The Gospel as Love of God and Neighbor
We have spent quite a bit of time considering statements by Jesus, Paul, and James and discussing the question, “If these men were operating from a proto-Reformed paradigm, would they have said that ?” My argument has been that while the passages we have looked at may be able to be forced into a Reformed rubric, they would not have arisen from one.
The next question that naturally arises in this enquiry is, “If a Reformed paradigm wouldn’t have given rise to these various New Testament teachings, what kind of paradigm would have?” In other words, what sort of basic gospel rubric is most likely to have occasioned the statements of Jesus, Paul, and James that we have been considering?
My thesis for this next stage in our discussion is that the gospel paradigm from which the NT figures were operating (at least with respect to how redemption is applied to us) went something like this: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension inaugurated the New Covenant through which the Holy Spirit was given to God’s people, thereby enabling us to exhibit the love of God and neighbor that fulfills the law and graciously results in our eternal inheritance in the age to come.
Jesus hinted at the redemptive-historical shift ushered in by his own presence when he told the Samaritan woman in John 4 that “the hour is coming, and is now here,” that worship will be a heavenly and Spiritual exercise rather than a mere earthly and geographically-specific one. Another sneak peek into this matter is given in Mark’s gospel:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (12:28-34).
What I find interesting here is what Mark includes but the other synoptics omit: the exchange between Jesus and the scribe once his question was answered. The latter clearly understood that the Mosaic law was not an end in itself, but was rather eclipsed in eternal significance by love of God and neighbor.
Moreover, Jesus’ response to the scribe’s wisdom and understanding — “You are not far from the kingdom of God” — indicates that this “new command” was not issued in a merely pedagogical, first-use-of-the-law manner intended only to demonstrate man’s sinful inability to obey it, for if it had been, we would surely have expected the exchange to have had a different feel to it. Indeed, I would argue that the reason Jesus encouraged this scribe by highlighting his nearness to the kingdom was that, like with the Samaritan woman, the hour was coming (and was already beginning to dawn) when the source of that agape would be poured out upon the people of God and infused into their hearts (Gal. 4:1-6; Rom. 5:5).
For the remainder of this series, then, my case will be that Paul, Peter, James, and John pick up on this basic idea and unpack it, showing that Spirit-wrought love of God and neighbor graciously issuing forth in the consummation of our union with Christ in the age to come is nothing less than the New Covenant gospel itself.