The Life Jesus gives
CH 2 - THE BIG PICTURE
It is possible to be conscientious and sincere and yet to take the wrong path concerning how we are to live in relationship with God. Therefore it is truly vital to understand the truth about what God really wants from us. What is it that truly makes the difference between a life that does please Him, and a life that doesn’t please Him? What is the correct path that leads to the abundant life?
The first step in any journey is to understand precisely where one is going. That is because the destination of any journey is what defines the nature of that journey. Since we are talking about achieving the “abundant life”, we are talking about understanding what Christian maturity ultimately looks like. That in turn will help us understand how to map out a course of life that takes us to our intended destination.
The Bible is filled with admonitions and instructions regarding how we are to live. There are so many specific things we are told to be or to pursue that without putting them all into context it can be overwhelming, confusing and eventually even frustrating. What is needed in order to go forward is to see the one basic unifying idea from which all these specific instructions spring, which defines them and gives them a proper understandable context.
Jesus Himself explained what it is that encapsulates all these admonitions into one general characteristic:
Matthew 22:37-40 “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”
Here Jesus makes it clear that if you boiled down all that the Old Testament had to say about living a godly life it would reduce down to this formula. It is that we are to love God with all that we are, and love others as we love ourselves. Everything else that is recorded in the Old Testament is an elaboration upon that basic theme. The New Testament brings greater clarity to what this means and how it is achieved, it does not change this basic message, in fact it further emphasizes the centrality of love. This fact is seen in the following passages:
John 13:35 “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus says that “love” is so characteristic to what it means to be one of His disciples that even the unbelieving world around will be able to discern one’s authenticity by it.
Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
In this verse Paul speaks of love for God as the defining characteristic of a true believer, so much so that it is in essence equivalent to being identified as one who has been “called” to salvation.
Romans 13:8-9 “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Here Paul echoes the words of Christ saying that the specific commandments that define godly behavior are summed up in the general commandment to love others as we love ourselves.
I Corinthians 13:2-3 “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
In this passage Paul writes that divorced from love, even the most astounding ministry gifts and the most sacrificial good works are meaningless before God. Indicating clearly that if love is absent from our souls, our lives are unacceptable to God. Therefore love, in and of itself, is what makes the critical difference before God and is therefore the essence of what God desires in His people.
Ephesians 5:2 “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us”
Paul writes here that we as believers are to imitate God’s nature. We do this by following Christ’s example, living a lifestyle of love.
James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
James writes that the crown of life (another way of saying salvation) is promised to those who “love” God. Once again we have a reference to one who is a lover of God being synonymous with saying that such a person is part of the redeemed.
1 John 3:14 “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.”
John writes that it is our love for other believers that should give us assurance that we are in fact saved. So John too emphasizes that being a person characterized by love is the very nature of what the Christian life is all about.
The idea of general statements expressing the big picture of what God is calling us to is not new. God, having given the Law with its 621 specific commandments for the people, encapsulated the essence of all of them into three basic principles through the prophet Micah:
Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This did not mean that God was abrogating everything else that He was saying, but rather these three commandments expressed a summary of what all the specifics were intended to point the Israelites to. In the same way, everything God says to His people can be summed up in the commands to love God supremely with all that we are and to love others as we love ourselves. This is necessary to protect us from redefining for ourselves what it means to love God and others. The rest of this study is an attempt to demonstrate how all the particulars of what it means to be a disciple of Christ fit into this big picture.
To say that loving God and others is the essence of Biblical Christianity requires very clear definition lest its meaning be misunderstood. Saying that “love” is the central component to Christianity does not mean that doctrine is unimportant. The truth is that doctrine is essential if we are to understand the true nature of the God we are to love and the way His love is made available to us. Further, to say that “love” is at the heart of our faith does not mean that one lays aside the rest of the Bible’s admonitions concerning how we are to live our lives. These instructions are not given to add something to love as our central obligation to God and other people instead they define for us the true nature of what love is and how that love should manifest itself as we relate to God and others. Finally, to say that love is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, does not mean that believers are to be ruled by sentimentality, nor does it mean that believers are forbidden to confront evil and wrongdoing in others. The love that the Bible exhorts us to pursue is righteous and is not founded upon the fickleness of our moment by moment feelings but in the objective truths that God has revealed to us in His Word.
It is important to understand that this is not an attempt to provide a simplistic formula that supposedly makes it easy to attain true godliness. Instead, it is meant to make it easier to understand the nature of what we are called to be and how we are intended to achieve it. If one were to conclude that truly loving God and others is easy, it would mean one of two things. Either one is ignorant of the high standard of love to which God calls us, or one is ignorant of the degree of wickedness that still resides within even a redeemed heart. The fact of the matter is that apart from the work of Christ within us we are by nature decidedly unloving people as the Apostle Paul makes abundantly clear:
Romans 1:30-31 “…backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful;…”
II Timothy 3:2-4 “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,…”
So if we are to start well in our spiritual pilgrimage we need to recognize that though our calling may be simple to comprehend, it will require an incredible transformation in us if it is ever to be realized, and that this transformation will not come easy.
But though this transformation is not an easy goal to attain it is the purpose for which we were redeemed. It is accomplished by recognizing the depth of the profound love that God has for us, which in turn arouses our love for Him and from there spills over into a love for those who in community with us also are defined by their love for God.
“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
I John 4:8-12