If God comes into your life, will He ever leave? Give attention to the Word of the Lord in 1 John 4:10-12:

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:10-12 ESV).

The question of the unconditional love of God that causes a believer to persevere in her faith is fraught with Christian misunderstanding and possibly theological division.  But you rarely hear of an Arminian and a Calvinist actually coming to fisticuffs. I am ashamed to say that I am the exception.

I’ll never forget the day that a new boy came to our school. We were in the fourth grade when the assistant principal escorted the new lad into our humble classroom.  Being a backwoods country unincorporated area in Southeastern Louisiana, we did not get too many new kids coming into our classes. But one day a new kid showed up. Richard was different. He was different in many ways: his intellect, his reading habits, and his preference for privacy. He was not like the rest of us. He was also a member of a church we had never heard of.

I have told you before that we only had Baptist, Methodist, and tabernacle people, which were disgruntled Methodists and disgruntled Baptists. Richard was none of those. His family were members of the church of the Nazarene. There was no Nazarene church and our community, nor had too many people even heard of one. There apparently was a small gathering of Nazarenes who had moved from elsewhere and who met in the biggest town around, Denham Springs.

Now, the fact that he was neither Baptist or Methodist — or for that matter a tabernacle person was of no concern to me. What was concerning me was the theological discussions we were getting into at recess. I boldly asserted, “once saved, always saved.” He responded with good Nazarene doctrine that proposed “it is possible to fall away.” Our heated discussion led to several blows being exchanged, none of which hit the mark, causing us to go into a full mode wrestling on the ground. I am not sure what would’ve happened if one of us would’ve actually won the fight. But the fight was broken up by her teacher, who was also my Sunday school teacher.

When she asked, “What is all this about?” Some of the kids around answered for us, since Richard and I were out of breath and also not interested in revealing the source of our physical disagreement. “They were arguing about once saved, always saved. Mike Milton believes it and Richard Smith doesn’t.”[1] My teacher did not really get on to Richard at all. But she lit into me in a way that just about brought tears to my eyes. She said, “Mike Milton, I am ashamed of you. Have I not taught you better? Would you go into a fight about a question in God’s word? Would you dare hit another believer in the name of the Lord over anything? Whatever seriousness was attached to your discussions has been erased by the folly of your actions. You are both punished.”

In those days, to be punished meant that the teacher placed the “board of education on the seat of knowledge.” As I recall, I got three, and Richard got one. I guess it was a matter of, in my teacher’s mind, “the greater the light, the greater the judgment.” Now, the truth is: we were both wrong. Just say “once saved always saved,” is an easy axiom to remember. The problem with it, like many other little sayings, is that it is not completely correct. This saying carries with it a sort of laissez-faire approach to living for God. Whereas, the Bible teaches that if there is saving faith, there will also be demonstrable sanctification. If I go around saying “once saved always saved” and live like the devil one has to question the “once saved” part of the equation. But, Richard wasn’t completely accurate, even according to his Nazarene theology. The following way is undeniable. The Bible teaches that some have left the faith. But the Bible also teaches that they left the faith because they were never part of the faith.

The doctrine that is called the “perseverance of the saints,” is a much more satisfying and biblical expression.[2] The doctrine states that what God has started God will complete, but he will do so through the obedience and the proven love expressed by the true believer. And that leads us to the lesson that is before us today.

The first epistle of the Apostle John is concerned with expressing the doctrine of God’s love.[3] In the passage before us today we have a particular aspect of God’s love that is related to our faith as believers and as his children. It is the truth of God’s abiding love. The abiding love is expressed by John in the 15th chapter of his gospel, versus one through eight, in the language of the vine and the branches. But in his first epistle, the apostle whom Jesus loved speaks without metaphor or simile. He speaks directly about the matter of “abiding love.”

The doctrine of God’s abiding love brings blessed assurance. Every believer is guaranteed not merely the saving love of God but the abiding love of God: a love that will never let you go.

What are the characteristics of this “abiding love” that the apostle John teaches in these verses? Let us examine three foundational features of God’s abiding love.

