Don’t confuse our responsibility to the Gospel with the Gospel itself.
What is the Gospel really? Is there anything that I have to do? What about loving others?
First off; the Gospel is something that was done on our behalf because we could not do it ourselves. As a matter of fact, you could say the same thing about our sin. Adam made us sinners, (without any help from us since “through the one man all were made sinners” – although we do sin. We sin because we are sinners and not vise versa); so also, only Christ can make us Holy, Righteous and blameless in God’s sight (without any help from us “through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous”). In both cases it was not what we did to become what we were made into, and in both cases we simply believe God’s testimony regarding such. Consequently we need to be careful not to confuse our response to the Gospel (a love gospel) with the Gospel itself (which is His working on our behalf).
So how do we express our response to the Gospel in our lives without flirting with a gospel of works? How do we separate The Gospel of love, from a love gospel?
Love One Another
1 Jn 3:11This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
As we ponder God’s character from the above passage, I wonder if God would answer our trademark question below in the following way…
Who are you Lord?
I AM the God who loves you. Some have said that I do not say “I love you” in the Bible. But I do not rely on words, but rather on action. Talk is cheap. I love you this much, that I stretched out my arms and died for you. I put my money where my mouth is. No greater love has anyone than he lay down his life for his friends.
I AM the God who meets people’s genuine needs, foremost and primarily their spiritual need of salvation. I AM Love incarnate and in creating man I placed in him my capacity to love and be loved. There are a number of kinds of love but my love is selfless and pure. You humans need the various kinds of love which I have created but when it comes to Christian love, I am referring to one kind – Agape; selfless, undeserving, sacrificial love. This is the love which I have shown you when I gave up my life for you and this is the love I want you to show to one another. This is the kind that will show the world that you are my disciples. This is the kind that will reveal to the world that I care for their needs. This is the kind that will cost you and go against your natural bend to protect your own interests. Only I can put this kind of love in you to love others as I have loved you. Thus loving others in this fashion is the evidence of my divine life expressing itself through you resulting in “men praising God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ.”
I AM the God who knows your heart. I am right there when you make your decisions to love or forsake others. I see the needs around you which you see, I hear the pleas for help which you hear, and I know the choices that you make when no one else sees. My Spirit convicts you or assures you accordingly. I AM greater than your heart because I see all. I know what you are relying on for your salvation. I know when you are trying to love others to earn your way to heaven, or when you let me love others through you. No one can attain my standard of love, yet I AM the God who weighs the motives of the heart and who gives confidence even though your heart convicts you that you cannot reaching my standard of love.
Love is a response to God’s love in us
This passage is similar to James’ dissertation on people who profess Christ, but do nothing
to help others (faith without deeds). “Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked who can know them.” Since our hearts are not good indicators of our faith, our actions toward others can be an indicator to us of how we are laying our lives down to the needs of others. As we live for others we gain confidence that God is in control of our lives and is motivating us to love in this supernatural fashion. But the bottom line is still our reliance or dependence upon the finished work of Christ on our behalf that saves us. Thus…
Love is a response to salvation, not something we can do to earn salvation. “We love because he first loved us.” “He who has been forgiven little loves little.” “By this they will know that you are my disciples that you love one another.” “The fruit of the Spirit is love…” “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” Salvation was something that was done on your behalf by Christ because of the Love of God. However, just because you love others does not mean that you have salvation. Many cults practice love better than True Christians do. They must be nice, obey all the laws, and love others because their salvation is dependent upon their utmost adherence to these actions. They put the cart before the horse in this way.
How do I hate my brother?
John uses a very interesting term – “Hate” used in a negative sense to describe this idea of the meaning of love toward others in vs 14. “Hate” in this verse is the same word that Jesus used to qualify to be disciples, “unless a man hates his father, mother, sisters, brothers yeah even his own life cannot be my disciples.” We know this to mean “prefer” God over them, or in comparison to them. So too in 1 Jn we see the example in vs 16 of Christ preferring us over his own life and happiness. Thus vs 17 makes more sense in that we should help others physically over insisting on our own happiness. Thus we put action to our words. To hate our brothers by not preferring them is to let them die in their need. James and Paul say the same things. “Honor others above yourself”, “look to the interests of others not just your own interests.” “Don’t say to those who are hungry and cold, be warmed and filled and do nothing to help them.”
God’s standard of love is nothing less than perfection
Vs 16 “This then is how we know…” “This” refers to the preceding section. Love in action and truth. Denying self and dying to self for others sakes. This takes it out of the hypothetical and puts love into the real world. To live in truth or reality of Christ’s love is to meet the needs of other people. This shows people that we mean what we say, this proves that we are putting others interests and their needs above our own. Then when our hearts condemn us (which will be always because of Satan, or even the vast unmet needs of society “the poor you will have with you always”), we can look with confidence to God to set our hearts at rest. His standard of love is so perfect that we can never attain to it, thus we will always come up short. The more mature we are in the faith, the more we realize our short comings thus the more we rely on his mercy to save us, and then the more we will want to love others as a result; “he who has been forgiven little, loves little”. And since God looks at our heart and not just our actions, he knows whether we are living in theory or reality. This is because we don’t even know our own hearts as they are so deceptive. Thus our confidence must be in our standing with God based on his Word, not our ability to love others.
More to come,