Faith and Lovehow love is the primary expression of Christianity
Faith and Love
Chapter 36 of the book First Love, used by permission.
The Simple Gospel
1 John 3:21-23
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
This is God’s commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another. One commandment, two parts. God commands us not just to believe, but to believe and love.
All through Scripture the Spirit of God interweaves faith and love. In the parable of the wise and foolish builders, Jesus calls us to hear (have faith) and to obey (act in love).[i] In the teaching of the sheep and the goats, Jesus reveals that we are not judged on the quality of our theology but on how we loved others. Paul writes of faith and love as forming one spiritual breastplate and explains that the only thing that matters is simply faith working through love.[ii] Faith and love are so united that both James and John challenge us to measure our faith, not by what we believe, but by how much we love others.[iii] It is love that gives value and substance to our faith and so we can never separate faith from love.[iv] The call to faith is a call to love.
1 Peter 1:22-23
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
We can see the connection between faith and love again in this passage. Our souls are purified through faith in the blood of Christ for a sincere love of the brethren. Love is the goal.
Gospel of Love
This unity between faith and love needs to be remembered when we share the gospel with people. We are not calling people only to believe in Jesus. We are calling the lost to surrender their entire lives to love.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
The gospel is the power of salvation for all those who would believe. Paul calls this good news the “glorious gospel of our blessed God.”[v] This good news of God and His design of love for our lives is glorious!
We often think of the gospel in terms of a summary of the message of salvation and new life in Christ. However, the word gospel not only refers to the summary version of the message, but it extends to the whole body of Scripture.[vi] As we learned earlier, all of Scripture hangs on the first two commands. Therefore, regardless of whether it is in summary or in whole, our gospel must be framed entirely by love. When the love of God infuses our message, there is simply no way we could ever feel ashamed of the gospel.
So, if we were to bring faith and love together when we share the gospel with non-believers, what would we say?
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness [hetoimos] given by the gospel of peace.
We are in a battle and we need to make ourselves ready. The Greek word translated as readiness is the word hetoimos, which means “ready because prepared.”[vii] God is calling us to prepare ourselves in advance so that we can make the most of our future opportunities. In terms of sharing our faith with others, we need to prepare ourselves by letting the simple gospel of love become our reality.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
For centuries we have preached a gospel that has been focused on making converts rather than making disciples. Why? Because we believed that the primary goal of Jesus’ death was to get us into heaven. We read John 3:16 and we missed the call to union. We thought that eternal life was all about heaven after we die so we set our focus on getting people into heaven. We wanted to save the world and so we made it as easy as our theology would allow. Say this prayer and you’re in. But the true goal of the gospel is to lead people into union with Jesus so they can share His love for the Father and become a channel of the Father’s love for Jesus. This takes time. It takes love. It is so much easier to get someone to say a prayer than it is to truly disciple them into the love of God. But the reward of making disciples is that we can open new channels of the Father’s love for Jesus. That makes all the investment more than worthwhile. It also makes sharing our faith with others more than a duty. Knowing how blessed Jesus is to receive the Father’s love through His people, our call to make disciples is an incredible honour.
John 3:16 (expanded)
For in this way God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes into union with Him should not perish, but rather experience eternal life here and now through the ongoing, wholehearted love of God.
John 3:16 has always been used as a one-verse summary of the gospel. But when we read it with a better understanding, we see a better gospel. John 3:16 reveals the reason why Jesus came. He lived, died and was raised again so that we might be brought back into union with Him. When we become one with the Spirit of Jesus through faith, we begin to experience the reality of eternal life right now. We find this life as we share the wholehearted love that Jesus has for the Father. We find this life as the Father shares His love for the Son with us. The glorious gospel is about God restoring our design as channels of His divine love.
