Four Foundations of Kingdom Living
-God’s Unconditional Love for us in Christ-
(By Dr. Ron Woodworth)
The initial understanding came like a flash of light while preparing to preach one day…
The foundation of faith is hope…
The foundation of hope is grace…
The foundation of grace is love.
I have always had a ministry that is oriented to foundational understandings. In fact, the first church I ever helped establish (or plant) was called “Foundation Fellowship.” Even the first book I wrote, which, Lord willing, will become Volume 2 of the Destiny Series, is called The Foundation of Life.
Technically speaking, a foundation is an “underlying natural or prepared base of support; especially the whole masonry substructure of a building—or life.” More simply stated, a foundation is the base upon which something is built or rests. Jesus warned that similar to a house built on shifting sand, so too would the life of a person who heard God’s word without obeying it–suffer certain collapse when tested by the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27).
The point Jesus was making is that foundations are as important in building our spiritual life in the Lord as they are in constructing a natural edifice in the world. A large part of why we struggle so much in life is because we have failed to establish, by building and resting upon, certain biblical-kingdom foundations. And when trials come our way we are either severely shaken or else fall down completely.
Three Biblical-Theological Qualifications…
1. It is important to note that even though I mention faith, hope, grace, and love as if they were separate (or distinctive) building blocks, the truth is that each word actually works in conjunction with all the others. That is to say, when our faith is being tested it results in strengthening our hope which itself deepens our love for God causing us to rely more on the grace of Christ (Romans 5:1-5). It’s like the gears of a clock that all move in harmony together resulting in an accurate reading of time. So too, though we can define nuances of distinctions between these biblical truth-words, in a broader sense they are indivisible.
This is very similar to the argument about the Trinity, or God-head. God is one and yet three vis-à-vis the three-in-oneness of God. Mathematically, the tri-unity of God can be represented by multiplying three one’s not in adding them. 1x1x1=1 vs. 1+1+1=3. On the one hand, if you try to completely separate the Father from the Son from the Spirit, you end up with three gods, or tripartitism. On the other hand, if you allow no distinction whatsoever between the Father, Son or Spirit, you end up with radical monism, with is a categorical denial of any three-foldness of the nature of God as revealed in the New Testament (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, et al).1
2. Another qualification that needs to be made is that although I speak of four foundations, in a broader sense, there is really only one foundation—Jesus Christ who is the author2 and embodiment of all of which I speak…love, grace, hope, and faith.
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11)
3. A final qualification is that whereas the apostle Paul uses three remaining eternal realities: “faith, hope and love,” I have chosen to add a fourth, grace because of its biblical-theological emphasis in the Bible as well as the present prophetic prominence of the term in the Body of Christ today.
LOVE is an affection of the heart that motivates self-sacrificing behavior for the good of another.
Notice here that God actually has a fond affection for us in Christ. It’s not like God is forced to love us because (after all) he created us. No! God not only loves us—he really likes us too! This affection literally drove the Father with compassion to commission his Son for crucifixion so that those he foreknew, before the foundation of the world,3 could be saved from eternal death and destruction. As a result, such love from God is unconditional, that is, there was nothing that we did to earn it. And if we did nothing to evoke God’s love then we can do nothing to revoke it either. In Christ we are eternally loved by God! Think about it. For God to reject us he would have to reject his Son. Therefore, our complete and eternal security before the Father is in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s why we praise him!
The opposite of God’s unconditional love in Christ would be a love conditioned by our performance–of any kind. In other words, as long as I’m “being good” by my attitudes and behavior (being joyful, going to church, reading my Bible, and even forgiving others—which is not as easy as most people say!) then I’m loved and accepted by God. However, when I step out-of-line, for any reason, then God no longer loves or accepts me. It is all based on my performance rather than my faith in Christ’s perfect life and righteousness given to me as a gift.
The fact is we need to give up on our own self-righteousness if we are ever to rest in God’s finished work in Christ on our behalf. Now this doesn’t mean that we should go around misbehaving to prove we’re loved by God unconditionally (See Romans 6:1-2). But it is certainly comforting to know that my relationship with God, and his predisposition towards me, is not disaffected by my lack of perfection. Nor is my standing before God improved by maturity in righteous deeds. I am always and forever justified before God in Christ. I am always and forever compassionately loved by God in Christ.
All of my successive attempts to grow and please the Lord should be based on the foundation of God’s unconditional love for me. But without the certainty of God’s love for me in Christ, all of my deeds may simply, and sadly, be little more than the strivings of an anxious soul who is struggling to “live up” to a standard that he or she could never hope to attain and maintain by his or her own performance.
“Cease striving and know that I am God.”
The ultimate test of failure and sin…
In the final analysis, to discern if you have a faith that is based on the unconditional love of God or not is simple…just answer one question, “How do you respond to personal failure and sin?” If you are condemned by your sin and thereby driven away from your relationship with the Lord, then you do not yet understand his unconditional love for you in Christ. But if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit and thereby drawn toward the Lord in brokenness and surrender—resulting in genuine repentance and a gratefully deepening devotion; then, my friend…you have discovered the heart of God. Listen to the Apostle John, who is seeking to give hopeful assurance to the troubled soul in time of personal failure and sin…
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Furthermore, this test of failure and sin applies equally to others as it does to oneself. In other words, how do you respond when other people sin against you? If you are easily offended, quick to anger, or churn with bitterness and judgment, then you have not yet grasped (or been grasped by) the love of God. For the soul that is convinced of God’s unconditional love continually seeks to extend just as much grace toward others as toward oneself and vice versa.
“And forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12)
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to “speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)
Admittedly, receiving and extending God’s unconditional love takes a lifetime of practice—especially if you have been deeply wounded or have some obnoxious family membersJ, but the invaluable reward of God’s “righteousness and peace”4are well worth any and every effort exerted—by grace.
Are you free from self-striving and able to relax in the unconditional love of God? Or are you driven to perform good works to somehow impress a distant god—or to please some religious people who keep reminding you of how far you’ve still got to go? Furthermore, are you growing in extending God’s unconditional love toward others who sin against you? If so, then righteousness and peace will be your certain inheritance. Drink deeply and often of this foundational revelation…for upon it rests the other divine mysteries of grace, hope and faith to come in Part 2J
1 This opposition to the New Testament Trinitarian nature of God is what Islam purports, and why they absolutely deny that Jesus is Lord and the co-eternal Son of God. Indeed, Muslims believe that Muhammad came to correct the Christian Trinitarian error by restoring the pure truth of “monotheism” as revealed to Abraham.
2 See Hebrews 12:2
3 In a certain sense the Reformed notion of “limited atonement” is true–in that it was those whom God foreknew that he also predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Romans 8:29-30). In this sense it was “limited” to the elect. However, the real issue I have with Reformed theology on this point is that they hold the doctrine of “double predestination”—whereby God “capriciously” predestined some to salvation and others to damnation; as if damnation was part of his grand design from the beginning thereby rendering some people (those who don’t believe their doctrine) as “un-savable.” Jesus, on the other hand, seems to hint that Hell was actually intended—or literally “prepared for the devil and his angels”—curiously excluding man from the verse (Matthew 24:41). In this regard, I believe it is more biblically accurate to speak of single (for the elect) rather than double (for both the saved and lost) predestination. Selah.
4 See Hebrews 12:11