I stumbled across the grist for this mill just reading through Scripture. It has inspired a second and now this third post on the same general theme. I hope I am not boring you, gentle reader. My theme in these posts of course has been that there is a fundamental contradiction between what Jesus and the Apostles say about justification and the Protestant belief that one is saved by faith alone. In the first of the triad I considered the incongruity between how Jesus preached (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) and sola fide. In the second, I looked at what St. Peter said on Pentecost one must do in order to be saved (“Repent and be baptized”). In today’s episode we shall wander around in the Bible a tiny bit, considering the place of love in our salvation.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
The Lord Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are to love God above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He also affirms that these commandments don’t go out of style or otherwise get old: they are eternal (okay, he does not specifically refer to the Love Commands in the Sermon on the Mount, but they are both part of the Pentateuch and so they are surely in scope And if that’s not sufficient…well, see below). Now one question quickly comes to my mind. Is it possible to trust in God but not to love Him? I am going to go out on a limb and say that the answer is No way. I will also hazard a guess that the average Protestant agrees. I know, call me a risk-taker.
Digression: the notion of faith that is in view here differs from that which St. Thomas Aquinas has in mind when he says that one can have faith (by which he and Catholics normally mean an assent to everything revealed by God as true) but not charity (the gracious free gift of God by which we are empowered to love Him with a supernatural love). It is a dead faith, but it is faith nonetheless. What the Protestant typically means by faith is a different sense of the word — more in the sense of fiduciary faith or trust rather than assent — and this seems to me to be unquestionably incompatible with a lack of love for God: if you did not love Him, why on earth would you trust Him for anything? End of digression.
But my little rabbit trail there does serve to point to one thing that I believe is important: faith (in the Protestant or Catholic sense) is not the same thing as love. It is different. But we have just concluded that faith (Protestant sense) is incompatible with not loving God! We need both. But if we need both, then we clearly cannot possibly be saved by faith alone. Hence sola fide falls apart if we stop to ask whether we must love God or not in order to be saved.
There is more to be said, though.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. (John 14:21)
Will God save anyone that He does not love? Of course not (point of clarification: we are not speaking, of course, of the general sense in which God loves everything that He has made). But Jesus says here that the one who loves Him is the one who keeps His commandments, and that the consequence of that is that this man will be loved by the Father and by the Son. If this be true, then it is clear (to me at any rate) that loving God is not an optional thing; it’s not a “nice to have” tacked on at the end of our justification. No. It’s at the very heart of our salvation. But this too means that more than faith is necessary to be saved. So again we must conclude that sola fide cannot carry the load that is asked to shoulder.
Once again, there is still more to be said.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8)
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? (1 John 3:17)
It is not enough to say that we love God. We must also love our brother, because (as St. John says) it is impossible to really love God (whom we have never seen) if we don’t even love our neighbor (whom we have seen). And that love for our neighbor should be characterized by action, as St. John points out in 1 John 3:17.
So — once again we see that according to Sacred Scripture it is not enough to have faith in God. We must love Him, and we must love our neighbor.
These are sobering words for anyone. As with love for God, loving our neighbor is not a “nice-to-have” thing for someone else. I do not get to say that it is not for me. It is the heart of the Gospel. We must believe, and we must love. Lord God, forgive my lovelessness and teach me to love even as I have been loved by You.
[Update, 21 March 2016]
Another passage related to this same question:
[W]hoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3:35)
I become the brother of Jesus by doing God’s will, not merely by the exercise of faith.
Good essay, Fred. I’m glad to see that you’re staying active on your blog. I’m not, but I have been working on a re-write of “Mary’s Reversal,” which I plan on submitting to some on-line magazines. I did submit it to one called “Crisis Magazine” but they rejected it.
Thanks Father. :-) “Active” is a relative word when it comes to my blog writing but I have enjoyed writing these posts. I have one more on the same general theme coming tomorrow, and then we shall have to see how long it takes for inspiration to strike again.
I think it’s an excellent idea to submit your writing for publication. I don’t know how easy it is to get published on the Internet as compared to in a regular magazine or even a book, but I can imagine that it could be easier just because the costs of production are lower. I hope it works out.