Love and Righteousness
As we stated in January, our goal for the year should be to move into a deeper communion with the Lord. Life really is as simple as loving God first and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It would be great if that was the only scripture we needed, but God had to give us 1,600 pages of them. Why?
Simply stated, we have to be instructed as to what a life of love looks like. We could talk about intimacy with God until we are blue in the face, yet deceive ourselves without having the practical steps of obedience that it should produce in our lives.
This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).
Obedience to God's law is a necessary fruit of true love, but it is obviously not the only fruit of love. There are those fruits of a transformed character that most define the intentionality of holy love. They far outweigh the jot and tittle of the written law:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
These are the things that mark Christian maturity. We have all read this passage numerous times, but we must move beyond just talking about love and into the very "doing" of love. If we say that we love God, but disobey Him, we are not walking in truth.
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence (1 John 3:18-19).
But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him (1 John 2:5).
In Christ, God's love toward us is perfect and unconditional. We cannot earn more or less of it. But our responsive love toward God – what I give back to Him – is still being perfected. I can love God more tomorrow than I do today. Until I throw actions and truth behind my love for God, my heart will not be set at rest in His presence. We grow in both our ability to love God and our capacity to experience His love toward us. The first response of any true love I have toward God will always be repentance, and that means simply to turn toward Him. I will want to begin gazing at my Lover. Since sin inhibits my ability to experience and drink in the love of God, I will naturally want to put away all blocks to love.
Many of us have difficulty soaking in contemplative prayer because there are sin issues we are avoiding in our lives. Our hunger to taste the rich presence of God is being stifled by our own actions, and this inhibits our prophetic interactions and divine encounters.
Repentance merely enables us to taste more of what God has freely poured out toward us. If fear is always the under-girding motivation for our repentance, we will quickly enter the performance cycle of trying to work for God's love. It is only the kindness of God that can truly bring repentance. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but the love of God is the fulfillment of wisdom.
There is no place along the way where love departs from right living. Love is inextricably tied to righteousness (right living). One cannot say "I have love," and another say "I have righteousness." This is, as the apostle James points out, as foolish as someone saying "I have faith," while another says "I have deeds." Just as faith is always demonstrated by our works, so is love is always demonstrated by outward action. The two cannot be separated.
However, the work, the deed, is always the outer form – the shell, the shadow – of an inner transformation. And God looks on the heart.
God is love. But we must recognize that this holy love is a far deeper, purging flame than any "human" love can ever touch. It is of a higher substance. God is Love, but He is also the Truth. He is a refining fire. His love is a piercing love that requires a death and rebirth of the senses. It is a very dangerous kind of love. His love must always supersede our love of fellow man, but it must necessarily result in love for our fellow man.
This living flame of love is so untouchable, so unquenchable, that it is virtually impossible for us to ever draw near without being consumed. This is why it is ultimately necessary that God Himself becomes our righteousness. We are incapable of reaching that place of purity and perfection which He requires of our own accord. And so Christ must positionally become our "right living" so that we can freely enter the love of God.
God's demand for righteousness never diminishes, but it must necessarily be preceded and married to intimacy:
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you (Psalm 89:14).
I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion (Hosea 2:19).
Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you (Hosea 10:12).
We are told by the Apostle Paul to put on the breastplate of love and righteousness, as part of the full armor of God. In this, we see that it takes both to truly cover our hearts. But love is not a formula or a pattern of living life. It is not a system of law. Good works are a fruit of love, but they can never conjure it up. We are told "do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires" (Song of Solomon 2:7). There is a very real element of "desire" that must present for true love to be birthed. Not law. Not works. Desire.
Love must be brought to the point of conception. But this is not some haphazard desire that is confused with the lower states of the soul or its lusts. Love's fullness is laying down our lives for God and for our fellow man. Holy love births sacrifice.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16).
Righteousness has nothing to do with legalism. There are two ditches to the road we walk as Christians, and we can fall into either of them. One is legalism, and the other is lawlessness. Both are actually demonic strongholds. To the lawless, all truth seems oppressive. It helps, therefore, to understand that there are "greater" issues of law and "lesser" issues of law. Jesus spoke about this. The apostle John tells us there are sins that lead to death and others that do not. Murder, for instance, is more weighty and consequential than speeding.
I could fulfill the law to the jot and tittle just like a Pharisee and never even taste the kingdom of God. I could major on the minor matters of law and worry over unclean foods and holy days and how to shave the hair on my neck. And in doing so, I could utterly neglect the weightier matters of law. What good is circumcision of the flesh, once the heart has been circumcized? Often, those who place undue attention on minor matters of law neglect the weightier issues of righteousness.
Why is the Old Testament law imperfect? Jesus clearly told us that it was impossible to become righteous through obedience to the law. In fact, he said that our righteousness had to exceed that of the Pharisees – the most straight-laced guys in the world. But the law is not just imperfect because of its failure to affect righteousness. The law is imperfect because it is unable to affect love in the human heart. God doesn't care about how well we wash our hands or whether we eat pig. He cares about whether or not our heart is full of selfish ambition, envy, dissension and overindulgence.
The entire law and the prophets only point to God Himself. Once we have God, we can mature from the place of trying to perform for Him in a ritualistic manner. We are afforded a measure of freedom. Gal. 5:13-21 says:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
If we are still bearing these fruits of the sinful nature, we should move onto maturity and not keep seeking approval from God on a ritualistic performance basis. Has a minor matter of law birthed dissension in your midst? The heart that loves is no longer in need of being instructed on these basic matters of "repenting from dead works." To bear the fruits of the sinful nature is a sure sign of one who is seeking righteousness from the law, instead of Christ.
The way we live right is to fall in love with Jesus.