Recently, a firestorm erupted when Jason Thomas shared to Facebook a letter he had received from his church one year ago. The letter, detailing reasons for his removal from active church membership, cited Jason’s departure from core beliefs of the church because he had chosen to pursue a homosexual lifestyle.
As is the case in today’s cultural climate, reactions online covered the gamut of emotions, from outrage and hatred, to shock and disbelief, to support and understanding. And once again, one hotly debated topic became the nature of love, namely Christian love. Had the church acted in an unloving manner? According to the world, this answer is an unequivocal “yes!” The church, however, has a different take on the situation.
Several months prior, over 40 Broadway stars filled the stage at the Democratic Convention as they performed a powerful, emotionally-charged rendition to the song, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” As cameras panned over the audience, attendees cheered, sang, and swayed along with the performers. The entire stadium was touched by this song and its message. It was a moving performance, no doubt, and anyone who loves music could easily find yourself responding to the song’s catchy melody and the strong voices who sang that night. Yet underlying that performance was a greater message being delivered: the world needs love, and the Democratic party wants to deliver on that love. Even more so, the message driven home was that love, as loosely portrayed by one political party, is what this world needs.
Yet the problem remains that we do not fully grasp this highly undefined notion of “love.” We think we know what we want, but do we really? And is what we want as a society truly loving? After all, the nature of the political climate today has clearly shown that neither major party, Republican or Democrat, is demonstrating a love that feels very loving to the opposing side.
As we have previously explored, a fatal problem lies at our very understanding of the concept of love. Today, our culture at large has hijacked the term “love” and inserted anti-Christian, anti-moral rules into what love should be and how it should look. These unspoken assumptions about love then shape our actions, our thoughts, and our beliefs. Yet because we as a society never fully explore and flesh out the nature of love, we have thereby reduced our understanding of love to being a byproduct of our views on hot topic issues such as homosexual marriage, abortion, and refugees. You believe this or that, therefore you are loving or unloving depending on the substance of your beliefs.
The social and political lines have been drawn in the sand, and each side purports that its views are the only true expression of love.
We have forgotten, however, that God’s love is never defined by the ruling political party of our day. True love, which is found not in a Hollywood-style “love at first sight” relationship, but in the eternal and unchanging character of God Himself, stands the test of time. True love does not change its nature based upon how moral or immoral a society. The world needs love — on this we can agree — but the substance and nature of our love as Christ followers will look completely different from what the world demands.
In 2014, Selena Gomez released a song entitled, “The Heart Wants What it Wants.” The origin of the song’s premise comes from a poem written by Emily Dickinson. In her song, Gomez describes an unhealthy romantic relationship in which the singer knows she should walk away from her partner, but she finds that she cannot, for “the heart wants what it wants.” As if shrugging off the emotional turmoil, hurt, and rejection that will inevitably result from such a damaging relationship, the assumption of the song is that because the heart wants what it wants, the singer must helplessly give in to these fleeting whims and desires of the heart.
It is here, though, that we find our first point of contention with a fallen world on the nature of love: the role of the heart. The world says that we need love, and the love we need is the love as is dictated by our hearts. “Follow your heart!” the world proclaims, “You will never be disappointed.” The heart is prized above all, and it is assumed that the heart will never lead us astray. According to the world, love is passion, love is changing, and love allows everyone to do and be what their hearts desire. Love is ferociously wild, according to the world, and you cannot contain it, for the heart wants what it wants.
“Believe in yourself,” says the world, “and follow your heart…”
But scripture tells us a different story. The true nature and role of the heart is gravely different from the world’s understanding. In Jeremiah 17:9, the prophet writes,
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Yes, the heart may want what it wants, but according to scripture, this does not mean the heart wants what is best. This is because, above all things, the heart is deceitful! In other words, the very essence of who we are apart from Christ has been marred by the destructive nature of sin, and we cannot trust our hearts to point us to true life. The desires of the heart will never lead us to trustworthy pursuits; left to its own devices, the heart will only ever lead us astray.
How does the heart deceive us? The heart rejects the ways of God and says “My way is better!” The heart prizes sinful lusts and passions, and the heart tells us that these pursuits will fulfill us, save us, and make us better versions of ourselves. The heart declares, “I must have what I desire at all cost!” The heart does not call sin what it is, but the heart says that sin is our right, our need, and our hope. The heart says that holiness is boring; the heart says that righteousness is judgmental and unkind.
But if we listen to our hearts, we are deceived. As we explored in the previous post of this series, God’s ways represent the best way for all of us to live. The holiness of God brings life to those who embrace it.
Why is it that Christian love is so polarizing, that the world around us rebels at this love of Christ that we hold so high? Simply stated, the world rejects Christ’s love because accepting His love means acknowledging the truth about who we are: sinfully base and morally corrupt. Acknowledging Christ means recognizing that we must change our ways. It means turning from the counsel of our broken hearts and instead holding our hearts up to God for healing and redemption. The love of Christ flies in the face of our pride and reveals that we are utterly hopeless and never enough apart from Him.
Accepting the love of Christ requires that we deny the unholy lusts, whims, and passions of our hearts. Accepting the love of Christ also requires that we confess our sins and humble ourselves before God. 1 John 1:8-9 lays it out plainly:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Without the power of the Holy Spirit in us, it is impossible to overcome the rule of our hearts, for we are slaves to sin. However, because of Christ’s redeeming power on the cross, we are able to overcome our fleshy nature. We find in Jesus “…an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
No political party holds the answer, of this we can be sure. The world says we need love, and it means we need to chase our hearts’ affections and embrace our hearts’ desires. But Christ says we need love, and He means we must flee from our hearts’ deceptions and chase His heart’s desires! This love, His love, is the truest and purest love of all, calling us from the chains of death to the freedom of life.
And we, as genuine followers of Christ, join Him in this proclamation, for we are convinced that it is this love that the worlds needs now!