As most of my readers know, I believe that love is paramount in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. For example, see the post “Loving disciples…” and the posts linked from there.
my it nIn the last week, Joel from “Grace Roots” has written a five part series called “That ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ Thing…” (click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5). This is an excellent series on love, but Joel moves beyond what love is to ask (and answer) this question: “Can we keep Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves?”
For example, Joel says:
Jesus’ words to the rich younger ruler, “sell all you have and distribute to the poor,” were mouth-stopping, guilt-producing words to this man who considered himself justified by his law keeping. Jesus’ words to the lawyer were mouth-stopping, guilt-producing words.
No one can be justified by keeping the law. That is the whole point of the law!
And, for the most part, we would agree with what Joel says here. Can we be justified (made right) with God by keeping the law? As Paul would say, “μὴ γένοιτο“, which is loosely translated, “May it never be!” We cannot keep the law and so we must rely on God’s grace for justification. We are right with God only because God has chosen to declare us righteous in his mercy.
Beyond justification, what do we do when we realize that we are not loving our neighbors as ourselves? Well, according to many well-meaning authors, we need to practice the “Christian disciplines” more. We need to read Scripture, pray, fast, give, etc. When we do these things then we will become… What? Do we really believe this? Does our justification depend entirely on God but our sanctification depend on us? As Paul would say, “μὴ γένοιτο“, which is loosely translated, “Are you out of your mind!” We cannot change ourselves! Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit as he indwells the believer.
So, if we cannot keep the commands of God – even the command to love our neighbor as ourselves – do we just give up and continue in a state of “un-love”? As Paul would say, “μὴ γένοιτο“, which is loosely translated, “Are you Homer Simpson?” Failing to love our neighbor is sin, and just as with any sin, the Spirit will convict us when we are not walking in love with our neighbors. As James says, we then submit to God and rely on more grace from him.
Relying on God for grace is not the same as trying harder, nor is it the same as giving up. Relying on God’s grace means that we admit that we cannot obey God on our own, and that He must change us himself in order for us to obey him. It takes humility, both before God and before other people. Again, as James says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. If we do not see the fruit of the Spirit (such as love) being produced in our lives, it may be an indication that we are living in pride instead of humility.
Joel ends his series by reminding us that God’s life is being created in us… not when we try to do better, but when we simply abide in Christ:
The “how” is really a Person – Jesus Christ. He is in us, and we are in Him. His life is our life. We are one spirit with Him. In Him we live and move and have our being. When it came down to the truth of living a godly life and bearing godly fruit, Jesus didn’t say, “follow all these laws and principles and you’ll bear fruit.” He said, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.” Under the law and principles, we could bear no fruit. In fact, Paul says, “the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death!” (See Rom 7:5). But now that we’ve died to what once bound us (the law), we serve in the newness of the Spirit! The good fruit that comes forth is the Spirit’s own fruit that He produces in and through us as we simply abide in Christ, not struggling to fulfill commands and principles. Maybe I’ll put it this way: The commands of God and the principles for Christian living are fulfilled in us, not as we set out to try to do them, but as we rest in Christ and let His life in us take over and produce all of it. All of it!
Do you love your neighbor as yourself? No, not that neighbor, the other neighbor. You know the one I’m talking about. No? You don’t love them? Abide in Christ, and allow him to love them.