Last Update: 5/2015
Love is the theme in the two great commandments at the center of the Christian Gospel.
1. To love God with all our heart, soul and mind
2. To love our neighbors as ourselves
But our fallen nature and sin-tainted hearts do not allow us to fulfill these two commandments with the type of love that Jesus is speaking about without first experiencing the glory of God and experiencing Jesus Christ in the Gospel.
By simply being obedient to these two commandments we are overlaying a behavioral change on a heart that by nature does not want to love God or our neighbors. This type of change produces people who act right without ever loving right. We end up as slaves because we have to obey instead of free children of the most-high God who desire to obey.
But true love is a response - a response born by being swept up in the beauty of God and experiencing the love Jesus Christ in the Gospel. True love is commanded, but can only be fulfilled as we continually abide in the loveliness God overwhelms us with in the Gospel. The apostle John said, “We love Him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Love for God grows out of experiencing the love of God for us through the Gospel.
If our love is rooted in a desire to impress God in attempts to earn His favor and blessings, though our hearts make us feel more righteous, this is a love that is ultimately centered on a love for ourselves, not God, and is therefore, worthless. God desires a love centered on Him alone born from what He has completed for us in Christ alone. The apostle Paul says:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
This impressive list of righteous attributes would give anyone the utmost confidence they are bound for heaven, but Paul clearly says none of these things matter if they don’t flow out of a heart filled with love for God. A heart that does these things in response to the selfless love God gives us without any hint of expectations of blessings or favor from God.
JD Greear lays it out like this: “…to produce real love in your heart for God takes something beyond spiritual gifts, greater doctrinal knowledge, audacious faith, and even radical obedience…That’s where the gospel comes in. The gospel, and the gospel alone, has the power to produce love for God in the heart. Paul calls the gospel ‘God’s power for salvation’ (Romans 1:16). There are only two things that Paul ever refers to as ‘the power of God.’ One is the gospel; the other is Christ Himself. As the story of the gospel is proclaimed, the Spirit Himself make the heart come alive to see the glory and beauty of God revealed in it. Just as Jesus’ command to the lame man to ‘get up and walk’ had in itself the power to obey the command, so the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection has in itself the power to make dead hearts new. As the gospel is believed, through the power of the spirit, our selfish, hardened hearts burst alive with righteous and godly passions. As we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, Paul says, we are transformed into glory (2 Corinthians 3:18-4:14)
Religion then, can tell you what to do, namely, to ‘love God with all your heart, soul and mind’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’; but the Gospel alone give you the power to do it. The Gospel produces not just obedience, you see, but a new kind of obedience-an obedience that is powered by desire. An obedience that is both pleasing to God and delightful to you” (Greear, Gospel, p. 18).
The key to unlocking the power of the Gospel to fulfill the two great commandments in producing true love for God and our neighbors is experiencing the glory of God through Jesus Christ in our lives. We must to be convicted and converted by the Gospel. Everyone whose conversion story is detailed in the New Testament was first convicted of their sin through the law. People were (incorrectly) using the law as a checklist of commands to strike-off for the day in climbing one rung higher on the ladder to heaven. When they beheld the glory and grace of Jesus Christ, they immediately realized the true spirit of the law which convicts them guilty and unworthy before a Holy God. The law reveals our sin, it does not remove our sin (Romans 3:20 Galatians 3:24).
