I’ve been hearing and involved in a lot of discussions recently about what it truly means to follow Christ. Once your heart has been regenerated, what does the transformation look like?…because regeneration leads to radical transformation, right? Some people justify their current lives. Some people suggest a drastic move like selling everything and giving to the poor is the best option. Some think you need to move to a foreign country and be a missionary. Some think you need to open your eyes to the mission field around you and get to work. Some think all of the above. Some think none of the above.
So, what’s the answer?
How many more debates and discussions need to take place before we stop talking and start doing? Because, as fired up as these discussions often get, not much is changing. Many Christians passionately debate these topics, while much of the world has no idea we’re discussing it or doesn’t care because little action is being taken.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. ~Mark 12:28-34
If you check out Mark 12, you’ll see that a lot of debates were going on at that time too. Finally someone gets down to the bottom of things and asks Jesus straight up, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Instead of arguing about the little details of each commandment, what’s the bottom line? Notice that Jesus responds with two statements rather than just one.
First, I’ve got to love God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength…aka: with everything.
Second, I’ve got to love my neighbor as myself.
The teacher of the law agrees with Jesus (good call, b/c disagreeing with the Son of God would have been a foolish move) and comments that doing those two things is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. First of all, doing those two things are more important than making sacrifices (although, sacrifices will inevitably need to be made if we truly do those two things). There’s a danger in preaching prosperity gospel (God’s blessing is only shown through wealth/health) and there’s a danger in preaching poverty gospel (sanctification occurs only through simplicity/suffering/poverty): both are wrong (in Driscoll’s words: those teach “that holiness comes from the have or have not, not Who is”) and not the true gospel at all. Watch this video (starting with Driscoll’s question to Chan at 8:45) for further clarification on that point. Secondly, we’ve got to realize that loving God and loving our neighbors aren’t the same thing, but they do go hand-in-hand. If they were the same thing, Jesus wouldn’t have separated them. If we love our neighbor, but don’t love God, we’re missing the whole point. However, if we truly love God, we will love our neighbor.
So here’s my conclusion: let’s just do that.
(brilliant, I know)
Love my neighbor as myself.
Easier said than done, right? Here’s some practical applications:
1) Realize He loved me first: the only reason I have any desire to love God is because He loved me first. Being aware of His love for me will stir up my love for Him.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” ~1 John 4:9-10
2) Get in the Word and spend time in prayer: get to know your God.
“To love God we must know him. God would not be honored by groundless love. In fact, there is no such thing. If we do not know anything about God, there is nothing in our mind to awaken love. If love does not come from knowing God, there is no point in calling it love for God.” ~John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World
3) Understand that loving God is so much more than loving His gifts.
“I think it is absolutely crucial that we clarify what the essence of love for God is. Let me grasp for the kinds of words that I think will help us know if we love God. Loving God is desiring God himself beyond his gifts. Loving God is treasuring God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is delighting in God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is being satisfied in God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is cherishing God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is savoring God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is valuing God and prizing God and revering God and admiring God beyond his gifts. All these words are grasping for that essential response of the heart to the revelation of the glory of God, especially in Christ through the gospel. It is a glad reflex of the heart to all that God is for us in Christ.” ~John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World
Love my neighbor as myself
1) Stop thinking you need new neighbors
I’ve heard people say this, I’ve watched people act like this, and I’m absolutely guilty of it too. We feel like we need to move to love our neighbors. We’ve got to get involved with a homeless ministry. We need to work for an organization that cares for the helpless. We need to go to another country in need of our help. We need to drop out of school, or quit our job, and go somewhere else to love our neighbors.
