How to Experience the Outpouring of God’s Love
Christ Community Church | Houston
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
What I want to focus on with you in the text is verse 5b: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
God’s love poured into your heart is not the same as God’s love proven to your mind. God’s love poured into your heart is a real heart-experience of being loved by God. God’s love proven to your mind is the conclusion of an argument, with or without the sweetness of feeling loved by God in the heart. I want you to know this sweetness. I want you to enjoy this gift: the outpouring of the love of God in your hearts.
You can know in your head some things from argument that you don’t experience in your heart from God’s Spirit. For example, you might argue 1) The Bible says, “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16); 2) I am part of the world; 3) therefore, God loves me. That’s one way of knowing you are loved by God.
Or you might go further and say, 1) Christ told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13); 2) I am one of his friends because I follow him and keep his commandments (John 15:14); 3) therefore Christ loves me with the greatest love.
That is a way of knowing in your head that you are loved. But that is not what Romans 5:5 is talking about. Romans 5:5 says, “Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” This is a Spirit-given experience of God’s love, not a logical inference from an argument. It is something poured out. It is something felt in the heart. Known in the way the heart knows.
And notice the magnitude of the role that this experience of the love of God is to have in your life. It the foundation for how you can be sure that your hope will not be put to shame. Do you see that word “because” in verse 5? “Hope does not put us to shame, because . . .”
To see how this “because” works we need to ask, how might hope put you to shame? Two ways 1) Your experience of hope might be a sham. You say your hope is in God, but it’s really not. Maybe it’s in comfort and health and prosperity. 2) Our experience of hope might be real but then it proves in the end to be built on sand. God really didn’t love you. Or there is not God after all.
Paul showed how God helps us with the first threat to our hope in verse 3. He puts us through the fires of suffering to refine our hope — to wean us off the comforts or health or prosperity of the world and prove to our own conscience that we really do hope in God and not this world. Verse 3: Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. You come through the trial and you say, “I’m real. My faith did not fail. My hope survived the fire. It’s real.” That’s the first way God saves us from our hope being put to shame.
The second threat to our hope is not that the experience of hope might be fake, but that the object of the hope itself might be fake. Maybe God really doesn’t love us. Maybe there is no God. And we Christians will look absolutely foolish because our hope is going to turn out to be a mirage.
That is what Paul addresses in verse 5b. He says, That is not going to happen! Hope does not put us to shame!” Why. Then he gives the reason. The foundation. And to our amazement, perhaps, he describes an experience of the heart, not mainly an argument for the head. “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Christian, you are not going to come to the end and find out: your hope has all be a sham. You are not going to be put to shame! How do you know? “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” Something happens in the heart. And you know — you really know — the kind of knowing you can die for: “My hope is not in vain!”
Four Things About This Experience
So I want to say four things about this experience from this text.
1. This experience of the love of God is poured out through the Holy Spirit.
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” Whatever else we say about this experience, let this be said: it is not decisively the work of man, but the work of God. It is supernatural. It is not finally in our power. It is not the product of mere circumstances. It is not owing to a good family of origin. It is owing to the Holy Spirit. You don’t make it happen. The Holy Spirit makes it happen. It’s his work.
There is something deeply wrong when we have become so naturalistic and so psychologized that we think a person with a traumatic, abusive background cannot know the love of God experientially. We give the impression that knowing the love of God is really a matter of good upbringing — a healthy family of origin. A loving rather than an abusive father. As if something so merely human was the source of the supernatural experience of the Spirit’s outpouring of the love of God.
No. No. The authentic experience of feeling loved by God is a work of God, not a work of being well adjusted in solid families. In fact, is it not also likely that many healthy, well adjusted, productive adults from self-assured families mistake their own natural sense of well-being for the love of God, and are therefore worse off spiritually than the struggler from the broken family who, beyond all expectation, has tasted the love of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
That’s the first thing to notice about this experience: it is given to us supernaturally by the Holy Spirit, not by man and not by ourselves or any pedigree, as if a happy family of origin were the same as the work of the Holy Spirit..
2. This experience of God’s love has factual, objective content.
Another way to say it is that this Spirit-worked experience — and it is an experience! — is given to us by the Spirit through historical facts. There is a knowledge component to this experience and there are real facts behind the knowledge.
