Jesus made it clear that as Christians, our focus should be to: (1) to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and (2) to love others as I love myself. But that’s easier said than done!
Let’s be careful not to put the cart before the horse. Before we can examine the “what” of loving God and others, we’ve got to examine the “how.” So how is it possible for me to actually get outside of myself and truly love God and others with all I’ve got?
Well, it all started with my birth. The Bible makes it really clear that I was born sinful and evil. So were you. So was everyone who was born after Adam and Eve committed the first sin on this planet. That’s a fact, just like gravity. Don’t believe me?
The fiercest war
The Bible says: “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did” (New Living Translation, Romans 5:12-14). Romans 3:10 also puts it bluntly: “No one is righteous—not even one.” And Romans 3:23 tells us: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” That’s pretty clear, don’t you think?
Thanks to Adam and Eve, everybody who’s been born after them has been dealing with this sin problem. Adam and Eve basically traded their perfect Garden of Eden home and their close, face-to-face relationship with God for a bite of fruit (see Genesis 2:15-17 and chapter 3). So there’s no way that you and I can make it right, but Jesus Christ already made it right for us! Let’s read on.
The Bible says: “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:6-8). However, as infomercial announcers like to say: “But wait, that’s not all!”
The coolest part
Here’s the coolest part:
For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. . . . So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:17-21).
So Jesus died to make everything right. If we choose to let Him and we ask Him to, He takes away our sins and gives us His righteousness in their place. In doing that, He restores that right relationship with God that Adam originally lost. You and I can be perfect again, right? The answer is an emphatic yes!
So this discussion is over, right? It shouldn’t be hard for you and me to love God and others with our whole being—but it is hard, oh so hard! At this point you might ask, “Why should it be so hard to love God and others unselfishly?”
Well, on the one hand, Jesus died for us, to give us the power and the opportunity to restore our relationship with God. He flipped the switch, so to speak, so that you and I can receive God’s power (supplied by the Holy Spirit) to think, feel, speak, act, and live in a righteous way, to do good and unselfish things. But on the other hand, we still live in sin-weakened bodies, in an evil world. We’re attacked from the outside by bad influences and Satan’s constant temptations, and we’re attacked from the inside by a lifetime of our own bad habits and desires.
It’s likely that you’ve already come to the painful realization that the fiercest war in the world is not being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or some other part of the world; it’s being fought in our own minds and bodies—between ourselves, God, Satan, and the world.
The big decision
Sinners don’t feel bad or get frustrated when they can’t do right. To be honest, they don’t really think about it because it’s not in their nature. But we Christians do get frustrated about that. There’s a constant war going on inside of us. We struggle a lot with this issue, not because we’re worried about always being good and perfect, but because we want to be like Jesus. The most difficult war we Christians face is the war going on inside of us between the sinful nature we were born with and the spiritual nature that the Holy Spirit provides when we pray to be born again in Christ (see John 3:5-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
It’s really important to understand that when we’re tempted to sin, the temptation can come from Satan or the world—or many times, even from ourselves, because we’re born sinful. Now, this is an idea that you’ll rarely hear from people today. In today’s culture people say things such as “We’re basically good” and “We can change ourselves and fix our own problems because we’re smart enough.”
This is a belief that’s similar to the lie Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). But the Bible tells us that we’re all sinful and born into sin. The Bible also tells us in James 1:13-15: “Don’t blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn’t use evil to tempt others. We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead” (Contemporary English Version).
The Apostle Paul was called Saul before his conversion. Saul was a psycho when it came to attacking the followers of Christ (see Acts 7:57, 58; 8:1, 3; and 9:1, 2)! On Saul’s way to Damascus, he had a personal encounter with Jesus that led to his conversion (see Acts 9:1-22). Obviously at that point, Paul put his psycho days behind him, but he still experienced within himself the discouraging struggle between flesh and spirit.
My own worst enemy
He describes this in Romans 7:14-25:
So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (New Living Translation).
We’ve all felt like Paul, haven’t we? Maybe you’re feeling this way right now. But the solution is simple—murder! Now, don’t go calling the police on me. This is God’s solution to the sin problem. God, through Paul, wrote that we need to kill the natural sinful self!
The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ died in our place to take the penalty for our sins. He was perfect and sinless, but He became sin for us (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). Yeah, I know; I still can’t understand that completely, either. Paul explains it like this in Galatians 2:20: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Did you catch that? Paul says that when he accepted Christ’s death by faith as a payment for his sin, his natural sinful old self was crucified [and died] with Christ, and the person that is alive now in Paul’s body isn’t Paul, but Jesus! I know it’s confusing. For further clarification, read Romans 6:1-14.
At the beginning of each new day, remind yourself that the sinful old you is dead. Instead, Jesus is in charge—but only as long as you choose for Him to be. God created us with total freedom. We get to decide whether to love and serve Him or not. But if we do choose Him, then we have to give ourselves to Him completely. Surrendering our will to God so that He can call the shots is the best—and also the most difficult—thing we’ll ever do. Every day, we’ll have to make the decision all over again to die to self. We’ll be “dead men and women walking” for God!
Jesus said: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Luke 9:23, 24).
So, let’s go back to the question I asked when we began our time together: How is it possible for you and me to actually get outside of ourselves and truly love God and others with all that we’ve got? The answer is that…we can’t—but God can. You and I need to always remind ourselves of this: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). As drastic as it sounds, we all need to learn to be dead men walking; only then can we truly walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).