If we were to expand on this summary, we could start at the beginning. God is love and has always been love. He never changes. Before creation, God existed (and still exists) in an unimaginably awesome flow of love between the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. The Father made all of creation as an expression of His love for Jesus. Unlike the rest of creation, God specifically created us to be channels of His love for Jesus. His design was that our whole being would radiate with His love for His Son.
The opposite of love is selfishness and we all chose to be selfish in our lives. This choice shuts down the unique flow of love through our hearts. Because the love of God is so precious, our selfishness created a debt with God that we could never possibly pay back. No amount of works could replace the value of the love that Jesus lost when we chose to serve ourselves.
To bring us out of our selfishness and back into our design of love, Jesus became human. He taught us about the love of God. He showed us how the first and second commands were given to reveal God’s design for our lives and define our identity in Him. Jesus taught us to love one another in humility and with resolve. He then died to repay our debt of love and give us a fresh start.
Having been raised from the dead, Jesus has made it possible for anyone to be restored to their design of love. He will put His Spirit in anyone who believes and bring them back into unity with Him. He will circumcise the heart of those who have the faith to turn from their selfishness and embrace the cross. He will pour out His love into every part of their being and empower them to love God with all their heart and soul.
Jesus will speak to anyone with a heart to listen, and He will energize them with His Spirit. He offers all people eternal life; not just a life in heaven, but life on earth as He designed. This is a life found in loving God, hearing His voice and living in union with Him. It will cost us our lives—all of our selfishness, all our possessions, everything we are and have—but it will all be worth it. If we come to the cross and offer ourselves to God, He will make an exchange with us. In return for our sin and selfishness, God will give us a life of love that lasts forever. This is the good news. This is the great and glorious gospel. This is why God created us.
I was sharing this with a man on an orchard one afternoon. We had only just met but when he learned of my faith he wanted to find out more. I shared about my own experience of the love of God and then brought his own experience into the conversation.
“How long does it feel good when you do something selfish?” I asked.
“Not long.” He was quick to admit what we all know is true.
“What about when someone shows you love or you do something loving for someone else. How long does that feel good for?”
“Yeah…a long time.”
“Did you ever wonder why? It’s because God designed you for love. And I think you know it. God is love and He has created you to share His love. That’s why love feels so good. That’s what life is really all about.”
“But are you saying that a billion Muslims and a billion Hindus aren’t going to go to heaven?”[viii]
“Is getting into heaven the goal?” I asked. “Because according to the Bible it’s not. The goal of believing is about having your whole life changed by love. It is not about getting into heaven after we die. It’s about finding life in God’s love right now.”
The conversation continued and we agreed to meet again over dinner. It can take time for people to process the idea of being designed for love and we do not have to share the whole gospel all at once. We are making disciples rather than converts and so we need to be patient. God is good and no matter how much people lie to themselves, there is a part of their heart that knows they are created for love. No one can deny the truth forever.
In the meantime, God is patient. He keeps waiting and watching for His children to return to His arms. Let us join with the Spirit and call His children back home. Let us take His love into the world and find people who will accept the limitless goodness of the Father. Then let us watch as the Father once again runs to His child and wraps them in His arms. Let us celebrate that His love has once again found its release. And let us not grow weary in our call to love others and to make disciples. For as long as we stay upon our foundations of love, we will always overcome. As Scripture says: the love of God never fails. Love always wins.
Download First Love from onewithchrist.org
[i] Matthew 7:24-27
[ii] 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Galatians 5:6
[iii] 1 John 3:11-23, James 2:14-26
[iv] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
[v] 1 Timothy 1:11
[vi] HELPS Word Study #2098
[vii] HELPS Word Study #2092
[viii] At that stage in the conversation it would have been a distraction to talk about how all the other religions of the world try to earn their place in heaven through works. They strive to repay a debt that they cannot even begin to comprehend let alone pay back. In this sense, most of the world’s religions work according to a principle of legalism, which can never attain righteousness in the sight of God. The whole world is in desperate need of the glorious gospel of love.