The Futility of Pelagian Love (1 Peter 1:22–2:3)

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“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” —1 Peter 1:22

This is no simple command. Love is given lip-service world-round. Nearly anyone can sing, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.” Most nod the noggin to “All You Need Is Love.” Those songs are classics. They are hits. I enjoy them, but let the listener understand. That such songs are so popular while malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and envy flourish, speaks louder than any lip service given to “love, love, love.”

That pure and simple love would bring world peace, is a Pelagian lie. Pelagius was that heretic who opposed Augustine saying that man wasn’t born fatally depraved, but righteous, and thus could will to live righteously of himself. Man cannot simply fix the world by choosing to love. Man, left to himself, hates the One who is love. All this talk of love is both a dim reflection of the Creator in whose image we are made and a mask for covering our hatred of him.

But how many churches have the same vain focus on love? They might speak of Jesus’ death as love, but the emphasis is on the sacrifice of Christ as an example for us to follow. If we are to love, we need something to stand on, and too often the church, like the world, is attempting to build a castle in the air. There’s no foundation. Try to build love on this world that is fading, this world of sand, and you’ll find it’s too weak to support something as massive as love. You cannot build love on hatred.

All the world’s talk of love is in the imperative. It is a command. It’s sheer law. But we first need a declaration—a transforming declaration. Before we are told to love, we must be told that we are loved. We need a love that transforms us.

Peter’s command to love is buried in this sentence. It’s buried deep in gospel truth. Peter gives reasons why we are to love. Not reasons that lie out in front like “love is good,” but reasons that lie behind pushing love forward and out. Peter tells us not simply that we should love, but establishes why it is that we can love. From one angle we might say that the command to love is buried in this sentence, from another, we can say that Peter lays a foundation for the command to rest on, v. 22.

The Exegetical Systematician: Doctrine is for Doing

Some of the greatest pronouncements of Scripture respecting God and his work of redeeming grace are introduced in order to enforce practical exhortation. Paul, for example, is urging the necessity of unselfish consideration for others, that each one should not look on his own things but every one also on the things of others. It is to enforce this duty that he says: ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men’ (Phil. 2:5–7). Again, when urging upon the church at Corinth the grace of Christian liberality, he says: ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich’ (2 Cor. 8:9). It was not the practice of the apostle only; the same feature appears in the teaching of the Saviour himself. It is when he urged upon his disciples the grand virtue of humility and of readiness to serve rather than be served that he gave utterance to one of his most significant pronouncements: ‘For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). So it is in our text. When John says, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us’, he makes appeal to God’s greatest work in giving his own Son in order to drive home the practical virtue: ‘Beloved, let us love one another’ (I John 4:7).

This characteristic of Scripture reminds us that the profoundest truths respecting God and his work of redeeming grace bear directly upon the most elementary duties of the Christian vocation. Doctrine is indeed high. But Christian life is also; it is the life of a high and holy and heavenly calling. —John Murray, God’s Love and Our Life

The Apologist: Absolutely!

Here is a simple but profound rule: If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society is absolute. Society is left with one man or an elite filling the vacuum left by the loss of the Christian consensus which originally gave us form and freedom in northern Europe and in the West. —Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?

The Dogmatician: Dogmatics vs. Ethics

Dogmatics describes the deeds of God done for, to, and in human beings; ethics describes what renewed human beings now do on the basis of and in the strength of those divine deeds. In dogmatics human beings are passive; they receive and believe; in ethics they are themselves active agents. In dogmatics, the articles of the faith are treated; in ethics, the precepts of the decalogue. In the former, that which concerns faith is dealt with; in the latter, that which concerns love, obedience, and good works. Dogmatics sets forth what God is and does for human beings and causes them to know God as their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; ethics sets forth what human beings are and do for God now; how, with everything they are and have, with intellect and will and all their strength, they devote themselves to God out of gratitude and love. Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God; ethics is that of the service of God. The two disciplines, far from facing each other as two independent entities, together form a single system; they are related members of a single organism. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics