If you love me, you will keep my commandments. -- John 14:15
I obey the commandments, or strive to obey them, because I love God, and I want to love my neighbor as God loves me. God's commandments show us how to love our neighbor as God loves us. I obey his will as an expression of my love, and gratitude.
I have not, however, always thought this way. A few years ago, I compiled a little book filled with the teachings of Jesus. I wanted to understand if Christianity was as exclusive as many Christians make it out to be. I came to understand the words, "I am the way, and the truth and the life..." in a way that was not exclusionary at all. When I was finished, I felt that I knew how to find God's Kingdom: follow the commandments. This was a way that was open to anyone. But, my understanding was still compromised. Because at this stage, to say that one was saved by faith alone, was incomprehensible to me. Jesus taught us how to be saved: follow the commandments.
In my desire to seek God, I became a lover of the law. I knew all of the commandments that Jesus taught his disciples. But, in my sincere efforts to follow them, I found myself being judgmental of other people. Or, I would see that I became arrogant when I managed to get things right. Trying to be Good, I discovered that I was not being very good at all. I was not being very loving. I was certainly not loving my neighbor as God loved me. Understanding God's love for me was the key to understanding how to love my neighbor.
For even when I make mistakes, I know God still loves me. I feel his love for me. I know he wants what is truly best, even though this can be challenging. I see that he waits for me to be ready. He does not give up on me when I don't understand, but comes back again at a later time. He repeats the same message gently or strongly, as required. Leading me gently, or strongly, as required. For this, I am grateful and astounded and feel blessed. God's love for me has been steadfast, and patient, and gentle, and insistent. This is how God wants me to love my neighbor. This is how Jesus taught us to love.
My understanding of Jesus' words, "I am the way, and the truth and the life..." has deepened. God is love. Love is the way, and the truth, and the life. Following the commandments does not lead us to God's love. God's love leads us to following the commandments. We need only seek God with all our heart. God will do the rest. And in this regard, if faith is love of God, then we are saved by faith alone. Whether this speaks of our faith, or God's faith in us, I am still wondering.
I read today in "Jesus, the Word, and the Way of the Cross," by Mark W. Thompsen, that Martin Luther believed that a Christian should, "in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him. ...and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians." (pg. 72)
I hear in these words my own growing understanding that it is for our sake that God requires these things of us. For learning to love one another sacrificially, as Christ taught us to love, as the Father loves us, makes us part of one another. As Jesus said to Peter as he began to wash his feet, "unless I do this, you will have no part of me." In emptying ourselves of our own desires and giving ourselves lovingly in service to one another, we become of one mind with Christ. For the mind of Christ was to empty himself for love of God. To me, this is a good definition of a Christian.
Oddly enough, this desire to empty oneself for love of God is found in many of the world's religions.
Dear God, thank you for making me so distinctly aware of your presence in my life. May your example of love be kept before me daily. Love always, Pam
P.S. I got a day off-track in my readings, so decided to read last Sunday's lectionary, which I had skipped, today. I'm glad, as it fit so well with my other readings for today. I love when that happens.