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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #30: In what way does agape change us?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

I get the feeling that because many of us are so familiar with this verse, we overlook how powerful the good news of agape is. How God’s agape for us who were objects of wrath, but are now adopted into His family, transforms us. Certainly, we recognize that we have been moved from death to life; from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His Son. We have a whole thesaurus of words that we associate with our current state of being: redeemed, saved, restored, etc. These are all strong words that correctly describe what God has done for us.

But God’s agape goes far beyond our rescue from sin. God, in entering into a new covenant with us, has made agape the central feature of our relationship to Him. We are not just a rescue project to God. We are dear to Him, treasured as people He delights in. Welcomed home as family members with open arms. Not because we have value, but because He gave us value through His love for us.

And the good news of agape rolls on. We have been given the power from God to agape each other and—surprisingly—our enemies. Paul, who was quite a hate-filled renegade himself, came to be changed by this agape on the way to arrest and probably kill a few more Christians. He spoke of this transforming work of agape this way: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love (agape) has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans5:1-2, 5)

God’s agape for the world has far-reaching impact. As we cooperate with His Spirit and see our deepest brokenness renewed, we are being restored to what we were created to be in Eden. We, in turn, give out this same agape that has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit. This can be daunting. Agape is love that is given, not because the person has value and worth, or because the person is a soul of beauty and goodness. But instead, it is given because the lover chooses to love someone who would normally be counted unworthy of love. When you love in this way, you know you are being transformed.

Consider these two true life exchanges to see the difference being transformed by agape makes.

A lesbian activist/feminist professor who taught Queer Theory attacked several young believers who were advocating pro-life on her California college campus. She encouraged others present to disrupt and ridicule them. She took their poster to burn. She scratched the wrists of one of the women who tried to rescue their poster. The believers ratted her out to the administration, who were reluctant to act. Those believers turned to the police and the professor got sentenced to some community service by the criminal court. Then they decided to sue her in civil court to make sure she would think twice about doing that again. Many other believers were supportive of these young women standing up for their constitutional rights.

I read about another lesbian activist/feminist professor who taught Queer Theory at Syracuse University. She published scathing articles about Christianity. Some of those she set out to offend invited her to come and talk. They loved her. They accepted her with her butch haircut and surly manners and outspoken beliefs. They also loved her friends—partied with them to her astonishment. As a result, Rosaria Butterfield became a follower of the Jesus whom she had rejected. She described her conversion as a train wreck for her life as she knew it. She now speaks the gospel into the world of those who still live like she once did.

So which of these two women experienced the reality of agape from the believers they met? Do you see that when we allow God to transform us by His agape, it has eternal consequences? God’s agape being poured into our hearts is a significant issue. John 3:16 is not just a nice slogan for our posters. Through these simple words Jesus is telling us how God’s agape powerfully changes us.

-Steve Smith