Through my past few posts, I’ve seen a theme that I believe is important enough to give it’s own post. This is not a new idea among Christian circles – it’s in the Bible, so thousands of years old, actually. However, I’m aware that there are people who see these posts who are not believers. I’m aware that there are people who see these posts who have only recently accepted Christ. I’m aware that even devout Christians who see these posts need to be given reminders like this now and then. Perhaps now more than ever. Myself included.
To start off, let me ask you this: When was the last time you put love first?
This is a genuine question. It is not intended to shame or guilt anybody. It is not intended to stoke your ego. Honestly, I’ve had to ask myself questions along these lines a lot the past couple weeks. I’ve had to remind myself many days, that above all else, I have been commanded to love God and love others (Mark 12:29-31). When was the last time you put love first?
The last few weeks have been full of turmoil. Between COVID-19, protests, and politics trying to squeeze their way into both, I’ve seen a lot of heated arguments, hateful rants, and chaos all around. This post is not where I’ll be sharing my opinion on what is right or wrong in these specific situations, though you’re welcome to message me directly about that if you would like. This post is where I will be walking us through various things that we can often put before glorifying God through love. These are each reminders for you and for myself as we navigate this hectic time together as the body of Christ. Heads up: my lists are back.
Let’s get into it!
Everyone’s favorite thing to talk about it seems. Also the most important thing to many of us. Ironic coming from someone running a blog. I enjoy thinking of myself as pretty open-minded and teachable, but I’d be foolish not to recognize how stubborn I can be when someone brings information that contradicts what I believe is right. This is not to say that discussions cannot be fruitful. I think discussing differing views is incredibly beneficial. However, most people do not discuss. They defend. They listen to respond rather than listen to learn. This is where strong opinions can cause more harm than good – when pride or the fear of being wrong are allowed control instead of love and a desire for truth. This relates to my last blog post a lot.
When we decide that our self-esteem is more important than the truth, we begin the trek down a deep, dark rabbit hole. Here’s the thing, our self-esteem being on the line when the possibility of being wrong is presented to us is a sign that we are relying way too heavily on ourselves. When we are surrendered to God, there is no fear of being wrong. When you walk in love, there’s no fear of anything because perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:17-19).
You know that your identity is ultimately in Christ. You know that mistakes will happen during your time on earth. You know that there’s beauty in the body of Christ, their different experiences, and the correction that you’re able to receive because of that. Correction that makes us all stronger and closer to God.
Honestly, I think it’s a beautiful thing. It’s the study of God, His laws, and ways we can become more like Him. This too has a dangerous side, though. With so many different branches of theology, it can be easy to fall into the same trap that comes with opinions. The trap of defensiveness. Here’s the part where I’m going to give you some news that may be difficult to hear… The theology of any single denomination is not perfect. I know, I know, it seems fake. There just has to be one that has everything figured out and chances are you think it’s yours. To be clear, this is just as much a reminder to myself. I have to remember that I’m always learning something new, so how could I expect that my knowledge is complete at any point? How could I expect that one denomination’s beliefs are complete?
Here’s the good news, there are a couple things made very clear in the Bible – things that I would think no one studying theology or any denomination would argue with. These things also happen to be the core of any other commands and virtues presented in the Word. It is said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Through this we find that identity in Christ – how loved we are. We are then able to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We are given an example of what the purest form of love looks like by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross where He bore our sin so that we would be made righteous through our acceptance of Him (John 15:12-13, Romans 3:21-26). So, I encourage you to study God’s Word wholeheartedly, seek the truth, seek to be like Him in every aspect of life. While doing that, do not forget that your desire to glorify God and your love for Him and His people has to be your motivation through it all.
Almost every time performance is discussed I feel as though I’m watching a game of hot potato. There’s usually one person saying “but we aren’t made righteous through our works” and another saying “well faith without works is dead” and it just goes back and forth and back and forth without any other discussion. It makes me dizzy watching it. Performance, or lack thereof, is one of those things that a lot of people silently judge in others and/or silently pride themselves in. Perhaps so silently that they don’t even realize it. Once again, I’m guilty of this as well. It’s something that I’ve begun to pay a lot more attention to over the past couple years trying to work the habit out of myself, but it is a deep-rooted habit. The point is, it isn’t like opinions or theology where people are willing to very openly confront another person about it.
I feel like I could write a lot on this, but I’m going to attempt to stick to one paragraph. To begin, yes, we are made righteous through our faith in Christ, not our works. Quite frankly, nothing we could ever do ourselves would make us worthy of being called righteous. However, we are also called to reflect the image of Christ, the image of a Man who served others before anything (John 13:13-17, 1 John 2:3-6). So, faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26), because part of our faith is knowing we must become like Christ. To do that, we have to get to work. Glorifying, loving, and being in relationship with Christ means keeping His commands (John 14:19-24), many of which are action-based.
As with anything, we can’t lose sight of that motivation. That our actions, our studies, our prayers must come from the love we have for God and His people. Otherwise they have no power. That’s the bottom line. When we aren’t not acting in love, we are once again acting (or not acting) because of pride or fear when we are to seek humility and confidence in the Lord (2 Cor. 3:4-7, Romans 8:35-37).
