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Resurgence Leadership #033: John Piper, Why I Trust the Scriptures, Part 1
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Christianity is not just about being nice. But what about the command to love our neighbor? How does niceness fit into the Christian life?
With having four kids (age twelve and under) I feel like my anthem has become, “Be nice!” It seems as if I am telling (and sometimes yelling at) my kids to be nice all day long.
Yet in my ministry to the rest of the world, I seem to be preaching a different message. You see, in my heart I know that Christianity is not about being nice. But is that really true? What about the command to “love my neighbor”? Loving my neighbor seems kind of important, if you ask me.
The law’s demands
The law tells me to be nice by loving my neighbor, yet I find that I still elbow my husband when he snores, scowl at my kids when they are too loud, and ignore the needs of others. No matter how well we might think we are loving others and being nice, the truth is that according to the law we are failing miserably—we need to keep the law (all of it) every second of every minute, every minute of every hour, every hour of every day (and so on). Even one selfish thought about the person next to us is grounds for disqualification according to the law. No matter how hard we try, we simply cannot fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves!
You see, the law cannot change our heart, it can only slay it. The law can only do one thing: kill all hope that we could ever fulfill it. The law can make demands but it gives no power to the hearer to actually do what it demands. It cannot beat us over the head yelling “love your neighbor” until we submit. No. It slays us with its sword, killing all notions that we can actually do it. The law stands over us reminding us of our failures, of our sentence like a prison warden (Gal. 3:23–25).
God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.
Unfortunately many of us believe that Christianity is all about being nice, being a better person, etc. There is even a popular Christian song that urges us to look within and “find our kindness.” I don’t know about you, but the last time I looked deep into my heart all I found was a heart that is “deceitful and wicked above all things.”
The only perfect love
The good news is that we have hope aside from the law. We desperately need the gospel to deliver us because the law leaves us utterly hopeless. Once the law has done its dirty deed in slaying every hope that we have ever had of being able to do what we have been commanded to do, the gospel comes swiftly in to deliver us from our despair. It saves us, bringing life to our dead souls. As C. F. W. Walther says:
“The gospel does not require anything good that man must furnish: not a good heart, not a good disposition, no improvement of his condition, no godliness, no love either of God or men. It issues no orders, but changes man. It plants love into his heart and makes him capable of all good works. It demands nothing, but it gives all. Should not this fact make us leap for joy?”
There is only one who ever loved his neighbor the way that the law demands. And he did it for you and me. Jesus showed perfect kindness. Jesus has perfect love and his heart is pure. Jesus did not come to make us nice; he came to save us because we aren’t.
So the question is: “Should I stop telling my kids to be nice and just let them pound on each other?” As Paul would say, “By no means!” There is a place for kindness but it can’t come from within and it doesn’t earn our righteousness. God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. God doesn’t need my daughter to stop giving her sister dirty looks or saying rude things, but her siblings sure do.
“Forgiveness provides a most powerful new impulse for gratitude. From it flows that joyful willing of the good.”
Being nice is hard, loving others as ourselves is difficult, and none of us are able to love like Christ loves. But when love does not come easy, when kindness is hard to find, we need not fret because the command has been satisfied by Christ and we are free. And it’s this freedom that creates love and service to our neighbor. Because we have now been freed from the curse of the law, we are liberated for a life of good works. Our motivation is no longer ourselves, but this: God’s love for us.
We love because God pours his love into us and we pour that love out on others. A grateful heart—not fear—is our motivator. We are finally freed to love our neighbor because the demand has been satisfied in Christ. Because we have been freed, we are grateful and we have a new desire to serve and love our neighbor.