The first foundational feature of God’s abiding love is found throughout the passage and may be put like this:

God’s abiding love begins with God’s initiating love.

John writes in verse seven that “love has been born of God…” John also writes, “in this is love, not that we have loved but that he loved us…” (10).

When we speak of the love of God, we do so in several ways. There is a universal created love of God. God loves his own creation. God loves the little sparrows, and God loves the lilies of the field. I would like to add that I do not know if God loves mosquitoes. But in some unfathomable way, inconceivable to the mind of mortal man, I am certain that God has a purpose for those little insects and in some way,  he loves them. If God loves his own creation, the animal kingdom men the plant kingdom, how much more does he love you? It is impossible to deny the love of God if you have ever drawn a breath in this world. But there is also a particular love of God. This is the love of God that comes to you through the power of the Holy Spirit, opens your mind and your heart, that you might move from merely gazing at the heavens and saying to yourself, “there must be a higher being,” to actually confessing that this being is the one, true Almighty God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. the Bible teaches us that this is a work of God himself. It is a fallacy to assert that you discovered God and chose to love him. That is impossible. For the Bible teaches that you are dead in trespasses and sins. It was John Calvin who commented on John chapter 15 and said that we were dead branches until God resurrected us and then engrafted us into his vine. We cannot come alive to the reality of God without the initial activity of God in our souls. God is the great initiator.

As I considered this truth this week I thought about every simile, every metaphor, and every possible illustration I could in order to communicate this essential truth of the Scriptures: that God loved us first. I can do no better than the inerrant and the infallible word of God itself, which says that “love is from God.” And it says, in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us…” In verse 19 John writes again, “we love because he first loved us.” The Scriptures are absolutely clear on this point. This aspect of God’s being — is initiating love — is replete throughout the Holy Scriptures. For instance, Israel is called the chosen people because God chose them. Abraham did not choose God. The somatic peoples who lived along the Mediterranean coast did not choose God. The Almighty God revealed himself to them. Their response was hesitant at best. The whole of the Old Testament is taken up with God demonstrating his love for Israel and Israel demonstrating their obstinacy to God. And do we believe that it is any different with a believer today? Unless God comes into our lives we remain lost. But the truth is God initiates his love.

Someone here might ask themselves, “Well, I wonder if God would choose me to love?” My beloved, if you have asked that question, then you’ve already confirmed the answer. The question itself reveals the spirit which is hungering after God and therefore unveils the recognizable presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.

The second foundational feature of God’s abiding love is found also in verse 10: “…He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sin.” So, let us say:

God’s abiding love is Received through God’s redeeming love.

Verse 10 really is the tenderloin of this passage. And perhaps the most flavorful part of that tenderloin is the theological word that appears in verse 10: “propitiation.” Propitiation is a word that is pulsating with meaning and yet may seem inaccessible to some. Indeed, there have been translations that have chosen to disregard this word. However, we do not ignore the difficult thing in order to understand it. We face. We investigate. We embrace it. In this case, to embrace propitiation is to embrace the very ground of eternal life for mankind. Propitiation is an act whereby one grants clemency in the face of criminality. This is the way one scholar put it:

“To be propitious is to be disposed to forgiveness and favor. To propitiate is to render an aggrieved or offended party clement and forgiving. A propitiation is that whereby the favorable change is wrought. Hence the mediation or blood of Christ as a propitiation for our sins, and the ground of forgiveness, is an atonement. It is an atonement because a propitiation for sin in its relation to the clemency and forgiveness of the divine Ruler.”[4]

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran pastor and professor and martyr for the Christian faith during World War II, who wrote in his book, the Cost of Discipleship these words:

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace.…Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field.…Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”[5]

I remember being in a particular congregation for the first time. I did not know these dear folks, and they did not know me. But it was my responsibility to administer the Lord’s Supper on this particular day. As the elements were distributed by the elders, row by row, I observed that there were toddlers taking the sacrament as they were being held on their mother’s knee. The little children had no concept whatsoever of the active participation in the sacrament that is required. Baptism is, in a sense, a passive response as we are the recipients of God’s grace through this sign of entrance. However, the Lord’s supper is an active participation requiring a cognizant understanding of the costly price of our redemption in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. After the service, I brought this matter to the attention of some of the elders. I said I am not for the imposition of rules for rule sake, but I am for godly instruction to bring about the honor and glory that is due to the name of Jesus Christ. Let the little children be trained and taught the meaning of the sacrament and so let them come.

