Editor's note:

This week at Ren­o­varé, our Insti­tute fac­ul­ty and staff are blessed to be gath­ered with the Dal­las cohort. This is the third res­i­den­cy of four for this group, and at each meet­ing their friend­ships deep­en as love is lived out. From the group of strangers at the cohort’s first res­i­den­cy to the bond­ed fam­i­ly with whom we are fel­low­ship­ping this week, there is some­thing spe­cial that hap­pens when God’s peo­ple find each oth­er in a space that is open, safe and enriching.”

In this piece, Chris Webb writes about that sort of love and how it may be the ful­fill­ment of holi­ness.” Not only are we cre­at­ed to love, he says, but love, right­ly ordered, will be the foun­da­tion of the king­dom of God.” We here at the Ren­o­varé Insti­tute are cer­tain­ly see­ing the King­dom break­ing in this week in one thou­sand holy moments. 

—Renovaré Team

The open­ing chap­ter of the Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God” (Gen 1:27). Schol­ars and the­olo­gians have reflect­ed for over two mil­len­nia about exact­ly what that might mean, but the apos­tle John, in his first let­ter, gives us an impor­tant insight into at least one sig­nif­i­cant impli­ca­tion. God is love,” he writes, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 Jn 4:16). To bear the char­ac­ter of God is to have love hard­wired into our essen­tial nature. The more we are con­formed to the char­ac­ter of God, the more per­fect­ly lov­ing we will become. We are cre­at­ed to love.

When God calls us to holi­ness, he roots that call in his own char­ac­ter: Be holy,” he says to the Israelites, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). Holi­ness, then, can­not sim­ply be an abstract puri­ty of our inte­ri­or nature – an unsul­lied con­science, free from guilt. Rather it is a sum­mons to pure love, to be the kind of peo­ple who can devel­op good, deep, lov­ing rela­tion­ships, both with God and with oth­er peo­ple, rela­tion­ships which are safe and enrich­ing for all con­cerned. Jesus cer­tain­ly seems to under­stand the call in this way. In the first half of the Ser­mon on the Mount he address­es a series of issues which threat­en to under­mine the qual­i­ty of lov­ing rela­tion­ships: anger, adul­tery, divorce, decep­tion, and revenge. He then push­es the bound­aries of love fur­ther than any rea­son­able moral­i­ty would seem to demand: Love your ene­mies,” he says, and pray for those who per­se­cute you” (Mt 5:44). In this way, he says, you will be per­fect, as your heav­en­ly Father is per­fect” (Mt 5:48). Love, it seems, is the ful­fill­ment of holiness.

Many years lat­er, the great twelfth cen­tu­ry Domini­can writer Thomas Aquinas picked up on this strand of bib­li­cal teach­ing and made the star­tling asser­tion that love was more than the goal of Chris­t­ian per­fec­tion: it is the fun­da­men­tal pow­er behind the cre­at­ed order. Just as physi­cists probe sub-atom­ic struc­ture to iden­ti­fy the basic forces and par­ti­cles that make up this phys­i­cal uni­verse, so Aquinas probed to the depths of Chris­t­ian the­ol­o­gy to iden­ti­fy the dri­ving ener­gy behind cre­ation itself. In the end, Aquinas argued, every­thing is ground­ed in love, since all cre­ation reflects the char­ac­ter of the one who made it. He sug­gest­ed that we are not only made to love, we are made of love. Every­thing we do is dri­ven by this divine qual­i­ty: all we can do is love.

But Aquinas had no illu­sions about the ter­ri­fy­ing human capac­i­ty for sin. He wrote about the lethal pow­er of sin, that turn­ing away from our last end which is God.” He came to see love as hav­ing the kind of awe­some pow­er we see in nuclear fusion. Well-ordered and direct­ed to the right ends, love can trans­form lives, insep­a­ra­bly unite peo­ple with one anoth­er and God, and act as the har­mo­nious and cre­ative pow­er which holds all cre­ation in being. But mis­di­rect­ed – allowed to turn in on itself, allowed to run wild­ly on the heels of any and every desire of our mis­guid­ed hearts – love can become a hor­ri­fy­ing­ly destruc­tive force, tear­ing apart the world from under our feet. Love, right­ly ordered, will be the foun­da­tion of the king­dom of God. But grotesque­ly dis­or­dered love, inor­di­nate self-love which swirls in on itself like a fierce tor­na­do, has the capac­i­ty to shape tragedies like Auschwitz or the Rwan­dan geno­cide. Sin – love dis­or­dered – is hor­rif­ic. But holi­ness – love right­ly ordered – is life in all its abundance.

We’re glad you’re here!

Help­ing peo­ple like you abide with Jesus is why we post resources like this one. Always ad-free, Ren­o­varé is sup­port­ed by those who know soul-care is vital. Would you join us?

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