Sunday, July 20, 2014

Love = Holiness

In my previous post, I attempted to show from Scripture that in many ways, practical holiness involves living in love: sacrificial concern for the good of others that trumps concern for yourself.  It's living as God lives, holy as he is holy.  In other words, "holiness" equals love.

At the same time, the reverse is also true: "love" equals holiness, that is, living life under God's rule and under his law and promises and bearing God's likeness in the world.  If we live lives of love as "imitators of God" walking in Christlike love (Ephesians 5:1), then that means we aren't living like other people do; our love is to be holy as the Lord is holy (1 Peter 1:16).

While hippies waved banners about "free love," real Christian love is generous and costly.  It embodies grace and gives to others when they're undeserving.  Jesus said that love for one another and the world would be the mark of his disciples (John 13:34-35; 15:9-13).  And yet this same Jesus-styled love would cause the world to hate his disciples because it reminds them of him (John 15:18-25).  So there must be something inherently un-worldly about the way we are to love others.

"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." (1 John 5:2-3)

According to this passage, obeying God's commandments is the litmus test of how well we love others.  We can say we're loving other people well, but if we're not serious about obeying everything Jesus said about God's will for us, then we're not being very loving.  If you "love your wife" but look at pornography, you're not really loving her (violating the 7th commandment against marital infidelity).  If you "love your pastor or your boss" but disrespect him and bad-mouth him openly to others, you're not really loving him (violating the 5th commandment to respect authorities over you, the 6th commandment to preserve the dignity of another's life, and the 9th commandment to defend others' reputations).  You cannot truly be "for marital love" while simultaneously endorsing divorce or homosexuality as a valid option in the kingdom of God.

I haven't unpacked all that this means (so I probably should shut up and not be writing anything yet!).  But a few things stand out in my mind right now.  First, love for others is inherently rooted in love for God ahead of love for yourself or other people.  We love other people because we love God first, because they are his creation and are made in his image.  So that means the supreme goal of our lives and theirs is to flee from idol-worship and turn to worship of God, living lives that look like him.*  God's goals for us often run counter to our own desires, so pointing others to God often involves correction and loving declaration that our lives all involve sin.  True kindness leads others to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Second, rightly ordered love for others is the natural result of knowing the holy God.

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you." (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)

"And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says, 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1 John 2:3-4)

Pagans who do not know God live in "the passion of lust" driven by selfish consumption instead of "holiness and honor" that seeks to put others first rather than wronging them (1 Thessalonians 4:4-6).  Knowing God as he is revealed in his written Word is both they key to discovering how to live like him and the gravitational force for a rightly-ordered heart.  Therefore if we really see our lives looking like God--loving what he loves, hating what he hates, reflecting his character--this confirms that we know God and are in fact his beloved children, holy and set apart from the fallen world.

Finally, rather than trying to "be loving"--something possibly vague and nebulous, depending on the situtation--it might be easier and more concrete to start by simply asking, "What has God revealed about his will for this attitude, behavior, disposition, etc.?"  First John 5:2 says that loving God and keeping his commandments is itself assurance that we are loving others.  So if you want to live a life of love, when you see a commandment in the Bible, do it!  That is love.

*Right now I'm working through a helpful workbook by Brad Hambrick called God's Attributes: Rest for Life's Struggles (P&R, 2012).  Hambrick briefly describes different attributes of God and then offers diagnostic questions to help the reader examine how well he is resting in each attribute and emulating it in our lives.

1 comment:

Halfmom said...

"[love is] sacrificial concern for the good of others that trumps concern for yourself." Amen and Amen!