In a similar way, you and I must study the means through which God for his sacrifice on the cross is the very ground God has been offended by your sin. God is estranged from his own creation because of the wicked and vile disposition of the human heart. Jesus Christ came to be a propitiation for our sins, that is, he came from heaven to earth to live the life we could never live and die the death that should have been ours. This act of Christ, in both his active and passive obedience — his life lived to produce the necessary righteousness and his death on the cross as the satisfaction of punishment against sin—has brought about the fulfillment of the terms of the covenant of grace. The propitiation is even more than that. For when John says that Jesus Christ is our propitiation we come to see that it is not merely the act of Christ, but it is the person of Christ himself., We are saved by a sacred bond in blood in the very person of God’s only begotten son. To ignore this and to seek a Christianity without this is to enter into the “cheap grace” that is, indeed, the deadly enemy of our church.

The third foundational feature of God’s abiding love, according to this passage, is this:

God’s abiding love is demonstrated by our reflective love.

John writes in verse 11, “beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” He continues, “No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (verse 12).

Upon an initial reading of the text, there seems to be a non sequitur.  We understand when John says that if God loves us, we should love one another.  But what does verse 12 mean? When John says that a no one is ever seen God that seems to be a truth dislocated. What does this have to do with abiding or with loving each other as a result of God’s love? The answer is this: John is saying that no one has ever seen God, but we see evidence of God. How? We see the evidence of God when we gaze into the heavens nobly? We see the evidence of God when we see a sparkle of light in the eyes of the newborn babe. We see evidence a of Almighty God in an act of kindness extended unconditionally. Thus, John is saying we see evidence of God a in the love that transforms us and causes us to reflect redeeming love to others.

So, the question comes to each one of us: “Is there evidence of the presence of Almighty God in your life by virtue of your love?”  It may be that you are, in fact, a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. But someone is hurt you. Deep emotional pain can be like a logjam in a river. The river cannot flow as it is intended. That brings severe consequences to the environment. The logjam creates a black backwater, murky, lifeless.

One of the reasons we come each Lord’s Day is to hear God’s word, to keep “the waterway of faith” running freely. And when the river of faith is flowing freely, there is life and spiritual health. And there is love.

Conclusion

Abiding love is an essential reality flowing from the character of God. God’s love is a love that will never let you go.  The features of this abiding love include his initiating love, his redeeming love, and his reflective love. What is this look like?

One could hardly imagine that a biblical lesson on the abiding love of God could be found in the remote, immoral, and appalling environs of the North Vietnamese prison camp notoriously branded “the Hanoi Hilton.” But I could think of no greater example of abiding love than the story of my late friend, an American hero, Colonel Roger Ingvalson (1928-2011), United States Air Force – retired.

Col. Ingvalson and was also an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee. During my years there as the senior minister I was deeply honored and humbled to be his friend. One time we went on a trip together to investigate the possibility of a church plant in Colorado. I’ll never forget that trip. For one thing, we took in some skiing, and this former fighter pilot still had that characteristic “air-jockey” approach to everything: take-off at top speeds, live dangerously, and enjoy the ride. That life-force of his caused Colonel Ingvalson to ski all “black diamond” ski courses.

