This post and the one preceding it (“The Problem of Immorality”) were written many years ago, as I was preparing the very first editions of Consumed by God. I thought I would repost them here; their subject matter, of course, is timeless, and will only get more relevant in our culture as time goes on.
A sure sign of a life under the control of the Spirit of God is real growth in the grace of love. Now of course we could mention all of the fruits of the Spirit as being evidences of genuine Christianity; but love, as we know, is the crowning grace of all, as I Corinthians 13:13 tells us.
True love to others is described so fully, clearly, and simply in this chapter that it would be foolish to attempt to define it further. The only thing to remind ourselves of, perhaps, is that the all-consuming, all-encompassing love to which we are called in the Bible is to be manifested at all times to all people—even toward our enemies (Matthew 5:43ff).
And yet the sad truth is that for the most part we cannot even love our fellow church members or fellow Christians. There is precious little real unity in the church of God at large, or even within local churches in various places. Do we not need to consider why this is the case, and strive to repent? Did not our Lord Jesus give us a “new commandment” before his death upon the cross, instructing us to “love one another,” even as he had loved us (John 13:34-35)? Did he not say that by this all men would know that we were his disciples?
The first thing we must realize is that we cannot truly love others, until we truly love God. In other words, if the Spirit of God has not done a real and deep work of grace within us, turning our hearts away from ourselves and toward God, then we have no chance of loving our fellow man—even our loved ones or fellow church members. Real growth in this area comes only through growth in the area of our love to God. For without Spirit-empowered love to God, our love to others will never develop—or will be a sham.
Real, biblical love to others is an outgrowth of the working of the Spirit in a person’s life. As idols and self-centered desires are overturned, and the soul is turned in love to God, real, Christ-like love for all men will be a sure and certain fruit. To put it succinctly, we will fulfill the second great commandment only to the degree that we fulfill the first.
So a crucial initial question is this: do we really understand this latter point? Or are we trying to love others with no real way to do so? In other words, are we trying to love others in the flesh? Are we seeking to perform a Spirit-wrought duty without the Spirit?
Once we truly seek God and his Spirit, and begin to see the evidence of his working in our lives, then we need to get about the business of tearing down sinful barriers and working out the real and difficult grace of genuine love. Over and over again the apostle John lists this grace as the grand sign of genuine Christianity (John 2:9ff; John 3:10ff; etc.) So where are we failing in our lives?
Perhaps we are failing in the area of loving believers whose doctrine is not exactly like our own. Now we should never sacrifice what we believe to be vital truths; but that is indeed the question, is it not? Don’t we behave as if some doctrines are vital when in reality their validity in the Word of God is somewhat suspect? Don’t we often pretend that there are not in fact two ways to view an issue we hold dear? Don’t we often hold onto our own views out of sinful self-will, and doesn’t this impair our fellowship, and genuine love, to other believers? Isn’t this what is happening presently in the church at large?
Every Christian must ask himself whether in fact he is withholding real love and fellowship from a brother or local church out of genuine doctrinal conviction or out of selfish pride. If the Spirit of God were to do a true work of grace in our hearts, I believe the things that we have held to so tenaciously for years would suddenly lose their apparent vast significance, in the light of the greater significance of the unity of the body of Christ.
Now no doubt, again, there is a great need for doctrinal purity in our day. But still the question remains: which truths are vital enough to impair fellowship? And though there may be genuine debate over this issue, again I say, we desperately need to reexamine it. For true love is as absent in the church today as anything, and the glory of God suffers greatly.
And what about love towards those outside of Christ? There can be no question from the Word of God that when the Spirit takes over a man’s life, love will pour out from him for all men. He will be like the Savior, whose love and compassion for all men is displayed on virtually every page of the gospel accounts.
He will have an interest in, and a true affection for, all people, even his enemies. His whole being will hurt, and his heart will rend, for the lost, dying, poor, needy, and helpless, as did the Savior’s, time and again. And he will have a special love and affection for his brothers and sisters in Christ; his heart will be joined with theirs in true unity by the unbreakable bond of the Spirit.
Do we have any evidence of this love in our lives? Are we living for ourselves, or for God and others? What compassion do we have for the lost, dying, poor, and needy of the world? What love do we feel toward those who have never heard the gospel? What concern do we have for the perishing? What affection do we feel for our enemies, even the enemies of God—who are blinded and held captive by the devil, to do his will? Do we have any real feelings for such people? Any real affection? Any real pity or emotion at all? Do our lives hold any evidence of this?
And all of this is not to mention the glorious spirit of love which should rule us at all times, in all of our daily relationships. Do we truly know anything of the great love that I Corinthians 13 speaks of? Only by the Spirit can we know this grace. Only by his power, by living and walking in his grace, can we take no wrong into account, be delivered from envy or pride, bear and believe all things, and walk in patience and kindness at all times. For these are a true miracle of the Spirit.
The Spirit of God is a being who feels; he is consumed by real affections and emotions, and the grand sum of these is love—love to God and love to man, who has been created in God’s image. As God the Father himself is called “love” (I John 4:8), so the Spirit burns and moves in the grace of love. And thus we cannot say we know God unless we have love for others (I John 2:9ff; etc.).
And so again I ask: what evidence is there in our lives of love to our fellow man? May God help us to repent where we need to and seek his Spirit’s help in this most vital of all areas.