Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10
These are profound words. Yet, they are often glossed over.
Believe it or not, this gets to the heart of what we believe. This is the center of our theology.
The ever-persistent Saint Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome so that they would know everything he did because he couldn’t visit them in person…yet.
Throughout this letter, he reminds the church in Rome that Gentile Christians are equal to Jewish Christians and that Jewish Christians are no longer under the Law of Moses. Instead, all Christians are given faith in Christ to live a life of love.
“The Law” is a hard habit to break and it is an easy trap to fall into when trying to follow Christ. It is alluring to simplify one’s faith into things you should do and things you shouldn’t do. Be good, don’t be bad. Jesus likes good people. Christians only do good things. Stuff like that. It is easy and simple to teach to people of every age. Besides, even the New Testament is filled with lists of sins to avoid. That seems pretty clear right?
Lists of behaviors to embrace or avoid may be extremely practical for some but it does not constitute our faith in Christ.
God doesn’t grade on performance. God doesn’t put gold stars next to your name in the Book of Life. God didn’t give instruction of how to live as an end, but as a means to an end. Many Christians (pastors included) forgot what that end is. The purpose of all practical instruction (but not clearly stated near those lists) is to better love God and love the people around you.
Here is one of those lists:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed… Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place… Ephesians 5:3-4
This is sound advice for everyone. Not just Christians. This would be a positive message for anyone. More plainly, I wish every citizen of the world lived up this instruction. If someone dared to live into these instructions, would that make them a Christian even if they didn’t believe in Jesus? No. A Christian trusts in Jesus Christ the person. Moralism (being a good citizen) doesn’t require God.
Being a good person doesn’t make a person a Christian any more than a person who goes swimming is a fish. I wish every person was good, but that doesn’t mean they are a Christian. Why is it that we (within the Church) equate being good (and following lists) with being a Christian? Sometimes I think it is laziness and the path of least resistance.
Long before there is a change in outward behavior, God changes our hearts. What does God change our hearts with? Love. The love of Jesus that forgives. The love of Jesus who would rather die than shut us out and leave us outside of God’s love. The love of Jesus who rises from the dead on Easter morning to show us that love wins.
Sadly, I have encountered “Christians” who have never experienced that kind of love. Or their moralistic behavior leads me to believe they have not felt the love of Jesus because they are fixated on behaviors and not love. Thankfully, I have only met a few, but they scare me.
Yes, there are times when we all speak up and say, “Don’t do that.” That’s not what I am talking about (in case you’re thinking I was vaguely talking about you, I’m not).
Behavior follows change. God does the changing in love with love.
Lists are good in the Bible if we know their place and their function. Lists are bad if we make them the centerpiece of our belief system. One doesn’t need faith if we are going to follow lists.
People change when they are loved. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10 That’s all God is trying to do. Love us so we can love others and point them to the source of all love.
Besides, at various points of my life I have been on the naughty list. I am thankful for the forgiveness that God offers in love.
God bless you,