Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul and with all your strength.
It is hard to live with contradictions. They gnaw at your soul, wearing you down until you either face them squarely, admit your hypocrisy, and change, or you silence your nagging conscience and become a cynical, beaten wreck of a human being.
Such was the crossroads I found myself at about fifteen years ago. I had a challenging and lucrative career as a consultant on the cutting edge of the computer graphics industry. I was respected as a Christian leader and Bible teacher. I had a wonderful, faithful, capable wife who home-schooled our four sweet daughters. We were living in one of the most beautiful places in the world, waking up every morning to the breathtaking panorama of Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps. I was miserable.
In my heart I wanted to serve the God of Heaven; in my soul I was fighting a losing battle with my flesh; with my strength I was building up the kingdoms of this world. I was doing the very thing the Apostle Paul said not to do, "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him."1 My life was a living contradiction. I could not obey the most basic commandment to love God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength.
Didn't I love Him with all my heart? I thought so. After all, I had given my life to Him the best I knew how. I prayed, studied the Bible, taught Sunday School, and paid my tithes. What is love for God anyway? That question always led me to John's gospel and letters, which gave me no comfort?
"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15)
"Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me?" (John 14:21)
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." (John 13:34)
By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
Lay down my life for my brothers? I couldn't honestly claim to be doing that in any practical way. See my brothers in need? I only saw them for a couple of hours on Sunday, wearing their Sunday best. I didn't even know where most of them lived, let alone how they lived. How would I know whether they needed anything? How could I love them just as Jesus had loved His disciples? And if I could not do that, then how could I obey His commandments? And if I did not obey His commandments, then according to the Scriptures I did not love Him with all my heart. I was living a lie:
Whoever says, "I know Him," but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)
As for my soul, well, there was no way to get all of it to do much of anything. The soul, I'm told, consists of the mind, the will, and the emotions. My mind was easy to get moving — in almost any direction. It took every bit of my will to keep my mind from plunging me into ruin, much less focusing my faculties consistently on godly things. And my emotions were rather reluctant to respond to anything with much passion, including the call to worship. Oh, I could sing hymns with the best of them, but whatever feelings they may have stirred up returned to their placid state moments after the last chord rumbled out of the organ. As much as my heart wanted my soul to be on fire for the Lord, it wouldn't cooperate.
Alas, here was the most formidable of obstacles to sainthood! What was I doing with the bulk of my energy, and the best years of my life? Making money to sustain my comfortable, upper-middle-class lifestyle by selling my skills to the highest bidder. At the time in question, that entailed developing software for financial analysts in private Swiss banks to better manage the fortunes of the richest men on earth. Where did their wealth come from? I dared not ask, nor would I have been told. But I did wonder. Druglords? Slumlords? Gangsters? Terrorists? Rock stars? Pimps? Whose kingdoms were getting the benefit of my strength? One thing was for sure: it wasn't God's kingdom.
So there I was, saved and going to heaven, or so I was told. Oh, I had said the "Sinner's Prayer" fourteen years earlier, and no one would have guessed that there was any doubt in my mind about my eternal destiny. But what part of me was saved? Was it just my heart that was saved? That was the only part that seemed to be oriented in the right direction. But if my soul and my strength couldn't follow my heart, what good was it? Or was the commandment in Deuteronomy 6:5 only for the Old Covenant, and now in the New Covenant it was ok to just ask Jesus into your heart and live your life much the same as other decent people who make no claim to be Christians?2
In the midst of my turmoil, I happened to stumble upon some disciples who were living a common life together just like you can read about in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37. It was almost as if I had entered a time warp and landed back in the first century. The simple purity and devotion of their life shed light on the contradictions of my life and made it all too clear what was missing. At this crossroad my life took a radically different direction, releasing me from the grip of this present evil age and freeing me to give my whole heart, soul, and strength to build God's kingdom.
