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“You never know what depths of sin and wickedness of hell are in your nature till you turn and start to walk the path that leads to God and Christ, the path that is paved with righteousness and truth, but bordered with grinning fiends and smiling serpents who stretch out hands to help the traitor in your soul,” said I. M. Haldeman.
What threatens a heart aflame with love for God? When this column was introduced, Sinclair Ferguson wrote that one of the things it would explore would be ways in which a heart aflame with love for God can be threatened. I look back over almost four decades of Christian experience and realize that the contribution I am most suited to make is one that addresses the threat to a heart aflame.
Long ago, in the middle of teen years ripped apart and made lonely by the dissolution of my family, it hit me with all the blinding force of Saul’s light on the road to Damascus: God loves me. It was not just people in general whom He loves, and me as one of them. He loves me. He had given His Son to die for me. He had taken great pains for me. If no other person in the universe ever cared about me, I would have all the love I could ever need in this one great Lord who loves me.
It was then that I gave myself to the life goal of knowing God. Like the Apostle Paul, my desire was to “gain Christ.” I wanted to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and . . . share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:8–11). I wanted to be a woman after God’s heart. Back then, it felt like I had an infinite amount of time for pursuing that goal. Now, though, I look back over years that have flown by, and I wonder: how can it be that I have lived so many years and yet made so little progress in learning to love and imitate a Savior so worthy of praise?
One thing I don’t wonder about is this: what is it that has held me back? What is it that so constantly threatens the flame of love for God in me? It is the very heart that should be on fire; it is the sin in me, that “traitor in my soul.” So many years have gone by, and still that same old idol, myself, though I have cast it down so many times, gets put back in place once more. Why don’t I give more glory to God, who is so great? Because I’m so hungry for praise for me. Why don’t I seek the face of God with greater zeal? Because I’m so busy seeking comfort and pleasure for me. Why don’t I love God as He ought to be loved? Because I’m so full of love for myself.
Yet something comes time and again to my little, Spirit-created spark of love for God and blows on it, coaxing it once more into a blaze. What is it that fans the flame? It is the ugly vision, yet once more, of my sin combined with the sudden awareness of God’s infinite grace. It is the reminder that God gives grace for this precise reason: that I can never be as passionate about God, as faithful to Him, as I ought to be. It is the assurance that my salvation rests so securely on what Jesus Christ has done that none of my failures will ever undo it. Caught sinning yet again and reminded of God’s grace in Christ, my heart bursts afresh into a blaze of love and delight in Him.
God’s power is such that He takes the very things most threatening to His purposes—rebellion in a garden, family favoritism and betrayal, genocide by a pharaoh, crucifixion of the Messiah—and uses those very threats to accomplish the purposes they meant to thwart. In the same way, God has used, time and again, the horror of my sin and unfaithfulness to revive, once more, a heart on fire with love for Him, His Word, and His ways.
How does that happen? It happens when I read the accounts of Israel rebelling, whining, and making idols, and I see myself right there with them. Then I hear God’s words of promise to them and know they are for me as well:
They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezek. 37:23)
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch. . . . And this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord is our righteousness. (Jer. 23:5–6).
It happens when I hear the gospel proclaimed in such a way that it pulls my eyes away from my sin and calls to me: “Behold, your God!” It happens when I sit, unworthy, at the feast spread at the Lord’s Table and realize, as Isaac Watts wrote, “Here peace and pardon bought with blood is food for dying souls.”
So, my sovereign God makes use of my worst enemy and His, my sin, to renew in me the vision of His sweet, infinite grace. So He ushers me again into His glorious presence, my heart aflame once more with grateful love for Him.