Notice the connection between verse 5 and verses 6-8. Verse 5 says that the experience of the God’s love is poured out through the Holy Spirit. Then verse 6 is connected to this statement with the word “for.” “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
And then in verses 7-8 Paul unfolds for us the historical, objective fact that that Christ died for helpless, ungodly sinners. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
And notice in verse 8 how he makes crystal clear what he is saying in relation to the experience of verse 5: “God shows his love for us.” Remember, in verse 5 God’s love is poured out in our hearts. And in verse 8 it is shown to us.
Now think about this. Is the love of God shown to us historically in the death of Christ for us to study and think about and know as objective fact? Or is the love of God poured out in our hearts experientially by the Holy Spirit? And, of course, the answer is that Paul will not let us choose between these. He will not let us break these things in two.
We dare not choose between them or make them antagonistic to each other. The love of God is experienced in the heart. And the love of God is demonstrated in history. There is fact, and there is feeling. There is knowledge in the head and there is affection in the heart. There is truth and there is Spirit.
And the key question is, How are they related? On the basis of the relation between verse 5 and verses 6-8 I say, the Holy Spirit takes the historical facts of the Christ’s death and opens the eyes of our heart to see the all-satisfying divine beauty of the love of God in it. And thus by the spiritual sight of God’s love in the work of Christ, he pours that love into our hearts.
It is not an experience like electricity. It is a mediated experience. It has factual content. And therefore when it comes, it isn’t like some vague, New Age out-of-body experience, or some hypnotic state, or some ecstatic condition produced by emptying your head. It is being filled with the glory of the love of God shown in the God-man Christ Jesus who died because of our sins and rose because of our justification.
3. It is experienced by all Christians in some measure.
Why do I say this? The reason I say that all Christians have this experience in some measure is because that is what Paul says in verse 5: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. ” Notice the “our” and the “us” are the same group. The same group of people who received the Holy Spirit also have the love of God poured out into their hearts. But to whom was the Holy Spirit given?
Let Paul answer from Romans 8:9, “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Here he uses three terms: Spirit, Spirit of God, and Spirit of Christ. It is the same Spirit, not different Spirits. Then notice what he says in verse 9b: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” That means that all Christians have the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit.
So I conclude that all true Christians have at least tasted the outpouring of God’s love in our hearts. Every true Christian knows the love of God not just as an argument, but as an experience. That is what it means to become a Christian.
4. The experience varies from time to time and person to person, and can be (and should be) pursued in ever fuller measures.
Verse 5b: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I wish you could see it in English, but there is a difference in tense between “has been poured into” and “has been given to us.” The second one means the Spirit is given to us once for all, but the first one means it can keep on happening. So we receive the Spirit at conversion once for all, but the outpourings of God’s love can come again and again.
But since you can’t see that, here is what you can see — to make the same point.
First, consider 2 Thessalonians 3:5, “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.” Here we have Paul praying that God would do something now for the Thessalonians. What does he want God to do now? He wants God to “direct their hearts.” This is a remarkable phrase! The heart has directions. It moves toward one thing or another. When the heart moves toward something it moves toward what it regards as attractive and satisfying and valuable. So Paul is praying that God would give the heart a sight of the love of God as more attractive and satisfying and valuable than ordinary earthly things. “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God.” What would this be other than an experience of God’s love. Paul prays for it to happen. Which means this experience can rise and fall. It can be greater or lesser. And the great desire is, O let it be greater!
Verse 5: “Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
God will not let you down. He will not let your hope prove empty. He won’t let you be put to shame.
To that end he pours his love into your hearts by the Holy Spirit. He gives you a real, authentic experience of his love, not just an argument for his love, but an experience! And he tells us four things about this experience.
This experience of the love of God is poured out through the Holy Spirit. It is not your doing. It is supernatural.
This experience is given by the Spirit through opening the eyes of our heart to the self-authenticating glory — beauty, worth — of his love in the historical death of his Son for us. Verse 8: but God shows [present tense] his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This experience comes to every Christian in some measure. There are no Christians who merely believe by argument and not by experience. This is what it means to be born again. You have tasted and seen the glory of God in Christ crucified.
This experience varies from time to time and person to person, and can be (and should be) pursued in ever fuller measures.
Therefore, May the Lord direct your hearts into the experience of love of God.