It is only by being captivated by the grace of God through the love displayed on the cross by Jesus Christ that we can learn to love with a selfless heart as we are commanded. The Gospel is counter-intuitive to human assumptions and religion, which is why it is so radical. We are assured (justified) our status as children of God freely given as a gift earned by the righteousness of Christ, not ours. Our response to this unmerited, radical grace is a heart that comes alive to live for Christ and no longer ourselves. Our love for Him grows in response to God’s amazing grace and love for us.*
Herein lies the eternal gulf in Christian vs. Mormon doctrine on the ability to fulfill the two great commandments in showing true gospel love. In Mormonism, I was taught God’s love and forgiveness were conditionally tied to my obedience and “worthiness” (personal righteousness), which must be earned so I may build my faith (faith comes by righteousness - LDS Bible Dictionary under Faith) and qualify for eternal life in heaven. So when a I showed acts of love through charity, kindness, care, compassion, etc., the motivation for these acts was not purely sacrificial and selfless based on the free gift of eternal life paid for by the shed blood of Jesus. These acts were subconsciously selfish to earn the favor of God. They were rooted in a motivation of guilt and fear because not obeying was risking my eternal destination. Remember, Christ’s atonement only paid for a resurrection in Mormon doctrine, so where I end up is completely based on my own merits.
Let's examine the scriptures and see what the teachings of Jesus reveal to us regarding love.
A Sinful Woman Forgiven by a Heart of True Love
Jesus gives us a perfect example of our ability to show agape love is directly tied to the depth of forgiveness we realize we need due to our sin. The story can be found in Luke 7:37-50. Jesus is invited by a Pharisee to eat at his house. A woman shows up and washes Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears, then kisses and anoints them with oil. The Pharisee objects, only seeing the woman as a terrible sinner, but Jesus sees the woman’s heart and as she is - a person filled with humility seeking forgiveness in love through Jesus. Then Jesus tells the Pharisee a parable in Luke 7:41-43:
“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.”
Jesus plainly teaches the Pharisee through this parable that the person who owed the most would love the most. Let’s relate this to the Christian versus Mormon view on grace. Who is forgiven more by the blood of Christ from a Christian versus a Mormon perspective? As you recall, to a Christian, only the righteousness of Christ makes us worthy to gain eternal life in heaven as we could never earn righteousness. Mormonism teaches Christ’s sacrifice only pays for a resurrection, and our personal righteousness and obedience to laws is what makes us worthy of gaining eternal life in heaven. So we have:
Christianity: Jesus plus nothing = ALL JESUS
Mormonism: Jesus plus works, laws, ordinances, moral conformity, etc. = SOME JESUS and SOME INDIVIDUAL
Christians recognize their total dependence on Christ alone for their righteousness, whereas Mormons have total dependence on themselves for their righteousness. Mormons are mostly unconscious of their sin because they are too focused on trying to clean themselves up through their own personal righteous efforts and obedience to laws and ordinances. Mormons believe they are able to earn the favor of God and He will bless them for their wonderful works. The problem with this is it shifts the glory from Christ to humanity. Like many, Mormons overvalue their goodness and undervalue the holiness of God. We are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1,5) and need 100% grace offered through the blood of Christ to cleanse us apart from any personal righteousness we believe assists in meriting the favor of God (Romans 11:6). Christ has already earned the favor of God for us (Romans 5:8-10).
Just like we learn in the parable, a Christian realizes the depth of their sin, humbly comes to Christ with nothing and has been forgiven much more and therefore, can selflessly love more. To selflessly love is our great commandment from Jesus and fulfilling this commandment is only possible by recognizing our total and complete dependence on Christ alone for forgiveness and our righteousness and not earning forgiveness through our own righteousness.
Jesus goes on in verses Luke 7:44-46 teaching the Pharisee about forgiveness and love. The woman recognizes the depth of her sin, her inability to do anything about it and humbly submits to Jesus for forgiveness offering Him nothing but the pure love He first showed to us. Pay close attention to the words of Jesus to this Pharisee in the following verse:
“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
The Pharisee believes his personal righteousness, obedience to the law and wonderful deeds cleanses him of sin and is his rite of passage to eternal life with the Lord. He has no true recognition or understanding of the depth of his sin and will never completely depend on Christ for his forgiveness because he believes his personal righteousness makes him more worthy. He seeks and is afforded little forgiveness; therefore, his ability to show agape love is little.
