By Hal Knight
In the last two months we have looked at faith and hope as two of the marks of a transformed heart. Now we come to the most important mark of all: love.
John Wesley fully embraces the words of the apostle Paul who said of the Christian life “now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13, NRSV) For Wesley, to be renewed in love was the whole point of salvation. It is what salvation is.
We were created in God’s image, and God is love. Wesley believed the goal of salvation is to restore us to that image, so that we love as God loves.
Christ came that we might receive this new life as a gift. This restoration is a work of the Holy Spirit in us, and begins when our hearts are initially renewed. We then grow in love until it fills and governs our hearts. Charles Wesley gives expression to this yearning for a renewed heart in this way:
O for a heart to praise my God,
a heart from sin set free,
a heart that always feels thy blood
so freely shed for me.
A heart in every thought renewed
and full of love divine, perfect
and right and pure and good,
a copy, Lord, of thine.
- UM Hymnal, 417
John Wesley notes that the “necessary fruit of this love of God is love of our neighbor, of every soul God hath made, not excepting enemies...(The Marks of the New Birth, III.3)
Not only does Jesus tell us to love others as well love ourselves, but to love others as we have been loved by Jesus. Jesus has loved us to the uttermost, even unto death on a cross.
To love God and our neighbor are what Jesus identified as the two greatest commandments. Sometimes we think that we can never love in this way.
Maybe it is just an unattainable idea, or maybe it means we should just try harder. But this is to miss the point that this new life of love is a gift. The key is not effort but receptivity to what God offers us.
What happens when our hearts are renewed in love? Love begins to be the motivation for our action and the well-springs of our desires. It becomes the disposition of our hearts. This means that our loving God and others does not depend upon our always feeling loving. We may feel love from time to, but we can always be a loving person.
So how do we receive and grow in this new life of love? We do it through experiencing God’s love for us in Christ. That occurs through means of grace: reading scripture, praying, worshipping together, receiving the Lord’s Supper, and caring for others. As we do these things with open and receptive hearts, the Holy Spirit continues to renew us in love, and then more and more our lives reflect God’s love into the world.