Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Not Enough to Say We're Supposed to Love . . .

Human beings are, for the most part, pretty well aware of how we're supposed to live and the way were are supposed to act. This is especially true of Christians, and maybe even especially, especially true of Seventh-day Adventist Christians. We all essentially know that we are supposed to treat one another with respect, that we are not supposed to take someone else's toy, or hit back when we have been hit by someone else.

And we all know that we're supposed to love one another.

I write all this to show that it is not for lack of knowledge that we have a hard time treating others with respect, showing kindness, and yes, loving others. It is not because we don't know what we're supposed to do that we fail at achieving these things. I think we are all pretty clear on them.

The reason we fail is not because we don't know where we're supposed to be, but because we aren't clear on how we're supposed to get there; we lack the vehicle by which to arrive at our destination.

In particular, one of the most popular sentiments I hear expressed - be it by church members, administrators, friends, family members - is this important idea that we need to love one another. "If we could all just love each other," some will say, "then our churches would be full." I completely concur. If we somehow learned how to love just as Jesus loved and loves, people would be overwhelmed by an amazing attraction to, not only us, but the God we serve.

But herein lies the problem: it is not enough to say we're supposed to love. This is because by so doing, we are only explaining the destination - which, as I said before, we are all acutely aware of - without explaining the means by which we can arrive at that destination.

And this problem is the root cause of all our challenges within Christianity. It's the difference between living under the Old Covenant or New Covenant, living legalistically or motivated by grace. Just because we exchange "thou shalt not [fill in the blank]" with "love one another," doesn't make it any less legalistic if we do not present the motivating power to achieve whatever command we are admonishing.

Some, of course, do try to come up with ways that love can be achieved. There are all sorts of books one can read, exercises one can perform, or things one can repeat over and over again. But there are a couple of problems with these methods. The first is that learning to love by these means very rarely accomplishes it. This is because all these things deal with the external. I can tell myself 1000 times a day that I am going to love my wife, but telling myself I am going to love her doesn't really make it so. Yes, there may be moments of loving behavior I display, but no lasting change will ever really occur.

At the same time, these methods are man-motivated. That is, I am performing these exercises from my own initiative - trying to tap into some type of inherent love that is supposed to already dwell within me. But if the Bible is clear on anything, it is clear that we human beings are all inherently evil, that nothing good dwells within us, that we are not self-starters, that we are not naturally loving. All of us are self-centered and quite unloving and, if left to ourselves completely, we would never so much as even consider the idea of turning outward and loving others.

So what's the answer?

The same as it always was and ever will be: the Gospel - changing the heart.

A heart that is changed by the Gospel is the only answer, and it is the difference between legalism and true righteous - and loving - living. We need our hearts changed. Our hearts are the problem, not our behavior. (Read 1 Corinthians 13 a few times to catch this reality. I can have the best singing voice, understand everything about the Bible, even give up my life for a greater cause, but if I do not have love, I am simply living a legalistic life.)

How does the Gospel truly make me into a loving person? There are so many different ways, but let me just run through a very simple formula: we are all sinners who, by virtue of our sinful ways, should be dead right now. But God, who loves us and is rich in mercy, went to Calvary and died our death. Thus, because of His death, we have life right now. This is because His love for us is infinite and He is eager to come into full and complete at-one-ment with us. This, despite all my sins, my mistakes, my self-centeredness.

And when I catch even a glimpse of this, then my heart starts changing. But even this change is initiated and performed by an external source - by God, Himself. After all, 2 Corinthians 5:14 tells us that "the love of Christ compels us," that is, it "motivates" us. Similarly, 1 John 4:19 says that "we love, because He first loved us."

This is the only way love can be achieved in our lives! It is simply by beholding Christ's love. Indeed, as Paul also reminds us, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory" (2 Cor 3:18).

It's really quite simple. We don't need to go to seminars to learn how to love other people. We don't need to read books about how we can become more loving. All these things are self-initiated, self-motivated, and will never really work. The only way we can really learn to be loving is simply by "beholding" Christ's love and allowing that image to transform us. As we look at His character of love - of His pursuit of us, of His humility and condescension into human flesh, of His willingness to completely empty self for our sakes, of experiencing complete and total separation from His Father, even going so far as total annihilation - this will supernaturally change our hearts and fashion us into the loving individuals God longs for us to be.

This is the only answer, friends. It is the only answer.

And so here is a challenge: instead of telling people ad nauseum that they should be loving, why not simply preach the love of Christ - both in word, and in actions flowing from a transformed life - and see what happens?

We haven't succeeded thus far with the humanistic way of achieving love - you know, singing songs that say "All you need is love" and other fun methods. So why not allow God to perform His method through you?


Anonymous said...

I agree!

Anonymous said...

Not that I entirely disagree. There's some truth in what you've said, but mostly it's a cliche.

Let's deconstruct what you are saying for a couple of seconds.

1) All people are inherently evil.

This dogma originates from Paul's collected quotation of OT, which is generally directed at Israel's disobedience in OT context.

I think it should be fairly clear to anyone with common sense that people are capable of both good and evil acts with or without knowledge of God. To say that evil nature completely taken over humanity is to discredit God as creator of originally good humanity, and to say that evil is somehow genetically amplifies to the point where every newborn baby is "evil".

I think it should be clear that people have tendency to do both... hence they do have knowledge of "good" and "evil" even through they may not have knowledge of God. Otherwise any talk of judgment and reward would not make any sense.

2) I do agree that Christ is the quintessential picture of love... yet what does it mean for an ordinary person who has no interest in God or the "old fairy tales" (in his mind).

I can tell you honestly that I believed through actual visible love of God demonstrated by people who lived it out.... not by a 2000 year old story that is told in a way to bring out emotional "conversion". The story is meaningless apart from some reality to it.

And that's what I find today in Adventist circles today. We doing a lot of pointing, while our monthly budget for some true "love activities" is $50/month, while we spend thousands on "outreach". It's humorous and sad at the same time.... it's like feeding a hungry person with a picture of thanksgiving turkey.

True love shows beyond the story. It makes the story REAL.