I believe all three of these things stem from the same thing: desire to be one with Christ. I think it’s part of our human nature to desire a return to alignment with our Creator. In sharing opinions, we want to share what we believe to be true about life and God with others. In studying theology, we want to learn more about who He is. In regards to performance, we want to do what Jesus would. The disconnect is when we allow pride to have a say. That’s when each of these begin to hurt us instead of help us. Opinions stubbornly held cause division, desire to know more about theology than another causes disdain, performance (or lack thereof) inspired by satisfying the need for acceptance leaves us empty and hurt.
As I consider each of these things, I would say they all come from pride, but pride comes from fear. Let me say that again, because I feel like it could catch some people off guard. Pride comes from fear. I think that’s an important thing for us to realize. “Fear of what?” you may ask. That depends on the person and the situation, but generally when it comes to pride I’d say fear of rejection or inadequacy. Here’s where behaving in love is so vital for us because that’s how we win our battle with pride and fear.
So, I’ve shown you these things that so often are prioritized over Jesus. What next? Here’s some insight that I think will help us see more clearly why and how we can combat pride (fear) with the most powerful thing we have: love.
In our acceptance of Christ, we have been made one with Him in the spirit. We are already in perfect alignment with Him in every spiritual sense (Col. 2:9-10, 2 Cor. 5:16-17). We do have the responsibility of putting in the effort to align our flesh with our spirit. That is no easy task. It would actually be impossible if it wasn’t for the strength we are given through our faith in Christ.
Aligning the flesh with the spirit requires a constant surrender to Christ and remembrance of His sacrifice. This takes care of pride in a couple different ways. First, when we are incapable of claiming responsibility for anything, we can’t take pride in it. There’s no space to boast in ourselves. We can boast in the Lord, though, and we should (1 Cor. 1:26-31). Second, acknowledgement of how we are already complete, righteous, perfectly aligned with the Father means there is no fear of a mistake. We don’t have to worry about our self-esteem being on the line because our identity is not in how many times “correct” is checked next to something we say. We should of course seek the truth so that we can better share it with others, but with love we do not have to fear correction (which actually brings us closer to the truth when from wise counsel).
So now that we know our identity is in Christ and how we’re already aligned with His spirit, how do we act on that? It starts in your “secret place”, your time alone with God. It does not start in the direct moments of decision-making. You may be tempted to just ask yourself in those times, “What would Jesus do?” Reflecting Jesus should always be our goal. I do want to caution you in asking this question while in those moments of decision. For me, when I used to ask this, I suddenly felt incredibly pressured. It felt as though there could only be one possible answer that would bring glory to God and allow me to be a light. It felt like whatever I did had to have some biblical equivalent that matched up with it. That sort of stress usually ended with me not doing anything.
Instead, we have to be committed to seeking Christ and His guidance outside of those moments of decision. Committed to constant surrender and alignment of flesh and spirit. Then when we are put into moments of decision, the question “What would Jesus do?” has an easy answer: Jesus would act in love, for the glory of God, and I’ve been given the ability to do that as well. Does that not take off some of the stress? Not only has that answer helped to calm my fears, but it’s made me all the more excited to go out into the world as an ambassador of Christ. Check out John 15:13, 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5:22-23 if you need some guidance in what exactly the love of Christ and its fruit looks like.
With all these things in mind, take a moment to remember that your walk with Christ is not about you doing everything exactly right. It’s about glorifying God in your pursuit to be more like Him, even if you make mistakes along the way. In this pursuit, it is inevitable that you will begin doing more of what Jesus would do. Don’t mistake me, we should not ignore the value of making intentional effort to behave like Christ. However, what good will that be if our hearts and minds are not made right (1 Cor. 13)?
One other note: there will of course be moments where you are in a sudden search for the best way to act out of love. The best advice I can give you is to remain in prayer (in that moment, yes, but also constantly) and remember that God’s Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:10-11). So, know His Word so you can speak His Word, His life. Once again, there’s no fear of making mistakes when you act in that sort of love.
If there is nothing else you take away from this, I want you to remember that fear is ultimately the opposite of love. I believe it is the root of any negative emotions or motivations. When we allow fear to have a say in our actions, we are no longer acting in love (1 John 4:17-19). When we aren’t acting in love, what we do is worthless as we see in 1 Corinthians 13. Opinions, theology, or performance will do no good when they are spoken or done in fear, pride, hate, etc. Seek to become like Christ. One who lives for the glory of God. One who loves unconditionally, completely. One whose actions make a difference for the better.
Thank you for reading! It is so much easier during the world’s current events to allow ourselves to fear before we love. We don’t have to fight that battle alone, though. If we did, there would be no question of our losing. We are not only called to follow Jesus’ example to love first, but given a way through Him to do that well. God has not commanded us to do something without making it possible for us through our faith in Him and His grace (1 Cor. 15:9-10). I pray for each one of you who reads this. I pray that you would not allow the chaos happening all around us to steal the love you’ve been given and made capable of sharing with the world. Abide in Him. May He bless you and keep you. Have a wonderful week!