Stage Eight – Love In The Spirit
We have just learned that one of the main things that God teaches us is how to love one another. Love is the image of God because God is love. Love is at the heart of the two great commandments to love God and love our neighbor. Moreover, love is the proper goal of all Christian instruction (along with faith and hope and a good conscience).
Now, the love mentioned in the New Testament is mainly a kind of love called agape love. “Agape” is a Greek word for spiritual sacrificial love that is without any trace of selfishness. Jesus dying for our sins on the Cross demonstrates it in action:
1 John 4:9-10 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Agape love is not sexual love or sentimental attachment or family loyalty or even good friendship love. God’s love is the kind of love that we see in Jesus on the Cross. And that kind of love is impossible for the natural man. It is impossible for the carnal Christian; it is completely impossible unless we are filled with the Spirit. Agape love is God’s divine love in action!
John 13:34-35 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus’ new commandment was new because He was commanding a different kind of love than anyone had seen before. Jesus was commanding the disciples to His kind of love: agape love, spiritual love, love driven by the very divine love of God. This love was the same kind of love that Jesus had, and Christ’s love was spiritual, that is, it came directly from the Holy Spirit.
So the love of God became visible in Jesus, and the love of Christ was to be made visible by the disciples, and is also to be made visible by us.
Love is the end of the spiritual journey. Love fulfills the Law. If you are truly living in agape love, then you are perfected. God requires nothing more of you than agape love:
Romans 13:8-10 Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and whatever other commandment — all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.
If you are full of agape love then you are a completely mature Christian who is in the image of God. You have made it. Especially if you can love your enemies:
Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Agape love is not a feeling and agape love is not an action you take or a decision that you make (though feelings, actions and decisions are involved). Agape love is the spiritual love of God entering into your soul and flowing out of you like rivers of living water to a needy world. It is high, hard and difficult. Agape love crucifies the flesh and is the characteristic sign of a true Christian.
You can obey the kind of love preached in most sermons by just being a good, nice person. You do not need to be born-again, and you certainly do not need to be worshipping in the Spirit. You just go and mow the lawn of the little old lady next door and tick it off on your list of good deeds for the day. This is a totally inadequate understanding of agape love.
A full life of agape love, the Jesus kind of love, is only possible when you are submitted to God as a new creation, are filled with the Spirit, are being led by the Spirit and are being taught by the Spirit how to love others. It comes from the living water within you!
Colossians 1:7-12 You learned this from Epaphras, our dearly loved fellow slave. He is a faithful servant of Christ on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit. For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.
It is a bit difficult to see at first, but as soon as Paul hears that the Colossians were full of “love in the Spirit” he starts rejoicing and praying for them because they had been enabled (by God) to share in the saint’s inheritance in the light.
Love in the Spirit takes us into the realm of spiritual inheritance and into the light. Until we engage in agape love there is still some darkness left in us, some selfishness, some nasty ego, some covetousness. However, once the living waters flow this gets washed away.
Romans 5:5 This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
God is love (1 John 4:8) and so the Holy Spirit is love, and pours out the agape love of God into our hearts. Love is not from the flesh. Love is not from the ego. Love is from God and He imparts it to us through the Holy Spirit, which is a Spirit of power, love and sound judgment:
2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
The apostle John explains in detail about how love is from God:
1 John 4:7-21 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us. 13 This is how we know that we remain in Him and He in us: He has given assurance to us from His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent His Son as the world’s Savior. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God — God remains in him and he in God. 16 And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. 17 In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, for we are as He is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because He first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen. 21 And we have this command from Him: The one who loves God must also love his brother.
There is so much in this passage! It is so radical, so deep and so profound. The apostle explains to us that true agape spiritual love is God’s initiative. We love because God loves us. We can only love with God’s perfect love if we are in relationship with God. God is love, God sends love, God demonstrates love, and God’s love casts out all fear! God’s love is a soul-changing force for good that makes it impossible for us to hate our brother. If God’s love is in us, we cannot hate. If we do hate our brother then God’s agape love is absent from us.
