As a pastor, one of the most challenging and risky conversations I ever have is on the subject of true love. Now, you probably think I mean something I do not intend here with this phrase. I am referring to true or genuine or real love for Christ. Nearly every person I have met in East Texas has claimed to love God or love Christ, but we can all be sure that not everyone in East Texas actually possesses the love they might claim. “How can we be sure?” you might ask. Well, because true love for Christ has a real and meaningful affect on a person.
I bump into people all the time who are perfectly at ease with their lazy and non-transformative relationship with God. “I love Jesus,” they will claim, but it is rare that I meet someone who lives a life that matches the statement.
While each encounter is a little different, the conversation usually goes something like this:
Anonymous: You are a pastor? Well, God is a big part of my life.
Me: Oh? How so?
Anonymous: I’ve gone to church, and I pray… And I’ve read the Bible before. There was even a time in my life when God really helped me out of this tough situation.
Me: I see. So, are you connected with a church family now?
Anonymous: Well… I used to go to [insert obscure church or megachurch name], and we’re looking for a church. But, a person doesn’t have to go to church to get to heaven, and I try to be a pretty good person.
Me: Ok. How do you think you are doing with that?
Anonymous: With what?
Me: Being a good person.
Anonymous: Oh, I think I am doing pretty well.
Me: Would you mind if I tell you what the Bible says about being a good person, and would you mind if we see how God might measure how well you are doing?
Anonymous: (awkwardly smiling, and trying to think of a way to end this conversation) Ok.
Me: Are you familiar with God’s commandments or “the 10 commandments?”
Me: Can you name some of them?
Anonymous: Don’t lie, uh… don’t steal, uh…
Me: Yes, you’ve got it! So, have you ever told a lie? Even a small one?
Anonymous: Yes, but I was younger then, and everybody has told at least one lie.
Me: What do you call someone who lies?
Anonymous: (blank stare) …a sinner?
Me: Don’t you call a person who lies a “liar?”
Anonymous: Oh, yes… a liar.
Me: Have you ever taken anything that does not belong to you? Stolen something? Even something small?
Anonymous: Yes, but that was when I was a kid.
Me: What do you call someone who steals?
Anonymous: A theif.
Me: That’s right. And another of God’s commands is that we should not commit adultery, but Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5 that even to look upon another person with lustful thoughts is to commit adultery in your heart. Have you ever done that?
Anonymous: Sure… Who hasn’t?
Me: So, you admit that you have broken God’s law on at least three points. God says He is a perfect judge who will let no sin go unpunished. If God were to judge you right now, would He say you are innocent or guilty?
Anonymous: Guilty… But I’ve been forgiven! Jesus forgives!
Me: Yes, you are right! But, does Jesus forgive everyone? I mean, does everyone go to heaven?
Me: What is the difference between those who go to heaven and those who do not?
Anonymous: You go to heaven if you try to do good, and you don’t if you’re bad.
Me: But, doesn’t that get us back to where we started? I mean, you already admitted that you are not actually good. You are, in fact, guilty and liable to the judgment of God.
Anonymous: But God is forgiving… I am forgiven.
Me: I believe you are right to appeal to God’s forgiveness, but I also think you are leaving something very important out. How does a guilty person receive this forgiveness you mentioned?
Anonymous: You have to believe in Jesus?
Me: Yes, but what does that mean?
Anonymous: (questioning look and long silence)
Me: The Bible says that Jesus was born perfect, and that He lived a perfectly good life (unlike you and me). And, when Jesus died on the cross, the Bible says that He was counted guilty and bad, even though He was actually perfect and good, so that people (like you and me) who are actually guilty and bad could be counted as though we are perfect and good. You see, Jesus exchanges His perfect goodness for the guilt of all those who love and trust Him.
Anonymous: Yes, I do trust and love Him!
Me: What if I told you that I love my wife, but I also told you that I never listened to a word she said, never cared to know anything about what she values, and never spent any time with her?
Anonymous: I’d say you were a bad husband.
Me: And you’d be right! You would say I am a bad husband, because my statement “I love my wife” would be disproved by my actions, wouldn’t it?
Me: So, when you say, “I love Jesus,” but you also tell me that you don’t read the Bible (God’s Word), you don’t know much of anything about what Jesus says is important, and you don’t make any effort to spend time with the local “body of Christ” (the Church), how can I say anything else but that you have just disproved your statement of love for Christ? Please consider the seriousness of the subject, and honestly assess where you really are today.
No one has ever been in right relationship with God by simply saying they are. In fact, Jesus warns that such presumptuous thinking is fatally dangerous (Matt. 7:23). Nevertheless, many seem to be quite comfortable with their belief that a mere “profession of faith” will save them from God’s wrath.
Make no mistake. Jesus said that the mark of a true disciple of His would be true love for Him, in the form of obedience to His teaching (John 14:15). If there is not evidence of true love in your life, then you should not try to fool yourself into believing that everything is just fine.
Just as a man would leave the comfort of his bed in order to escape his burning house, so we should consider the safety of our current situation. Only a fool would deny the obvious in order to keep his temporary comfort.