The highly decorated, intrepid former POW persuaded me to take the ski lift to the highest point of that mountain near Aspen and to prepare for launch. I remember that as we took off, Roger looked like an Olympian skier. On the other hand, I must have appeared like a petrified child clinging to the side of the mountain for dear life. Indeed, as Roger swooshed and swaggered to the right and the left, over bumps, past cedars, I watched from beneath a snow blanket I had created in my fall.  Roger was pushing close to 80 years of age, and I was in my mid-40s. But the Colonel must have seen the abject fear in my eyes, and he had pity upon me. Without ever making fun of me, which I might have been tempted to do to another, he patiently returned to the scene of the event (about six feet from the start) and rescued me. My friend led me to a lower level where I could be more at home. I was told that they call that course, “the bunny slope” for toddlers. But it was also during that unforgettable time with Colonel Ingvalson that I got to hear Roger’s famous testimony which has been told at Billy Graham evangelistic crusades and in speeches around the country. Let me quote from one of the many articles about Colonel Roger Ingvalson.

“In 1968, Roger was flying the F-105D with the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Korat Royal Air Force Base, Thailand. The air war over Vietnam was in its third year. On 28 May, Roger took off on his 87th combat sortie, leading a mission to destroy a bridge in North Vietnam. (Roger notes lightheartedly today that it is very important to keep the number of mission takeoffs and landings equal.) With 1600 hours in the F-105, he was confident that this mission would be a success. As he pulled off the target, an air controller requested that he hit an enemy truck convoy nearby. Roger’s tactical preference was for high speed and low altitude engagement in order to assure accuracy. At about 0900, he located the convoy of Soviet-built trucks near Dong Hoi and rolled in at more than 500 knots. At 50 feet above the hard deck, he fired a long 20mm burst into the convoy.”

Moments later, Roger recalls,

“I heard and felt an explosion and my cockpit immediately filled with smoke. I hit the afterburner to gain valuable altitude, then pulled the canopy ejection handle to get rid of the smoke. I rocketed up to about 600 feet before my aircraft went into an uncontrollable roll. I pulled the ejection seat handle and squeezed the trigger. As I was catapulted out of the burning aircraft, the wind blast knocked me out, and I didn’t regain consciousness until just prior to landing on a dried-out rice paddy.”

As he hit the ground, Roger’s first reaction was to feel for broken bones. He says:

“With 15 years as a fighter pilot, I was fully aware of the fact that there is very little chance of survival during an emergency ejection at high speed and low altitude, without a multitude of injuries. To my amazement, I had no broken bones or other injuries.”

Roger had regularly attended church for 40 years, but he says his relationship with his Savior really began when he realized he had survived the ejection. He prayed and gave thanks for his survival as his would-be Communist captors were running toward him. For the next 1,742 days, Roger endured torture, starvation, desolation, disease and one stretch of 20 months in strict solitary confinement.”[6]

Roger and his fellow POWs, which included a young naval officer named John McCain, departed for Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. That was 14 March 1973. Roger told me that faith grew when he was in solitary confinement, without any light except for a precious, slight streak of daylight, which would mercifully find its way through cracks in the wall.

Roger’s mind began to be comforted by his childhood years in the Lutheran Church back in Austin, Minnesota. That comfort became strength to endure. Roger had been an all-American kid. You wouldn’t say that Roger’s mind was set on the things of God, but his parents were very faithful to bring him to church each Sunday.

If you want to ask about the power of the liturgy in Christian worship, you could ask a man like Roger Ingvalson. Every Sunday in his hometown church he joined the other parishioners and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles Creed, and, occasionally, the 23rd Psalm. The congregation recited the Ten Commandments each month at Holy Communion. Roger had professed faith in Jesus Christ according to the customs of the Lutheran Church at his confirmation.

He believed Jesus Christ was Lord and he professed that faith, albeit in a very undeveloped, even ritualized way. But it was real even if it was repressed. Between that milestone when young Roger stood in front of St. John’s Lutheran Church to be confirmed, and the years he spent in front of Viet Cong jailors being beaten, he lived the fast-paced life of a young pilot. But he told me that when he was in solitary confinement, he began to recite the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed.

He began to go through each phrase, each word, and to use that as a way to pray to God. For this man had not hitherto made a habit of prayer. What Roger discovered in the Hanoi Hilton, in the very worst place you could imagine, was that God’s love never lets you go. As a result, Roger’s faith grew. The words he learned in worship as a boy were building blocks that established a stronger faith.

