“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Volumes upon volumes of commentaries have been written on Christianity. Entire libraries are filled with theological treatises outlining the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. But if I had to refine Christianity down to its basic essence, it would be this verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. For God is love, perfect love.
When a rich young ruler asks Jesus to sort out from the proliferation of commandments and rules that had come to define 1st century Judaism, Jesus answered “love the Lord your God with every ounce of your being, every dimension of personhood” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” The great declaration that little children are taught regarding God’s nature and intention is “For God so love the world that He gave His one and only son.” God is the epitome of love and the definition of love. And love is the baseline upon which Christianity stands and falls.
Love is the litmus test.
Christians do a disservice to themselves and to the God they represent when they allow other measures to have even equal weight with love when defining how one goes about being a Christian.
But the love that Christians speak of is immeasurably more than the counterfeits that pass for love in human value systems. Christian love involves seeing ourselves as God sees us. Love is not accepting our incomplete or less than God-sized image of ourselves. That’s why love can never be defined as tolerance of our sin or acceptance of our desires or unquestioned support of our personal choices.
In John’s gospel we read the story of the woman who is brought to Jesus having been caught in the act of adultery. The letter of the law said that she should be stoned, condemned to death for her sin. But Jesus saw that she was being used a test case by men who did not have the Spirit of Love in their hearts. He also saw that her sin was the result of choices that she had made that did not necessarily describe what she desired to be in her heart of hearts. So when he sent her self-righteous accusers packing, Jesus asked the woman, “Where are those who are your accusers” (i.e., where are those want your sin to have the last word in your life?) The woman said, “They are gone.” “Then neither do I condemn you.” That didn’t mean that Jesus didn’t believe she was sinless in her choices. It was his way of saying – then neither do I intend for your sin to have that last word. Neither do I desire to have your sin define your being.
He said, “Go and leave your life of sin.”
For love that comes from God is love that transforms us from men and women who have abandoned their destiny to sin into people once again able to live as persons who reflect His image, who embody that perfect love themselves.
Which is why love ultimately brings us to experience of grace. Grace that allows us have the faith to trust the perfect love of God with our lives and our living.
(C) Stephen L Dunn