Life + Culture

The Hopelessness and Hope of the Greatest Commandments

The Hopelessness and Hope of the Greatest Commandments

There are no commandments in the Bible more devastating than the two that Jesus said are the greatest:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37–-39)

If I ever thought I was a pretty good person, these commandments destroy that delusion.

Condemning Commandments

I have never once kept even the first clause of the foremost commandment: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” At the very best moments of my life, when my affections for God have been the highest and my devotion the strongest, my heart has been polluted with the indwelling sin of selfishness. And I am rarely at my highest and strongest.

When added to all my heart is all my soul (everything that animates my physical and emotional being) and all my mind (every thought and intellectual desire), I am thrice condemned. Heart, soul, and mind overlap to cover my entire self. I have never, ever loved God entirely.

And then, if one impossible command wasn’t enough, Jesus adds to Deuteronomy 6:5 the impossible command of Leviticus 19:18: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I have never once loved my neighbor as myself. The pathological selfishness resident in me makes loving even those I love the most impossible to love as myself. I have to repent daily for some way I sinfully put myself before around me.

When held to the standard of these commandments, I see that

“I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22–24)

A Hope Almost too Good to Be True

Who will deliver me from my wretchedness? The answer is almost too good to be true:

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

God himself saves me — and you — from the condemnation of the two greatest commandments that he himself commanded! For,

“God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3–4)

Jesus loved the Father with all his heart, all his soul, and all his mind on our behalf. And he loved us, his neighbors, even while we were still sinful enemies (Romans 5:8), as he loved himself — truly as he loved himself. He became sin for us that we might become his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). This made us no longer just neighbors, but actually part of himself — his body (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Outside of Christ, we are only wretched. The two greatest commandments reveal just how wretched we are. But in Christ, united to him, we are completely forgiven of our constant failure to keep them and his constant and perfect keeping of them is credited to us.

And one day, “when freed from sinning,” we too will have the joy of keeping them constantly and perfectly just as Christ does. One day we will know the thrill of loving God with our entire being and the delightful, pure freedom of loving others as ourselves.


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