After five and a half years of dating, Susan and I consummated our marriage the night of May 28th, 1983. In the morning she sat me down and said, “You’re mine. The ring is mine. Everything you have is mine… right?” I answered, “Of Course.” “Good,” she responded. “So, do I still have to kiss you? Do I still have to love you since all you have is mine already?”
“Do I still have to love you?” It was then that I realized that she never did.
And I realized that if I answered, “Yes, you have to!” she never would.
So, all I could say was, “No, you don’t have to love me,” for only then was it possible that she could; only then could the harlot become the bride.
OK. That last bit never happened… to me. But I suspect that it happens to Jesus all the time.
Sometimes people will say, “If all are ‘justified by grace as a gift,’ why would I be good? Why would I love God if I didn’t ‘have to love God?’” It’s then that I think to myself, “This person must not know God.”
If they say, “Tell me pastor: ‘Do I have to obey the law; do I have to love God?”
What am I to say? If I say, “Yes, you have to love God, it’s the law!” Will they love God?
And if I say, “No, you don’t have to love God…” would I be saying anything other than what is so painfully obvious in this fallen world?
And yet Paul and Jesus both tell us “You will love the Lord your God.”
That’s more than just a “law;” that’s a prophecy.
In Romans 9:18, we learned that God has free will. And if God Almighty has free will, no one else could have an entirely free will, unless God willed to freely will his will to them… somehow.
In Romans 9:22, we learned about vessels of wrath and vessels of Mercy. Mercy is Relentless Love, Covenant Love, “Hesed.” God is Love and His Will is Love. Jesus is the Free Will of God. If a vessel of Mercy is a vessel of Free Love, perhaps a vessel of wrath is a vessel devoid of Love that is free. Harlotry is the attempt to buy and sell Love; It’s love that is not free, and so, not Love; It’s Love that has been crucified.
In Romans 9:25, Paul quotes Hosea, who was commanded to marry and love a harlot, for God had married and did love Israel. “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people,’ there you will be called sons of the living God.” The vessel of wrath will become a vessel of mercy; the Great Harlot will become the Bride.
In Romans 9:27, Paul quotes Isaiah, who was called to preach Israel down to a remnant and then a seed—the Sacred Sperm, the Indestructible Seed, the Free Will of God in a little bundle of flesh named Jesus.
Romans 9:30-31: “What shall we say then? That gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is of faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching the law.”
Paul is speaking of the institution of Israel, his “ekklesia,” his church.
Those most resistant to the Gospel were the institutional church.
This troubled Paul. And perhaps it should trouble us.
How is it that Israel, who knew the most about God, seemed to love him the least when he appeared? And How is it that those who call Jesus, “Lord”—the Church—often seem to look the least like Jesus? And why is it that, sometimes, God seems directly opposed to both institutional Israel and the institutional church. Just fifteen years after Paul wrote to the Romans, Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed and apparently, this was all according to the Free Will of God—Jesus.
Many years ago, a friend that I trust had a prophetic dream about me. At the time, I was a prince in my denomination with a magnificent new building and a truly wonderful church. In the dream, I went on a journey with a man in a suit who must’ve been Jesus. Standing on the desert floor with him and thousands of others, black balls began to fall from the sky. They began to destroy Old Jerusalem, which had appeared in the distance, and they began to destroy our new church building. I saw one coming but refused to step aside. I was “blackballed.” My friend wrote, “the church building is destroyed but the hearts of the people, the church, is not.” The man in the suit appeared delighted in all that was unfolding.
Three years later, I was defrocked for refusing to publicly state that there was a group of people that could not be saved, and that God did not want to save. Apparently, threats of endless torture are an effective way to get people to come to church buildings, even if an ineffective way to help the human heart trust the Will of God. Everything in the dream happened but who can I blame? Only the man in the mother of pearl suit—Jesus.
Around that time, my wife received “a word” for me: “I’m calling you to free people.”
Many times, since then, I’ve sarcastically prayed, “Well, I’m freeing people . . . from church!”
Recently I’ve wondered if I’ve heard a reply, “Yes. Exactly.”
Preparing for this message and not telling her why, I asked my wife to pray with me. Then she said, “I just heard the Lord say, ‘I want you to set my people free.’”
So, listen up, you people (including me), “You don’t have to go to church.”
You know, there came a day, with each of my children, when I had to find a way to say, “No… Jon, Elizabeth, Becky, or Coleman… you don’t have to get me a gift for father’s day.”
And yet, I just had the best Father’s Day, for each of my children found a way to not only get me gifts but tell me that they loved me, and that’s all I ever wanted.
Why don’t we have to go to church? Well, so that we could want to go to church.
But let me clarify: Church is not a building, program, or institution; Church is two or more people called together to worship, and you can only worship if you want to worship, and when we actually worship (and this can take a million forms) the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
So, I could say it all this way: You don’t have to go to church so that you would want to go to church.
And, you don’t have to go to heaven, so that you would want to go to Heaven.
No one can go to heaven unless they want to go to Heaven.
If you don’t want to go to Heaven, Heaven will burn like “Hell.”
And yet, if you hear this as a threat, you’ll never want to go to Heaven.
So how do we want to go to Heaven? How do we get Faith?
In Romans 9:33, Paul reminds us of the Stone that the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone and foundation stone. Its name is “Yahweh is Salvation,” Jesus. When we build to obtain salvation, we build the Tower of Babel, an institutional vessel of wrath: the Whore of Babylon. When we are built upon it, the New Jerusalem comes down, the Vessel of Mercy, the Bride of Christ.
Romans 10:3 “Being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end, the perfection, the fulfillment, of the law.”
It is the Righteousness of God who hangs on the tree in the garden sanctuary of your heart.
When you seek to justify yourself with knowledge of him, you become a harlot, and everything dies.
But when you let him kiss you, you submit to the righteousness of God, and even that is only because his word, like a seed, has already impregnated you with Faith, Hope, and Love—the Free Will of God.
You don’t have to let him kiss you and you don’t have to go to Heaven.
But one day you will because nothing is more powerful than His Kiss.