In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus had just entered Jerusalem for the last time. His arrest and crucifixion are now just days away. His entry into the city had such fanfare that it aroused the religious establishment to new heights of indignation. The shouts of "Hosanna" had not escaped their notice and they sought to discredit Jesus in any way possible. As such, Chapters 21-25 document at least some of the ensuing confrontation between Jesus and that establishment. The above-mentioned passage is the account of one of these confrontations.
" Now when the Pharisees saw that Jesus had confounded the Sadducees, they conspired together, again, how they might discredit Him and gain for themselves the upper hand in drawing the people away. Then one of them, a lawyer, stepped forward to ask a question designed to test Jesus. Teacher, of all the commandments found in the Law, which is the most important, for we know some are more important than others. And without hesitation, Jesus answered, You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your understanding. This is the most important commandment. But, there is a second commandment that is equally important: You must love your neighbor because of who you are, and these two commandments taken together sum up everything that has been written in the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:34-40)
Herein, Jesus reveals a principle that has escaped most of the traditional, professing church – just as it had escaped the religious establishment of His day. Let me cut to the chase, as is my usual style. Salvation is not found in the knowledge of God. It is not accomplished through a mere profession of certain doctrines. It is not gained through the repetition of various ritual practices. It cannot be had through established rules of behavior or man-made standards of morality. In fact, salvation depends on our willingness to follow two commandments that Jesus says have equal weight. We must love God with our whole being. And, we must love others with the same self-abandonment.
The purpose of this paper is to show that salvation requires not simply a right relationship with God, as if that’s not difficult enough; but also a right relationship with people, as well. I want you to see that Jesus’ Gospel was inclusive of these twothings. Not one, or the other, not one, without the other; but both together. And, since I was in the traditional church for 35 years, and was reasonably diligent in acquiring some capacity for religious reasoning, I think this raises some issues. So, let’s get started.
The Deception of Morality
Hopefully, most professing Christians today would not argue that Salvation somehow hinges on having a relationship with God. Where they stumble and fall is, I believe, in their definition of what constitutes a real relationship. I’ll not cover that ground again. You can read "Deception in the Church" and "Introduction to the Kingdom of Heaven". And, of course, there are those less evangelical types who don’t subscribe to the idea of having a relationship with God at all, but rather rest their case on a form of human goodness. Being a good person is all God requires, they say. But, again, (and I’m trying to be nice here) the definition is somewhat lacking.
Let me explain. There has always been this notion that the purpose of religion is to reform its practitioners. It’s well documented in the wrong religious attitudes condemned in both the Old and New Testaments. This is because such attitudes come from the minds of men, not God. So, it follows that this ill-conceived idea of conforming to a set of man-made rules is somehow equal to having a relationship with God (a religious fraud perpetrated by the enemies of God). Every religious group has its rules. You follow the rules, and show your willingness to conform. You then reform yourself to whatever degree necessary. This brings you in line with the group. You then gain the acceptance of the group (and somehow, magically, in the process gain the acceptance of God), and become a good, moral person. And then again: all good people go to heaven. Or, so they say.
The religious establishment of Jesus’ day had its rules, thousands of them. And Jesus clashed with the leaders of that establishment on a regular basis, because He ignored their rules (Luke 6:1-11). He chose rather to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit and illustrate the principles behind the rules, which He did perfectly. The establishment, on the other hand, ignored the principles and kept the rules (Matthew 23:23-28). They sought a righteousness of their own making, which is not righteousness at all. At the very best, it can only be called morality.
And therein lies the difference. Righteousness is of God. Morality is the result of human effort. Paul certainly understood the difference. In Philippians 3:9 he talks about not wanting a false righteousness that comes from keeping the rules. Instead, he sought a righteousness that only comes as a result of his submission and obedience to God’s commands (true faith). The rub comes, if or when we ever realize God has called us to righteousness, not morality.
