the weblog of Alan Knox

Did Jesus mean it?

Posted by on Jul 17, 2007 in blog links, love, spirit/holy spirit | 13 comments

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.


13 Comments

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  1. 7-17-2007

    Thanks for the links, Alan. As I “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (and there’s always a lot of growing to do), I find that true growth comes not from “trying harder” to grow or to make myself a better Christian, but rather when I remember that I’m an earthen vessel through which God’s love and glory is made manifest when I quit trying to be Him and rather let Him be Himself in and through this weak vessel. :)

  2. 7-18-2007

    Alan,

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. This post reminds me that there are so many people among the church who think they need to “do” to be righteous. As if their “doing” will be their fruit of their salvation. Imagine the burden of trying to produce your own fruit. As much as it is their own fault for thinking this, the blame cannot go wholly on them. It is their teachers and leaders too. Instead of encouraging people to “abide in Christ” they teach them to come to church more often, tithe more money, pretend to love those whom they hate, etc. When we follow those teachings, that is when we start to feel the true burden. Unfortunately the burden has become the norm for most of us.

    It reminds me of the book/movie The Count of Monte Cristo. He spent years in the prison, Château d’If. Sleeping on the hard stone floors. After escaping, finding his buried treasure, becoming the “Count of Monte Cristo,” he still slept on the hard floors. As if it “hurt” him too much to sleep on a real bed. The “burden” became the “norm” and anything else felt uncomfortable, unreal.

    I realize this is a fictional story, but I think it gets the point across. Perhaps when we teach people to love their neighbors, we should teach them that this can only come if they are abiding in Christ.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  3. 7-18-2007

    Absolutely wonderful!!

    Can there be true love in the absence of pure grace? If I am serving, giving, working, etc. because I ‘need’ to prove something to either God, others, or myself, my ‘need’ is usually uppermost in my mind. I then operate in varying degreees of self-righteousness (when I’m ‘making it’) and discouragement (when I just can’t get it right). Both focus on ME, and not Christ within me. Only when I operate out of the reality that “it is finished” can I experience the joyfilled, peace-exuding, Christ-magnifying, “self”-denying, abundant-living love of the New Testament. And there is no law-driven substitute for that!!

    Kathy J

  4. 7-18-2007

    Joel,

    I think “trying harder” comes naturally for all of us. Resting in his grace on comes supernaturally. Thank God that he is faithful, merciful, and forgiving – even when we try to accomplish his work on our own.

    Lew,

    The Count of Monte Christo is a great analogy. Jesus offers us a light and easy yoke, and we prefer the comfortable but heavy yoke because we’re accustomed to it and we want to do it ourselves.

    Kathy J,

    I like this comment: ‘Only when I operate out of the reality that “it is finished”…’ That is a great way to put it!

    -Alan

  5. 7-18-2007

    Alan-
    “For God so loved…me…that He gave…”
    After having been loved with so great a love, why do I find it so hard to love others? After experiencing such great grace, why do I not extend grace to others?
    Thank you for reminding me again that I cannot try harder to grow more Christlike…I must let Him grow in me.
    Kat

  6. 7-18-2007

    Alan-
    “For God so loved…me…that He gave…”
    After having been loved with so great a love, why do I find it so hard to love others? After experiencing such great grace, why do I not extend grace to others?
    Thank you for reminding me again that I cannot try harder to grow more Christlike…I must let Him grow in me.
    Kat

  7. 7-18-2007

    Alan-
    “For God so loved…me…that He gave…”
    After having been loved with so great a love, why do I find it so hard to love others? After experiencing such great grace, why do I not extend grace to others?
    Thank you for reminding me again that I cannot try harder to grow more Christlike…I must let Him grow in me.
    Kat

  8. 7-18-2007

    Alan-
    “For God so loved…me…that He gave…”
    After having been loved with so great a love, why do I find it so hard to love others? After experiencing such great grace, why do I not extend grace to others?
    Thank you for reminding me again that I cannot try harder to grow more Christlike…I must let Him grow in me.
    Kat

  9. 7-18-2007

    Alan-
    “For God so loved…me…that He gave…”
    After having been loved with so great a love, why do I find it so hard to love others? After experiencing such great grace, why do I not extend grace to others?
    Thank you for reminding me again that I cannot try harder to grow more Christlike…I must let Him grow in me.
    Kat

  10. 7-18-2007

    Alan-
    “For God so loved…me…that He gave…”
    After having been loved with so great a love, why do I find it so hard to love others? After experiencing such great grace, why do I not extend grace to others?
    Thank you for reminding me again that I cannot try harder to grow more Christlike…I must let Him grow in me.
    Kat

  11. 7-18-2007

    Alan-
    “For God so loved…me…that He gave…”
    After having been loved with so great a love, why do I find it so hard to love others? After experiencing such great grace, why do I not extend grace to others?
    Thank you for reminding me again that I cannot try harder to grow more Christlike…I must let Him grow in me.
    Kat

  12. 7-18-2007

    Alan,

    I forgot to mention this earlier.

    I am obviously not the Greek scholar that you are, but I think a better translation of “μὴ γένοιτο” is “Hell NO!”

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  13. 7-19-2007

    Kat,

    Only Christ through his Spirit can make us more Christlike. As I learn that about myself, I also learn that I need to allow others the same grace and freedom and acceptance.

    Lew,

    Doh!

    -Alan