What Does the Christian Do?
The goal of knowing oneself is—practically speaking—to get yourself out of the way so you can grow in your relationship with God (cf. John 3:30). This relationship is not established in the apprehension of some facts about God but is rather a relational intimacy characterized by love: God initiates and demonstrates his love for you and in response you love God. As to the nature of this love, which transcends emotional feelings or admiration, Jesus connects true love of God with obedience. He says quite plainly, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus reiterates this point three more times during the same discourse saying, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (14:21), and “If anyone loves me he will keep my word…” (14:23), and then in the negative saying, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (14:24).
At this point one has to ask, “What words?” All of them, of course! However, Jesus summarizes his commandments and our corresponding obedience in two directions: loving God and loving others. In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus is confronted by a Pharisee, an expert in Mosaic law who asks, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law” (v. 36)? To which Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (vs. 37–40). In his response, Jesus is teaching that the whole duty of man, the whole moral-spiritual law, can be summed up in one word: love (cf. Rom. 13:9–10; 1 Cor. 13) and that this love should be directed toward both God (Deut. 6:5) and man (Lev. 19:18).
It is here that we gain clarity in our responsibilities and better understand our duties as Christians. If “all the Law” hangs on loving God and loving others, then to love God is to obey him and to obey him is to love others. But what does it really mean to love others? Should you walk down the street hugging everyone you meet saying, “I love you”? Should loving others be accompanied by feelings of affection? Are these feelings essential to loving others and if absent does this mean you’re not being loving? Here again, knowing yourself becomes vital because if you truly know yourself then you know that you are not by nature able to love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. If you’re anything like me, you know that you fail daily in your thoughts and attitude to be patient and kind. In my mind, ugly pride arises to boast of its superiority, insisting on its own way, at times resentful of others, and quietly delighting when the mighty are brought low. In my flesh, I am anything but loving.
In truly knowing myself, I cannot be surprised by these thoughts. They merely remind me of my own condition and my need for mercy and grace so that I turn away from myself toward God and repent. I can seek forgiveness and ask God for a heart that compels me to act with love. When confronted with the opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s commandment to love others, we don’t wait for the appropriate feelings to emerge. Instead, we recognize the providential moment and press forward in faith, seeking God’s grace to love so that it is his love that is manifested to his glory.
If we fail to act, then we are not trusting in Jesus. Our actions reveal our trust in Jesus and according to Jesus, how we treat others ultimately demonstrates how we treat God (cf. Matthew 25:34-40).
So again, how do we love others? In Luke 11, Jesus links love with justice. In condemning the conduct of the Pharisees, Jesus says, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God” (v. 42). Jesus is obviously referring to something beyond the concept of punishing disobedience or retributive justice. Clearly Jesus wasn’t rebuking the Pharisees for failing to punish wrongdoers—they excelled on this point! The punishment of sin is no doubt an essential aspect of God’s justice but it isn’t the only aspect. The Scriptures reveal that the justice of God through Christ Jesus is also creative, liberating, and restorative.
In affirmation of the Messianic fulfillment in Jesus, Matthew cites the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth” (Isaiah 42:1–4 NIV 1984; see also Matthew 12:18–21). At the commencement of his earthly ministry Jesus asserts his messianic role saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Recall, Jesus did not come in to the world to condemn it (see John 3:17). Mankind was already living under condemnation for his sin (see Gen. 3:14-19). Therefore the mission of Christ to “establish justice on earth,” which satisfied the retributive justice of God also begins the restorative or redemptive justice of God through the appearance of God’s reign: the kingdom.
The prophet Micah, who spoke of God’s coming kingdom and the king who would be born in Bethlehem, similarly affirmed the correlation of love and justice. In rebuking the Israelites, Micah condemns religiosity, which neglects justice, saying, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). To “do justice” is to seek the proper ordering of things, setting right what sin has set wrong. If the restoration of people and the world ruined by sin is the purpose of Christ and his kingdom, then it is also our purpose.
Returning to our headline (what does the Christian do?), the answer is this: We enter the world each day as ambassadors of Christ and his kingdom—sensitized to the effects of sin—loving others by seeking their welfare through the proper ordering of things and relationships. We look for and respond to opportunities to bring relief to those who are suffering. We seek the good of others and when possible, we create systems and institutions that serve the common good and promote human flourishing. We work for remedy in the daily situations and when necessary, the reformation or abolition of whole systems that oppress. We disciple people in the Truth, showing them the way that leads to a life that thrives through having a right relationship to God, to self, to others, and the rest of creation.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
© 2011 by S. Michael Craven Permission granted for non-commercial use.
Comment on this article here
Subscribe to Michael's free weekly commentary here
Subscribe to Michael's free podcast here