So what’s my point? Striving for man-made morality virtually guarantees the impossibility of loving others in the way that God requires (remember the 2ndcommandment that is equal to the first). Both human nature and religion are such that we tend to mind everyone’s business but our own. Striving for man-made morality usually ends up being a futile exercise in trying to keep everyone else in line. In the process, not only is righteousness missed, even morality (as ambiguous as it is) becomes elusive. Jesus dealt with this issue in Matthew 7:1-6.
"It’s not for you to decide what’s right or wrong for others. Keep your nose out of their business, unless that’s how you want to be treated. If you do it to others, you can be certain they’ll do it to you. Then it becomes a vicious cycle of everyone interfering in everyone else’s life. And when that happens, no one can make progress towards God. You may think you have a real talent for spotting other people’s problems, but, how good are you at seeing your own? After all, your problems are the ones you need to be dealing with. You have to be your own first priority. You can’t spend all your time trying to "minister" to others, helping them with their problems while ignoring your own. That kind of super-spiritual attitude is useless! True righteousness comes only after people face their own faults and weaknesses with God in confession and repentance. Then they can understand how to really help others by encouraging them to do the same! And, it’s not for you to decide who should or shouldn’t hear the truth of God’s Word. Don’t you realize the purpose of the Good News is to show that God loves everyone regardless of how unacceptable or undeserving you might think they are. (Matthew 7:1-6)
What’s Jesus saying here? Don’t make moral judgments. Don’t make judgments of others based on man-made standards. It’s not our responsibility to decide what others should, or shouldn’t, do. We all have to learn to mind our own business. We have to quit trying to be God. We must learn to take care of ourselves first. That’s a full-time job for all of us. We have to reject morality and embrace righteousness. How? By dealing with our own sin personally with God through our own submission and obedience to Him.
Religion wants to deal with sin by applying rules. And they want everyone to be a watchdog to make sure the others conform. It’s a sick counterfeit of righteousness with disastrous results. Everyone being critical and judgmental, interfering in everyone else’s life, offending and being offended, getting angry, holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness, refusing to reconcile, on and on it goes. It’s a nasty game, a destroyer of souls. It’s man made and man driven. God is out of the loop.
It’s common to hear pastors make the comparison between Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament. I’m not saying they’re wrong to make the comparison. I only wish they would take the time to find out what Jesus said about Israel’s religious condition and realize that it’s a very accurate description of the church today. This is how Jesus described it:
"So for the sake of the rules handed down to you by your fathers, you disregard the Word of God and openly impugn its authority. You hypocrites! Isaiah was telling the truth about you when he said, These people only like to hear themselves talk. They want others to think they’re honoring Me, but they’re not even close. Their worship of Me is useless and worthless, because they hold up as Truth the mere commandments of men." (Matthew 15:6-9)
True righteousness comes when we submit ourselves to God to do what He commands. It has nothing to do with morality. It has nothing to do with man-made rules. It has nothing to do with what anyone else is doing or not doing. It has nothing to do with what any church or denomination teaches. It has everything to do with what we, as individuals, do on our own with our God. It has everything to do with our own submission and obedience to God, to do what He commands.
And herein lies the fundamental flaw of professing Christianity today: morality and the traditions of men supercede righteousness and the commandments of God. And because of that, people focus more on what’s happening in the lives of others and tend to ignore what’s lacking in their own. They spend their time exposing the faults of others while trying to keep theirs well covered. They’re quick to share the slightest shred of gossip about someone else, but become angry and offended if they ever become the subjects of gossip themselves.
Paul dealt with this problem several times in his letters. I like to use this particular example, though, to show how Paul understood what Jesus had taught regarding the two aforementioned commandments.
"The whole teaching of the Law regarding human relationships is summed up in this one commandment, You must love your neighbor because of who you are. But if you insist on hurting, even destroying, one another by taking sides against one another, you’d better be careful. It’s possible, even likely, that you’ll destroy the common bond that binds you together and your fellowship will be destroyed. My advice is to not worry about what others are doing and focus on following the Holy Spirit. If you’re controlled and guided by the Spirit, you’ll refrain from following the natural inclinations of your flesh." (Galatians 5:14-16)
The writer of the Book of Hebrews (probably Paul) alludes to this same idea inHebrews 12:14, where he includes both human relationships and right standing with God as the prerequisites for eventual salvation.
