To say that the law can only be fulfilled by Christ is to say that the law can only be fulfilled by love. Love is the point of the law. “All the law and the prophets” hang on this imperative to love (Matthew 22:40). Without love, the law comes unplugged from Christ. It stops functioning as a type and leaves me hopeless. When, instead of love, the law generates fear, anger, guilt, envy, and frustration, then the law is broken. A loveless law is a broken law. A loveless law is a law incapable of mercy or justice. A loveless law is an occasion for selfishness, pride, and hypocrisy.
Love is the key to life in Christ because love is itself a certain way of handling time. Love is a certain way of looking forward, a way of looking at the world, right now, as already redeemed. Love is a way of looking at this fragile world as already beset, on a global scale, by an early resurrection.
Love Is a Form of Dying
Full of love, I die while I’m still alive. I lose my life before I’m dead, and, then, in Christ, I find it. Love works just as Christ said: “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). Love is hard because it’s a kind of death.
To love, I have to be willing to die. I have to be willing to let go of my life and give myself to caring for the lives of others. And, then, to continually live in love, I have to be willing to die every day, every hour, in ways that are big and small, again and again. I yield on the freeway. I bite my tongue when I want to criticize. I put down what I’m doing and read to my kids. I stay up late and finish the dishes. I get up early and drive my daughter to seminary. I grade the next paper. I put on my running shoes. I exhale. I surrender my life. Crucified with Christ, I practice surrendering all day long until my days are filled with the rest of the Lord. I practice dying as a way of life. And I keep practicing until I find the kind of rest that comes only from living my life in the form of a thousand daily deaths.
►You’ll also like: Elder Robbins: How to Built a Love That Lasts Forever
Paul is uncompromising on this point. There are many spiritual gifts. And there are many laws that promise blessings. But, without love, they’re all empty. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). And the same is true with other gifts like prophecy, knowledge, and faith: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (v. 2). Even my good works, my obedience and self-sacrifice—even these are hollow without love: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (v. 3). Everything but love will fail. Everything but love, defying time in Christ, will pass away. Only “charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away” (v. 8).
Love Does Not Create Fear, Guilt, or Shame
The law is no different. The law is a gift. But the law, like all these other gifts, will also find an end in Christ. Love never will. Unlike love, the law is no lord or master. Take, for instance, the difference between guilt and responsibility. Apart from Christ—ungrounded in love, postponing resurrection—the law does pose as my master. Mastered by the law, I stand guilty before it. I’m judged and condemned. Guilty before the law, I’m cut off. I’m isolated in my weakness. I’m more alone, less connected, and even less able to love. Loveless, I’m nothing. But responsibility is different. Grounded in love, the law doesn’t condemn my weakness, it empowers me to be responsible for that weakness. Rooted in Christ, the law doesn’t isolate me from others, it binds me to them. It urges me to care for them. It helps me to be responsible to them. In Christ, the law holds me responsible by empowering me to respond to the hurt I’ve caused and the needs others have.
Love is a useful measure for distinguishing guilt from responsibility. Guilt is about me. It centers me on myself and weakens my power to care for myself and for other people. But responsibility faces the opposite direction. Responsibility is an act of love. It recognizes wrongdoing and repents of it. But rather than acting penitent out of fear or shame, it lets those self-centered feelings be crucified with Christ. Then, alive in Christ rather than in myself, I become capable of responding—even to my own weakness—with love.
But if I haven’t died, the law will remain my master. I’ll always feel guilty. I’ll always feel inadequate and ashamed. I’ll always be thinking about myself when I fail to meet the law’s measures, and worrying about myself will leave me feeling more alone. But if, in love, I’ve died early, then everything is different. When I inevitably fall short, I won’t feel guilty—“I” am already dead. Instead, resurrected in Christ, I’ll take responsibility. I’ll become capable of mercy and justice. I’ll take my weakness as another occasion to care for the lives that we share.