People who are resolved to do something bad have two basic options. They will just sin boldly or they will try to redefine evil as “good.” Most run-of-the-mill sinners opt for the latter. We clear our consciences by all sorts of imaginative and self-serving justifications. Robin Hood may be a thief, but he is a “good” thief because he robs the rich and he gives to the poor. Millions today follow this path and pilfer from the office or cheat on their taxes, all in a “good” cause. For instance, a married man, a church elder, who was discovered in an adulterous affair with a co-worker, was challenged about the contradiction between his conduct and his faith, and protested, “But we do have Bible study together!” Most excuses for more-mundane misdemeanors are far less breathtaking but no less self-justifying and self-deceived. We are by nature quite adept at dressing up our sins in the borrowed rags of bogus righteousness. We may do wrong, but we like to think we are really doing right.
The Love We Must Let Go
David’s love for his son Absalom provides a particularly instructive instance of this tendency. Absalom had a sister, Tamar, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon. David was angry but did nothing (2 Sam. 13:21). In the face of this injustice, Absalom patiently planned revenge for two years, took the law into his own hands, and duly dispatched the wretched Amnon. Once again, David balked at punishing a criminal son. Absalom fled to Geshur, but after three years, David pined to see him. His “love” dictated that it was good to spare his sons any accountability before God’s law. David allowed this unhallowed love to compromise his love for his Father-God.
Parents should love their children. But a love that subverts justice, and excuses and covers up wickedness, is a blinkered love that will not deal with God and His truth. It is a “love” exercised without reference to God’s love. That is the issue here with David. He had sidelined God long before, when he had “loved” Bathsheba and contrived the death of her husband to cover the resultant pregnancy. Now, he was doing it again with a different cast of characters, but with similarly dismal results. He loved Absalom inordinately and sinfully because he decided to “love” his son above all that was holy. Thousands would die in the civil war that had its genesis in this sad lapse.
The Love We Must Live Out
If love is considered as a thing in itself—a moral quality in abstraction from God—it is bound to be a mancentered attachment that can all too easily descend to little more than self-serving obsession. Many modern parents follow David and “love” their children, right or wrong. They explain away the wickedness of their own kith and kin, and refuse to call them to account. This can indeed be passionately sincere, but it is the kind of “love” we must let go, for it is a parody of that love of God which moves and molds the heart and life of one who truly loves God. We all need to bring our love for our own under the parameters of “the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
The 1970 movie Love Story declared “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” but God never drives such a wedge between His love and His commandments. Jesus expressly says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Paul shows that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Loving God means loving and doing the truth. When we sin, love means “having to say you’re sorry” and much more. It calls for repentance—a complete turnaround to a new, persevering, and loving discipleship to the Lord that brings “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). This is the love we must live out every day.
The Love That Will Not Let Us Go
Christ did not love us so we could play favorites. When Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26), He did not mean for us to hate anybody. He was highlighting dramatically the import of what it must mean to love Him and give Him the pre-eminence (Col. 1:18). A living faith is a loving faith. “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us,” says John. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). And a loving faith is a transforming faith and a confirmed faith, for “whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:5). It is a love that will not let us go.
Why? Believers have been told God’s answer: He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). How will we be enabled to let go of false “loves” and to live consistently the “perfect love” that “casts out fear”? Only and fully through our blessed Savior, Jesus, who died to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), and whom we love “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:18–19).
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee:
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
(George Matheson, 1842–1906)