"Be willing to put forth any effort that is required to live in peace with all men, and devote yourself to God and to His righteousness. For, without these, no one will ever see the Lord."
So, why have I spent all this time rambling on about the difference between morality and righteousness? Simply to illustrate this one point: in general, the church will never have the capacity to love others as Jesus says we must, as long as we subscribe to something as weak and ineffectual as human morality. This point will, I think, become crystal clear, as we get further into this paper.
In all my years of experience in the traditional church, I’ve never been associated with a church, or even acquainted with one for that matter, that was not in the toilet – literally.
I know. That’s a crude way to express it, but that’s what comes to mind. On the surface, there are plenty of plastic smiles, cologne, antiperspirant and syrupy-sweet conversation. Everything looks and smells pretty good. But hidden under the surface, you’ll find all kinds of ambition, gossip, criticism, offense, strife, bitterness and unforgiveness. Just lift the lid a little bit and stand back. It’s ugly down there and the smell is unbelievable! Needless to say, morality is an abysmal failure.
The Requirement of Forgiveness
This brings us to the second issue: what Jesus says about unforgiveness. In all the years I was involved with the traditional church, I did more than my share of counseling (talk about a waste of time, but, I had my "ministry"). Invariably, regardless of the situation, the problem boiled down to past offenses and the resultant unforgiveness and resentment. What amazes me now though, when I think back on it, is the common attitude displayed by so many in that condition. Most seemed determined to hold on to their offenses. They acted as if they had a choice of whether to forgive or not.
And in these situations, when I would try to show people what the word of God says, they just weren’t really that interested. They knew how they felt, and their feelingswere more important to them than anything God might have to say. It’s the same old story. When it comes to religion, man is in control, not God. And when people’s fleshly emotions are more important to them than what God says, they’re in a dangerous place (it’s called the broad road that leads to destruction).
So, what did Jesus say? Let’s look first at the model prayer commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6. For many, this is nothing more than a short, poetic passage meant to be memorized and mindlessly regurgitated when the ritual is required. But, as we are about to see, it’s much more than that.
"So, when you pray, this is how you should pray. Talk to your Father in Heaven like you would talk to your earthly father, with affection and respect. Only acknowledge that He deserves an honor and reverence greater than any man. Tell Him of your desire to see His Kingdom revealed in your life. Tell Him sincerely that you only want what He wants, so His will can be seen here on earth, just like it is in His heavenly domain. And ask Him to only give you just what you need for that day. Then ask Him to forgive your trespasses and sins. But tell Him that you understand that your forgiveness is based on your own willingness to forgive those who have trespassed against you. And finally, ask Him to protect you from yourself and from all the evil that surrounds you in this world." (Matthew 6:9-13)
If you’ve never really paid attention to this passage in the past, I’d encourage you to take time to study it and understand all that Jesus is saying here. Our discussion is limited to what He says about forgiveness, but there’s so much more here that is important to every believer who really wants to know God.
Verse 12 above is italicized so you can easily see the part of Jesus’ model prayer that pertains to forgiveness. Since this is a model prayer, we should try to understand Jesus’ intention. I believe it’s obvious enough. Every time you pray, ask your Father to forgive any sins you may have committed since the last time you prayed. And renew this understanding so you’ll never forget it, because it’s very important: acknowledge to Him that you understand that His forgiveness of your sin is based on your willingness to forgive those who have sinned against you.
We need to keep in mind this is a model prayer. Jesus is simply telling us that when we pray, our prayer should include these things. Obviously, He must have thought these were some of the more important elements of prayer. I can’t resist the opportunity to say that Jesus’ model prayer doesn’t sound anything like what you hear in churches and on Christian TV programs. Most professing Christians today seem to think prayer is nothing more than their opportunity to tell God what to do and what they want Him to give them. But, I fear their prayers are mostly the result of the doctrines of demons (I Timothy 4:1) and the demons are the only ones listening. How many church services and TV programs would you have to sit through before you heard someone say, "God, I only want what You want"?
