Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:1-5 (ESV)
God’s commandments aren’t burdensome? Really? Who among us can claim to have kept God’s commandments for any length of time?
If we try to go through life keeping score and attempting to will ourselves “good” by adhering to a harsh legalistic interpretation of God’s law, we are setting ourselves up to fail. The apostle Paul teaches us:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
Faith itself is a gift of God. There is nothing to brag about unless one is bragging about Jesus.
The things we do, or the length to which we succeed in obeying God, is in response to our faith, which is in and of itself a gift. The glory all belongs to God, because we are not capable of love or goodness apart from Him. John Calvin (a theologian who was a part of the Reformation around the same time as Martin Luther) proposed the total depravity of man, which is to say that apart from God humanity is 100% corrupt, self serving and downright evil. Roman Catholics refer to this concept in a similar way, calling this condition original sin, which is the concept that we humans all inherit the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden.
Jesus died on the Cross as our substitute for all the sins of humanity for all time, because the penalty for sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Even though we trust Jesus for our salvation because He became our substitute, as long as we live in these bodies on this earth, we live the paradox of being saints and sinners at the same time. God in us prompts us to respond to His love, but the old Adam has to be drowned (as we remember our Baptism and confess our sins) on a daily basis.
If we try to love and do good deeds as if those are items on a checklist, we will fail horribly. Yet if we focus on loving God, the fruits of repentance will follow. A wise Pastor once taught that if a person truly loves God, he or she can do whatever he or she wants, because his or her desires will be God’s desires. As Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy (meaning God’s) kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The apostle Paul also teaches us:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
It won’t necessarily become easy to love the unlovable. Diapers will still stink. Drudgery will still cause our bodies and minds to be weary. But as we grow in our faith, and we trust that Jesus gives us our daily bread, we experience joy beyond the drudgery, and we know love in serving others, which is love we share in serving God. We have the hope of the kingdom to come where sorrow and pain and tears will be no more. (Revelation 21:4)
It has been said that nothing easy is worth doing. Yet it is God behind the action, God granting us the faith and the resolve to love the unlovable, and to endure hardship for the sake of another. We cannot love or serve others apart from God’s love.
This world can be painful, difficult and hard to endure. But in Jesus we have hope. Because He loved us first, we are free to love others and find joy in that service.