So Let Me Love My God
"Christians are so intolerant. They need to learn to love others like Jesus told them to do. Jesus said we should not judge but that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated. Christians need to stop being hypocrites and let people do whatever they want to be happy."
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Maybe you have said or thought similar things- or maybe someone has spoken them or written them to you. Maybe you are looking at the circumstances and events in our nation, in our world, and in your relationships and are struggling to find the balance between what God says in his word about sin, his character, and our responsibilities as his followers and, yet, in the same breath, you are struggling with loving others the way Jesus loved(s) them. I was wrestling through all these thoughts the other day- particularly regarding certain social and moral dilemmas plaguing society today. I began thinking about the passage that is so often quoted when Jesus tells us to love others (including our enemies [Matthew 5:43-48]); to treat others the way we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12); to not judge others (Matthew 7:1-5); and to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). As I thought about these verses, I was struck with the realization (in greater clarity), that when people are asking me, as a Christian, to be loving, to not judge, and to treat others the way I want to be treated, they are missing a very critical step in this whole process. If you look at these verses, particularly, Matthew 22:39, where Christ instructs that you are to love your neighbor as yourself, you will find that this step is secondary to the primary instruction. This primary instruction lies in the truth Jesus proclaims when questioned by the religious leaders about what is the greatest commandment. That primary instruction, as read in Matthew 22:37, is as follows: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment." Jesus then continues that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Why would loving God be the greatest commandment? And, why is this necessary in realizing my ability (or inability) to love God and others?
Let me jump to another oft-quoted passage with regard to moral and social relationships: Romans 1. In this passage, Paul writes to the believers about how they are set apart in their faith for the gospel of God (vs. 1), how they are called to be saints (vs. 7), how he wants to encourage them in their faith (vs. 11-12), and how he is not ashamed of the gospel (vs.16). In this, Paul writes that the power of God for salvation is for everyone who believes. What is the gospel? And, why is this relevant to this thought process? Essentially, the gospel is relevant because the gospel is Jesus. Jesus born, Jesus living, Jesus dying, Jesus living again. The gospel is power: the power of God and his spirit to effect change from unrighteousness to righteousness. The gospel is light: to bring people from darkness unto light. What does this mean? Paul answers this in verse 18: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." All mankind is unrighteous. None of us can do anything remotely close to appeasing the holiness of God, the Creator. In this unrighteous and ungodly state, we find ourselves knowing that God exists or, even more simply, that we are accountable to some kind of creator for having given us life. And, in that recognition, we should be thankful to the Creator and therefore heed the words and instructions he gives us.
For example, if I instruct my kids about something they need to do or not do as members of our family, they should, in gratitude for me being their mother and giving birth to them, should thank me and love me and listen to the things I say, and adore the very ground I walk on- right? Haha. Right. That would be nice, huh? The same can be said of us- God has created us and in that created state, we should serve, and love, and adore everything he says and who he is. But, we don't. Why? Because we are unrighteous and ungodly thanks to our sinful natures. So, in this ungodly and unrighteous state, we suppress (ignore) the truth God is trying to get us to see- namely, that we are sinners in need of a righteous, godly Savior. And, God has provided that for us in Jesus. And, he promises us that those who have accepted Jesus as Savior are declared righteous before him. The ungodly, unrighteous state in which we once were goes away- and we can, thereby, be unashamed of who God is, who we are (because of God), and what his word tells us to do.
Go back to verse 16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel..." Why? "Because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone...." The gospel is power! The gospel gives us the way to understand and better comprehend the righteousness of God "revealed from faith for faith" (vs. 17). This means that when we, by faith, accept the gospel as our salvation, we must continue in that "faith, pressing forward and gaining victory over unbelief" (M. Henry). This means that the things I did not understand about God (namely his anger and abhorrence for sin because of his holiness, his mercy toward sinners, and his love for all mankind) compels me to gradually and continually grow in my faith to quench all the darts of unbelief Satan will continue to throw at me to get to denounce and suppress the truth of God.
So what does this have to do with loving God and others?
