by Keith Sherlin
– There are two errors in the world today that represent the two pendulums of sin. One is the error of the liberals. I define the term liberal in this context as one who does not believe and submit to the authority of the inspired Scriptures. These are the modern day Sadducees. These people are those who do not count the faith as worthy to uphold and contend for. Doctrinal and ethical standards are not essential in most liberal persuasions of Christianity. However, there is the other spectrum of thought that confesses the faith but they often do so in a spirit that is foreign to that of NT Christianity. These people are often termed fundamentalists or conservatives. I define the term fundamentalist or conservative as one who believes Scripture to be fully inspired, without error, and the final authority for truth. But in some cases these are often the modern Pharisees.
This Bible tells us this: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6 ESV). In many cases people do one of two things. They either deny the faith, the liberal spirit of departing from the faith, or on the other hand they confess the faith, as do conservative fundamentalists, but when they do confess or proclaim the faith it is done in a spirit that is unloving, bitter, cold, and in many ways through arrogance and pride. In both cases the testimony and spirit of Christianity is weakened and damaged.
There is severe distortion of the truth when truth is communicated without the Spirit of love. Love is the most essential truth within the Christian faith. Love for God and love for man are two of the most essential, if not the most essential, elements to the Christian life. Apostle Paul said it this way: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13 ESV). Jesus Christ said it this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV). In the gospel of John we have these words from Christ that elevate the love to a new level: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
The manner by which we contend for the faith is just as important as contending for the faith. We cannot separate the spirit of the faith from the substance of the faith. Doctrine is crucial for a healthy Christian life. Without doctrinal substance the Christian life never gains stability. But doctrine without love leads to a deadness, a lifeless set of facts that do nothing to the heart and life of the person. It leaves the person unmoved, emotionless, and without passion for the truth.
Various scholars have written many books and articles on what unites the Old and New Testaments. I believe that the grand theme of Scripture is the glory of God. I also believe that the kingdom of God is the most comprehensive theme of Scripture in that it provides the beginning point for God’s work in history and culminates in his sovereign reign over the entire universe. Within these themes is the heart of God, a loving God that does all things for His glory because this is the most loving thing He can do. Love defines God. Scripture says: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16b). Scripture has one fundamental theme in it. I define the central motif of Scripture in this way: “The Triune God’s glory and holiness displayed and sovereignly administered in love throughout history and into eternity through the covenanted kingdom promise via various administrative historical ages and covenants.”
The Bible sets forth the example as to how we are to correct others and to guide others into truth. Apostle Peter told us to “regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV).
In many cases people who defend truth fail to defend it in the spirit of love and gentleness. The spirit to “fight” for the faith and the spirit to “contend” for the faith is often divorced from the spirit of the faith that fights and contends in the spirit of humility and love. The Bible tells us that even when the “archangel Michael” was “contending with the devil” over the “body of Moses, he did not pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9). Furthermore, Scripture tells us that when we contend for the faith that we must do so with the weapons of Christ, not with natural weapons of carnality. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5 ESV). If the archangel can contend with the devil himself, and yet do so in a spirit of humility and respect for the one whom he disagreed with, namely Satan who is the arch enemy of all of us, then surely we can fight for the faith without being contentious, mean spirited, rude, crass, and angry.
Paul warned Christians about a knowledge that makes us become arrogant. 1 Corinthians 8:1 reminds us that certain kinds of “knowledge puffs up,” whereas biblical love “builds up.” The apostle went on to say, “if anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (8:2-3).
Many ministers, Christians, and “defenders of the faith” fail to display love and compassion for others while in the process of defending the truth. Paul gave to us the most important foundation to life of godliness. Love is the foundation to all of our efforts in Christ. Love is not the only thing, but it is the greatest factor for all else. True love will seek to edify our brothers and sisters. True love will search for truth. True love will have substance to it, doctrinal substance. True love will seek to express itself through a servant spirit. This does not mean the person communicating the love will do so without being direct, clear, and unwavering in the truth. One can be loving through being direct, certain, and confident of the truth as found in Christ. However, true love will “look out for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). True love will intentionally seek to help the other person.
Adapted from essentialchristianity.com