October 10, 2012

Love Isn't All You Need

In the summer of 1967—some 45 years ago, as I write—the Beatles first released a “single” recording of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s song “All You Need Is Love.”

Recently, and particularly in relationship to the 2012 political campaigns in the United States, more than one Christian thinker has opined about how terrible it is that nonbelievers imagine Christians are all wrapped up in do’s and don’ts, instead of just saying how much we love everyone, just as God does. Like Lennon and McCartney, these folks imagine that “love is all you need.”

Writing on the Web site of the noted “theological” journal Esquire, Shane Claiborne, who advertises himself as an “evangelical Christian,” apologizes for all that judgmental stuff about sin, and adds, “I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, ‘I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.’ If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world . . . well, we should at least pray that it is.”

2012 1528 page6I fear Claiborne misses the point: it is not that God’s grace isn’t big enough to save this world—it’s that big and then some. The problem is that so many of us casually ignore that grace, and its subsequent demands.

I recall a story told by the late Curtis Hutson, longtime editor of The Sword of the Lord newspaper. Early in his preaching life Hutson also worked at a U.S. Post Office atop a hill. The building could be approached by one of several roads.

In those days, it seems, postal workers felt free to discuss spiritual topics with patrons, and one day Hutson was discussing the need for salvation with a woman at the counter. He was quite insistent that Jesus alone was the way to God.

“It seems to me that there’s more than one way to be saved,” the woman said. “It’s just like coming to this place: you can take the front road or the back road or one of the side roads.”

Hutson replied, “Well, the difference is that when you die, you don’t go to the post office.”

Now, Curtis Hutson and I would disagree on what precisely happens at death, but I like his underlying point. As the Bible says, “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

But it isn’t—it cannot be, if we are to believe the Gospels and the Epistles—just a simple act of receiving Jesus, not if you plan to live more than 30 seconds after that. As long as we draw breath, we are prone to sin, and we need to resist sin as best we can, with God’s help.

Philip Paul Bliss did not write, “Free from the law, O happy condition; sin as you please, for there is remission,” in the old gospel hymn. He knew that those saved by the blood of Christ were responsible for hewing to the narrow way. If Shane Claiborne believes the same—and I hope he does—he managed to omit that from his Esquire discourse.

By being one of those, as Ellen White once wrote, “who do not fear to call sin by its right name” (Education, p. 57), we will very likely offend someone’s sensibilities. Yet if any of those will but listen, and think, and then repent, a heaven of unspeakable joy awaits.

You won’t read that in Esquire, but you’ll find its fruits in the Lamb’s book of life. 

Mark A. Kellner is news editor for Adventist Review. This article was published October 11, 2012.