by Julie Zine Coleman
I saw a link to a blog post the other day about the scariest verse in the Bible. Intrigued, I clicked on over. Apparently the offending passage was 1 John 4:7-8: “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” NASB
Not only the author but several commenters took this verse to mean if we did not show love, we’d better be worried about our salvation. I had to leave a comment. Because any time we think our relationship with God is dependent on how we act, we are headed for serious trouble.
We are saved through grace alone. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man think to boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). The key to salvation is in understanding that nothing I can do could ever earn forgiveness or favor with God. When I realize my insufficiency, I can then, in turn, put my trust in the sufficiency of Christ. His sacrifice more than paid for my guilt. When I believe in him, I am saved. That’s the gospel, plain and simple.
But as we try to live out our lives as believers, the reality of our insufficiency can fade. In our zeal to live holy lives, it can become once again about impressing God. If I am not acting like a Christian, I will fall out of his good favor. If I’m not being spiritual, I might never have even been a Christian to begin with.
Wait…what happened to grace?
Grace is undeserved favor. By definition we cannot earn it. It is one of those inexplicable sides of God: he gives it freely to those who believe. Even more astonishing: He continues to supply grace after we are saved: it is crucial to our relationship with him. Paul urged believers to “continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43, emphasis added, NASB). Our sense of dependency should only grow stronger as we walk with Christ. It should drive us to keep our eyes fixed on him, because looking at ourselves, our weaknesses, and continual failure will only lead to despair. When we understand grace, and how badly we need it, we cling to him like a life preserver.
So why then are commandments like this one to love so strongly stated?
- There is a purpose in our love. God’s intention is to reveal himself through the Church. In Philippians 2:14-16, Paul reminds his readers that their behavior (loving each other) will show God to the rest of the world. One sure-fire way to get some notice is by living the way the Bible instructs, and foremost, living lives of love (see John 17:20-21). When we love, we will stick out like a sore thumb. (In a good way.)
- Love is an expression of who we are. We have been rescued from sin’s hold over us. Why would we shed the robe of Christ’s righteousness and don the metaphorical garments of our old life? Paul writes, “Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7 NASB). We were rescued from the misery of sin’s mastery over us. This includes living for self and carrying hatred and bitterness in our hearts, the opposites of love. Why willingly jump back into the cesspool?
- Love is a healthy life-style choice. God loves us. His Word instructs us to love. Whenever we choose what goes against His Word, it cannot end well. So it is with withholding love. Nothing will make us sicker than anger or hatred. In the end, bitterness is a heavy burden to bear, and often leads to further sin (Ephesians 4:26-27). God’s way is always the best way.
In short, yes, 1 John urges us to love. It marks a true believer and is an effective way we can show God to the world. Loving brings meaning and satisfaction to our every action.
But in no way is love a condition for our salvation or any kind of a relationship with God. As children of God, we live under the huge umbrella of grace. He loves us, not because of what we do for him, but because he is a merciful God and has already paid our debt. Any sense of accomplishment we get from following his commands should not undermine the reality of our dependence on him for the most basic of spiritual needs.
He is all-sufficient. We must rest in that fact alone.
“For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 NASB
About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Women, was published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.
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Join the conversation: What is the scariest verse in the Bible for you?