In Wesleyan theology there is a large emphasis placed on love, and many in the Methodist movement would go so far as to say “the Gospel in one word is love.” I could agree with that statement if what is meant is that the Gospel is that God has so loved us that Christ had our sin imputed to him and his righteousness imputed to us that we would receive the benefit of righteousness while Christ endured the curse of the law for us, and that this actually took place in history as an actual event. In other words, I can agree that our theology should be all about love if you are speaking of the love of God for us. However if the Gospel is that we are to love God and love others because of what Jesus did then we are greatly confusing the Gospel and the Law.
Let me be clear, we should love others and love God, and in light of the Gospel we should be driven to love, I do not intend to negate that, nonetheless the Gospel has nothing to do with our love... in fact as far as action is concerned the Gospel has nothing to do with us. The Gospel is news of a completed work, a work that was for us, but that was not carried out by us. This is a very important post for this blog, because in Methodism as well as most of evangelicalism we are getting this confused. As the veil has been pulled of my eyes regarding this tragic confusion of love being the Gospel instead of law I have been liberated and able to share this liberating Gospel others. The reality that love is law not Gospel (in the sense that we are called to love) is a reality that we need desperately to discover in the UMC.
Just to get the terms right here, the Law is what we are commanded to do by God. The Gospel is the work God did for us in Christ. Law, our doing... Gospel, his doing.
Romans 3:19-20 ESV Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (20) For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Galatians 2:15-16 ESV We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; (16) yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
The scripture is crystal clear that we will not and cannot be justified by obedience to the Law, because we have already disobeyed it, and have the propensity to continue in disobedience toward it. To attempt justification by the law is an uphill battle that produces a life of despair and leads to an afterlife of torment. It is essential that we understand that we will not be justified by our obedience to the Law, period. We also must understand that the Gospel is about Christ’s fulfillment of the Law for us, both the righteousness demanded by it, and the curses required for transgression of it... for us.
Which brings us to this:
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
First off notice that the above quote is given from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. This is not a New Testament call to Gospel love, this is an old testament statement of Law.
Leviticus 19:17-18 ESV "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. (18) You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
Again, notice this is from the Old Testament book of Leviticus, this is not some New Testament paradigm introduced by Jesus. This is the Law. When you read the above verses from Romans and Galatians (and there are many more similar passages) which state we will not be justified by the Law they allude to these passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus as well as any other passage from the Law. Moreover we find Jesus quoting these passages directly when questioned what the greatest commandments are. Jesus affirms that love of neighbor and love of God is the summation of the Law. Jesus calls love the great LAW, not the Gospel.
The Law of God shows us our need for grace, it is a school master leading us to the foot of the cross. When we take our call to love and put that call in the Gospel column instead of the Law column you create a huge problem, the very commandment which was meant to drive you to the cross instead becomes something altogether different. It loses it’s power as love, yet gains nothing because it is not Gospel. Our command to love is the Law, it is not the Gospel, and if you look at your own life, see the lack of love toward neighbor, and the lack of loving God with your entire heart soul strength and might you should be driven to see your need of Grace, and see that in Christ we have that grace given to us. Yet if you refuse to see love as law, your lack of love will never drive you to grace.
Current trends in almost all of evangelicalism, and the long time trend in Methodism is to confuse love as Gospel instead of Law. The surveys all tell us that if we focus on love we will grow our churches, and that what the world wants to see is love, and that is true. If we make our entire focus on love than we will be the most excellent of all Law based religion, but we will cease to be Christianity. The Jew, the Muslim, and every other major faith can claim its ethic to be love without any Gospel at all. If we view Jesus only as example and not as sacrifice, if we see him as our best example of loving, and not as the one who fulfilled love for us, then we become no different than all other religion except that we have a better example to follow. Yet if we see love as the law, and see the Gospel as something altogether different then and only then will we see the marvelous grace which has been given to us in Christ, and actually be freed to love from gratitude instead of loving because we are duty bound to do so.
There is a reason that even the most conservative Churches (Wesley and the Methodist church was ‘conservative’) eventually become liberal in the long run and it is because of this confusion. With love as your Gospel you eventually end up with a religion that is entirely Law. You can find common ground with every religious institution, every social service agency, every government, and every other humanistic endeavor because essentially they are all built on the same ethic... that is to love others and the to love the God of your understanding. Christianity is altogether different, because Christianity alone knows that love is the summation of the law that we have been completely unable to keep, and that our lack of complete love necessitates a savior, and that Christ himself fulfilled the Law, that is fulfilled love, on our behalf and we stand on his merit, not our love.
I’d love to hear a few Methodist friends weigh in on this.