God loves the material world, for He made it. He loves us material beings, for He made us, and placed on us the highest honour by making us as those who bear His image.
There is a tendency to reject the material world in favour of some idea of a super-spiritual Christianity. But this is not the way of God. God has bound Himself to His people by means of a Covenant. But He does not just promise to save us and then oversee the process. He also enters into the process to save us.
We know this because when it came to saving this world, rather than wave a wand and spiritualise it, He entered into it as a man and not a ghost.
As if this were not enough, God, throughout history, has provided us with material tokens of His promise to save us.
In Eden, He promised to slay the dragon and cover our shame through victory. He then made stitched clothes of animal skin as a token of His promise to cover our shame.
In the days of Noah, God didn’t just promise to never flood the world again, He supplies a rainbow as a token of His promise.
And in the Gospel, Jesus is lifted up on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin. He then rises from the dead—a physical, material token—to reassure our hearts of His power to save to the utmost all who cry out to Him.
He then adds and reaffirms the promise of His love through the ongoing, visible tokens of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
This is one of the things faith and love do. Faith looks for tokens and love provides them.
In Genesis 15, God makes a tremendous promise to Abraham; that He would possess the land of Canaan. Abraham then responds by asking,
Lord GOD, how can I know that I will possess it? (Genesis 15:8)
We know that this question was not the overflow of a shakey faith because only two verses earlier we are told that, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness”.
God responded to Abraham’s request for assurance with two tokens to confirm His promise; a fantastic vision and circumcision.
Such tokens are not material props for a shaky spiritual faith; they are the natural language of faith.
As one writer put it, it is as though God spoke a kind word to us, saying that He would bring us to heaven, and we, in child-like faith responded with, “Cross Your heart?”
And instead of blasting us for our impudence, He smiled on us and said, “Cross My heart.”
God does not give us tokens of His love because our faith is false. He gives them because His love is true. And those who love always exchange tokens.
This is how God is with us, and this is how He wants us to be with one another.
It is why we make promises and keep them and it is why we obey the commandments of God.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:12-14)
Jesus gave up His life for His friends in humble obedience to God. Not because His love needed proof, but because His love was true. Likewise, our obedience is offered to Him, not because our love needs proof but as a confirmation that our love is true.
Credit: Thanks to Peter Leithart (A Great Mystery), Doug Wilson (Bone of My Bones) and C. S Lewis (Surprised By Joy) for much of the above insights.