10 03 2010

“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” – Matthew 22:35-38

If you asked someone at church if they love God, chances are they would say “yes.” Many will even say so in their prayers both public and private. If you asked the same question to the average person on the street, I suspect most would probably respond in the affirmative as well – at least among those who believe in God’s existence. I mean, after all, how many folks would claim to believe in God and not love Him?

Well, you might be surprised.

Considering all of the definitions of “love” in a culture as religiously diverse and morally perverse as ours now is, “love” can mean almost anything we want it to mean, can’t it? So, to understand what Jesus Christ meant by “loving the Lord thy God,” it would behoove us to find out what His definition of “love” is before we answer the question: “Do you love God?” – not just assume that His definition of “love” is the same as ours. It seems to me that’s where a lot of confusion about the Christian faith originates – in our misunderstanding of what “loving God” really means.

Our romantically inclined and sexually obsessed culture has taught us that love is a feeling, a fondness, an attraction or emotion. But, I don’t believe that is what Jesus was referring to in the Gospel of Matthew when answering the lawyer who asked Him: “which is the great commandment in the law?” (Which is the greatest commandment?)

Many Christians already know that love is not just an emotion – that it is an action. Even many of those in the seeker-sensitive, purpose driven and emerging churches know this. That’s why the social gospel is so popular among these groups – because they believe that doing good works is loving God.

But is it?

What about non-Christian or pagan religions that do good works and are generally nice to other people? Are they expressing their love for God by doing so? And, the good works and words of atheists and agnostics – what have they to do with Jesus Christ?

That’s right – nothing.

“Love for God,” as Jesus defines it, is more than a mere emotion or “random act of kindness.”

Frankly, I believe most Christians don’t have a clue what Jesus’ definition of “love” is. I have alluded to it in previous columns, but it clearly needs to be addressed again to correct the confusion being taught in many churches today.

You’ve probably heard it said that the best way to interpret the Word of God is through the Word of God; so, in order to better understand what Jesus’ definition of “love” is, let’s look at seven verses of scripture written by the Apostle John – the first four of which are Jesus speaking:

1. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” – John 14:15

2. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” – John 14:21

3. “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.” – John 14:23-24

4. “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” – John 15:10

5. “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” – 1st John 2:4-5

6. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” – 1st John 5:3

7. “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.” – 2nd John 1:6

Considering these verses, “love” is clearly more than an emotion and even more than a religious or benevolent act. The world is full of good feelings, good words and good works, which may or may not have anything to do with Jesus Christ or loving God.

You see, Jesus defines “love” in these aforementioned verses as obedience to His commandments – that is to say, His Word. If we obey His Word, then we demonstrate our love for Him. When we disobey or ignore His Word, we show that we in fact do not love Him regardless of the loving things we might say about Him or to Him in public or in private.

It is our obedience to His Word that reveals our love for Him – not our loving words, good intentions or good deeds. Why do you think Jesus said:

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” – Matthew 15:8

What would you think if your husband or your wife told you and everyone else that they loved you, but always ignored you or did whatever they wanted to do day after day without considering your wishes? Their profession of love wouldn’t mean much, would it? You’d know they were either lying or that they don’t really know what the word “love” means. So, it is when we tell Jesus how much we love Him while ignoring or disobeying His Word to do whatever we want to do.

To make matters worse, Satan has taken advantage of our biblical ignorance, willful disobedience and overall confusion and has formed a very unbiblical theology out of it, persuading Christians through various movements, programs and para-church organizations that proclaiming and obeying God’s commands is not “love” at all, but “legalism.”

Consequently, Christians who proclaim the Whole Counsel of God and quote the Bible in response to sin are regularly rebuked as “legalists” and called “Pharisees” by those they offend – often by fellow Christians whose toes have been stepped on or those who don’t know what “love for God” really is – who think “love” is having nothing but good feelings and good things to say about everyone and everything.

Jesus didn’t call the Scribes and Pharisees “legalists” – He called them “hypocrites.”

Consider carefully what Jesus said in Matthew 23:1-4:

“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” – Matthew 23:1-4

He’s telling them to do whatever the Pharisees instruct them to do, but not to be a hypocrite and merely claim to do it and teach others to do things they won’t do themselves. That’s what Jesus meant when He said:

“…take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6

The leaven of the Pharisees wasn’t “legalism” – it was their hypocrisy and all of the disbelief and disobedience that came with it.

In fact, I would challenge anyone reading this to find the words “legalist,” “legalistic” or “legalism” in a version of the Bible published before 1970. I’m not saying you won’t; but I searched 20 versions of the Bible online and found the word “legalistic” only once in The New International Version and once The Message along with the word “legalism.”

Having said this; let me be perfectly clear: No one is saved by keeping the law. Galatians 3:19 says: “…it was added because of transgressions.” It is our instructor – meaning the law was given to show us just how unrighteous we are before God.

“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” – Galatians 3:24

Without the law, we would have no understanding or appreciation for the coming of Christ, the holiness of Christ, the cross of Christ or the redemption of Christ and certainly no appreciation of God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness. Without the law, how can anyone even understand what sin is? And without the knowledge of personal sin, how can one know they’re lost and in need of salvation?

That’s why bypassing or downplaying the law, the commandments, sin and repentance in today’s pulpits and classrooms is such a travesty – because without them we can’t really understand the seriousness of our sinful nature, our dreadful condition apart from Him and our desperate need for a Savior who said:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” – Matthew 5:17-18

Loving the Lord means we take up our cross, follow Him and obey His Word – all of it – even though many will call us “legalists,” “fundamentalists” and “extremists” for doing so.

By Paul Proctor




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