Christians Known By Love, But Defined by Truth

“for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:24-25)

An internet meme asserts that Jesus said Christians will be known by their love, not by their doctrine. Even pastoral sermons can fall into this trap. Yes, trap.

The problem with this meme is two fold. One, it presents a false dichotomy, pitting love and truth against each other. The scriptures on Christian love are a vital part of sound doctrine. You don’t have sound doctrine if you don’t have sincere Christian love. Secondly, the idea that you can have true Christian love without sound doctrine is a lie based on cherry picking scriptures, taking them out of their context as our verse of the day does. Verses 22-23 read:

2Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love,  love one another earnestly from a pure heart,  since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

So after asserting we are to be holy (verse 15) and we are told the sincere love we are to be known by is a product (fruit) of being purified of sin through obedience to the truth. Christian love comes from a pure heart, of being born again through the imperishable seed of the Word. It is in that context we are reminded that, though our lives in the corrupt sinful fallen bodies of the present are like grass and fading, the word of the Lord remains forever.

Further this, according to Peter, is the very gospel itself, the good news that the apostles preached and that authentic Christianity still preaches to this day. Not love above truth at any cost, as some false teachers espouse, but rather love born of truth and eternal life itself from being born again of the truth, by faith, through God’s grace at work in us, not of our own efforts, lest any boast.

Christ our Lord said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” not “I am the Love.” Yes, we are known by our love, but we are defined by the truth. Our love binds us to Christ and one another, and it is certain that we don’t even know what love is until we stand at the foot of his cross where God’s love sent his son to die for traitors. But it is the truth that sets us free from the bondage of sin, which is what divides us and creates bitterness, anger, malice, confusion, selfishness, and all manner of unloving behavior. It is equally crucial to have true doctrine and sincere love for God and one another. Truth and Love are conjoined twins. Damage to the one inevitably impacts the other.

The most grave damage from divorcing love from truth is that, to be consistent, one must claim the Apostles who wrote the bulk of the New Testament, and preached “love one another,” were themselves judgmental hate mongers. In the pages of scripture, the apostles thrash Christian sects whose doctrine differs with their own, denouncing the adherents as heretics and the leaders as false teachers leading people astray from God. Paul encourages us to imitate him, even, and makes no exception for his combative defense of sound doctrine.

Per the world’s definition of love, we must conclude the apostles were wrong to judge the very salvation of those who disagreed with their doctrines. Instead of fighting with these “false teachers” and their followers, they should have done as we do and embraced them as saved fellow Christians who loved Christ as much as they did and simply had different views on scripture than the apostles.

Students of history will be aware the Church has long disobeyed the apostles’ doctrine and murdered each other over disputable matters. The definition of love in reaction to this evil, however, shows its own demonic origins by subtly standing in judgment against the very bible those taken captive by this lie claim their love and faith are based on. It is double-minded inconsistency to embrace the authority of the apostles to write scripture on one side of the mouth and on the other stand in judgment against those God appoints today as defenders of the faith and promoters of the spread of the apostles’ soul-saving doctrine.

Lord, give us wisdom to know your truth and discern the error that tugs on our ears and sounds so good. Give us a desire to grow in holiness and sound doctrine as well as the love and grace and forgiveness that spring up from maturing in the truth. Prick our hearts with conviction when we detach the flower of love from the vine of truth, for blooms detached from their roots quickly die and fade away, and branches that do not flower and bear fruit will be cut off and burned. Either way, keep us safe and growing in you. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.