When Jesus was on earth, He tried to help the people find salvation by using parables and stories that they could relate to their own lives. However, their minds had been dulled by the molding of the church leaders of their day which made it hard for them to comprehend the meaning of these lessons. Each lesson was a key to open their minds to the wonders of the Kingdom of Heaven. They had been inundated with “holy” traditions of the church and had lost sight of the true significance of the Law of God.
As Jesus went about doing miracles and wonders in the sight of the people, He slowly tried to point them back in the right direction that would lead to salvation. “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture,” Jesus said to them (John 10:9 NIV). He was trying to help them understand that the burnt sacrifices, the weekly tithe, the good works, the attendance of church on the Sabbath, would not bring them salvation, but in Him was the fullness of the Godhead and only through Him could they be saved.
“We do not earn salvation by our obedience; for salvation is the free gift of God, to be received by faith. But obedience is the fruit of faith. ‘Ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him’ (1 John 3:5, 6). Here is the true test. If we abide in Christ, if the love of God dwells in us, our feelings, our thoughts, our purposes, our actions, will be in harmony with the will of God as expressed in the precepts of His holy law. ‘Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous’ (1 John 3:7). Righteousness is defined by the standard of God’s holy law, as expressed in the ten precepts given on Sinai.” Steps to Christ, 61.
Jesus, of course, encouraged good works; He set down conditions that require our tithe, but He always and continually pointed back to Himself as the way, the truth and the life for a fulfilling and sanctified life. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ ” (John 14:6 NIV). Jesus is the embodiment of righteousness, so if we are to be righteous, it stands to reason we need Him embodied in us. How do we obtain this holy character? That is probably the most commonly asked question among Christians that genuinely want to be like Jesus.
The answer is simple, but in practice it takes a struggle. The gospel of Christ is simply this: confess your sins and make restitution where applicable, repent of your sins by turning from them and commit them no more, and then follow the Lord in all that He says. After all, He gave us the free gift of salvation through His glorious sacrifice, He paid the price for our lives, He did all He could do to make the way as easy as possible for us to have salvation. Our part is to give all of ourselves back to Him.
The struggle is quite real, and many become discouraged, but Jesus is right there next to us, waiting for us to reach out to Him for help. Many are tempted by sin and trials, and Paul said if we are not in a struggle, then we may be lacking. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). We all have fallen short of godliness and this is the reason we need our Saviour each day to guide us. We must help one another in this fight, for we wrestle with powers unseen. The prophet tells us to uplift one another when we see a brother or sister struggling with sin. The gospel may be simple but the fight for our soul is ongoing.
“There is many a brave soul sorely pressed by temptation, almost ready to faint in the conflict with self and with the powers of evil. Do not discourage such a one in his hard struggle. Cheer him with brave, hopeful words that shall urge him on his way. Thus the light of Christ may shine from you. ‘None of us liveth to himself’ (Romans 14:7). By our unconscious influence others may be encouraged and strengthened, or they may be discouraged, and repelled from Christ and the truth.” Steps to Christ, 120.
So, how do we have success in the Christian walk? It is through the love of God that all things are possible. The books of John are the books of love, for he talks about how to have that success in Christ. Love conquers all as it is applied to our lives. It can overcome temptation, strife, anger, family issues, faultfinding, evil surmising, and most of all pride and selfishness. These are all enemies of love. Love that flows from the heart is tender, self-sacrificing, humble, and kind, it gives off a scent of a sweet-smelling fragrance. The one who loves is the one who is close to Christ. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).
Love is the simplicity of the gospel because it encompasses all that Jesus taught. In love, we keep His commandments simply because He said to. There are no questions about it. We know that He loves us and all that He requires of us will only bring happiness and peace. By embracing the love of Jesus, we can become holy. He willingly sends the Holy Spirit to us as soon as we ask for it, for He will not withhold that for which we ask. If we will submit to His will, He marries His Spirit with our will to make it one.
“ ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son’ (John 3:16). He gave Him not only to live among men, to bear their sins, and die their sacrifice. He gave Him to the fallen race. Christ was to identify Himself with the interests and needs of humanity. He who was one with God has linked Himself with the children of men by ties that are never to be broken. Jesus is ‘not ashamed to call them brethren’ (Hebrews 2:11); He is our Sacrifice, our Advocate, our Brother, bearing our human form before the Father’s throne, and through eternal ages one with the race He has redeemed—the Son of man. And all this that man might be uplifted from the ruin and degradation of sin that he might reflect the love of God and share the joy of holiness.” Steps to Christ, 14.