And, it must be noted that in the model prayer, the only subject Jesus deemed important enough to explain in further detail was forgiveness. Let’s look at the next two verses.
"And remember, if you’re willing to forgive others, then your Heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But, if you’re not willing to forgive others, neither will your Heavenly Father be willing to forgive you." (Matthew 6:14,15)
Is that 2nd commandment starting to come into focus now? It grieves me to think how many professing Christians there are out there in the world laboring under the illusion that they can be in right standing with God, yet believe they can treat others any way they choose and hold on to unforgiveness towards those who may have treated them badly. In Matthew 5:20-24 Jesus makes it clear that our relationship with the Father is directly affected by our relationships with others.
"And I’m telling you now, unless your righteousness goes beyond what the Pharisees have demonstrated, you’ll never find the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re careful to follow the rules they’ve made, but they continually ignore the principles found in God’s Word. I’ll show you what I mean. They’ve been saying for a long time now that you can’t commit murder. And, if you do, you’ll stand trial and suffer the prescribed punishment for your crime. But what are they really saying, that they’re righteous because they’ve never committed murder? Is it righteous to hold on to your anger against others and refuse to make peace? Is it righteous to speak carelessly and insultingly to others? Is it righteous to lose your temper and speak out in anger? Anyone who does these things will be held responsible and will suffer the consequences. Murder isn’t the only crime for which the Father has prescribed punishment. This is what you must do. When you come into the presence of God to commune with Him, then remember that you’ve hurt someone with your anger, stop right there. Go to that person and ask their forgiveness immediately. Only then can you truly commune with the Father. After all, how can you ask Him to forgive you when you know you’re refusing to be reconciled to your brother? The Father can’t honor that." (Matthew 5:20-24)
Are you beginning to get the picture? The Father has chosen to make a direct connection between our relationship with Him and our relationships with others. If we refuse to forgive others, the Father will not forgive us. If we refuse to seek the forgiveness of those we’ve hurt, the Father will refuse to receive us when we seek His forgiveness.
There’s an interesting passage in Luke 17:1-10 that shows us God’s perspective regarding forgiveness.
"Then Jesus told His disciples, Offenses will surely come, and those responsible have put themselves in a distressful situation, outside the mercy of God. It would be far better for him if he was thrown into the sea and drowned than that he be responsible for discouraging a young believer. So be careful, you don’t want to be one of those who cause offense. And if your brother offends you, go and earnestly tell him. Get it out in the open, so it can be dealt with. And if he says he’s sorry, forgive him. Even if he offends you over and over again, and says he’s sorry over and over again, so you have reason to doubt his sincerity, forgive him anyway. Never allow another’s sin to cause you to harbor resentment. Just let it go. Then the disciples said, Lord, give us more faith so we can do this! Then the Lord said, You already have enough faith, you just have to learn to use it. Faith is like a seed. If you plant it, it will grow. Then, soon, you’ll find yourself doing things you never thought possible. Forgiveness shouldn’t be that difficult. You have to put it in the proper perspective. Tell Me this, if you had a slave plowing your field or tending your sheep, would you say to him when he was finished working, Come, you must be tired and hungry, sit at the table and eat and drink? Would you not, instead, tell him, You get my supper ready and prepare yourself to serve me while I eat and drink, and then when I’m finished, you may eat and drink also? Then afterward, would you praise your slave because he did what you ordered him to do? I don’t think so. And it’s the same for you. When you forgive the offenses of others as you’ve been commanded, understand this, you haven’t gone beyond what the Father requires. In fact, you’ve only done what He expects you to do." (Luke 17:1-10)
So, what’s Jesus saying here: if you actually manage to forgive someone who’s hurt you, don’t throw your shoulder out of joint patting yourself on the back. It’s no big deal. You’re just a slave who’s managed to do what the Master has commanded. You don’t deserve any commendation or special recognition. Obedience is the bare minimum requirement of slaves. You have no choice.