As “holy” as that may sound, it can also be selfish. I’m speaking for myself here. As noble as it sounds to want to go do foreign missions or to join a missions organization, I think often times I (and maybe you too) speak out of selfish motives, whether we realize it or not. Let’s be honest: most of the missions organizations people join these days aren’t really putting them in “life or death” situations. Times have changed since Jim Elliot’s mission work. Not many missionaries are signing up to go work with cannibals who want to eat them or tribes who want to kill them or under governments who will imprison them. We’re signing up to have coffee with people in another country. To hang out with students without being enrolled in their school/university. To be part of some awesome project. To do life somewhere new. In a way, that lifestyle is pretty appealing. No homework, no work: just knowing there are people who love you and God enough to financially support you, and receiving the awesome opportunity to meet new people and share the gospel.
Don’t get me wrong: I admire, love, and respect a LOT of people who are doing this very thing. Their hearts and intentions are pure. They work hard. All I’m saying, is that maybe we need to ask ourselves why we’re so desperate to leave our neighbors here to go find new ones somewhere else. Maybe instead of daydreaming about being out of school, raising support, and moving to another country to share the gospel, I ought to snap out of it and open my eyes/heart to the person right next to me who doesn’t know Jesus. Maybe radical for me doesn’t involve dropping everything and moving right now (although, praise God for the people who are obedient when He calls them to do that!), but rather investing my time into the school God has placed me at and the people here who need Him just as much as the tribes in Africa.
2) Notice the neighbors you see every day
“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” ~C.S. Lewis“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~John 13:35“You can give without loving. But you cannot love without giving.” ~Amy Carmichael
The person at the grocery store, the barista at Starbucks, the classmates at school, the literal neighbors next door, the co-worker, the list goes on and on. Everyone sees someone every day. So we each have neighbors right here that we’re commanded to love. Instead of debating what it “looks like” to love our neighbors, let’s start acting like we do. Treat every person you come across like they’re your best friend, a beloved family member. It seems so simple, yet how many of us do that?
I’m guilty here.
Among Christians, we ought to build each other up instead of tearing each other down with sarcastic comments and inconsiderate attitudes. Among those who don’t know the Lord, we ought to love them enough to share the gospel boldly and continuously. We ought to be the most loving, passionate, bold people in the world because of the amazing love God showed us and the power He gives us, yet we (and sadly, much of the world) can all testify to the fact that Christians are NOT the most loving. We’ve got to represent our God better. As we are sanctified, we are becoming like Jesus. And Jesus loved every person He came across. He spoke truth boldly to their faces and invested Himself lavishly in their lives. He took time to notice His neighbors.
3) Love generously
Give. Give of your time. Give of your money. Give of yourself. Don’t think, “well, they would never do this for me.” Yeah, well you never would have died to save people who hated you and neither would I…but Jesus did. And really, who cares if they would do it for you? Do it for them anyway…or more importantly, do it for Him. Go the extra mile to help someone,
even when especially when it’s inconvenient. Let Christ live through you. Expect nothing in return. If they don’t thank you, get over it. You weren’t doing it to receive their gratitude anyway. You’re doing it because God commands it. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. Go above and beyond.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal,be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” ~Romans 12:9-21
And remember, we can’t do any of this on our own. Only by the grace that God so freely gives to us.
And when we mess up, we can rest in the grace that God so freely gives to us.
So let’s stop talking, and let’s do it.
God’s grace in my life Wednesday:
I had the privilege of hearing Francis Chan bring conviction and encouragement as he spoke at Moody.
God’s grace in my life yesterday:
He gave me strength when I wasn’t feeling well during school and later gave me the joy of having dinner at J&M’s.
God’s grace in my life today:
He brought clarity as I looked to Him instead of looking for answers.
He gave me a friend who was kind enough to go the extra mile for me and bring me a working charger for my computer.
A godly woman took time to take me out for a “birthday” lunch.
He reminded me of how great my family is and gave me the chance to spend an evening with friends hearing Ravi Zacharias speak.
**Yes, I know this is long. Keep in mind that these thoughts have been ruminating in my head the past few days, but I didn’t get to blog about them in short posts since my computer charger broke and my computer was dead!
And if you think that’s a lame excuse…tomorrow’s my birthday, so give me a break 🙂