1) Religion is about what you know. Love is about what you do.
2) Religion is reasonable and it doesn’t cost much. Love is full of interruptions and it’s costly.
3) Religion is about justifying oneself. Love is demonstrated by showing mercy to another.
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
This expert in the law knew the right answer. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted to justify HIMSELF. For the expert in the law, religion was a way of serving himself so that at the end of the day, he could sleep at night knowing that he was a good, moral person on his own effort. Let me narrowly define who my neighbor is so that I can check it off my spiritual To Do list. At the core, religion is self-focused.
In contrast, love is not self-focused, but it is focused on the needs of the other. At the end of the parable, Jesus turns the table again and asks the expert in the law, in v36 —
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
It’s interesting that in a parable about a Good Samaritan who acts out love for a neighbor, the answer that this expert gives to describe the actions of the Good Samaritan is to say, he was a neighbor BECAUSE why? He was a neighbor because he showed mercy. This expert in the law recognized that what this Good Samaritan did was not humanly possible. It is outside the boundaries of man-made religion. He is onto something. This is not just love according to our normal categories of love. In Matthew 5:43-47, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, speaks about love for one’s enemies. He notes several notions of love that fall below the biblical definition of love. He says, if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? If you greet only your brothers, whom you like and who like you in return, can we call that love? Even pagans can love in this way. That’s well within human ability. Loving those close to us doesn’t require any self-denial or dying to self. It comes naturally. However, love described in the Good Samaritan parable is another thing altogether.
The Good Samaritan had nothing to do with this half dead man. So instead of calling it love, he says, this is an example of mercy. This leads to my final point.
4) Religion is man-made. Love, on the other hand, is Spirit-generated or divine in origin.
Religion is man-made. Therefore it is within my human ability and my efforts. And because religion is man-made, it cannot save you. In fact, sadly, religion is often one of the greatest obstacles to a genuine encounter with Christ leading to salvation. Consider the Jewish religious leaders and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
To answer the question, who was a neighbor, who showed genuine love, Jesus shares about a Good Samaritan. And of course, we know that this Good Samaritan is a type, a picture of Jesus Christ. We were that person, half dead on the side of the road. We were bleeding and dying. We were sinners. We deserved to be left alone. We deserved to die because we were the ones who rejected God and wanted to live for ourselves. If someone didn’t intervene, we would have perished. But this is the gospel. Though we should have perished in our sins, Jesus looked at us, had pity on us. He left his glory in heaven and he came to where we were in order to die on a cross to show us mercy.
And as ones who have experienced this mercy of God, we call this salvation. And because spiritual life has been breathed into us, we have the Spirit-generated ability to love and show mercy to others.
1 John 4
10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
This is love, not that we loved God. Love is not defined by what we can give to God. Love is not man-made. Love is not self-generated. It is God-initiated. It is divine in its origin. Love is demonstrated by God sending Jesus to die on a cross.
Only when you encounter Jesus on the cross can you become a truly loving person. Because love is Spirit-generated. God gives you the ability through His Spirit, He fills you with the Spirit so that you can say no to your selfishness and love and serve the needs of another person, even an enemy, in a manner that goes beyond our human ability and effort. To show mercy, this is what it means to love our neighbors.
Think back to the disciples. A recurring theme in Luke 9-10 was the heartlessness of the disciples. With all the teaching and the experiences, you would expect them to be growing in their love, but they are just as self-centered after 3 years of following Jesus as they were when they had first started following Jesus. Until the cross, the death and resurrection of Christ. The cross changed everything. The cross transformed religious-minded, self-centered people who wanted to send the crowds away into the kind of loving people who selflessly served others and risked their lives planting churches and sharing the gospel.
I pray that our church can be filled, not with religious people, but with people who have been genuinely touched by the love of God as demonstrated by Jesus on the cross. I pray that we can show mercy to others in ways that give testimony to the Jesus who has and continues to show mercy to us.