Grace is the air that love breathes

I haven’t posted in a while because I have been preparing the Reasonable Grace teachings, and I really post here when I feel I have what is for me a breakthrough insight. I’ve been thinking about the subject of this post a lot, and I hope it is clear and comes across as a breakthrough for you as well.

There is a particular paradox in Jesus’ new commandment which is an old commandment (1 John 2:7-8). He commands us to love one another, as He has loved us. There is some sense in which this old command to love has been updated into a new commandment, and there is something different to it now. It has been lifted out of old covenant dynamics and thinking to new covenant dynamics. I am seeking for this difference, for the simplicity and essence of the new commandment to love.

I have heard a lot of teachings about how love is a decision. Love is a commitment. Love is an action, not a feeling. It’s a silly Hollywood myth that we “fall” into love. Love is doable! My wife may be an impossible cold horrid shrew who has completely let herself go and smells bad on top of that, but I can choose to love her, it is my responsibility. Ephesians 5 COMMANDS us to love our wives as Christ loves the church. If some malodorous homeless alcoholic drug addict needs food, we don’t have to “like” them to love them in deed. We can feed them, take them to the homeless shelter, and have them out of our space, safe in the assurance that we did the deed Jesus would have wanted us to do. We don’t have to “like” people in order to “love” them. Love is a command!

I want to do an experiment. Let’s suppose that the “love is a decision” camp is wrong. Love is entirely undoable. We are powerless to force ourselves to love. It is in fact the one undoable thing! We may be able to let our enemy have our shirt and slap us around, but can we really bring ourselves to love him? It may make all the logical sense in the world to love the person our parents would have arranged for us to marry, but our own hearts are unfathomable and uncontrollable. All the other commandments depend on having genuine love and real affection for someone, and this is the main thing we seem to be incapable of really producing. We are powerless to change our affections. We are commanded to love, but we cannot do it.

Ah, you may say, but you are confusing romantic love with other kinds of love, brotherly love or perhaps agape love. You can command agape love because Jesus commands it. I would say that, whatever agape love means, love is love, and deeds devoid of affection and help devoid of compassion is the exact thing that Paul calls a clanging cymbal in 1 Corinthians 13:

1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

When we say, I have to love you, but I don’t have to like you, I would like to know how that fits with 1 Corinthians 13 style love. It doesn’t. Of course we have to like people, and that is the very thing that we have to admit is very difficult, in fact it is impossible.

When you go out to buy a gift for your child, you don’t grit your teeth in the face of great mountains of dislike, to do what you must do. You are excited to buy the gift, because you think how overjoyed he will be, and rejoice at the thought. You take pleasure in their pleasure. You delight in fulfilling their desires and wishes. You rejoice to see them grow and mature.

This is difficult enough for our own family, our spouse and our children, our parents. However, I am not saying that we never have love in our humanity, in our pre-supernatural or unredeemed experience, this isn’t the point. We do love, everyone craves it and we all have tasted it! Just as we have a conscience and have a taste of holiness even when we are unrepentant prodigals, we know and crave love no matter who we are. I am not making the point that love is impossible altogether, I am making the point that love cannot be demanded or coerced. Law and threat and fear are incapable of producing love, it comes by other means altogether.

Love is not born of demand and coercion, it is born of grace. Love responds to love, to undemanded and unconditional affection. Love does not live and breathe and thrive under fear and control, it very naturally and completely resists these things. When a man declares his love for a woman, the fear is that she will not be able to see past his faults and sins and shortcomings to see the man he would be for her. Will there be grace, will she see past his warts and return love in kind? The only way love can be commanded is by means of grace, one way affection. We are to love as we have been loved:

16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
19 We love, because He first loved us.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
1 John 4:16-21

So, like the fisherman frightened in the midst of the storm at sea, His command creates the result. He commands the wind and the waves, and it is calm. He commands us to love, and it is so. It is of grace, because love only responds to affection and not to coercion or force. Is this crazy? Maybe not:

19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;
20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
1 John 3:19-20

What is the point? God has power over our hearts, and is able to affect our hearts and produce change, not by brute miracle, nor by sheer authoritative command and threat of punishment. These are love under the old covenant, the old commandment to love. He commands us to love by the new commandment, under the new covenant, in which He writes the commandments on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10). He loves first, and so commands us to love by making it our flaming and true desire. Grace is love coming at us when we don’t deserve it, when we don’t love in return. By this means he draws us into the kingdom of grace, and births love in us.

When I discover a new musician or a new song which I really like, I want to share it. I don’t want to hide in a closet alone and listen to it. I want to share it. When the love which God has for me is manifested, when I come to understand it and believe it, I’m not inspired to be more selfish. I’m inspired to share it, to love those around me, because I have been so greatly loved myself. Grace inspires and enables love in a way that the raw demand and coercion of the requirement to love never could.

34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”
Romans 5:8

“We love, because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19

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