When you and I are declared righteous before God, by faith in the work of Jesus on the cross, we are given a new goal in life: "To love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. And, to love our neighbors as ourselves." In our previous ungodly state, we could not do that. Why? Because we are, like Paul says in Romans 1:21, "futile in our thinking" with hearts that are darkened toward the truth of God. In unrighteousness and ungodliness, we do things our own way, thinking the way we want to with no regard to what God says or who he is. Therefore, we are only loving ourselves and squeezing every bit of selfish pleasure we can from the world, believing ourselves to be happy and fulfilling the very desires of our hearts. And, in this deceived state, we find ourselves willing and ready to give ourselves to any kind of pleasure, lust, or desire. But, then, when God calls us out of that unrighteous state, we should (because of the Creator's saving work) live differently. Why? Because we have a new love.
Instead of seeking to make everyone else happy, we seek to make God happy. Why? That's the command- love God with all my heart, soul, and mind. And, in this love, I learn to love others. But, why is this so hard?
This is hard because we are still living in a sinful world. We are still living with a nature that desires fleshly affections and lusts. We are still innately desirous of pleasing ourselves. So, we give in to pride, to lying, to sexual sins, to gossip, to envy, to disobedience, to being faithless, to causing strife. Thankfully, though, as Christians, we have the power of his Spirit and the truth of his word to instruct us in righteousness. So, when we read (at the end of Romans 1) about all these sins I mentioned above (and more!), and that these sins are worthy of our dying, we have a choice. Will I choose to honor God or will I choose to please myself? Will I choose to obey his word or will I choose to make others happy?
Those choices then determine where my love truly lies. If I choose to honor God, I am showing I love him. If I choose to make others happy (i.e. turning a blind eye to their sin), I am showing I love myself more than I love God. How? Because I am choosing what makes my flesh feel happy and satisfied (meaning, the praise of others), rather than the praise of God.
Does this mean I go around condemning everyone for their sins? No. Because I have done the very same things in this list. I have followed after the lusts of my heart. I have been proud. I have lied. I have deceived others. I am worthy of death. But, thanks be to God who forgives all unrighteousness and ungodliness! I am no longer called these things but am declared a saint, a child, a follower of him. And, in this blessed state, I no longer want to live for unrighteousness, but to righteousness- to being like Jesus. To loving others the way he has called me to. But, that cannot be done until I first love God with all my heart, soul, and mind.
For if, I choose to condone or accept sinful behaviors as "okay" or "fine" or "it makes me happy", I am choosing to love only myself. Because in choosing to not love God, I choose to not love you. I have a choice. I will either love God and others or I will love myself, my flesh, and my lusts. I wrote this in the margin of my Bible: "When I have a right view of God-when I fear to offend his holiness- I will have wisdom to choose what is right. But a wrong view of God yields sinful choices and acceptance of sin." I make choices every. single. day. And, each one of those choices reveals something about my heart and who or what I love. If I continue to choose to love myself, I will be given up to all kinds of sinful, ungodly, unrighteous desires because I have chosen to suppress the truth of God and have chosen to ignore his character and his love for me.
What are choosing these days? Are you choosing to love God and others? Or are you loving yourself? Are you regularly given over to choosing what makes you happy? Or are you deliberately choosing to please God? Are you gossiping? Lying? Deceiving? Are you inventing your own method of living life? Or are you living to love God?
So, to those who want to deny that I love them because I do not condone certain behaviors or lifestyles or systems of belief, you are denying me the one thing that is critical for my ability to love you: to first love my God! And, I love my God by obeying him and honoring him and believing his word to be true. And, as he shapes my faith and removes those areas of unbelief, I am becoming more and more able to say that "I am not ashamed of the gospel" which brought me to salvation and the power of God. Therefore, I can love you. Not out of pretense or condemnation, but because God has so loved me. In that love, I have found freedom- and you can, too.
So, let me love my God- in his holiness, in his righteousness, in his sovereignty, in his power, in his love, in his mercy, and in all that he is- so that I can, truly, love you.
"Oh, God- may your love be ever increasing in me so that I may love others the way you love them. May they behold you- the only God- the holy one- the one who can save them from loving and serving only themselves. Arrest my heart. Keep me from following the desires which so readily turn me from loving you. And, let me love you- with all my heart, soul, and mind so that I cannot but love others the way you have so abundantly loved me."