined together we must not think to put asunder [emphasis added].”

 

 

Holiness and happiness go together. If we relax our efforts at holiness, our human happiness becomes hollow and superficial, and we soon find that we are filled with more sadness, regret, emptiness, and guilt than happiness. So, Ryle continues, “The man who makes conscience of diligently observing Christ’s precepts, is the man who shall continually enjoy a sense of Christ’s love in his soul.”

 

 

 

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