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“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3 ESV) During this Easter season here at International Lutheran Church, we have been reading through the first letter of the Apostle John to the churches in Asia Minor. In this brief but powerful letter John shows us again and again how the love of God is revealed to us and through us. Today, we see the effect of God’s love for us in our very lives, and how this love has transformed our own lives in “the love of God.”

In Luther’s Small Catechism (a short book of questions and answers that cover the basics of the Christian faith), the explanation to each of the 10 Commandments begins with the simple phrase “We should fear and love God …” and then continues with what we “are not to do” as well as what we “are to do” according to God’s Word. For example, the commandment “You shall not steal” is followed by the words, “We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possession… but help them to improve and protect their possessions and income.” I think most of us can relate to the concept of fear because we have all faced one kind of fear or another in our lives. Even our relationship to God has been affected by fear, mostly because we are acutely aware of our inability to keep His commandments and do His will. Like our first parents who hid from God in fear, we too cower at our own trespasses. So how can John, or Luther for that matter, even talk about love especially in relation to the commandments? John even goes so far as to say the commandments are no longer burdensome!

This is the critical point that John is making as he points to the radical and amazing change in our lives because of Jesus - the “love of God” for us! For the Apostle John, the love of God is not an abstract concept or emotion. John has shown us again and again in this letter how the love of God is revealed in Jesus. In His very flesh and through His very death on a tree, God’s love has been revealed to us and to the whole world. “This is love not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us” (1 John 4:10). Now, this love is not without effect. God’s love changes us! His love is now demonstrated in us. His love has created in us new life of faith active in keeping His commands. No longer are the commandments only a curb on our own selfish desires and will. No longer are the commandments only a mirror into the hidden recesses of our sinful nature. The commandments give us a solid direction for our lives as people of faith in Christ. He has given us the very Spirit through whom alone these commands can be kept.

There is a critical verse that relates both these concepts of fear and love. “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). In other words, even our fear is transformed in the light of love revealed in the flesh of Jesus! As He lays down His life for His friends (John 15:13-15), He shows us perfect love. This love then transforms His commandments in our lives to be the very way in which our love for God is shown in us. God’s love takes on flesh and is revealed in you and me as we live in His love for us and in His commandments for our neighbor. Does this mean we no longer sin or struggle to keep His commandments? Absolutely not. We only deceive ourselves if we think we can keep them perfectly of our own effort. No, we live by faith and in faith that His Spirit is alive in us and through us. Just as Peter recognized the faith of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:34-48), so others will see our lives of faith as a living testimony to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection!

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Pastor Carl