And by the way, have you ever considered the fact that Jesus used slavery as the subject of several of His parables. Yet, He never took the opportunity to speak out against it. The same with Paul, who, in many of his Epistles encouraged slaves to be obedient to their masters in order to set a good example. But he never condemned slavery. Why? They refused to make moral judgments, because they knew spiritual principles were more important. We have a lot of people running around this world, wringing their hands, wearing colored ribbons, promoting one human rights cause after another, campaigning for laws based on human principles designed to legislate morality. And all the while, the spiritual condition of the world continues to decline.
When people refuse to follow such laws, it’s common to hear someone say, you can’t legislate morality. Well, you can. Men have been doing just that since the beginning of time. But, the reality is, neither Jesus, nor Paul was interested in legislating morality. They were promoting spirituality (righteousness). And, in fact, you can’t legislate spirituality. Spirituality can only be the result of each individual’s own personal submission and obedience to God. And spirituality is the only answer to the problems of the world. Will we ever understand that God is not nearly as interested in our outward, physical condition or situation as He is in our inward, spiritual condition?
The Nature of God
Now it’s time to get down to the bottom line, foundational issue involved in all of this: the nature of God, and, whether or not we’re willing to emulate that nature when we experience it and recognize it. Let me show you what I mean. This passage is found in Matthew 5:38-48 and has a direct bearing on what we’ve been talking about. Just to set the context, Jesus has (since verse 21) been exposing the flawed, ambiguous morality of the Pharisees by comparing it to God’s principles of righteousness.
"Here’s another one. You’ve always heard them say, The punishment should fit the crime. If someone hurts you, hurt him back. But, I propose a better way. When someone hurts you, don’t retaliate. After all, what does it accomplish? Your retaliation only adds to the pain that already exists. If someone hurts you, take it peacefully (forgive them). And by that, you’ll prove the sincerity of your love by ending it then and there. If anyone has reason to take you to court, if he wins his case, pay him more than the judge requires. And when someone wants to take advantage of you then let him. If someone asks for your help, don’t refuse, even if you think they’re only using you. If they ask for a loan, give it to them, even if you have every reason to believe they’ll never pay it back. This is what I’m trying to tell you: be willing to suffer if you must, but never be willing to make others suffer, regardless of the circumstances. And you’ve been told to love your friends, but hate your enemies. That’s wrong! Instead, you should love those who hate you, say only good things about those who curse you, do good things for those who want to destroy you, and pray for those who have betrayed you. Then, you’ll be like your Father in Heaven. He doesn’t arbitrarily choose those He will love. He loves everyone the same, regardless of whether they’re good or bad. When you only love those who love you in return, do you think you deserve something special? Anyone can do that. And when you only say hello to those who greet you first, what’s so great about that? Anyone else would do as much. But this is what I’m talking about, you have to be willing to emulate the nature of your Heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:38-48)
Did you catch the last line of that paraphrase? I know. The King James Version doesn’t say that. It says, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." But have you ever thought about what that means? It means you have to find out Who He is and then be willing to be just like Him! It means, when you experience His mercy and forgiveness, if you’re really serious about being His child, then you have to start demonstrating that same mercy and forgiveness to others.
There is, I believe, an interesting dynamic in this that we all need to understand. When you look at the above passage, it seems as though Jesus is telling us that we must allow ourselves to be open to the abuse of others. Then, when they abuse us, we have to take it peacefully and respond with mercy and forgiveness. We have to be vulnerable. We have to be willing to let others take advantage of us. Why? It’s because that’s the nature of our Father. Do you not realize that every time we sin, we take advantage of His mercy and forgiveness? Has He not voluntarily made Himself open and vulnerable to our abuse? Yes, He has. And all I have to do is look at I John 1:9 to see it.
"When we admit that we’re guilty and that we’ve sinned against Him, then God can be trusted to remain true to His nature, forgive our sins and remove our guilt." (I John 1:9)
His promise is there. We know it. When our flesh rises up and we get ready to do something we know we shouldn’t do, in the back of our minds we know it’s there. Then, we take advantage of God and do what we want to do anyway. And when we do, does a bolt of lightning come down from God and strike us dead? No! But, does this mean that God’s mercy and forgiveness is free for the taking? This will, no doubt, be of some concern to those of you who like to talk about unconditional love, free grace and the like. But, there is a price to be paid for taking advantage of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It’s your own willingness to allow others to take advantage of that same mercy and forgiveness in you. While I John 1:9 is certainly true, it doesn’t nullify Matthew 5:15. Remember that one? "But, if you’re not willing to forgive others, neither will your Heavenly Father be willing to forgive you."
