Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The Law of Love: Love God

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” That’s a good question. Is there one commandment we must obey above all else? Jesus said yes and gave the answer above.

What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Some will try to break it down into what each part signifies, but it boils down to this: Love God with everything you are and do. Love him with your thoughts, your emotions, your actions, and your intentions. Give him all of you; hold nothing back.

All you have to do is make every waking moment about him. Love him with your feelings and with your choices. As you go through the day, do what you do with a desire to honor him. Always choose to obey. Always choose what represents him well.

It’s incredibly simple. And incredibly difficult. None of us can do this consistently.

Martin Luther, the great reformer, realized that if this is the greatest commandment, then the greatest sin is to fail to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. So we all commit the greatest sin countless times every single day we’re alive.

A holy and just God cannot wink at our sin. To do so would be to compromise his own holiness. This knowledge nearly led Luther to despair. Fortunately for us, it ultimately led him to the scriptures which led him to the cross.

We cannot love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But Jesus did. And then he paid for our failure in his own blood. Now “righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom 3:22). God’s grace covers our sins.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid” (Rom 6:1-2)! We cannot look at this as permission to fail in our duty to love God. It should be impetus to work harder. The God who created the universe created you knowing that he would have to rescue you from your failure to obey him, and he created you anyway. How should we respond to that kind of love?

In Christ, God not only forgives our failures, but he empowers our obedience. His indwelling Spirit will work with and through us to make us more like Jesus. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed ... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13).

Part of Christianity 102

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Of Nazis and Golden Calves

If I’d been there, I would have been strong. I would have stood for what was right.

When we look at horrible moments in history, we wonder how people could have gone along with the wicked men who led them. Where was their character? Why didn’t they stand for the truth? More people should have been against slavery. More people should have opposed Jim Crow. And if I had been there, I would have. The Inquisition? The witch trials? I would have been the lone voice of reason if necessary.

No, I probably wouldn’t. And neither would you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A Rule of Thumb

law books
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

Too many rules are hard to follow. We like our rules kept simple. It’s easier to remember them which makes it easier to follow them — we hope. Stay 3 seconds behind the car in front of you. A serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Put some Windex on it.

We like our moral rules the same way. We always have. Jesus was asked what the most important rule was, and we know what he said — we call it the Great Commandment. People like to simplify that down to “love God, love people.” That sounds great. Except “love” is a weasel word in our society, and people don’t understand what “love God” really means.

Another popular summary for moral behavior is “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). I love that one. The only problem is “justice” doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means.

So I offer this as a rule of thumb for this era: “Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep yourself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

When in doubt, look out for the weakest among us. That’s a pretty safe rule. It doesn’t imply that we have to approve of their lifestyle choices. It can be done personally and corporately. If you see someone who is weak, who is in need, who is oppressed, help them.

And along the way, keep yourself from being polluted by the world. God doesn’t just want us to be charitable. He doesn’t just want us to take care of our neighbor. He wants us to love him by living holy lives. This is the element our society loses in “love God, love people”.

This shouldn’t surprise us. We love people who give lots of money to charity. But not when it’s money they embezzled. There is no amount of good you can do that will undo the bad you do. You love God and walk humbly with him in large part by keeping yourself unstained by the world.

Of course, the scriptures have a lot to say about what it means to do right by people and what pollutants we should be keeping ourselves from. We’ll be fleshing out the details. But in a sense, everything is going to be commentary on this one rule of thumb:

Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep yourself from being polluted by the world.

Image via Pixabay

Part of Christianity 102

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Show No Mercy

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:29).

Christians are supposed to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. To other people. Not to ourselves. We should show ourselves no mercy.

Radical surgery is required to remove the sin from our lives. Jesus, with a bit of hyperbole, tells us that if our eye or hand or foot makes us sin, we should get rid of it because “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Paul, in similar manner, talks about beating his body to discipline it and make it his slave “so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1Cor 9:27).

It’s been called the mortification (that is, killing) of the flesh, from Romans 8:13. That is exactly what we want to do to our sinful flesh — kill it. Choke it, bludgeon it, starve it to death. Just kill it. By any means necessary.

How do we do that? By taking Jesus’ metaphor of plucking out an eye and cutting off a hand seriously. Not literally — seriously.

The easiest example is porn. These days it comes to people via the internet. So you limit your access, as radically as necessary, even if it means switching to a “dumb phone”.

Adultery requires stopping. Cold turkey. And sometimes that means changing jobs or even cities to get away from that person. (I’ve seen it done.)

Other sins are harder. How do you kill your tendency to gossip? You might have to cut your favorite gossip partner out of your life. How do you kill greed? Some have gone as far as taking a vow of poverty. What about covetousness? Well, how do you feed it? If it’s car magazines or HGTV, then stop putting those things before your eyes. If it’s going to the mall, stop. Whatever your sin, be as brutal as necessary to cut it out of your life.

This is hard. This is painful. That’s why it’s called killing the flesh. But Jesus expects and deserves that we will leave behind the sins he saved us from.

Remember that we do not do this under our own power. It is “by the Spirit” that we put to death the sinful flesh (Rom 8:13). We have to decide to do it, but we have to lean on him for the power and the grace to actually accomplish it.

And never think you’re alone in this. Every believer has to do this. They may not be killing the same sin as you, but they’re killing something. This has been part of the walk of faith for 2,000 years. When you struggle with this, you’re in good company.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:1-3).

Recommended reading: The Process

Image via Pixabay 

Part of Christianity 102

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Lord of All?

rough neighborhood
Dad says he knows a shortcut. As he twists and turns down the city streets, the buildings get steadily more dilapidated. Bars appear on the windows of homes. You see more cars on blocks, and every business seems to be tagged. This is not a nice area. This is not where you’re supposed to be. His shortcut has gotten you lost.

You don’t want to say it, but he can see you’re getting nervous. I know what I’m doing, he says. Trust me.

But you're obviously lost.