Any mildly aware evangelical recognizes that the spiritual and moral life of many churches is at a seriously low ebb. A growing body of evidence suggests that there is little difference between the moral conduct of evangelicals and the world.
In one survey, George Barna discovered that, in some regions of the Bible Belt, divorce is actually more rampant within evangelical churches than in society at large. This corresponds to the conclusions that Josh McDowell reached in his study of young people who are actively involved in evangelical churches. He discovered that within the previous three months:
• 66 percent had lied to their parents;
• 36 percent had cheated on exams;
• 55 percent had engaged in sexual activity;
• 20 percent had tried to hurt other people physically.
When the church and world are reading from the same script, it should not surprise us that they wind up looking very much alike.
What we are witnessing in both arenas is the triumph of antinomianism. “If you love me, you’ll let me” is the modern mantra of American morality. “Love” now means never making anyone feel sorry. It has become a license for every kind of lawless and perverse activity imaginable. Abortionists, adulterers, thieves, and liars of all stripes regularly justify their transgressions in the name of love.
Antinomianism regards love as a law to itself. As Joseph Fletcher put it in his influential book, Situation Ethics, “The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else.” In other words, love stands by itself, completely separate from any fixed standard of righteousness.
But God has linked love to law. Jesus summarized our moral responsibilities in terms of love. “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’ ” and “ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Mark 12:30, 31). He told us to love God comprehensively and to love people sincerely.
But just as the Scriptures summarize our duty in terms of love, they define love in terms of law. Jesus said, “ ‘If you love Me, you will keep My commandments’ ” (John 14:15, NASB). Love for Christ results in a life that is oriented toward obeying His commands.
The apostle Paul employs the very same reasoning when he teaches us how to love our neighbors. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8–10). Twice Paul says that love fulfills the law.
Thus, anyone who is serious about loving must be serious about God’s law. And those who do not have a proper regard for God’s law cannot effectively love.