As we follow the love of Jesus to its finality, the Lord will use it to sanctify us. This is not a work that we can perform; it must be achieved through the working of the Holy Spirit. Only He can create the changes needed in each life. No one person is the same as another; therefore, a special work must be done in each one. “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). The way we can see this change being wrought in us is through love. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
“What is the work of the Holy Spirit? Jesus told His disciples: ‘When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:13). And the psalmist says: ‘Thy law is the truth’ (Psalm 119:142). By the Word and the Spirit of God are opened to men the great principles of righteousness embodied in His law. And since the law of God is ‘holy, and just, and good’ (Romans 7:12), a transcript of the divine perfection, it follows that a character formed by obedience to that law will be holy. Christ is a perfect example of such a character. He says: ‘I have kept My Father’s commandments.’ ‘I do always those things that please Him’ (John 15:10; 8:29). The followers of Christ are to become like Him—by the grace of God to form characters in harmony with the principles of His holy law. This is Bible sanctification.” Maranatha, 231.
The law of truth is the law of love in Christ Jesus. In it He has set before us the path to holiness and happiness. Jesus said He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. They know Him because of the great love they have for Him. Not because they loved Him first, but because He first loved them and showed them true love. “We love Him because He first loved us” and if we love Him, He says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (1 John 4:19; John 14:15). His commandments are not burdensome because we love Him. If you love your wife or husband or mother or father, would you not try to please them, and do as they ask? How much more so for the One who gave all for us that we may not perish, but have everlasting life with Him.
Jesus illustrated this simple gospel of love in the parable of the good Samaritan. Here was a man beaten and robbed and left to die on the side of the road. The priest and Levite who saw the man beaten and bruised walked past on the other side of the road. They did not want to get involved. They had pressing business in town that would further their own self-interest much more than to help this poor man. These were the professed leaders of God’s church that showed disdain for those who were of a lower class than they. Yet a Samaritan man stopped to help this man. The Samaritan was of a class of people that the Jews considered to be lower than themselves and would have nothing to do with them. Yet the Samaritan saw the pain and suffering of this injured man who was near death and offered him the hand of love. He didn’t know if this man was rich or poor, Jew or Greek, a godly person or an atheist. All he knew was that he needed help. So, he lifted him up and took him to shelter and paid for his care that he might be made well again. The prophet of God remarks about this love shown by the one who was inspired by the love of God, for love only comes from the God of Heaven.
“All this is but a fulfillment of the principle of the law—the principle that is illustrated in the story of the good Samaritan, and made manifest in the life of Jesus. His character reveals the true significance of the law, and shows what is meant by loving our neighbor as ourselves. And when the children of God manifest mercy, kindness, and love toward all men, they also are witnessing to the character of the statutes of heaven. They are bearing testimony to the fact that ‘the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul’ (Psalm 19:7). And whoever fails to manifest this love is breaking the law which he professes to revere. For the spirit we manifest toward our brethren declares what is our spirit toward God. The love of God in the heart is the only spring of love toward our neighbor. ‘If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?’ Beloved, ‘if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us’ (1 John 4:20, 12).” The Desire of Ages, 505.
Oh, what perfect love to love one another as Christ loved us. It is the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus. Love motivates us to confess our sins, and Jesus has promised to cleanse us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Love is the inspiration that turns us to repentance. “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Love is the catalyst that drives us to follow all that Jesus has said and to “Live by every word of God” (Luke 4:4). “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 John 4:8; 1 Corinthians 13:3). But through our love for God and one another, we can be confident that Jesus is living through us. “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).
Looking forward, we can see that time is short and if we are to live in Christ, we must prepare for the future. We must pray more fervently, we must struggle harder, we must send up more supplications for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us that we may fulfill the plan that God has for each of our lives. Most of all, we must ask the God of Heaven to fill us with His love that we may have a change of heart.
The beginning of a life in Christ demands love and not strife. It requires sacrifice and not slothfulness, and that love will produce the perfect character that will fit us for Heaven. Let us come boldly before the throne of God with hearts filled with love for perishing souls. Let us work tenderly, recognizing that we are no better than the worst person in this world. If we love God, we will love them, too, and try to reach those within our sphere of influence.
Remember, on the cross of Calvary Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). We were once one of those people mired in sin without hope until Someone who loved us lifted us up. Let us give the gift of love that was given to us back to others.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Michael C. Wells lives in Wichita, Kansas, and is director of Anointing Oil Ministries.