What was so amazing was Rogers ability to faithfully uphold his oath to the Constitution as well as his renewed faith to Jesus in the midst of such deprivation and hardship. What is even more remarkable is the love that he sought to show those who were acting as hostile, blood-thirsty beasts towards him and his fellow servicemen in captivity. Roger was the toughest man I’ve ever known and, perhaps, the gentlest man I’ve ever known. He spent the remaining years of his life ministering to prisoners. I have never known of a greater example of the abiding love of God: initiated by God, redeemed through Jesus Christ, and reflecting the love of God to his enemies.

You and I don’t have to go to the Hanoi Hilton to discover the abiding love of God. We have only to read the truth of it here in God’s word and to believe it. And to believe in Christ is to receive the promise of his word: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”[7]

Bibliography

Allen, D. L., and R. K. Hughes. 1–3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family. Crossway, 2013. https://books.google.com/books?id=ItM6SL7DzY0C.

Barton, B. B., G. R. Osborne, and P. W. Comfort. 1, 2, and 3 John. Tyndale House Publishers, 1998. https://books.google.com/books?id=gaoYY_ACSAMC.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.

Bruce, Frederick Fyvie. The Gospel & Epistles of John. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

Calvin, J., M. Henry, A. McGrath, and J. I. Packer. 1, 2, and 3 John. Crossway, 1998. https://books.google.com/books?id=pyKvCgAAQBAJ.

Kistemaker, S. J. Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Baker Books, 2002. https://books.google.com/books?id=TaUPRAAACAAJ.

Lloyd-Jones, D. M., and C. Catherwood. Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John. Crossway Books, 2002. https://books.google.com/books?id=57hnngEACAAJ.

Milton, Michael Anthony. What Is Perseverance of the Saints? P & R Pub., 2009.

Palmer, Earl. 1, 2, 3 John/Revelation. Vol. 35. 35 vols. The Preacher’s Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003.

Thomas, Robert L., and W. Don Wilkins. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated Edition. Anaheim, Calif.: Foundation Publications, 1998.

Yarbrough, R. W. 1–3 John, Baker Exegefical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2008.

“Roger Ingvalson, American Patriot, Hero.” The Patriot Post. Accessed April 28, 2018. https://patriotpost.us/articles/12134-roger-ingvalson-american-patriot-hero.

[1] I have changed my friend’s name for obvious reasons of security. Later, when we were not yet eighteen years of age, Richard joined me in enlisting in the U.S. Navy. He went on to become a Naval Officer in the Medical Services and retired as a Commander. This incident became an event that led to a lasting friendship and mutual understanding that “men of good will may disagree.”

[2] Michael Anthony Milton, What Is Perseverance of the Saints? (P & R Pub., 2009).

[3] See, e.g., R. W. Yarbrough, 1–3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2008); D. L. Allen and R. K. Hughes, 1–3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family (Crossway, 2013), https://books.google.com/books?id=ItM6SL7DzY0C; Earl Palmer, 1, 2, 3 John/Revelation, vol. 35, 35 vols., The Preacher’s Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003); B. B. Barton, G. R. Osborne, and P. W. Comfort, 1, 2, and 3 John (Tyndale House Publishers, 1998), https://books.google.com/books?id=gaoYY_ACSAMC; J. Calvin et al., 1, 2, and 3 John (Crossway, 1998), https://books.google.com/books?id=pyKvCgAAQBAJ; S. J. Kistemaker, Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude (Baker Books, 2002), https://books.google.com/books?id=TaUPRAAACAAJ; D. M. Lloyd-Jones and C. Catherwood, Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John (Crossway Books, 2002), https://books.google.com/books?id=57hnngEACAAJ; Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994); Yarbrough, 1–3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.

[4] Robert L. Thomas and W. Don Wilkins, New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated Edition (Anaheim, Calif.: Foundation Publications, 1998).

[5] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959), See 35-37.

[6] “Roger Ingvalson, American Patriot, Hero,” The Patriot Post, accessed April 28, 2018, https://patriotpost.us/articles/12134-roger-ingvalson-american-patriot-hero.

[7] Hebrews 13:5 (English Standard Version).