A New Love-Orientation

24 Sep

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God…we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
-Romans 5:6-9, 11

Love is something we hear much about, yet the perception is that Christians do not love as they ought.  The question is: What does Christian love look like?  I would contend that for far too long, Christians have failed to love in two ways.  First, we have failed to love because we live by a worldly standard of what love is.  Second, we do not look to the cross to define the way in which we should love others.

Regarding the first point, we, Christians have oftentimes affirmed the world’s understanding and expression of love.  Its marked by blind acceptance of all people and beliefs as good and beneficial (even if only for that individual) on the one hand, and on the other, is marked by a preconditioned loveliness or worthiness of the person.  Put another way, we love those in whom we find something intrinsically lovely or worthy of our love.  It is a subjective, arbitrary, and judgment based love-orientation.

But the Bible, especially passages like that of Romans 5 above, sets forth a different love-orientation for those who have been redeemed.  It is a love-orientation shaped by the cross and looking towards the Kingdom to come.  It is a love that seeks to reflect the love shown to us by God in Christ Jesus.  Dr. Carl Trueman, writing on Luther’s theology of the cross, describes it like this:

And what of the idea of a God who comes down and loves the unlovely and the unrighteous before the objects of his love have any inclination to love him or do good?  Such is incomprehensible to the theologians of glory, who assume that God is like them, like other human beings, and thus only responds to those who are intrinsically attractive or good, or who first earn his favor in some way.  But the cross shows that God is not like that: against every assumption that human beings might make about who God is and how he acts, he requires no prior loveliness in the objects of his love; rather, his prior love creates that loveliness without laying down preconditions.  Such a God is revealed with amazing and unexpected tenderness and beauty in the ugly and violent drama of the cross.[1]

Luther taught that the fruit of justification (our being declared righteous by God in Christ) was an active life of love.  This includes love for God, which is, in part, expressed by our love for others (our neighbor).  We seek to willfully obey the guidance that God gives us (submitting to his authority) about what it means to be righteous, or as Anthony B. Bradley put it, “truly human.”   This includes loving those we would not have previously deemed worthy of love, and expressing love in ways that have no self-interested returns.

Yet, it means more than merely providing for people’s physical and emotional needs through goods and relationships; as Christians, it also means providing for their soul’s need for the Gospel.  We must recognize that all people are created as image bearers of God, and have an intrinsic worth and dignity.  And, yet, this is something that has been marred by the fall.  According to Anthony B. Bradley:

Because of the effects of the fall, every human being sins against the holiness of God the Creator by using God-given capacities in the service of Satan.  The only remedy for this soul’s condition is the liberation, redemption, and rescue of this fallen state by God’s sovereign intervention through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through the teaching of the gospel to bring those we love to repentance and faith in the person and work of Christ.  The full restoration of human dignity is achieved through the human person’s union with Christ.[2]

Thus, what is required is regular evangelism.  This, too, is a mark of Christian love.  We must boldly affirm that there is truth to be found in the pages of Scripture–truth that confronts us and our sin, and renders us condemned before a holy God–as well as grace–grace that blows us away by its cost, effects, and power.  And we must proclaim the gospel to all people; people from every tribe, tongue, and nation; men and women; adults and children; rich and poor; the outsider and the marginalized; the good and the bad.  If we are to love as Christ loved, we must extend love towards all.

Christian love is an objective, all-encompassing, and gracious love-orientation.

I pray that we might seek to put on and express this kind of love to the world around us.

 

[1] Carl Trueman, Luther’s Theology of the Cross”, from The Theologian, last updated 2005, accessed September 22, 2013 at http://www.theologian.org.uk/churchhistory/lutherstheologyofthecross.html.

[2] Anthony B. Bradley, “The Kingdom Today,” from The Kingdom of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 231-233.

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  1. End of the Year: Top 7 Posts of 2013 | Brevity & Clarity - December 30, 2013

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