It seems as though men have always had the attitude that they could make up their own rules and call the shots when it came to having a relationship with God. But the day will come when they’ll find out they weren’t fooling anyone but themselves. Christianity isn’t a free ride as many want to believe. It is, in fact, exactly what Jesus said it is, a difficult journey, down an uncertain and obscure path with self-denial, sacrifice, opposition and suffering along the way. And if you’re one of those who want to believe that Jesus did it all for you on the Cross, so now you don’t have to do anything except to passively believe in Him and accept what He did, I urge you to reconsider.
If you’re not willing to prove to God that you’re going to emulate His nature, then He knows you’re not really serious about being His child and about being like Him. And His plan is that we become like Him. It doesn’t matter how you define it: being conformed to the image of Christ, learning to be led of the Holy Spirit, pursuing His righteousness, it all comes down to the same thing. God wants us to partake of His nature and that is our salvation.
Man looks on the outward, but God looks on the heart. He knows our thoughts and intents. He knows everything about us. Nothing is hidden from Him. Everything is revealed. It’s that simple. He knows who was serious and who was playing a religious game. He knows who persevered and who got enticed by the world and gave up. He knows which ones of us resisted evil and who sold out to it. The difference between the nature of God and the nature of the enemies of God is perfectly clear to Him. There will be no mistakes.
The Proof of Salvation
I have no intention of belaboring this point. However, I do feel it necessary to spend some time on this issue of salvation being something we do in cooperation with and submission to God, rather than something God has already done for us. I am of firm conviction that the sole purpose of religion is to convince people that salvation is quick and easy to obtain and impossible to lose. And, that the enemies of the Cross have done an admirable job in carrying out that deception. In fact, I know some parents and grandparents who are holding on to this deception simply because they don’t have the courage to tell their children and grandchildren that what they taught them was wrong.
Yet, even a casual understanding of the life and writings of Paul should convince us otherwise. If Paul’s salvation was accomplished on the road to Damascus when he made his profession of faith, why didn’t he just go home to Tarsus and rest on his blessed assurance? I’m sure one of the churches there would have let him teach a Sunday School class. Why did he write in his Epistles that he was running a race, and was doing so with great care and discipline because he feared that at some point he might be found lacking and be disqualified? Why did he put himself through so much?
Why did he say things like, "…salvation is nearer now than it was when we first believed." (Romans 13:11b) How could it be nearer than when they first believed, if it was finished on the Cross and accomplished when they believed? Why did Paul talk about salvation in the present tense, as if it were an on-going process?
"For the message and true meaning of the cross is pure stupidity to those who are on their way to eternal destruction, but to us who are being saved, it is the day to day reality of the power of God working in us." (I Corinthians 1:18)
In fact, if our salvation were accomplished so easily and quickly, why would God require anything of us after we are saved? The fact that He does require that we meet certain conditions only proves that salvation is conditional on our obedience to His commands. Jesus didn’t say, "If you love Me, you’ll make a profession of faith." He said, "If you love Me, you’ll keep My commandments." (John 14:23)
There is a passage in I John 2:3-11 that I believe illustrates this point. It’s clear from what John says through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that those who do not follow certain commands after coming to knowledge of Christ are still in darkness.