1 John 2:9-11 The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
If you have agape love for your brother, then you are in the light and have a spiritual inheritance. However, if you hate your brother you are in darkness and probably unaware of it and you have stumbled in the race and have no inheritance in God at all.
To walk in the Spirit is to walk in love, and the fruit of the Spirit is spiritual love and without agape love we are nothing! (Galatians 5:16-23 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-4)
Agape love is way more than social politeness or the occasional good deed. Agape love is the quality of your inner being when you are flooded and overwhelmed by the divine love of God and it just flows on out of you!
This is why you have to be worshipping in the Spirit! This is why your mind has to be set on the things of the Spirit! This is why you need to be filled with the Spirit and the Word! Only when you do these things will the world and the flesh and all the fear fade away for long enough to let the agape love of God be unleashed in you!
You have to set the spiritual target of living in agape love and letting God love others through you. Otherwise you can get stuck. You settle for less. You make bible knowledge, or conversions, or the size of your church or your position in ministry as your spiritual targets, and these ambitions just lead to arguments and egotism.
Even if you are successful in ministry, but are paranoid and jealous, then you are still in the darkness and are not in the light!
Every single Christian is aware that they should be living in love. However, very few make it their life ambition and central purpose in life to live in love! The flesh, its lusts and its ambitions trip us up every time.
We need all the other disciplines of the Spirit such as being filled with the Spirit and being led by the Spirit if we are to consistently live in the love of the Spirit; which is why it is at the top of the tree, and the final end of the spiritual continuum. We see this in Paul’s spectacular prayer for the Ephesians:
Ephesians 3:14-19 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
As we come to know the love of Christ that passes knowledge we are filled up with all the fullness of God! Being filled with the fullness of God is obviously the end of the Continuum! So then how do we achieve this?
Firstly, we need to pray as Paul prayed! We need to desire the love of Christ with our whole being. We need to truly believe that without agape love we are never going to be a full and fulfilled human being. We need to put loving other people as a higher priority than our career and up there with having food and shelter. We can only do this if we are Spirit-filled.
Next, we need to start actually loving people. We need to try to be kind and loving at every turn. We need to create opportunities for Jesus in us to show up. A good way to do this is to study the “one another” commands in the New Testament such as: love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, and be kindly affectionate to one another. See appendix for the 36 one another commands in the New Testament.
Colossians has a wonderful paragraph on how to be a loving Christian:
Colossians 3:12-15 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
This may occasion a certain amount of material sacrifice:
1 John 3:16-18 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Thirdly, we need to trust God to show up. The word for that is faith. You need to have the faith that as you put agape love into action God will show up and meet your needs and even bless you.
- How is agape love very different from other kinds of love?
- Who is our example of agape love and what did He do for us?
- How is love the fulfillment of the law?
- How can Christian live a life of agape love?
Free Resources From Cybermissions
Christian Starterkit (for brand-new believers) www.globalchristians.org/starterkit/
Walking In The Spirit (100 short studies) www.globalchristians.org/walkspirit/
Biblical EQ – A Christian Handbook For Emotional Transformation www.biblicaleq.com
Prayer Courses and Resources: www.newtestamentprayer.com
Commentary On The Gospel of John: http://www.globalchristians.org/john/
Commentary On The Sermon On The Mount: http://www.globalchristians.org/sermon/index.htm
Commentary on Acts 1-8 http://www.globalchristians.org/acts/index.html
Free Bible Courses By Email: www.globalchristians.org/email/
The Importance of Love: http://www.globalchristians.org/eternity/love/
Harvestime Evangelism and Church-Planting Course: www.globalchristians.org/harvest/
Teacher and Facilitators Guide
The Spiritual Continuum is an ebook that is meant to be used as a discipleship tool in 1:1 or small group discussion with 18-35 year old Christians. It is designed for Bible-believing, born-again, Spirit-filled Christians from a wide range of denominations and does not push any particular church or organizational perspective.
The Spiritual Continuum is a practical guide for discipleship. It is not a theology textbook (though it contains bible teaching) and the emphasis should be on how the students put the teaching into practice. Try not to get distracted by too much theological discussion.
