So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15 NKJV)
I have wondered, what exactly did Christ mean by “these”. Did he point to the fishing nets and vessel, the source of Peter’s livelihood? Maybe he motioned toward the rest of the disciples that were with Peter. It really does not matter what He used as a contrast of Peter’s love for Him. It is important to recognize that Christ wanted Peter (and us) to realize that following Him had to be a total commitment of more than words. It must be a commitment of love so powerful that no one or nothing else could be loved greater. This truth is not spoken about in Christian assemblies nowadays. Instead, it is all about how much God loves us, dotes on our every need, and is super-sensitive to our every whim. Such a God is not much more than a magical genie that has no concern about our spiritual condition, but focuses only on our health, wealth, and comfort. In fact, the spiritual condition is rarely brought up. Further, this magical god makes no demands or even serious implications that we love him in return. At least, he appears not to require a quality and depth of love that would cause one to suffer rather than deny him. This false concept of God also produces weak Christians that fall into despair and faithlessness at the the first sign of the slightest problem. Is that the measure of love that Christ was teaching Peter about?
Recently, I read a statement by a professing Christian that went something like the following. “I really love the Lord, but I fell into drug and alcohol abuse. But all the time I was in bondage, I still loved the Lord.” I thought, “No, you really didn’t love the Lord”. I have also heard other people say about a professing Christian, “He loves the Lord, but he cheats on his wife.” Again, that man does not love the Lord or his wife. The truth is that the phrase, “I love the Lord” has become a generic phrase that attempts to convey the fact that the individual believes that he or she is still a valid Christian regardless of the degree of or type of their sin. It is synonymous with the phrase, “go to church’. If you ask a nominal Christian if he or she is a Christian they commonly respond with, “I go to church.” then they tell you the name of the church. Those phrases ought to be filed in the same category with other obnoxious and clumsy terms such as, “I’m just a sinner sinner saved by grace.” A better statement would be, “I was sinner, now I’m saved by grace.”
Another truth is that God requires us to keep His commandments as proof of our love. Christ said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). He repeats it in the 21st verse; “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” We don’t need to prove our love to Him. God knows perfectly well whether or not we love Him. We need to prove our love for Him to the world and to ourselves. However, people do not wish to recognize that they have fallen out of love with God. The consequences are too undesirable to think about. So they find a belief system within Christianity (and there are many) that permits them to drift to whatever level of compromise with sin that they wish to descend to and remain as viable as the most devout Christian that has ever entered eternity.
Thus, the Christian identity has become corrupted by people who hold to the belief that they are valid Christians in spite of the fact that they have become incredible sinners. Two things are for certain; they do not love God and are no longer Christians. The evidence that they do not love God is in the fact that they reject His will and obey His enemy. Additionally, a Christian is a follower of Christ. One cannot cease to follow Christ and remain a Christian. No one can prevent them from claiming the title, but their claim is invalid. The questions that lost individuals ask are as follows. Can one cease to love God, reject Christianity, and remain saved? Will such a one be escorted into heaven and eternal life based on a profession while ones that have made no profession are condemned to eternal hell with a much lesser load of sins? Is grace nothing more than hell insurance? Is such grace an incentive to sin because there are no consequences? When one answers those questions I would advise him or her not to ignore the volume of God’s word, the Holy Spirit, and simply provide a rote reference to a denominational creed or catechism.
The fact is that loving God will not protect a person from ever making a mistake or committing a sin. However, the more that you love Him the less likely you are to sin. The same is true in a marital relationship. The more you love your spouse, the less likely you are to sin against him or her. I have counseled with men that physically abused their wives. When confronted with the consequences, they would tearfully remark, “I love her with all my heart.” Really? That simply is not true. I once counseled with a former minister that had become a crack addict. He told me, “I really love the Lord and I love my family.” I replied, “No you do not.” He argued that I was wrong and that he was simply under an attack of Satan. I asked him, “If you really love the Lord and your family, when it comes to choosing between crack cocaine and the Lord and your family, which do you choose?” The fact is that your decisions and actions define your love. That is precisely what Christ is declaring in John 14: 15 and 21.
God did not say to the Loadicean church, “I know that you love me 50%, so even though you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, that’s okay. After all, you just sinners saved by grace.” Here is what He said about their degree of love for Him.
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— “ (Revelation 3:15-17 NKJV)
God is a consuming fire and the world system is a consuming cold. People need to realize that lukewarm is approximately 50% hot and 50% cold. Therefore, it is not about declaring, “I love the Lord” , but about what degree that you love Him. Is it 50 degrees? 70? 90 degrees and rising? We should determine what is keeping us from 100 degrees and deal with it. We ought to just admit it when we do not love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Why not simply be honest and confess to being lukewarm rather than pretend that we love Him while wallowing in the mire of sin. Additionally, if we are called to be shepherds, we should not allow people to slide deeper into sin with the claim that they love God when in fact they are in an adulterous relationship with the world system. The fact is that many professing Christians are in love with the idea of God who loves them, and with the idea of Christ that loved them enough to die for them. They are not in love with the person of God and Christ. They certainly do not appear to be in love with God that demands obedience and requires commitment to godliness. Hence, when Satan comes along with a platter of hypocrisy, they run after him jumping and skipping down the broad path, The more we love Him, the more we know Him. The more we know Him, the more we acquiesce with His divine nature (2 Peter 1:2-4), transforming our minds by renewal (Romans 12:2) so that we have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5).
True Christians need to strive for perfect love. Perfect love is so complete with the ingredients of obedience, acceptance of God’s divine nature, and rejection of wickedness, that we will not entertain any competition for that love. That does not mean we ought to become ascetic legalists that abhor bright colors and laughter. The balance may be found in the verse;
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. (1 Peter 2:15-16 NKJV).
We are in the world, but the world ought not to be in us. It should not control our desires, emotions, decisions or actions. And if we love Him to the point of joy, it will be difficult for temptation to lure us away. We should always remember that God loves us 100% and sent His Son Jesus Christ to give His life 100% to pay 100% the debt of our sin so that we could have 100% eternal life. If we are going to love Him any less, we ought to acknowledge the truth so that we do not misrepresent the difference between hot, cold, and lukewarm.