"And this is how we can know by our daily experiences that are growing in our knowledge of Him: if we continue to be mindful of His commands and obey them. Whoever says, I know Him, yet fail to obey His commands is lying and the Truth is not in him. But he who values His word as he would a treasure, in him a love for God has truly come. And by this we can know that we are in a real relationship with Him. And anyone who says he’s walking in such a relationship will behave himself in the same way that He behaved Himself. Beloved, I’m not writing a new commandment, just reminding you of the commandment that Jesus has already given, that we should love one another (John 13:34, 35). Yet, I will give you a new commandment, just as true as the first. And this is fulfilled when you are in Him and He is in you, because your spiritual darkness is clearing away and the Light of the revelation of Christ in your lives is beginning to shine. So that now we know that whoever says he’s in the Light, yet harbors hostility towards his brother is still in darkness. And whoever loves his brother is living in the Light and will not be a cause for offense. But he who insists on holding on to his hostility is living in the darkness. And he has no real perception of where he is because his hatred has distorted his understanding." (I John 2:3-11)
There’s no mistaking the connection John makes between our relationship with God and our ability to love one another. Those who insist on holding on to offenses and the unforgiveness and resentment that goes with them are still in darkness. And even though they may want to believe they can still maintain a right standing with God, they’re wrong. They don’t understand that they’re still in darkness because they have a distorted view of truth. The distortion is that they think they can disregard the commands of God and get away with it.
The "new" commandment given by Jesus in John’s Gospel (13:34, 35) and mentioned again here in his first epistle is not new in the sense of time, but new in the sense that it was not familiar to the disciples. Jesus simply chose to re-emphasize it following His last Passover meal with them. Again, the connection is made. The full rendering of this commandment goes something like this:
"I give you a new commandment: that you should love one another. Follow My example and love one another like I have loved you. And in this way men will know that you’re following Me, because you love one another. (John 13:34, 35)
There is one more verse in I John 3:10 that I want to look at, then we’ll move on. Again, John makes the connection between our relationship with God and our relationships with others. It would be difficult to overlook this verse because it’s so precise.
"And by this we can clearly see who has taken on the nature of God and are His children, and who has taken on the nature of the evil one and are his children: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, neither is he that refuses to love his brother." (I John 3:10)
Now there are just a couple more things we should talk about. One is the question of whom we should love. There are some who make the argument that we need only to love our Christian brothers and that we’re not required to love those in the world. I have some serious problems with that. One is that, in general, I have no idea who my Christian brothers are! There are a lot of people out there who claim to be, but I don’t really know for sure. And I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out either. I have more important things to do.
Besides, it’s a wrong argument anyway. When you look at all the verses we’ve presented here, and many others not included, it’s clear that we’re to love everyone, regardless of their spiritual condition. When these verses talk about whom we should love, or whom we should forgive, or whom we should allow to take advantage of us, non-specific words like neighbor, people, others, anyone, those, and men are used, along with the more specific word, brother. The real key to me is that the nature of God is to love everyone (Matthew 5:45), and it’s His nature we’re supposed to emulate.
Another thing we need to consider is my paraphrase of the 2nd commandment. "You must love your neighbor because of who you are." Of course, we all know that the King James Version says "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." That particular translation, usually found in subsequent translations as well, has always bothered me. Would the Lord establish such an obscure and varied standard? Does He really intend for us to base our love for others on how we love ourselves?
This commandment first appears in Leviticus 19:18, and is then quoted by Jesus in the Gospels, by Paul in Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14, and by James in James 2:8. These verses make several interesting applications of this commandment. I encourage you to study them for yourself. But, let’s go back to Leviticus 19. This chapter contains a long list of commands pertaining to holiness and justice. Verse 2gives us the key to understanding what the Lord really meant when He gave Moses this commandment on love.
"Tell the whole assembly of the Israelites, You are to be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." (Leviticus 19:2)
What is the Lord saying? Holiness is My nature (My natural state of being), and I require that you emulate My nature. When you emulate God’s nature, you’re able to do the things He commands you to do. When you consecrate yourself to this (determine to imitate the nature of God), then you’re able to love like He loves. And, as one who has taken on the nature of his Father, you will be able to love others because of who you are. Of course, the opposite of this is also true.
Now pay very close attention to what I’m about to say. This is important and brings into focus everything we’ve been talking about. If God requires us to share His nature in order to be one of His children, that must be the very definition of being related or of having a relationship with Him. If you claim to have a relationship with God, and it’s based on anything other than sharing His nature, I urge you to reconsider. Jesus and His Apostles believed it necessary to follow both of these commandments.