The Goal is Love, not Faith

Consider this:
St. John writes that by God dwelling in us love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world (1 Jn 4:16-17).
He goes on to write that perfect love casts our fear. Fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. So we do not fear the day of judgment because we love as God loves (cf. above, “as He is so also are we in this world”). And we know that God dwells in us because we love (4:12).

The point is this: we know that faith justifies (1 Jn. 5:4, to stick with the same apostle), and we know that whoever loves not knows not God (4:8). Love, then, is begotten of faith (we’re all quite comfortable with this), and faith is begotten of God’s love (Jn. 3:16-17). So the goal is not faith but love. Not that we are justified by love, but “whoever does not love abides in death” (1 Jn. 3:14). What good is it, then, if we say we love God and hate our neighbor (every apostle asks this question). Moreover, I don’t think love is something we work toward in the same way that we don’t work toward faith, but that both faith and love are given to us by the Spirit. What else can be concluded from the apostle saying that our confidence on the day of judgment is that we love (1 Jn. 4:17)?

So what does this mean for the Law/Gospel paradigm we are all familiar with? Or, more pointedly, what does this mean for preachers? We all know we ought not preach the Law as comfort, yet John preaches love as comfort (1 Jn. 3:14; 4:4:16-17). We may say that love is the evidence of faith, but I think the apostle speaks stronger than that. He says love is the evidence of the indwelling of God. Is it strong enough language simply to say that if we have faith we will love our neighbor (often the end we give St. James’ admonition to love in mercy).

Should we be preaching about love the same way we preach about faith? We Not that love justifies (I suppoe to a bunch of Lutherans I can’t say this enough), but that faith and love are both gifts, never to be thought of as us adding to them, but rather that faith is always apprehended in love (which includes the good confession, cf. 1 Jn. 5:1 and 4:7, which seem to say the same thing, one using faith and the other love)? We already preach the same about faith and love in that we preach a trust that is not in our faith nor in our love but in Christ.

This seems to ramble a bit, but I hope to spark some conversation.


6 Responses

  1. Amen Brother Mark,

    This seems to be a hard concept for folks to grasp, especialy when they hear from the radio preachers and the churches they visit (not Lutheran) that Baptism and good works are PURELY a response (i.e. duty) to God for his gracious gift of eternal life. I think it would be helpful if we stop using the reformed love language (“a response”) and switch to something else; maybe “an outpouring” or something similar which would convey the sense that it is not self-initiated but, rather, an involuntary action which springs from that love and faith which God has planted inside of us. (Eph 2:10–sorry I switched to Paul, but how can we leave him out?) Basically, our acts of love are not original to us and therefore not dependant upon us to create them. God created them and placed them in us.

    The scary thing for our hearers will be the confrontation they have in their heads and hearts as they consider this (just as it should occur). “If I know Jesus and have been given faith by his Holy Spirit, why do I not love, or, why are my expressions of love less than those which God has placed inside of me through the means of Grace?”

    Each of us will come up short when we thus examine ourselves, but the Gospel which placed that love in our hearts in the first place will soothe our hearts as we confess that we have withheld it from another, or even ourself. While Law and Gospel must never be confused, they must also never be far from one another or each looses its effectiveness.

    Thanks for the great discussion topic. It’s allowed me to take my mind of the temporal for a moment or two which is exactly what I needed this AM. God has used you to build me up today for His service.


  2. “Eph 2:10–sorry I switched to Paul, but how can we leave him out?) ”

    I almost succumbed to including him in the orginal post, but John came through. 🙂

    “While Law and Gospel must never be confused, they must also never be far from one another or each looses its effectiveness.”

    Amen. I think this is the crux of the proper distinction between Law and Gospel; an art never to be mastered on this side of glory.

  3. Allow me to ramble a bit in response. We are saved, not by love but by fiath in Christ,, and this a gift of the Holy Spirit. Love is the keeping of the law, love God, love neighbor. Since Adam and Eve fell into sin we are incapable of loving God or neighbor as we love ourself. Can not original sin be thought of as the loss of and inability to love as we ought? Before the fall, love flowed from God to humanity and from humanity to humaity and back to God. Since the fall the proper flow of love has been damed up in and by sin. Jesus Christ, love personifiedd, died lovingly, unselfishly on the cross having kept the law of love perfectly. The Holy Slpirit now calls us through the Gospel, the good news of salvation for sin fallen eternally condedmned humanity. Through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit calls us to Christ in whom we are loved – and love not only in return but also our neighbor. Praise be to God. Larry.

  4. You are quite right, Larry.
    But a theologian must be picky about words. Faith does not save us, God does. We are saved by grace (through faith). Faith is not a quality by which we are saved, it is a gift through which we apprehend, receive, grasp, etc., the mercy of God which is Christ. So in a very real sense, we are saved neither by faith nor by love, that is, by any quality in us. Else faith becomes a work.
    My point above is that St. John uses love where we might want to use faith; ie, 1 Jn 4:12, “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfectd in us.” Not, “If we have faith, God abides in us…etc.”
    So also, 4:16-17, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.”
    We might be tempted to say that our confidence on the Day of Judgment is our faith, but John says our confidence is the indwelling of God, love being perfected in us. Then there is the phrase, “as he is so also are we in the world.” The love, then, is not an expression of faith, or even the result of faith, it comes with faith, it is part of faith; 2 sides of the same coin.
    Love is the Law, but John says, “By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar … but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is berfected. By this we may know tht we are in him” (2:3-5). Moreover, Jesus says his burden is light. What burden? To love God and neighbor. For He did not come to abolish the Law but to uphold and fulfill the Law. But it is easy for us because His love abides in us (if we have His Spirit), by which we accomplish the work of the Law, love.
    John does not seem so quick to separate faith and love. He seems to lump them together, which speaks volumes of “being born again” and also, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I just think there is more to love than being shelved as an outpouring of faith or a result of faith. Love is begotten of God, as is faith. Love is not begotten of faith, as if faith comes without love, which then must be cultivated and grown.
    Finally, we say we, of ourselves, cannot accomplish the Law. And this is unequivocably correct. But neither can we, by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus, ie, have faith. So is Faith also of the Law since we cannot do it of our own? Of course not. Yet we can neither believe nor love without the Spirit of God dwelling in us.

  5. Ouch! I mispoke a grave error. Thanks for pointing out my school boy foolishness. Of course I kinow that we are saved by grace through faith. Duh. You say above: “The love, then, is not an expression of faith, or even the result of faith, it comes with faith, it is part of faith; 2 sides of the same coin. Does that then mean we cannot say that love is the ourward sign of inward faith? Certainly the love of which we are speaking is active love, not at all passive. In his book “Transformed by Garce,” chapter one, Dom Wullstan Mork, O.S.B., says: “God’s happiness consists in knowing and loving himself. Therefore man was crreated for this supernatural purpose.” When I first read that statement I marked it needing furhter thought. I thought it provocative. Now, in the light of the present discussion I find it a bit more realistic and understandable. God is love and love’s himself perfectly, delighting in that love. Love is that for which we were created. Ach! I’ve hit a wall. Later. Larry

  6. The walls always loom large.
    Yes, I think it fine to say that love is the outward expression of an inward faith as long as love doesn’t become AN expression of faith. What I mean by faith not being an expression of faith or even the result of faith is that there is no other expression of faith than that of love.
    As for Wullstan’s remark that, “God’s happiness consists in knowing and loving himself” I’m not comfortable with speaking of God’s “happiness”. What you say, that “God is love and loves himself perfectly, delighting in that love,” I fully concur with. This is the fellowship of the Trinity.

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