I have written of how I came to this crossroad and what happened next in another article, which you can read on our web site.3 But now I would like to tell you what I have learned that eliminated the contradiction I had lived with for so many years.
The Apostle Paul seemed to have a more holistic view of salvation than most Christians have today, as this passage implies:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
Somehow it seemed important to Paul that the whole person — spirit, soul, and body (heart, soul, and strength) — would be completely devoted to God. In fact, the word translated sanctify4 in this verse means "to set apart from common or profane things and dedicate to God." And there is a related word that Paul used a few verses earlier:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification? for God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. (1 Thessalonians 4:3,7)
The word translated sanctification5 (and also holiness) in this passage means the effect of being set apart — the purification of heart and life. Therefore, sanctification (being made pure and blameless) can only happen as a result of being sanctified (set apart from the common and profane). Paul puts it together in his second letter to the Corinthians:
"Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them," says the Lord, "and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me," says the Lord Almighty. Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:17 - 7:1)
Obviously, to the Apostle Paul, salvation was not just a matter of saying the "Sinner's Prayer" and going to heaven when you die. The promise of being called God's sons and daughters was based on obedience to the call to come out of the fallen society and into the set-apart, undefiled place where He can father us — give us the care, protection, training, and discipline that children need to grow up right.6 Paul was actually calling the wayward Corinthians back to the foundation he had established them on — a community of disciples who lived a set-apart life together, just like the first community in Jerusalem.
That is the way Paul addressed his first letter to the Corinthians:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
He was writing to those who were "set apart in Christ" (not "by Christ" but "in Christ"). He meant in the Body of Christ, which to him was not an ethereal7 concept but the corporeal8 expression of the life of Christ in a particular place where all the saints9 call upon the same Lord. That is, they are all coordinated in all their actions under one head, just like a physical human body.10 That is how the church was first established in Jerusalem, setting a definitive pattern that was replicated through Judea. In fact, Paul makes explicit reference to his churches' adherence to the Judean pattern in his letter to the Thessalonians:
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews. (1 Thessalonians 2:14)
It was the radical, set-apart, holy life that they shared together that brought the persecution upon the Thessalonian church, just as it had upon the churches in Judea, because it exposed the shallow, self-centered, idolatrous lifestyle of the fallen culture they had come out of. They upset the social order of their day,11 just as their Master had said would be the effect of the gospel:12
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)
And that brings us to the crux of the matter. The gospel Paul preached was the same as the gospel he obeyed — one that caused him to suffer the loss of all things,13 turning his back forever on his former life and occupation to be immersed into Messiah's Body. It was the same gospel as Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, which caused the 3000 to utterly abandon their old lives and band together, sharing all things in common out of their love for one another. And it was the same gospel that the Savior Himself preached, calling the original twelve disciples to leave everything in order to follow Him, creating an intimate brotherhood in which they experienced salvation night and day.
All these disciples had died the same death to their old lives,14 giving up everything in obedience to the gospel15 (the very thing the "rich young ruler" would not do16). They all had to leave one place and go to another17 where they could lay down their lives for one another every day,18 loving one another just as their Savior had loved them. This is the gospel that creates community, because it actually calls and delivers people out of the domain of darkness where they live by and for themselves, and into the kingdom of the Son,19 the commonwealth of Israel,20 where they can serve Him where He is.21
Wherever the Spirit and the Bride are, they say, "Come!"22 Come to the place where Messiah lives in His people, where all who believe are together and have all things in common.23 There everyone is cared for through the miracle of self-sacrificing love. No one needs to be concerned about meeting his own needs,24 because he has a hundred brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers, just as the Master promised,25 who look out for him while he is busy looking out for them. Each one is free to use his gifts and the grace supplied to him to do the works he was saved to do26 for the purpose of building up the Body of Messiah,27 not his own kingdom or the kingdoms of this world. And in the process, each one is purified through the difficulties and circumstance of their life together, as their hurtful ways are exposed and healed in the safe environment of love.
Only there is it possible to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.