Now we come to the point of all this talk. To live a life of love, one must first live in freedom. To live in freedom, one must live in spirit, not in flesh. This next verse which, to use an old fashioned expression, is the chief end of man:
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.
And who is this God whom am I imitating?
For the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17
How often we see Spirit and freedom flowing together. The ultimate goal of the heart and spirit is to live a life of love. But love can only express itself through freedom. It should not be surprising then to discover that love is the ultimate antagonist to the flesh. Love is always bursting, always looking for ways to lavishly express itself in kindness. The flesh is always hoarding, always worried about itself, always selfish and lazy. Love resists the flesh, and the flesh resists love. Love requires selflessness; love requires courage and discipline. Love forsakes it’s own good for the good of another. As the ancient poet has said:
Love isn’t the work of the tender and the gentle. Love is the work of wrestlers.
Love is like a lawsuit,
To suffer harsh treatment is the evidence.
The Bible says that our highest aim, our chief end, is to love. But a different approach is needed than the form of love practiced commonly. Love is not the weak and beggarly principle we find in operation roundabout, a feeling which functions only when properly reciprocated. Love is for the fierce, the heroic; a primal force actively erasing the effects of evil, liberating the encumbered, restoring the broken, and destroying the works of the devil. That is why the Bible says:
The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil
1 John 3:8
Love is the work of wrestlers. Love is an aggressive, violent force that tears down the strongholds which evil has built. Love is bursting, always looking for a voice. As the ancient poet said:
With love your inner voice will find a tongue
And when love is truly expressed, it destroys the works of evil, just as light erases darkness. When you boil life down to these terms, strength verses weakness, or flesh verses spirit, it’s not surprising to find out that there really is no such thing as morality. There’s no such thing as an inherently good deed. There’s only a loving deed. As the Apostle Paul declares:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
This is also why Jesus rebuked the pharisees of his day, because they only practiced the outward good deed and cared nothing for living lives of love for their fellow man:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
There indeed is no such thing as morality. Morality is an abstract concept that shows us how to appear acceptable in the eyes of the world. But it doesn’t make us acceptable to God. Morality leads only to sin management. Love leads to sanctification. Love is spiritual. It is not an act of the flesh and it cannot be produced by the flesh. How could it be? Love is selfless; the flesh is self-seeking. Love is long-suffering and kind. The flesh is lazy and resigned. The flesh operates out of insecurity and fear. Perfect love casts out fear. Jesus said this:
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you.
How seldom do we see such a love in operation. Instead, we find ourselves ambling down the broad road of only loving those who love us back. How easily we take offense at those who slander us, who use us, think ill of us and harm us. We guard and insulate ourselves among those we love, who love us in return. But this is not the narrow road of true love.
Love is a spiritual force. Love cannot come from the flesh. That is why Romans 8 draws such a sharp distinction when it says that Those in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. The reason why we see such little love and power from God in our lives is because we’re live most of our lives in the realm of the flesh. We hold too dear the things of this world, we hold our own good and happiness as paramount over others, and we haven’t the courage to find contentment in only our daily bread. We cannot experience the love of God when we live according to the dictates of society. The Apostle James asks a very bleak question to the Christians of his day:
Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God?
That is why we need love. We don’t need morality or more good deeds. We need a force that transforms us into fighters, those who do the difficult and forsake the broad road before us, who care little for finding that elusive happiness promised by society, but carry within us a longing to become better men and women than we have thus far been. Love teaches us to be bold and courageous, to seek simplicity and need less for ourselves, to take risks, and ultimately, to live in freedom. Love impels us to become people who effect genuine blessing into the lives of those around us.
And it’s not just one type of love which inspires us this way. CS Lewis wrote a powerful book called The Four Loves. In it, he describes how the Greeks had not one word for love, but four. And each was distinct. Storge is an affectionate love, as you would feel for your pet. Phileo is brotherly love. Eros is romantic love. And Agape is unconditional love.
The human spirit thrives on and longs for romantic love. That’s why the human race is ever producing poetry, stories and love songs of loves that last forever, of people who fight for one another and live with courage and selflessness. Romantic love ought to awaken us to a new reality, as I talked about in a former essay. It ought to convince our hearts that selflessness, discipline and courage are better than seeking my own wants, needs, and pleasures. But sadly, romance is often fleshly. Consider this solemn declaration from Solomon:
I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains.
More bitter than death. A sad statement. Romantic love was created to enliven the human spirit, to break it free from the mire of the flesh and come into freedom. Lust keeps us in chains to the flesh. Solomon said that this kind of bondage to the flesh is a life more bitter than death. He goes on to say:
Many are the victims she has brought down;
her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is a highway to the grave,
leading down to the chambers of death.
How tragic. But romantic love is not the only kind of love that feeds the human spirit. Agape love, which flows from the Holy Spirit is the chief goal of the Spirit dwelling within us. The love which flows from the Holy Spirit is gushing, and irrespective of persons. It isn’t based on performance, and it doesn’t increase or diminish based on our response to it. This is the kind of love the Holy Spirit uses to overcome the flesh. And it’s amazing to see how the human spirit within us works in tandem with the Holy Spirit.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
The Spirit testifies with our spirits, and by Him we cry out to God our Father. What a pairing. The Bible says that God is love. The love which flows from the Holy Spirit is agape love. It’s a gushing love, lavish and always ready to be shared. And we often miss it because we feel we ought to earn it before we can experience it, or we busy ourselves about many trifling things instead of seeking it, or because we doubt how good it really is and won’t accept it.