It is designed to be printed out and put in a 3-ring binder or similar folder. There is a wide bottom margin so students may take personal notes. Though the diagrams are in color they will work fine in black and white printing.
The Spiritual Continuum contains many bible verses. Students should be encouraged to bring their own bibles and look them up, not just read them from the text.
The concepts build from one chapter to the next, which means that the chapters should be studied in the order they are in the book. It also means that the discipleship sessions should be regular (weekly) rather than spaced too far apart so that concepts are not forgotten.
Students will be at different places and some may be uncomfortable with terms such as “baptism in the Spirit” and instructors should take time to personally listen to students and clarify areas they may have serious questions about. It is OK to go over a chapter a couple of times if it is necessary.
Feel free to add your own discussion questions to the discussion questions given at the end of each chapter.
You should continually emphasize the idea of PROCESS. After being born-again, the other seven spiritual disciplines contribute to the process of becoming like Christ. They are growing daily practices, rather than spiritual accomplishments to be ticked off on a spiritual checklist for Pharisees! The only two “one-off” events are being born-again and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The rest (such as setting your mind on the Spirit) are life disciplines that must be continually revisited.
Also, emphasize the sequential interlocking nature of the various stages. That you must set your mind on the Spirit before anything much else can happen; that being filled with the Spirit must come before worshipping in the Spirit and so on.
Lastly, paint a strong picture of what it means to be mature in Christ and completely in the image of God as a loving person. Give students a vision and motivation for personal growth.
In Chapter One the teacher should emphasize the following:
- The concept of spiritual growth being a continual process
- The necessity of being born-again
- What happens when someone is born-again and becomes a new creation
- That being born-again is not a religious work but a gracious gift of God
- The difference between the flesh and the spirit
- The consequences of the mind set on the flesh vs. the mind set on the Spirit
- How to avoid getting stuck in fleshly thoughts
- How to focus on the things of God
Chapter Three (This is a long chapter and may best be done in two different sessions):
- The difference between the Spirit IN and the Spirit UPON the believer
- The necessity of both the Spirit and the Word
- The advantages of being baptized in the Holy Spirit
- The fact that the Christian life is a lot easier when you are filled with the Holy Spirit
- Worship as part of our personal transformation in Christ
- Worship as essential
- Worship as developing the fruit of the Spirit in us
- Various ways to get involved in both personal and corporate worship
Chapter Five (a very significant chapter that should be thoroughly understood)
- What walking in the Spirit means and how it involves lifestyle and worldview
- How walking in the Spirit neutralizes the flesh
- How walking in the Spirit and carrying our Cross are connected
- How to practically go about walking in the Spirit
- How the Greek word ‘ago” can mean both “led” and “driven”
- The ways that Christians are led by the Spirit
- How being led by the Spirit can be perfectly ordinary and not mystical
- The tests of being authentically led by the Spirit (Scripture etc)
- How God leads us into a crisis where we need to learn from Him
- How the Apostle Peter was taught directly by God
- Go over 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 in quite some detail
- How God teaches us to love one another
- How love fulfills the Law and God’s expectations of us
- What agape love is (and is not) and how it fits in with the Cross
- Go over the passage in 1 John 4:7-21 in detail with the student/s
- How love crucifies the flesh and is the opposite of fleshly hatred and strife
The 36 “One Anothers” of the New Testament
- “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
- “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:34,35; 15:12,17; Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1Peter 3:8, 4:8; 1 John 3:11,23; 4:7,11,12; 2John v5)
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
- “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
- “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16, 1 Peter 3:8)
- “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
- “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
- “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
- “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Peter 5:14)
- “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
- “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
- “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
- “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
- “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
- “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
- “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:13)
- “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
- “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13)
- “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
- “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
- “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
- “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
- “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
- “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
- “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
- “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18,5:11, Hebrews 3:13, 10:25)
- “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
- “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
- “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
- “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
- “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
- “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
- “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
- “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
- “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)