The woman, though she has committed many more terrible sins than the Pharisee, is forgiven because she completely depended on Jesus alone, falling to His feet for forgiveness and nothing else (not her personal righteousness, obedience to laws, moral conformity, etc.). This is real faith; a faith and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness and salvation, which is the only type of faith that will save us.
In the end, we have two polar opposite people before Jesus in sin and only one leaves restored, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. The Pharisee comes before Jesus with law-abiding and personal righteous ways and leaves unforgiven. The woman humbly drops to the feet of Jesus offering nothing but a broken heart and contrite spirit and is forgiven and restored through her faith alone, absent obedience to the law and personal righteousness. Trusting in our personal righteousness, law-abiding morally clean ways is actually running from Jesus and not running to Jesus. There is no liberty, peace or forgiveness walking this path. Please realize this so you can hear the amazing grace and love found in the words of Jesus: "your faith has saved you, go in peace."
Romans 3:19-28 “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:… Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
Liberty in Christ
You cannot have liberty and freedom in Christ if you are entangled in yokes of bondage such as obedience to laws, works and moral conformity earning your way. The scriptures are very clear on this fact.
Acts 13:38-39 “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
Acts 15:10 “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”
Galatians 5:1 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
Striving to be obedient to the word of the law keeps one a slave in sin and bondage. Christ came to free us from the sin and bondage of the law, and with His shed blood on the cross, He brought forth the new covenant of grace fulfilling the law and prophets, instituting two great commandments on love.
Galatians 5:13-14 “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Romans 7:5-6 “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”
As scriptures reveal, Jesus did not abolish the law, but the law was established and magnified showing us there was more to the law than just the letters. He was revealing the spirit of the law (the application of the law). This is why Jesus taught the religious leaders the spirit of the law on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.
Jesus’ two great commandments were not replacing the law as much as they were fulfilling and magnifying it, showing us the real spirit of the law. The law just got at our actions, but actions don’t change a person on the inside. Jesus knew in order to change a person you had to change their heart. Remember Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisees? There was nobody better at following the law than the Pharisees, yet Jesus constantly rebuked them. Why? Jesus recognized the Pharisees did not understand the spirit of the law because if they did, it would not only change their actions, but most importantly, it would change their hearts. The Pharisees outward appearance of righteousness through obedience to the law only developed a heart filled with self-righteousness and pride. This is exactly what happens to someone who [inappropriately] uses the law to change their actions only. The law, used appropriately, convicts your heart of your sinful nature and reveals to you that only a Savoir can wash you clean.
Jesus explained to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-27 they are blind because they clean the outside of this cup, but the inside is still filthy. He tells them the cup has to be cleaned from the inside first, which will lead to a clean outside. Jesus is telling them their outward appearance of righteousness through personal worthiness and obedience is worthless because these actions will only instill pride and self-righteousness and not change your heart. All the personal righteousness and obedience will merit them nothing because at the end of the day, they are still Pharisees without a changed heart. The only way our hearts can be changed is realizing our inability to do anything to save ourselves.
When we become conscious of the fact that we are so dead in sin (Ephesians 2:5; meaning nothing can be done to change it) and that because of His perfect love, God sent His only Son to rescue us through the cross, our hearts are transformed because we know Jesus is the only source for our salvation.
God loves us so much He sent His Son to free us from the bondage of the law. Laws cultivate fear and people react to this fear by either attempting to conform to the law or become opponents to the law in rebellion. Is it possible to show true agape love when you have fear from not conforming to laws and ordinances?
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”
2 Timothy 1:7 “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
Romans 8:15 “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
These verses plainly state that one cannot possess fear and show agape love. A Christian does not possess fear because he is free from the bondage of the law, in Christ and already knows his eternal destiny. False religious movements will cultivate a motivation based on fear, shame and guilt keeping you in the bondage of laws. You have no idea you are stuck on a hamster wheel striving to be perfect and earn that which cannot be earned, but has been a free gift all along. We all need the blood of Christ to wash us and free us from sin because our works and obedience to laws and ordinances are useless.
