In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (NASB). What commandments? Just a while earlier, in John 13:34, he had said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Does that seem new? Jesus had earlier said that the greatest commandment of the law was to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. The second was like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34). With this new commandment, Jesus raised the standard. Moses had said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which for all practical purposes is imperfect love. Jesus loved perfectly.
So the commandments Jesus referenced in John 14:15 mean this dual commandment to love? Yes and no. Let’s not forget a commandment he frequently made to people he had healed: “go and sin no more.” It’s an important part of loving God, but too much of the church today neglects that one.
The old, judgmental church
Time was when preachers used to thunder against sin. Week after week, they would denounce sin from the pulpit. They would paint vivid pictures of the fiery fate that awaited sinners in the final judgment.
A certain man visited a church, and a member sitting next to him said it was a good thing he had heard the new preacher and not the old one.
“What was the matter with the old preacher?”
“He kept preaching that we were all a bunch of sinners, and we’d all go to hell when we died.”
“Isn’t that what this man just preached?”
“Well, yes, but he doesn’t want us to go there. The other one seemed to be looking forward to it.”
There, in a nutshell, is the problem with so much of the old preaching about sin. It could so easily be loveless. The preacher could so easily assume that the congregation wasn’t hearing and responding to the message, so he, totally righteous of course, had to confront them with their sin over and over and over.
Of course, not every preacher denounced the sins of the people in the congregation. A lot of them specialized in denouncing the sins of the church down the street. Protestants spewed out hatred of the Catholics. Catholics returned the favor. Whatever happened to Jesus commandment to love one another?
Perhaps everyone knows the title of colonial preacher Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The title seems to sum up what everyone nowadays finds wrong with the old style preaching. Actually, it’s a great sermon, full of wisdom that we would do well to revisit.
But there’s a caricature that is easily associated with the title. Unfortunately, a lot of preachers came perilously close in their sermons: God hates your sin. He’s really hopping mad. And if you don’t shape up and do as I, your saintly preacher, tell you, he’ll wipe out your livelihood, he’ll make you sick, he’ll kill your kids, and if you’re not careful, he’s likely to get you before dark!!
So where’s the love in all that? Where is the recognition that God is love? Where is the recognition that God’s love can draw people out of a life of sin—out of darkness into his glorious light?
The new, spineless church
Nowadays, we’re ecumenical. We don’t hate other churches. We’re just one big, happy family.
So far, so good. But the modern church also proclaims “the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.”
Or at least it used to until it decided that brotherhood and fatherhood were sexist terms that had to be emasculated. The whole concept of the absolute unity of the human race rejects Jesus’ own denunciation of contemporaries when he said, “You are of your father, the devil. . . He who is of God hears the words of God, [but] you are not of God” (John 8:44-47).
Too much of the modern church can’t hear that distinction. They denounce it as judgmental—as if judgment is always a bad thing. Because they deny the reality of hell and claim that everyone will be saved, they make no room for any concept of sin.
This new, spineless church recognizes that our congregations are riddled with what used to be called sin, but is too “loving” to denounce that behavior. They are like the Corinthian church that piously affirmed a church member who was sleeping with his step-mother (1 Corinthians 5). Paul pointed out that as a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough, tolerance of this man’s sin would infect the whole church.
Nowadays, anyone who confronts sin is shouted down as judgmental. Don’t criticize homosexuality. It hurts gay people’s feelings. Don’t denounce young people shacking up without getting married. Times have changed. Don’t denounce adultery. Some of the people who donate the most to the church are adulterers. It wouldn’t do to alienate them.
It’s not only sexual sin or drunkenness or the various old “biggies” that get a pass.
- We can’t preach about materialism. After all, not only would rich people be offended, but so would poor people who want to get rich.
- We can’t preach about gambling, because how else will poor people fulfill their dreams of riches without buying lottery tickets?
- We can’t preach about domestic violence, because some of our most dependable church leaders beat their wives.
- We can denounce corporate greed, but only if no one in the congregation is a corporate executive.
- We can’t even mention sin in general. After all, it’s negative, and people want to hear a positive message.
What happens when sin gets a pass from the church? Sinners become complacent and arrogant in their sin. They have no incentive to repent. And that’s precisely how they become sinners in the hand of an angry God! His wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness! But then whenever a sinner repents and turns to God in faith, and only then, God declares him righteous.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” “Go and sin no more” is one of them. Not keeping that commandment is a failure to love God with all one’s heart.
The church that no longer says, “Go and sin no more” has ceased to be Christ-like and has ceased to love Jesus.
So consider your ways. Invite God to search you and see if there is any sin in your life. (There is, by the way. If, as the scriptures say, all have sinned, then “all” includes you and me.) So whatever God points out to you, stop it. It will kill you.
And when I say, “Go and sin no more,” I want you to recognize the divine love behind that neglected commandment of Jesus.
Christ enthroned. Public domain
Hands of an angry God. Source unknown
Jesus separating the sheep from the goats. Source unknown