Have you ever listened to Christian folk talk? I have, and there I note a strange phenomenon which I'd like to discuss.
Everybody appears to want to hear "the bottom line" on dogma, doctrine, and Christian worldview. I say "appears to want", and by that; I mean that certain key verses of the Bible are constantly referred to, as "the answer" to life, reality, and everything else. You know the sound of it; "It's all about love, it's all about accountability, it's all about relationship"; and such like talk.
Ordinarily, the biggie is a reference to Christ's teaching, namely "Thou shalt love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength". Here view the show stopper, the ultimate summary. It is "it". The final, final rock bottom issue. . . kinda leaves me flat.
I personally have never been satisfied with the view, although I've had difficulty saying just why that is true. And, for quite some time, I imagined something.
I guessed that folks were saying by the show stopper, that Lord Christ had somehow "reduced" the ethical standards of (say) the 10 commandments, to only two, and that these were "easier". I thought that they were saying; "The 10 were too hard to do, so He just lowered the bar", and thereby called shabby "good enough for government work".
If life were a track meet, and the entrance requirement was the ability to high jump seven feet, then Jesus in this case would be saying; "If you can just jump two feet, good enough, we'll call it seven". I thought, "How utterly unlike Him to do so!".
So, in this scenario, such "loving" would be a very weird kind of "ethic". An un-law, an antinomian righteousness is by definition wrong, and you say Christ Jesus (of all people?) is "for" it? Are Christians actually saying that He "abolishes" law in order to establish an easier version of "right"?
That certainly is odd, and would fly in the face of just about everything else He says. This train of thought does exist in the church at large, and in some cases is prevalent. Love "taking the place" of righteousness, cannot (itself) be right! Two does not equal seven, and Jesus is not the crook to make it so in any case. Mushy thinking, if of this stripe forgets something, but it forgets the wrong thing.
The interesting feature about love. . . just about everywhere else, is that it takes the form of self-binding oath before witnesses. . . and God! Covenantally, Ethic the standard, is guaranteed by Oath the word pledge. To break Oath, draws Sanction! That is what is forgotten,
For instance; the oath in marriage "til death do us part" is the promise aspect of the standard "to have no other". Breaking that word, draws sanction, big time! See, in pledging yourself to the other, not only are you promising unto death, but also calling down upon yourself sanction (from heaven) should you violate the sacred trust.
Or consider, everybody loves kids, the baptismal vow before man and God; similarly pledging body and soul to Christ. That vow too, is unto death. And to finally and actually step outside the oath, here again courts sanction. This is some serious stuff, this "love" business.
Hey, everybody also loves eating. Yet, again we note the situation with the Lord's supper. Human witnesses, joined by God as witness; hear those verbal promises for the reliable and threats to those who take it wrongly. Originally called "love feast" the supper also, proposes a standard, involves an oath, and threatens violations.
All around the world, the language of love is "love-unto-death". Hear them, even the unbelievers speaks of an "undying loyalty" but always from the fulfilled promise side. The bringing down of curse, the negative sanction is implied by betrayal, but rarely is spoken. But I speak this; one half of oath, includes the other, whether said aloud or not.
The language of love is thus rooted in Oath, not Ethic! Thus Jesus was not changing the agreed upon terms of the treaty, but (surprisingly) allowing us to join Him in the taking of the pledge. Fulfillment of oath yields "blessing", breaking it brings the curse. This remains. He is not announcing righteousness to be "easier" than it used to be.
Thinking this way then, the love-oath of baptism is to be applied but once. The promise and witness of the Lord's supper is to be applied "often". But is there an oath missing? How about a daily, or an hourly promise, with witnesses, unto Sanction? And unlike the sacraments, there remains a method, a means of grace. Love involves promises made, and the keeping of that word is a blessing, that itself; is love in action.
The apostle Paul speaks of; "I die daily, for it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me". The language of love is all about the presenting of bodies as "living sacrifice". The giving of our reasonable service of worship, speaks the language of love. Ordinarily, sacrifices are dead, in that the punishment, the payment required in the Oath to live up to the standard, has been violated. Paul, and Jesus are talking about love certainly. The three elements are visible. But the new thing in earth is not that righteousness has become "easier", it is that Sanction negative, has become (in Christ alone) survivable!
The gospel is not about altering love to exclude an oath unto death, but welcoming it, in that life from the dead (the New "Thing") is begun! In his participation in the new thing; Paul is not arguing against "the wages of sin is death", he is embracing it!
The daily "sacrament", the missing element in the modern discussions of love, is Paul's "informing" on himself; of his violations of the promise. He daily "turns himself in, and rats on himself" to The Authority. Upon the basis of Oath violation, he is volunteering for the negative Sanction. . . death! He says, "Come on in, the water is great!".
Apply yourself to to death daily, for daily He shows mercy and grace. Death has been overpowered by His love, that is the new thing in earth! And all this, founded by, built, plus bought by, with and in Christ Jesus.
Love thus, was never intended to be the method of ratification of the demanded standards of rightness. Love folllows the three steps, promise, failure and punishment, bringing survival and rebirth on the far side of death. Paul dies daily. . . gladly! "Falling asleep" in His care, the man is fully confident of awaking anew in his Savior's arms. The curse has been overthrown, not dropped. Let's play Q. and A.!
Q. Is Paul justified by obediance to the standard or not?
Q. Is Paul justified by trusting that Somebody Else's standard keeping has been counted as if his own?
A. You already know the answer.
Q. Would it be fair to say then, that "love" has zero to do with our ratification of the ethic aspect of the covenant?
A. I would not say it that way.
Q. How would you say it then?
A. I would ask you, "Is love pledged unto death?".
Q. Yes, but so what?
A. Well, since love is sworn unto death, and is binding before witnesses, Paul is either utterly and completely loyal in oath keeping, or he knows something you don't.
Q. He cannot be utterly loyal, in that his own testimony is "I am chief of sinners!". Sanction applies and he agrees with the curse, what then does he know?
A. Love is always sworn to the death, and infinitely moreso when directed toward God. Death (in Christ) is what is now being mercifully supplied! And this can only mean one thing! The Fathers' love toward the Son, (and thereby to us) is stronger than death!
So, to wrap up the essay, we are to (with Paul) welcome the negative sanction, (death) daily. God the Judge both condemns failure of oath, and in grace draws us to die; so to later awaken. Do this every day, til you get real good at it! We, from here rethink the "bottom line" on dogma, doctrine and worldview. The bottom line is not love! It is He, Himself. He, the object of interest, not "it"! He the new bridge to life-again, is Who we love. We don't "love love". Hope is real, because our Captain breathes.
What a marvel, what a champ! He, "cut-off" for such as the likes of us? This can only mean, that in His glorified estate, He stands (today!) by grace!? He laid down and surrendered His own lawful rightness. He ain't got it anymore, and stands up again by grace, through faith. . . just like us! Gathered about Him are His family, those raised in and with Him. Heaven isn't some place full of the law abiders, it's the camp of the forgiven. Just like us, the Father turned His back on Him, and found Him on the far side of death.
He, The True Believer; grants us a dab of His brand of "to the death and beyond", loyalty type of trust capacity. On the far side of death, is where He stands again, and us with. Love is the outworking of a grateful heart, so to be included. Those likewise "found again" are not outcasts, for He is the True Outcast. We, in and of ourselves do not belong! But truth said, we never were, are not now, nor ever shall be "in and of ourselves". He is the treasure "found buried" which the "Man" spent His all to gain. Through mercy, we were found-with Him! And even we say so.
He's so good, it's scary!