Jesus taught a parable in Luke 18:9-14 about two people attempting to receive justification before God; one through his personal performance and obedience to the law with the other through the mercy and compassion of God.
“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Look into your heart and truly see how you attempt to receive justification before God. When I was a Mormon, I was taught my righteous acts, obedience to laws and ordinances and moral conformity was what earned me my justification before God. I subconsciously felt superior to others because I had the whole truth; I was a member of the only true church on the earth; I had the priesthood authority to act in the name of Christ, I was temple worthy; I was doing more, giving more and being a better person; I was helping to save people by my temple works; I would compare the moral conformity and obedience to laws and ordinances that I put forth versus others. I began to develop this pride thinking I was out earning others by being more righteous and God would bless me for it. I was exalting myself and attempting to cleanse my sin through my own self-righteous efforts and deeds rather than humbly coming to God asking for His mercy to forgive me of my sin. I realized that through my self-righteous attempts at justification, my heart looked exactly like this Pharisee's heart. As a Mormon, I used the law to remove my sin and earn my justification like the Pharisee and my heart was never transformed into a heart like the publican.
The law now convicts me of my sin and I realize that I must rely completely on the mercy of God through trusting in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to receive justification. My heart is being transformed to a heart of humility and mercy. I now understand that not because of my personal righteousness and obedience to laws, but because of the righteousness of Christ and the free gift, many are declared righteous and justified before God (Romans 5:16-19).
The apostle Paul teaches us:
Romans 8:1-4 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Mormons: please read, study and pray about this gospel truth that I present to you here. Come to the real Jesus Christ who alone has the power to not only resurrect you, but save you to eternal life with Him. He is the only way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). No one gets to the Father but by Him and because of His righteousness alone. The Mormon church has taught you to not trust in Christ alone, but to trust in the church, its leadership, its doctrines and your personal obedience and righteousness; then Christ comes in like a janitor and cleans the rest up. This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, but “another gospel” Paul desperately warned the Galatians of (Galatians 1:6-9).
Jesus Christ has removed the curse and yoke and bondage of the law (Galatians 3:13, 5:1) through His victory on the cross, yet the Mormon church has not only placed the law right back on your shoulders, but has burdened you with so much more. Striving to maintain your “worthiness” through laws and personal righteousness only blinds you to real truth, grace, peace and liberty in Christ. It is a yoke of bondage that only leads to sin and death.
As an obedient Mormon, your "cup" is pristine on the outside, but the inside is filthy no matter how righteous or "worthy" your efforts. The righteousness God demands is a righteousness no human could ever dream of attaining. Focusing on keeping the outside of your "cup" clean only blinds you to the sin filled within your hearts (inside of your "cup") that all the obedience to laws and personal righteousness will not only never clean, but make filthier because these things only build self-righteousness and pride. Only by recognizing your brokenness and sin, your inability to do anything about it and receiving the free unmerited gift of the righteousness of Christ will transform your heart and clean the inside of the "cup." Once the inside is clean, your works will be an outward manifestation of the transformation that is occurring within your heart. Only then are these works selfless and for the pure love of Christ and not for your own selfish reasons for meriting eternal life.
I know you love Jesus and He loves you, but how much deeper could your love be for Him if you realize He not only resurrects you, but that He is your righteousness and secures your eternal life in heaven apart from anything you can offer? Your love would transform from a selfish to a selfless love; a true agape love that is only accessible through the lens of pure grace. Your faith would be the real deal; trusting in Christ alone for your righteousness. This is the truth and when you know the truth, it shall set you free (John 8:32).
* Much of the thoughts to the point of the asterisk are derived from a book authored by JD Greear called Gospel, p. 11-19, which is hands-down one of the best books I have ever read.
THE CROSS UNVEILED