Contrasting Love and Sin
Through examining the contrasts between sin and love, we can gain more insight into the characteristics of both: Sin is the opposite of love. What sin is, love is not; and, what love is, sin is not. A sin nature is the opposite of a love nature. An act of sin toward someone is the opposite of an act of love.
In First Corinthians, Paul gives us this classic essay on love: “If I speak with tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Righteous acts do not always meet God’s approval. Righteous acts, by themselves, might meet the requirements of the letter of the law, but only righteous acts motivated by love convey and satisfy the spirit of the law. Righteous acts devoid of love is “fruit for death” (Romans 7:5). When a believer acts out of love working through righteousness the believer is living in Christ and Christ is living His life in and through the believer, and believer bears “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4).
Peter tells us that, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), and Proverbs gives us a similar teaching, that “love covers all transgressions” (Proverbs 10:12). Nowhere in Scripture is such miraculous power attributed to righteous acts performed independent of love. Every loving act is a righteous act, but not every righteous act is a loving act. True righteous behavior is rooted in love. When love works through righteousness the result is “wholehearted obedience” (Romans 6:17, NIV).
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul mentions several characteristics of love–all of which are opposite of sin. He ends his essay on love with this benediction: “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Romans 8 begins with the theme of love, expands upon the theme of love, and concludes with the theme of love: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
The Whole-Hearted Christian Functions in Love
The believer’s relationship with God is absolute, unchangeable, and irreversible. However, he is still quite capable, conditionally and functionally, of having sinful motives and committing sinful acts.
Consistent sinful thoughts, feelings, desires, and intentions indicate a divided heart. This condition interrupts fellowship between the believer and God, and grieves and quenches His indwelling Spirit; but it cannot separate the believer from relationship with God. There’s a Biblical analogy of this: The prodigal son continued to be the son of his father, even when he was out of fellowship with his father. Nothing can separate a believer from God.
Love unites the heart
Now, when the Christian “puts on love” (Colossians 3:14)–that is, has a “change of heart” and chooses to love–he experiences the dynamic of a united soul and spirit, and fellowship with the indwelling Spirit of Christ. He will have loving thoughts, loving feelings, and loving desires and intentions. I suspect Paul had this in mind when he wrote of “hearts … knit together in love” (Colossians 2:2).
The Whole-Hearted Christian Walks in Love
The believer whose spiritual heart functions in love expresses love through the conduct of the “outer man”: He “walks in love” (Ephesians 5:2). Love is at the heart, if you will, of all he says and does. People see in this believer a love for God, a love for others, and a genuine love for himself. It is a way of life, a way of living, a life-style. It is the ethical way in which this believer relates as a parent, a spouse, an employee, a neighbor, a friend, and even as a stranger.
James called this the “law of liberty” (James 1:25) and the “royal law” (James 2:8).
Paul reminds us that, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a [functional] yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). We are “standing firm” when we walk in love and in the Holy Spirit, practicing obedience to God from our hearts.
John is known as “the Apostle of love.” His first epistle contains a beautiful essay on the love of God and its manifestation in the heart and life of the Whole-Hearted Christian: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God…. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins…. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the [people of the] world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…” (excerpts from 1 John 4).
God desires that all of us walk in His love. But He neither demands nor expects us to live in sinless perfection. To do so is beyond mortal existence, even for the most spiritually mature. Jesus was, and will forever be, the only person who lived sinlessly and therefore in perfect love.
What I am about to tell you might sound like a paradox, though it is not: I have known new believers–even children–who lived wholeheartedly, and I have known pastors and other Christian leaders–some of renown–who lived halfheartedly.
Knowledge and longevity in the faith are not the determining factors of wholehearted living. Wholehearted living is to live out of a loving heart. And a loving heart fulfills the Greatest Commandments spoken of by Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30,31).
Loving Jesus is knowing Him experientially as Savior, Lord, and life. It is living our lives in Him, as He lives His life in us and through us. This is wholehearted living.
Loving Jesus and loving others as ourselves involves much more than our feelings. Our feelings are born in our emotion, which is but one faculty of our soul (along with the faculties of emotion and will), and the soul is but one of two chamber-parts in our spiritual heart. Love demands more than our emotion: It demands all of us–a whole heart, in which godly love is dynamic within a united soul and spirit that function in harmony with the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
As simplistic as it might sound, a whole heart is a loving heart, and a divided heart is a sinning heart. Positionally and relationally, we are “in love” because we are “in Christ.” Ontologically, love characterizes the ethical nature of new self. In our mortal condition we can love, but we cannot love perfectly all the time. However, God is perfecting us in love through progressive sanctification–the conformation of our heart’s condition and functioning to the loving likeness of Christ. And His wonderful work in us will be consummated in complete perfection when Christ returns for His Church and we are transformed into glory.
And, at that nearing time, sin will no longer be a factor in our lives. For, in our glorified state, Christ’s absolute love will be perfected in its fullness in us and through us. And where there is absolute love, there is absolutely no sin.
Part 2 of 2. Frank Allnutt was formerly the Director of CrossLife Books. This article is condensed from the copyrighted book, The Ways of the Heart, by Frank Allnutt, the second of two Advanced Studies. Used with permission. The first Advanced Study is titled The Christian”s New Heart. More information on these and other books by Frank are available on his website: frankallnutt.com.