Stop. Right there. You were singing the song in your head, weren’t you? You were gonna say, “…because the Bible tells me so.”
I would encourage you not to.
Jesus does not love you because the Bible says he does. He loves you because he is the very definition of love.
Now you might be thinking, “Wow… He’s being a little harsh.” That’s an understandable reaction. But it actually is quite an important distinction.
A few months ago I received an advanced reading copy of Jesus Loves You This I Know by Craig Gross (xxxchurch.com founder) and Jason Harper. I finished it in four days. The book’s thesis is this: Jesus loves you.
That’s it. It’s not about theology or religion. It’s about love. Period.
Jesus told us quite clearly what the most important part of the law was. And no one ever argued with him about it.
Which raises the question: what in the world happened?
“‘Jesus loves you’ has become an overstated Christian cliche from the religious establishment. What was once meant to be a statement of concern, a thought, or a pronouncement of spiritual enlightenment has been reduced to a casual exchange in passing.” (p. 79)
But sadly, this is only part of the problem. It is true that Jesus does in fact love you. The statement itself is true. But do we really believe it? I think that is the question worth asking.
Ever since Jesus’ time the church has done the same thing: “Christians become too safe and choose to gather together in small groups, or holy huddles, hoping ‘the world’ doesn’t get in.” (p. 157) We saw the Pharisees do it, and we see our churches today do the same thing. Don’t get me wrong – there have been exceptions, I know. The church in the first and second centuries for example very much succeeded where we today have devastatingly failed (in the love department, that is).
So what now? Luckily, we have a really good example of what it looks like when someone actually believes that Jesus loves us. His name is Jesus.
Jesus demonstrated real life. And how did he do it? “His willingness to meet a practical need before he asserted a spiritual answer proved that he cared about people where they were in life.” (p. 93) When people were blind, sick, even dead, Jesus did not tell them, “I love you” – even if it was true. He gave them sight, he healed them, he restored them. That’s what love looks like. Or what it is supposed to look like anyway.
Now as for us, the church. The church is Jesus’ hands and feet. Our job is to be Jesus in today’s world. To show the world his love. So how do we do that? I think the biggest step that the “religious right” could start with following Jesus’ lead: “Jesus did not have an argument to win. He just loved.” (p. 157)
We find ourselves in an extremely argumentative culture. When it comes to “the issues” we whip out our practical and systematic theology guidelines, our three supportive Bible verses that are manipulated completely out of context, and our misinterpretation of the Bible as a whole to defend our political views that we don’t even know how we ended up with. Instead of loving gay people, we tell them why they shouldn’t be gay. Instead of serving partying teenagers, we ignore them. Instead of ministering to porn stars, we avoid them.
That is not the Jesus of the Bible that I read.
This book calls the church to something better (and frankly, more productive). To go to the broken. To serve the sinners. To realize that we live in a dark world and we’re not supposed to be hiding our light under a blanket. And sadly, there are consequences to this resulting from the very people that are supposed to be doing it: “… when the outcasts are loved, the religious begin to get cynical and skeptical toward the one who reached out.” (p. 142) Essentially, people will hate that we go to dark places. That we leave our comfort zones. But that is still what we are supposed to do. If we don’t, then we are not the church.
I understand that this may seem a bit like a hopeless cause or a rant aimed at the church’s shortcomings. But after reading Jesus Loves You, this is what I have come to realize:
- We are the church. We are Jesus for today (in a sense). The church needs to do what Jesus did.
- Jesus loved and went to the darkest places. The church needs to look more like Jesus in this sense.
- There are hurting people that need to be told not that they are sinners in need of a Savior (most of them even know it), but that they are made for something better and that they are still loved no matter what.
- The greatest commandments are to love God and love people. It is our primary job to do this. Not to argue theology or use reasoning to reach a conclusion. Love. Period.
Well done, Craig and Jason. I think the world needs to hear this message. (And yes, that means the church too.)
Go read this book.