If a person sees that the Bible puts love above faith, this will get that person off several hangups:
- You will stop obsessing about whether you believe all the “right things”
- You will then stop trying to argue people into submission to your beliefs
- You will then take an actual interest in helping them, not just forcing them to submit
- You will look outward to love God and others, no longer obsessing over your own righteousness or sinfulness
- You will no longer view your spiritual growth as merely marked by “stuff I don’t do any more”
- You will see that the call to love is hard
- You will be humbled rather than puffed up with self-righteousness
The Reformers, the first people in Church History to put faith over love (not that all the rest had love first), became very academic. They put philosophy into their religion, which then caused them to philosophize about original sin and total depravity and other things the Bible doesn’t say.
As they made everything academic, faith became known as “agreeing with what we say.” Spiritual growth was about conforming to your group and avoiding your group’s pet-peeve sins.
This made for very angry people. Calvin burned Michael Servetus at the stake for not agreeing with his doctrine. The only way a guy could do that is if he put faith above love! (I believe this is also why the Roman Catholic Church torched people as well. Although they did not put faith over love, they put their church over love.)
Faith became an intellectual pursuit. We judge whether people are believers by whether they agree with my doctrine. God judges whether we love Him.
Luther once said, “Faith, therefore, is a certain obscure knowledge.” Augustine said, “To believe means simply to affirm in thought.” And, “The certitude of faith is a kind of beginning of knowledge.”
Faith is then academics. Faith is knowing the right stuff. The problem is that the “right stuff” is different depending on whom you ask! Bring in burning stakes and church splits!
When we put faith first, we will put “agreeing with me” as our standard. When we put love first, well, then how you love others shows whether you love God.
Which is easier:
- To feel smugly satisfied in your understanding of God, or
- To love your neighbor as yourself
The Reformers thought the Catholic Church eliminated faith by works (religious ritual), and they were right in revolting against that.
Unfortunately, their answer was to repeat “Faith! Faith! Faith!” By doing so, they wanted to eliminate works. Although a fine attempt, it leads into the other problem, known as antinomianism–I can do what I want because I believe.
Certainly Luther, Calvin, and Augustine never went to antinomianism, but that’s only because they were horribly inconsistent. They knew works had to be in there somewhere, but they couldn’t figure out where. So, they simply told people to do good works, without ever explaining why, other than to stay humble or a vague appeal to “God’s glory.”
James did a fine job explaining faith and works. So did Paul. If you stick with them, you see that good works always equal love. Love is always the root of faith, the stuff by which faith works.