Why Love Isn’t Christianity In Its Most Basic Sense

Nov 07

Why Love Isn’t Christianity In Its Most Basic Sense

I preach a different sermon every Sunday. One of my fears is that while doing so, I’ll miss out sharing what is most important–the foundation of Christianity. What if I had only one sermon to teach people what Christianity was all about? What would the message be?

It goes without saying that the central message of Christianity is Jesus. But what about Him?

Well, my mind immediately goes to 1 Corinthians 13, where it says “These three remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.” So it would make sense that love is Christianity in it’s most basic sense. But I’m not sure that would be accurate.

Most people consider themselves loving persons. “I love God. I love my family. I even try to love people who don’t like me.” Is this person a Christian? What makes someone a Christian? Is it love?

While the greatest of these is love, it is not the first thing. One of the reasons love is “the greatest of these” is that it continues on through eternity.

What first separates a Christian from a non-Christian is not whether they show love or not, but whether they have faith in Jesus or not.

Faith and hope, however, are only for this life. In eternity, we will see Jesus with our eyes, not by faith or hope. But while we are on this earth, what first separates a Christian from a non-Christian is not whether they show love or not, but whether they have faith in Jesus or not.

I am afraid that in today’s sensibilities, we have convinced ourselves that God ought to save those who are “loving” and “kind.” He should simply look past all the sins of people, and see only their good side. This is our idea of grace. In this view, one does not need to be a Christian to go to heaven. One must only be “good enough.” Or, another option in this view is that God will allow everyone into heaven.

But Christianity does not teach either of those things. It teaches something completely different:  Repentance and faith. God’s looking for people who are willing to get real with their sinfulness and look to Him for help. Who will be saved? Only those who need saving. Those who think they need no saving from Jesus will get none.

Those who think they need no saving from Jesus will get none.

What do I need saved from? My sinful nature, which truly condemns me to hell. This is why love isn’t the first “rule” for a Christian. You see, as long as I see myself as a loving person (in spite of some faults here and there), I do not need salvation. Jesus offers salvation, but only for sinners destined for hell. If I feel I do not truly need salvation, then I feel I don’t need Jesus.

What God desires is for me to come to grips with the reality that while I desire and often try to be so, I am not a loving person fundamentally anymore. While that’s who God originally designed me to be, I’ve become corrupted with sin. I also need to realize that I can do nothing to fix the core of this problem. I can only cover up the symptoms. If I want to be fixed, I need to realize that the only solution to my problem is Jesus. No religion or self-help system can fix me. Then I must choose to turn to Jesus out of the desire to abandon this life of sin.

That is a Christian. And guess what? A person who is a Christian–who turns to Jesus out of desire to abandon their life of sin–will become restored by Jesus. God will replace their heart of stone with a heart that loves Him and loves others. So yes, we ultimately come back to love. And this is indeed what God wants–for us to be love-creatures. But this cannot come about except through Jesus, because only through Jesus is our sinful nature destroyed and a new nature given in its place. What is this new nature He gives us? It is a new nature just like God’s nature. And God is love.

If you want to know what it means to be a Christian, you cannot start with love–you must start with repentance and faith in Jesus. There is no other way.

(Next post: We’ve talked about love and faith…where does hope fit into this?)

 

2 comments

  1. Before getting into anything else, the idea of faith and hope being temporary in a sense when compared to love is very insightful. I always thought of them as being eternal due to the wording in 1 Corinthians I have to give that some more contemplation.

    I really enjoyed reading this, and it strikes close to a topic I have given a lot of thought to recently.

    Regarding the assertion that love isn’t Christianity I agree, though I don’t believe I would use those words since people might misinterpret. The real crime is less of giving love too much credit and more of misunderstanding what real love is.

    You noted toward the end of this post that Christians do ultimately learn how to love through Christ’s work. I believe that love is more important to Christianity than just that, though, and I am pretty sure you do to. By at least one interpretation of the word love it is the essence of Christianity. In one place Scripture flatly states that God is love (1 John 4), and in another explains that God exhibited that love in giving an ultimate sacrifice for us while we were yet His enemies (Rom 5). In this sense love is the basis of Christianity. At it’s core, the Gospel is about unworthy souls receiving sacrificial love from an infinitely holy God. Here, we are the recipients of love rather than those who give love.

    You are undeniably correct that God doesn’t call us to be loving people, and through that we somehow gain salvation. Those who think this way do not realize how impossible a task that is in our fallen natures. I know in and of myself I wouldn’t voluntarily die for someone who was truly my enemy who I know to be evil. God is love, but I am not love. I cannot be love as God is, and if my salvation depends on me being loving and/or good enough I will not be saved (Rom 3).

    Love as described in the Bible, rather than as described by humanity, is holiness and sacrifice. True love is evidenced through great sacrifice, humility, and suffering, and these goes hand-in-hand with holiness. No one on this earth has yet taken hold of it other than Christ, for whom love in the form of suffering, service, and sacrifice was his very nature (Phil 3).

    To further agree with you, we cannot generate true love by ourselves without God, and so we cannot become a Christian by giving God or others our love. Any love (or anything else) we have is as a result of the work Christ performs in us and is a gift from Him rather than something we bring to Him. We have nothing of any value to offer to God, let alone something as valuable as love.

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    • “You are undeniably correct that God doesn’t call us to be loving people, and through that we somehow gain salvation.”

      That’s exactly it, Drew. Love is the necessary fruit of a Christian, but salvation is received by faith, not love. Love is who Christians become, but only through faith in Jesus.

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