Pastor’s Blog


There are two radically different ways of trying to relate to God. To illustrate this, imagine two people who are told to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The first person hears this command and is immediately overwhelmed. It seems to be an impossible standard. They start wondering who should be included or excluded and how far love really has to go. They ask themselves, “Who is my neighbor really? This command probably refers to my literal neighbors next door, but what about the people across the street? I don’t really know them. Do I have to go introduce myself to them? Can I just wait until they introduce themselves to me? Does this really refer to people I don’t know? And what does this mean anyway? What exactly do I have to do? How far do I have to go? What if people are rude or cruel towards me? What if I just don’t like them?”

The second person hears the command, “love your neighbor as yourself,” and instead of being overwhelmed or anxious, they are excited. They begin to think about how they can help and reach out to their neighbor three doors down who recently lost their job. They think of a co-worker who is having marital problems and make a mental note to reach out to them tomorrow at work. They think of a friend they haven’t been in touch within a while who they need to reconnect with. They reflect on how they would want people to reach out to them, how they would want to be loved. Their mind starts spinning with the different opportunities and relationships that God has given them. They know they can’t possibly meet the needs of everyone else in the world, but there are several people they can impact with God’s love, and they just want to start.

What is the difference between these two people? They both hear the same command, so why the vastly different reactions? Most people in the world believe there is a God, but they also believe that you relate to God by being good enough. Most religions are based on that idea, though there are countless variations. For example, some religions are nationalistic; you please God by being a good member of society, whatever that society is. Some religions are spiritualistic; you please God by progressing through certain practices, getting closer to him with each achievement. Other religions are legalistic; there are rules of conduct and morality, and the better you follow them the more God will be pleased with you.

All of these ideas have the same logic: if I perform correctly and I’m good enough, I’ve pleased God. This is where our first person is. They hear God’s command to love their neighbors as they love themselves, and they think its purpose is to help them be a good person. So they want to know exactly what to do in order to be good because the general idea is just too overwhelming. Narrow it down and make sure it is realistic, something in my wheelhouse so I can feel good about myself and how I am living so I can assure myself I’m right with God because I’ve obeyed the rules. Tell me exactly who my neighbor is and what I’m supposed to do.

Yet the gospel of Jesus Christ is the exact opposite of that mindset. The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that we are accepted by God in Christ because of what he has done, not because of what we do. He is good enough, and by grace, through faith, he gives us his goodness, therefore I obey and love in response. For Christians who know the love, acceptance, and grace of God in Christ, God’s rules show us how to live the life of love we are saved to live. This is why our second person was so excited about the possibilities that the command to love our neighbors gives them. Jesus Christ has put an end to all our self-made, self-righteous, sometimes even religious attempts to come to God by being good enough. We can’t come to God on our own. He comes to us in Christ, freeing us to live for him because we know he’s already pleased with us in his Son.