Thursday, April 02, 2009

That 'Love Thy Neighbor Thing...' (repost)

In July 2007 I wrote a series of five posts called "That 'Love Thy Neighbor Thing...'," which was sort of my response to the billboard that essentially says that God meant it when He said it. I spent four posts building up to my main point, and I just thought I'd repost the final post in that series. If interested, the first four parts are here:
Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4


Part 5
I hope by now I've made the point that to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is no small task. In fact, it's an impossible task! In this fifth and final post, I hope to address two things: "Why" would Jesus teach impossible laws and "how" are the commandments ultimately fulfilled in us?

Years after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, many things would be revealed to Paul that weren't necessarily understood during Jesus' life of ministry and teaching. Something that I think we often fail to grasp from Paul's writings is his teachings on the true purpose of the law.

Rom 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. NKJV

Gal 3:24-25 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor . NKJV

I've made a habit of often pointing out that the law's purpose is to stop every mouth and to make the world guilty before God. By the law is the knowledge of sin, but not the power to overcome sin, so no one can be justified by the deeds of the law!

Remember the lawyer, who "wanted to justify himself" by asking, "who is my neighbor?" And remember the rich young ruler, trying to justify himself by his law keeping with his words, "all these I've kept since my youth." When he found out the true depths of the meaning of the law, he went away sad. The law's purpose was indeed to produce sorrow, and much more. I like how Matthew (Daelon) commented on the previous post: "Jesus is laying such heavy loads of the law on these people so they will scream "I give up!", not so that they will try harder." That's well put.

But yet Jesus said He came not to condemn, but to save! (John 3:17) Why then would He teach the law, which only produces guilt and condemnation? We return to Paul's revelation of the purpose of the law from his letter to the Galatians. The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. In order to come to Christ, the tutor of the law must first do its work! Jesus wanted people to come to Him in order to be justified by faith - didn't He? The law then had to first do its perfect work!

But somehow we have looked at the law and not seen it for the true condemning factor that it is. We've looked at it as a "moral guide." We've tried to keep it, and we've changed it and amended it and made our own interpretations out of it so we could try to justify ourselves with our own keeping of it. Jesus, I believe, came and laid down the true depths and meaning of the law, so that it would do its perfect work and fulfill its perfect purpose: to condemn and bring guilt, so that people would then turn to Him and be justified by faith. Once the law has finally done that in the life of an individual, he comes to this place: "After faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."

There are many, many examples of Jesus using the law, which the church today has turned into "teachings" or "principles" for Christian living. One example would be His words, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt 5:27-28)

We've "Christianized" Jesus' words that He spoke to those under the law, and since we see that adultery comes from the heart, and not just the physical deed, we've invented our own Christian principle by saying that we need to be very careful to obey Jesus' words to not lust. After all, what holy person would argue that lusting after someone else's wife is a good thing? But yet we miss the whole point! There are many, many people, even such as the rich young ruler, who have never committed the physical act of adultery. According to a simple knowledge of the law, they've "kept" that law. But Jesus says, "not so." This teaching of His, I would say, is a mouth-stopping, guilt-producing teaching to every person in the world who would justify themselves by their keeping of the law.

Jesus' words to the rich younger ruler, "sell all you have and distribute to the poor," were mouth-stopping, guilt-producing words to this man who considered himself justified by his law keeping. Jesus' words to the lawyer were mouth-stopping, guilt-producing words.

No one can be justified by keeping the law. That is the whole point of the law!

That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing... I meant that.

Yup. He meant it alright! He meant it more than most people will ever realize!

So, how do we then walk in love? How do we fulfill 1 Corinthians 13? How do we agape God and agape others as we agape ourselves?

The answer isn't really a "how." It's a "Who." As Christians who have died to the law in order to be married to Christ, by faith, that we may bear fruit to God (see Rom 7:4), we seem to quickly fall back on law and principles as the means by which we live our lives and fulfill the call to love God and one another. But a person can know - and know well - all Christian principles in the world - and still have no power and still have no life and still have no love!

The "how" is really a Person - Jesus Christ. He is in us, and we are in Him. His life is our life. We are one spirit with Him. In Him we live and move and have our being. When it came down to the truth of living a godly life and bearing godly fruit, Jesus didn't say, "follow all these laws and principles and you'll bear fruit." He said, "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit." Under the law and principles, we could bear no fruit. In fact, Paul says, "the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death!" (See Rom 7:5). But now that we've died to what once bound us (the law), we serve in the newness of the Spirit! The good fruit that comes forth is the Spirit's own fruit that He produces in and through us as we simply abide in Christ, not struggling to fulfill commands and principles. Maybe I'll put it this way: The commands of God and the principles for Christian living are fulfilled in us, not as we set out to try to do them, but as we rest in Christ and let His life in us take over and produce all of it. All of it!

I'd most certainly like to discuss all this with anyone who has any thoughts, questions, opinions, etc.


  1. Joel,
    Beautiful series on the law of Love. I am very glad you re-posted these, as you wrote them before I discovered the world of blogging. As well, what Steve shared at the conference, and this 5th post of the, so true. It is so important for ALL Believers to understand the difference between a command (legalism) to love vs. LOVING from our receiving/living in Papa Son Holy Spirit's Love for us.

    ~Amy :)

  2. "The commands of God and the principles for Christian living are fulfilled in us, not as we set out to try to do them, but as we rest in Christ and let His life in us take over and produce all of it."

    i think that this is a very helpful sentence.

  3. Amy,

    Thanks for saying that. I've often thought of going back and reposting things from my first year or two (and I've actually done it a few times), simply because many of the people I know now, I didn't know back then.

    "Loving from our hearts..." Amen!


    Thanks for sharing. Yeah, that type of thinking/understanding has really revolutionized my life!

  4. Great post Joel. I couldn't help thinking that here I sit pregnant and we were actually trying to avoid bearing fruit! Lol, but in a healthy and loving relationship, fruit happens! All the more is this true in our marriage with Jesus...

  5. Great point, Jul, and great analogy! Tru dat... you can't avoid fruit in a healthy and loving relationship!

  6. Joel, excellent teaching, my Friend!
    Continue to proclaim this truth!

  7. Thanks Bino! Will keep on doing it as long as Christ-in-me pours Himself out in this way. :)

    Hey, it was so good to talk to all you guys on the phone last night! Dave is such a sneaky and loving friend, all at once!

  8. Yes, it was good. Thanks to Dave to make it happen! :)